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:
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:
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!