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How to get an FBI background check in 2 weeks instead of 6

For nearly every visa or residency process for Spain, there is one dreaded requirement for Americans: The FBI background check. But, have no fear! The process of getting one is a lot easier than it used to be.

It used to take 6 weeks to get a U.S. federal background check — but not anymore!

The FBI has named a select few private companies as its elite partners in helping to expedite the otherwise lengthy background check getting process.  These companies are called channelers and you can find the full list here.  I have not used a channeling service myself, but I would if I were in a pinch. I know two people in the American Expats in Spain facebook group who had success with such an agency. I have heard good things about Accurate Biometrics and

FBI background check

This is what your FBI check will look like, assuming you have nothing on your record!

Fingerprint card, who needs that?

Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need an official fingerprint card. You can print one directly from the internet on to regular paper. That is what I did, and it worked just fine!  Make sure to “scale to page” when printing, otherwise the US letter size PDF will get cut off on the A4 European sized paper.

Many people choose to go to the US Embassy to obtain fingerprint cards as well as a letter to bring to police telling them the reason you need them to take your fingerprints.  The Embassy charges around 50 bucks for this service, and it’s not really necessary. If you would still like to give the embassy your money, you can find more information at this link.

How to roll your own fingerprints


A simple stamp pad like this one will do the trick.

Most “Scientific Police” stations will take your fingerprints on demand, even if you don’t have a letter from the embassy. And, if for some reason they refuse, you can do what I did: Go to a shop and buy an ink pad. Watch a YouTube video on how to roll fingerprints. Do it a few times to make sure at least one of them turns out well. And, send them off!! It’s a messier way to do things, but it does the job!    The ink pad I used was nothing special, just the typical 80 cent ink pad at a “tienda china.”

Below you can see  the video I watched on how to roll finger prints. In 20 minutes I was a finger print rolling pro! Contrary to what it says in the video, I actually found I was able to keep things more steady and get better quality results rolling my own finger prints, rather than using the help of a friend. The friend just wasn’t able to get the amount of pressure right and kept smearing the prints! I had much more control doing it on my own.

I know what you are going to ask — but if I roll my fingerprints myself, what do I put where it says “Signature of Official Taking Fingerprints”?  Relax! That is not a required field, so you can leave it blank. If you are unhappy with a blank space on your form, go ahead and scribble and doodle there you like. Or write your own signature, since you are the one who took the fingerprints.

Don’t forget to get your state background check, too!

To cover all your bases, you should get BOTH an FBI and state background check. In my personal experience, the state check was not listed as a requirement for arriago social — but when I showed up to the appointment they asked for it. I only had the FBI check and I had to scramble to get the state check within a 10 business day grace period.  That little mistake almost made me have to start my application process all over again. So, better safe than sorry. If you´re an American, get both a state and federal background check. Luckily, the State background check is usually a lot easier to get. Each state is different so you need to do your own Google research on that part!

What about that pesky apostille?

All that work, and this is your prize! A lovely piece of certifying that the person from the FBI who signed your background check, is in fact a government official with the authority to do so.

All that work, and this is your prize! A lovely piece of paper certifying that the person from the FBI who signed your background check, is in fact a government official with the authority to do so.

Once you have your background checks in hand, it’s relatively easy to get the apostilles.  Just remember that your FBI check needs to be apostilled in Washington DC, while your State background check needs to be apostilled in the same state where it was signed by a government official or a notary.
You need to mail your background check to the appropriate government office, and they will mail it back to you. In some states you might need to get the background check notarized before they will apostille it. For example in my state, Ohio, the background checks they issue do not have the signature of a state official. Therefore, you or someone you know, should write a note either on the back of the background check or on an attached piece of paper that says “This is a true and accurate state background check on (your name here),” and then sign that in front of a notary.  In Ohio I then needed to get an authentication from the County Clerk saying that person was in fact a notary before I could get the apostille. While it might sound complicated, I was able to have a friend in Columbus (the state capital) do all of that all in one day, because the offices were all near one another.  On another occasion, when I had more time, I did it all by mail, and just patiently waited. It took me about a month.  If you are in a rush and don’t have a friend to get the apostille in person for you there are expedited services for apostilles too!