How Long Does an FBI Background Check Take?

By Fraser Sherman - Updated June 15, 2017
Policeman using laptop in office

An FBI background check can take 12 to 14 weeks, or less than a week. The first time frame is if you submit your application directly to the FBI. The second is if you go through a "channeler," one of the private firms the FBI contracts with to collect and submit fingerprints for background checks.

Identity History Summary Check

An Identity History Summary check is the FBI's process of taking your fingerprints, putting them in a computer and seeing what information turns up. The results may include information about past arrests, military service or federal employment. The check can also come back with no information, such as if you have no arrest record, or you've never been fingerprinted before.

Ask the FBI

To go through the FBI, you download an application form from the FBI website. You submit it, along with a fingerprint card. The FBI says the card must be current – an old one from a past check won't do – and include prints for all 10 fingers, along with your name and date of birth. You can try fingerprinting yourself, but the FBI recommends paying for a professional to take your prints. You may be able to find one by contacting local law enforcement.

Submit the application and fingerprints to the FBI along with your payment. At time of writing, the fee is $18, payable by credit card, money order or certified check.

Using a Channeler

Going through a channeler costs more – about $50 for a background check – but takes less time. Depending which service you use, and whether the service collects your prints digitally or on paper, it may take anywhere from three days to a week. The FBI has a list of qualified channelers online, so you can decide which one suits your needs best.

Tip

If you want a background check as part of getting professionally licensed or applying to adopt a child, state or federal law may require you work through specific state agencies. You can't go to the FBI or a channeler if that's the case. Talk to the licensing or adoption organization about what's required.

Potential Problems

It's easy to slow down the FBI background check by messing up your application. If you don't fill out the application completely, or if you forget to sign the form or try to pay with a personal check, the FBI can't proceed until everything's fixed. If you want the background check to include your spouse, both of you must sign the application. Get everything right the first time, and things should move smoothly.

If you're one of those people whose fingerprints are hard to capture, the FBI says you should definitely go to a fingerprint technician. Have the technician make multiple fingerprint cards and submit them all. That increases the chance that at least one of them won't be rejected.

About the Author

A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.

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