How to Request an FBI Background Check for Spain and from Spain

updated summer 2018

If you are from the United States and applying for a visa or residency to live in Spain, nine times out of ten you will need to request a background check in order to comply with the requirement that you present a certificado de antecedentes penales. While some countries may provide just one way to prove you are free of a criminal record, the US allows citizens or residents to ask for this document at either the state or national level. This is called an Identity History Summary.

What is a background check, and why do I need one?

A background check is a record of your previous criminal activity (or lack thereof), known colloquially as a rap sheet (cue the beatbox). The check can be used for a number of purposes, but since this is a blog about living in Spain, you’ll likely use it to obtain a visa to live and potentially work in Spain. A background check is also necessary for obtaining Spanish citizenship through residency.

Should I get an FBI background check, or a state background check?

Ah, the million euro question. An FBI background check is the right option for you if you’ve lived in two or more states, as this will cut down on paperwork, applications and, in some states, the cost. Remember that background checks, regardless of if they are petitioned through the federal or state government, must also be verified through the Apostille of the Hague and sometimes a certified translation. If you can complete a state check, you should.

While we’re on the subject: if you have lived outside of the US or Spain for a period of six months or more in the five years prior to your visa application, you must request a background check from that country.

What is the process for getting an FBI Background Check?

No matter where you are in the world, your process for using an FBI background check for a visa, residency or any other process will be three to four steps: requesting the background check, submitting a full set of rolled fingerprints, applying for the Apostille of the Hague and, where requested, having both documents translated by a legal translator.

This post will cover the absence of criminal records at the federal level, which is done through the FBI. The FBI allows three different ways of requesting this document: via an online petition, through the mail and through an approved channeler.The process is strikingly similar for all three, though the mail option takes the longest amount of time. If you’re not in a hurry or want to do things the old-fashioned way, read on:

STEP 1 – Gather the Necessary Documents
You will need to send the following documents to the FBI in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Remember that each person requesting a document should present a separate application:

  • make a payment of $18
    certified checks and money orders should be made out to the “Treasury of the United States” or pay by credit card using the following form
  • get a full set of your fingerprints on form FD-258, on stock paper, downloadable here

While the FBI provides information on taking your own fingerprints, it is advisable to have a professional do the job, and to remember to write your full name and birth date. For those living in the United States, a quick call to your local, county or state police station should shine light on the process. Law enforcement offices usually have a specific unit and place where fingerprinting is done and sometimes appointments are necessary. The police should also have form FD-258 on file for you and a trained technician will take your prints for a nominal fee.


Those residing outside of the US at the time of petition should check with their nearest American embassy or consulate regarding availability and fees. In Spain, for example, US Citizens are charged $50 for an official letter that is then presented to local police explaining your fingerprinting request in Spanish, though it is not always necessary – you should ask the police station nearest you first. Read more about the process of asking for the document here.

In Madrid, you can have your fingerprints taken at the Policia Científica on Juan González Segador, near metro Pinar del Rey.

If there is any problem reading your fingerprints, your request might be returned and thus delayed. In the event your prints are unreadable try getting a digital or live scan to avoid further setbacks. Though the process is relatively new and more expensive, it will guarantee an accurate read of your prints.

STEP 2 – Request your FBI background check
Once you have filled out the request form, decided on payment and obtained your fingerprints you will need to mail all the documents in a single envelope to the following address:

FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

Again, requests take anywhere from six to 15 weeks to process, so hold tight or use the online service or an FBI approved channeler to speed things along.

STEP 3 – The Gathering, Part II
Your Identity History Summary, will be mailed to the address provided on your application form. Don’t be alarmed if the information provided is short – this means you have no criminal history! All completed checks will carry the official seal of the FBI as well as the signature of a division official, meaning the document has been legalized or authenticated and is ready to be submitted to the US Department of State for an Apostille of the Hague.

What is the Apostille of the Hague?

