Getting a Background Check and Apostille

Getting a Background Check and Apostille

Getting your criminal background check for your first visa or for your student visa extension, can seem confusing. Hopefully the following information will help you make the process a little simpler.

There are two ways to complete the criminal background check requirement while getting your Spanish student visa:

  1. Get a state background check
  2. Get a federal background check

I have gone through both background check processes (for two visas at different times), so I will explain each one:

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Getting a State Background Check

The state background check is considered easier and faster than the FBI background check. This is because it is done at the state level and if you live in a main city, you might have it easier!

**NOTE: Make sure to get this check done for every state that you have lived in for the last five years.

The Department of State of each state should have a list of certified background check centers. Take a look at your own state's site, or Google "Live Scan Fingerprinting".


The background check is done by fingerprints, which can be taken at your local police station or at specialized centers with a Live Scan certification. Be sure to do your own research on where to get your fingerprints taken as well as their pricing, hours, and if you need an appointment.

  1. You will arrive and fill out a fingerprint scan form (maybe you have to fill this out beforehand -- check with your fingerprinting center)
  2. Then you will have to wait a few weeks to get your results in the mail
After receiving your background check

You will have to get it apostilled by your Department of State. This apostille is another paper that is put together with your criminal report and basically certifies that it is legitimate.

Depending on your state, you might have one or more offices that can handle this apostille. (For example, in California, there are two: in Sacramento and Los Angeles.)

The offices near you might allow you to just walk-in and get the apostille (like the California offices), or they might require an appointment -- make sure to double-check. In the case that you are not close to one of the offices, you can mail your background report in and have them return it to you by post.


Each step takes time. The fingerprinting can be done quickly, but the report could take weeks to arrive. The apostille can also take time if sent through mail, but if you are lucky to live close to the office, try your luck and walk it in!


Getting a Federal Background Check

The FBI background check takes longer to process but look below for information on speeding up the process. This check serves the purpose of seeing your criminal record from on the federal level and has a different apostille.

Apostille Process

The apostille in this case has to be done with the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. You can either present yourself in person (if you live nearby) or you can mail the background check in and wait for the apostille to arrive.

If sending by mail, you will need the following:

  1. DS-4194 Form
  2. Your background check
  3. A self-addressed prepaid envelope (NOT FEDEX)
  4. A money order of $8 per document (Payable to: U.S. Department of State)

It will take about two weeks to get your letter back in the mail, apostilled and ready to go.

Getting FBI Clearance While Abroad

I had to get my FBI background check while abroad, so I will just quickly describe my own experience:

  1. Made an appointment with the U.S. Embassy and paid $50 for a letter allowing the Spanish police to fingerprint me
  2. Got my fingerprints taken at a Spanish police station
  3. Sent these fingerprints by mail to the FBI-Approved Channeler (read below)
  4. Waited for the background report to arrive to my house in California (as Channelers can't send reports abroad)
  5. Had my mom send the background report to the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.
  6. Waited for mom to receive the apostille in the mail
  7. Had mom mail the documents to me in Spain

It's more complicated as you need someone in the middle helping you out, but it's pretty good that you can have the whole process done while away!

Short on Time?

Although it is not possible to officially expedite your paperwork, you can pay a company to help. They are called FBI-Approved Channelers --- which handle the step between your fingerprints and your background report. I believe the state level might have companies that provide an apostille service to help shorten that time, but I have never used them, so feel free to Google that if needed.

FBI-Approved Channelers

The FBI provides a handy list of certified companies that are allowed to handle background check requests.

You pay them a fee between $30 and $70 and they shorten the time to get your report from the FBI BY WEEKS.

While applying for my student visa extension in Spain, I used National Credit Reporting, and got my report within a week. They are my lifesaver!

Translating Documents

It is important to translate both the background report and the apostille in both scenarios. This applies to those applying from a consulate in the States, as well as when applying from Spain.

From the States

Make sure to do a Google search to find a certified translator near you. You could also do it online, but make sure it is a reputable company that will provide a certified translator stamp and signature on the document.

From Spain

Make sure to get it translated by a traductor jurado (a certified translator)

In Barcelona, I got my FBI documents translated as an emergency 24-hour job with Hisparos Translations.

I hope this information has helped you with your situation. Please let me know if there is any clarification needed.

Have you gone through a similar process or deal with things differently? Post your own situation below so people can see how everyone else has gone through the process. Thank you!




  1. Tara
    February 25, 2019 / 9:13 am

    Hi Nicole! Unbeknownst to me, my student visa actually expired more than a month before the date printed on the card in my passport, so I’m semi-freaking out. I’m currently studying in Oviedo, Spain and am having a really hard time dealing with this background check stuff. So I get my fingerprints taken here (is there an official form I need to use?) and have them mailed to the FBI so they can run the background check. Then I need to mail those results to DC to get an Apostille? Then I get all of that mailed back to me? I’m paranoid and scared to death of making a mistake, so I apologize if I’m misinterpreting your instructions. Thanks for the article!

