Saturday 1 June 2013

Apostillisations and FBI Background Checks

Updated 8 July 2016

These are a type of legalisation that are recognised by a number of countries around the world. This agreement is called the Hague Agreement and most English speaking countries are part of it; Canada is not.

An apostillisation proves that the copy you have is a true copy of the orginal document. (It does not prove that the original is an original and not a fake. Despite this, many immigration departments are requiring apostillisation documents.)

If you live close enough to the places that you have to go then you're in luck. If you don't, then be sure to plan ahead of time as mailing things all over the place takes time. Apostillisations are good for life. So get a whole bunch of them done now, so that you don't have to do them in the future. If you have to mail documents, then I would plan on at least 2 months to get everything done.

Apostillisation is cheap, fast, and easy in the US. It should cost you less than twenty dollars and can be done by mail. Here's a list of the Secretary of State offices. In England, it's rather expensive, about a hundred pounds or so and you may have to find a lawyer. Either way, plan ahead as things may go wrong. If you're looking for a laugh, read what Expat Hell has to say about how useless apostillisations are. If you don't want to go through the trouble of doing it you can hire people to do it for you. Here are some companies.


American State and Local Documents
Examples of state and local documents are: birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, divorce certicates, state background checks, or degrees. For federal documents, please see the following section. You can mail or take the documents in person. I mailed things. Total time is about one month.

TIP: Get many copies apostillised. They're good for life and you won't have to go through this again. I had ten copies of my degree apostillised.

Step 1: Use the original document OR copy your document and get the copy notarised. Birth certificates are a perfect example of using originals. These are often already notarised by the emitting office, ex. the county clerk. If it is not already notarised, you will have to send it to the emitting office to get it notarised. If you're from the US and need something notarised, try Sign Now. It's accepted in all 50 states and much cheaper than going to the embassy.

It is often faster, cheaper, and better to copy your orginal. Photocopy the original. Take the original and the photocopy to a notary. The notary will examine both documents and the notarise the copy. In the US, it can often be done for free at your local library or bank. If it's your degree that you're notarising, your university will often do it for free.

Step 2: Put your original in a safe place. You won't have to mail it anywhere, BUT you might want to bring the original just in case.

Step 3: Get your documents apostillised. You will have to send your documents to the Secretary of State. Contact them and ask how much it is to get documents apostillised. It should be between $5 and $20. If you are using copies you do NOT send the original. Just send the notarised copies. If you are using orginals, you will have to send the original. This usually takes two weeks.

What You Will Have: You will have another document attached to your copy (or original). It should have a seal and special corner at the top. Mine have a gold sticker-seal and a blue paper at the top in the corner. Do NOT separate these documents or you will render them invalid.

American Federal Documents
An example of federal checks: FBI background checks. At the bottom of this post you can find the steps required to get an FBI check.

Step 1: Use the original document FBI background checks are a perfect example of using originals. These are often already notarised by the emitting office, ex. the FBI, IF you tell them that you will be using the documents abroad.

Step 2: Send it to the Department of State. It should cost less than $10 and take two to three weeks. You can also go in person if you live near Washington DC. You now need to have a notarised copy of your license or passport as well as a notarised request letter (I have an example of one that I used. You're welcome to email me at and I'll send it to you).

What You Will Have: You will have another document attached to your original. It should have a seal and special corner at the top. Do NOT separate these documents or you will render it invalid.

British Documents
Please see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for more information.

Canadian Documents
Please see the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website for more information.

Criminal Background Checks aka CBCs or CRCs
These are usually only good for 6 months, so plan ahead. If you have a criminal record, try reading teaching with a criminal record. If you're looking for a laugh, read what Expat Hell has to say about how useless CBCs are.  
American FBI Checks
  • Plan ahead. The FBI website states that "processing times may take up to 12 weeks." See number 9 on the FAQs. Some countries only accept FBI checks that are less than 6 months old, so planning is key!
  • Use a channeler: This is a private business approved by the FBI who can expedite your request. They receive the fingerprint submission and relevant data, and collect the associated fee(s). Then they electronically forward the fingerprint submission with the necessary information to the FBI CJIS Division for a national Criminal History Summary check. Finally, they receive the electronic summary check result for the individual. Here's some info about using channelers.
  • Legible fingerprints are critical. You can use the forms from the FBI site or the ones at the police station. Go to the local police station to get your fingerprints done. They recommend submitting multiple fingerprint cards.
You Need
  1. Get your fingerprints taken.
  2. Send all docs to the FBI. Look at the checklist. Have it sent back to your parents or family or friends in the US or use a company that helps out with apostilisations listed at the top of this post. It's recommended to send it via certified mail so that you can track it. FBI CJIS Division – Record Request, 1000 Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, WV 26306
  3. They get the form, then send it to the US Dept of State in Washington DC, not the Sec of State. It's a federal document, so has to go to the Dept of State in Washington. See: (FYI: If you want to send it to the Sec of State, then you could also do that, but it’s a hassle. First you need to get it notarized then send it to the Secretary of State.)
  4. They get the FBI check and then mail it to you.


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