The Apostille Convention of XXX is an agreement between over sixty countries that allows a document from a member country to be used in another member country. It’s essentially a fancy seal that allows your documents – be it a birth certificate, college degree or a background check – to be considered valid abroad.

In order to apply for the Apostille you will *need the following documents:

  • *a cover letter, found here
    Though cover letters are no longer officially required, this document with the old mailing address is a good checklist to follow
  • request form DS-4191, downloadable here
    be sure to include SPAIN in section 4 as the country of use
  • payment of $8 by credit card, money order or personal check made out to the “U.S. Department of State” (cash can be used if you suggest a pick up or in-person service)
  • a self-addressed prepaid envelope
  • your FBI background check

Once you have gathered all of your documents, mail them to:

Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA  20166-1206

STEP 4 – Official Translations
Average waiting time for your apostille to be returned is 12 business days. The apostille will be attached to your original FBI background check – do NOT separate these two documents.

If your paperwork requires you to present a certificado de antecedentes penales along with an apostille and a traducción jurada or sworn translation, you’ve got one last hurdle to handle.

What exactly is a sworn translation?

In order to assure the quality of a translation, only translators with accredited studies who have registered with the Spanish government and received the title of traductor jurado can translate documents to be used in official procedures. However, this process also makes it easy to locate a sworn translator, as the government supplies an exhaustive list, made public yearly. You can google “lista actualizada traductores jurados España” or use this link for the updated certified translator list.

For translations from English to Spanish you’ll have to scroll all the way down to inglés then look for the provincia where you live in Spain. If you’re looking to get a sworn translation stateside, we suggest contacting your nearest Spanish Consulate or Embassy for more information or scrolling to the US-based translators page (usually around page 1000).

Again, your background check could easily take four months to process, so we suggest going the online route or considering a channeler. We’ve written a guide to how to use this service, new as of late 2017.

Any questions? Share them below!

Author: Cat Gaa

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  1. Hello,

    Thank you so much for posting this. I just received my background check in the mail and I sent out a copy to get trasnlated. I do have a question though, does the translated copy have to be sent to receive an apostille as well or just the English one?

    Thanks for your time!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Katie. Only the background check is necessary for the apsotille, as an apostille is issued by the same government in the same language as the background check (in this case the US federal government / English). If you are required to get a translation for your paperwork, you will send your background check and apostille off together for that.

      Post a Reply
  2. So the sworn translators are located in Spain? That means after I get my FBI background check and apostille, I’ll have to send the document to Spain to be translated before I can apply for my visa? Or do they do it by scanning it?

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Manny, great question! If you’re in the US, you can find an EN-ES translator here in the US. They’ll typically ask for scans in that case. We’d suggest shopping around for the best price and turn around time – some translators don’t work during July and/or August in our experience. We’ll send you the PDF of all translators to your email – just scroll to ETADOS UNIDOS and look for inglés and the list of ‘traductores jurados’.

      Post a Reply
  3. Great article!

    I have a technical question about getting the FBI Background Check translated. Do the the FBI Background Check and the Apostille both have to be translated into Spanish? So, can I send a copy of just my FBI Background Check (without Apostille) to a translation service while I mail the original FBI Check to be Apostilled?

    Or do I have to wait for my FBI Check to come back in the mail, with Apostille, and then get both translated?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Christina,
      Thanks for reading and thanks for your question. You will need both your FBI background check and the apostille translated. You could send a copy of your FBI check to a translator to get started while you’re waiting on the apostille, but in general turn around times on translations are very fast: between two days and a week depending on your translator’s work load. Hope that helps!

      Post a Reply
  4. Hello and thank you for this informative article!! My situation is the following: I’ll be in the states for two months, starting July 2016, to reapply for a long-term Spanish student visa. I should have my FBI check apostilled by Aug 1. My visa appt with the LA consulate is Aug 5th.