    • February 26, 2019 / 11:54 am

      Hi Tara, that is such a strange case! I wonder why it expired earlier. Yes, you are correct. For the fingerprints, you will need to use a specific form given to you from the US embassy. Take this form to the police department where they will then legally be able to take your fingerprints. Then mail these to the FBI and back to DC for the apostille. Since you are short on time, I recommend using an approved FBI accelerator mentioned in this post. They will get the results to you way sooner than dealing directly through the FBI. Hope that helps!

  2. Sara
    January 23, 2019 / 11:22 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    I’m sorry if this is a double-post — I tried to comment before but it didn’t seem to go through. I just want to thank you so much for this incredible resource — it’s been invaluable. I am trying to go through the same process as you, applying to extend my student visa from Barcelona. You mentioned that you needed a letter from the US embassy in order to authorize the Spanish police to take your fingerprints. Do you have an example of what that letter needs to look like? Is it something that we need to prepare before showing up at the embassy to have it notarized, or will they write the letter there?

    Thanks so much!

  3. Sara
    January 23, 2019 / 11:18 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    Wow, this information has been absolutely incredible! Thank you for putting it together in such an organized way — such a good resource. I am currently trying to go through the same process as you, applying for an extension of my student visa while in Barcelona. You mentioned that you had to make an appointment with the US embassy in order to allow the Spanish police to take your fingerprints. I haven’t been able to find any information on this anywhere else. What did the letter consist of? Is there anywhere I could find an example letter?

    Thank you SO much!

    • January 24, 2019 / 8:22 am

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your comment! I really like that I’m helping someone in a similar situation πŸ˜€ I had a look through my emails with the US Embassy in Barcelona — if you would like I can forward the information to you via email. But in short — they needed me to make an appointment here under notorial services:

      (Back then) they charged me $50 USD for the letter and two fingerprint cards. I did not have to create a letter or anything, they prepared everything during the appointment. This letter then specifies which police station to go to for the fingerprinting process (you have to go to this specific station). Please let me know if you have any other questions or if you would like me to forward you my communication with the embassy. I hope that helps! Best of luck and please let me know how you go with the process – I’d love to know! πŸ™‚

  4. Gloria
    January 18, 2019 / 11:07 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I’m also about to do the same from Spain and I think I will use a channeler as well and also have everything sent to my mom in Texas to handle the apostille and eventually send everything complete to me back in Barcelona.

    Questions: When my mom gets the FBI report from the channeler and then sends it to the dept of state for the apostille, does she need any other forms to go along with the report? Does she have to provide the dept of state with a prepaid envelope for them to send it back to her?

    Thanks again! Very helpful!

    • January 19, 2019 / 7:55 am

      Hi Gloria! Thanks for your comment β€” I’m always happy to see my articles help someone πŸ™‚ In regards to your questions, your mom will have to do the entire process as if she were you (she will need to include the form, the money order, and the self-addressed envelope). The only difference is that section 2 of the official form (linked at the beginning of the article) will need to be filled out with her information as the requestor. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions and best of luck!

  5. Sophie Martin
    November 2, 2018 / 2:04 am

    So the same people do who the fingerprinting also do the background check?

    • November 5, 2018 / 7:00 pm

      Hi Sophie,

      No, the people who do the fingerprinting send your fingerprints off to the state or federal level and have them send you your background check results. I hope that clears it up a bit, let me know if not.


  6. Courtney Adams
    July 27, 2017 / 2:52 am

    Thank you again, Nicole! Quick question – do the background checks need to be translated into Spanish before being sent for the apostille? Or are the translations of the background check and apostille to be done after the BG check and apostille are completed? The information you have provided is SO helpful!

    • Courtney Adams
      July 27, 2017 / 3:00 am

      I guess that is kind of a dumb question but we are kind of freaked out by all of the steps in the process and don’t want to mess it up. πŸ™‚ BTW, we are in Cali too – San Francisco Bay Area.

      • July 27, 2017 / 10:08 am

        Hi again Courtney! No worries. Trust me, I have felt like I had a lot of dumb questions with this too but it’s WAY better to make sure than to mess something up.

        Back to your question: you would have to get the background check apostilled and then get both documents translated into Spanish. I think this also only applies if your daughter is over 18 though.

        Love that I can help someone out from back home! But I will give you a headsup because I have dealt with both the SF and the LA Spanish Consulates… and the people in the San Francisco one are tough. Not to scare you, but just be prepared with everything. Even if you think they might ask for something, make sure to take it –along with a copy– just in case. Let me know if you have any more questions!

        • Courtney Adams
          July 28, 2017 / 3:38 am

          Nicole to the rescue again! πŸ™‚ Very helpful, thank you! Yes, we are appropriately terrified by our Consulate visit in SF but are going to go in over-prepared (great advice, btw). I may have found a shortcut/one-stop expedited shop for fingerprints, FBI report and apostille in the Bay Area – I can PM you if it turns out to be as helpful and time-saving as we hope – we will know by the end of next week. Thank you again and happy travels to you – you are living the dream and an inspiration to both me and my daughter. πŸ™‚

          • July 28, 2017 / 6:32 am

            Aww thank you! You have made my day ? Definitely let me know how that place works for you. I hope it all works out easy-peasy! In the end it will be worth it and your daughter is sure to have a blast πŸ™‚

  7. sarahKr
    July 7, 2017 / 5:40 am

    Thanks for an explanation. I did not know it.

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