    I have just been told that the traducción jurada is absolutely necessary… now I am wondering how to get that done between ~Aug 1 and 5th?! Do I scan/email the apostilled FBI check to am official translator to translate? Or does this all have to be done through old-fashioned snail mail?

    Thanks for all your help!

    Post a Reply
    • Corrine, are you currently in Spain? If so, you can apply for a prórroga of your TIE card while still in Spain and therefore not go through the hassle of re-applying. No background check necessary.

      Post a Reply
      • I am– but I have been told by my new program that I MUST go home and complete a new visa linked to my new study program (I am switching).

        So in the case that I still have to complete the visa process back home, any way to get the translation done between aug 1-5th? What’s the actual process of sending the apostilled report to the translator?

        Thanks for your quick reply!

        Post a Reply
        • Unfortunately, we cannot answer that question because it depends on the translator’s policies and pace. Shop around – some are willing to work in August and do so fast!

          Post a Reply
          • Will do, thanks!!

  5. Hey! Thanks for all your great info! I have a question about the FBI background check, as well. Before leaving to teach abroad in Taiwan, I got my background check through an ¨FBI approved Channeler¨contracted by the FBI. Instead of the posted 12 week wait time on the FBI´s website, I received my background check in only a few weeks. My question is, for the Ministry of Culture´s Auxiliary Teacher program, can I use an approved FBI Channeler? Thanks again for all your help!

    Post a Reply
      • Thanks for this helpful post!

        Do you know if there are any FBI Channelers based/located in Madrid? Also, for those who are in Madrid, I received the following email:

        “The fingerprints cannot be taken at the Embassy but if you are in Madrid, this is the Police Station we send US Citizens to where they don’t request a letter from us to have the fingerprints taken:

        Calle Julian Gonzalez Segador s/n, Madrid
        Metro line 8 / stop: Pinar del Rey
        Tel: 91-5828375
        (Open from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM for fingerprinting)

        If you are elsewhere in Spain and you need a letter to present to the police requesting them to take your fingerprints for you, please contact the Consular Agency nearest you to request this letter.”

        Just thought it would be helpful!

        Post a Reply
  6. First of all thank you so much because for the past year your blog has been a life-saver and semi obsession! However I was wondering if you guys had an updated list for the traductores jurados. The 2014 list goes to a dead link and I cant find it on google.

    Thank you!

    Post a Reply
  7. For a study program in spain greater than 180 days, is utilizing an FBI channeler like the national background check acceptable for the visa process?

    Post a Reply
  8. Hey!

    The post is really good .

    I must say that this is really helpful for beginners .

    Yes, I agree with your words and suggest you that fingerprints must be taken carefully so that they are clean prints and you must fill in a fresh fingerprint card too.

    In theory I suppose that you could do all of this yourself but I would suggest that you go down to your local law enforcement office and get an expert fingerprint technician to do it for you. This should avoid any problems with the process.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this great info.

    Keep doing good work.
    God bless U!

    Post a Reply
  9. Hello, thank you for your excellent advice and tips!

    I dropped off all of the required paperwork for a long-term student visa, according to the Consulate of Spain’s NYC office which publishes a PDF set of guidelines. There is no mention of the “certificado de antecedentes penales along with an Apostille and a traducción jurada” and I didn’t submit any of that with any of the documentation. Now, I’m sweating and anxious. I thought I had done a very thorough check – why do some applications require the official translations but other visa applications do not?

    HCC Tokio Marine provided me a letter in Spanish that confirmed I purchased the required international travel insurance and my doctor provided me with two letters, one in Spanish, the other in English, stating that my health was fine. Now I’m worried that the FBI background clearance + apostille needed to be translated.

    What do you think…?

    Thank you,

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Lisa, even though the Spanish Foreign Minstry states that all consulates must have the same requirements, there is a large variation. Did you drop off and speak to an agent? If so, they’d have likely told you if anything was missing. We wouldn’t sweat until you receive an answer!

      Post a Reply

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