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Mar 25th, 2023 by David O Connor

How Can I Get a Criminal Background Check in the UK


A criminal background check is an essential document you must present when applying for a work visa in China. As the name suggests, it is a document that records any illegal activities you may have been involved in. Ideally, you will have a clean record with no criminal activities associated with your name. Don’t worry about unpaid parking fines; China is only interested in more serious offences. The government wants to ensure that no one with a criminal record is teaching in their country.

And that’s probably fair enough.

If you’re from the UK, you have it relatively easy as you can apply online. However, you’ll still have to get the document certified, and we’ll walk you through this process below.

It takes about two weeks to receive your certificate, so apply as soon as you know you’ll apply for a job teaching ESL in China.

How to get a criminal background in the UK?

There are two types of criminal background checks in the UK:

  1. Basic Disclosure(known as a DBS, or Disclosure and Barring Service) and
  2. An ACRO Police Certificate, which is specifically for UK nationals who wish to work abroad

The DBS is the most basic criminal background check in the UK and, up until recently, was widely accepted by Chinese employers. More and more teachers are being asked to apply for an ACRO instead, which is more comprehensive. For example, it includes criminal activity carried out abroad but disclosed to the UK Criminal Records Office.

Below, we will outline how to apply for both certificates, but the way we see it, you are better off applying directly for an ACRO. The time frame is about the same and given it is much more comprehensive, it will not be rejected.

How to apply for a DBS (basic UK criminal background check)

This basic criminal background check costs £23 and is available to anyone from England and Wales.

To apply, you need to be over the age of 16, which should be just fine given one of the eligibility requirements for teaching in China is that you’d be between the ages of 18 and 55 (women) or 60 (men).

Remember that your criminal background check must be:

  • No more than six months old
  • Be issued by the relevant authority
  • Be from ANY country you’ve lived in for six months or more in the last five years. So yes, even if you’re not a citizen of the UK but have lived there for a considerable amount of time in the last few years, you can and should apply for a Basic Disclosure in the UK.


Here’s what you need to apply:

  1. Address details (with dates) of EVERY place you have lived, in England or Wales, over the last five years
  2. Details of your National Insurance number
  3. Driving license or passport (for ID check)
  4. Proof of address (utility bill OR your driving license, provided you’re not using it as a form of ID)

Payment fee (if you apply online, you can also pay online)


There are three ways to get your criminal background check in the UK:

  • you can apply yourself at any police station,
  • online, directly with the relevant authorities OR
  • you can use the services of one of the many accredited responsible organizations.


Option 1 – Apply online through the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) – THE EASIEST AND FASTEST OPTION

You can apply online here but note that if the site cannot verify your identity, you will need to undertake a quick video call to complete the process. Post Offices throughout the UK used to undertake this service, but they are noit.

Option 2 – Apply by mail – SLOWEST AND LEAST RELIABLE

Before the pandemic, you could visit your nearest police station and apply in person. That’s no longer the case. Snail mail is your only other option if you can’t or don’t want to apply online. Don’t forget to gather all your documents, print your filled-in application form, and mail it to:

DBS applications

PO Box 3961

Royal Wootton Bassett


Applying by mail is risky because the application will be dismissed if you don’t fill in the form properly. And then you’ll have to start it again.

Option 3 – Apply through a responsible organization

Several accredited and recognized agencies (like CRB Direct can act on your behalf and secure a criminal background check. Why would anyone want to employ their services? Because the process is slightly faster, easier and more streamlined – the agent acts as your third-party verification. If verifying your identity online has not worked (as stated above), this is a great option if you don’t want to waste time with a video call.

Moreover, this is a great option if you’re abroad – if the UK is one of the countries you’ve lived in during the last five years but no longer reside there, it’s an efficient way to secure your Basic Disclosure.

The cost of this service varies between £65 and £75.


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How to apply for an ACRO Police Certificate in the UK

This more comprehensive criminal background check is issued to those applying for residency abroad or wishing to work abroad for a while. As with the DBS application, you must gather documents that prove your residency details and identification. You can apply either apply online or by mail.

What you need for your ACRO Police Certificate application:

  1. Proof of your current address (even if it is outside the UK)
  2. Recent passport-type colour photo (same dimensions as needed for UK passports – make sure you have a high-quality digital copy if applying online)
  3. Colour copy of your passport
  4. Your address history (dates and addresses of places you have lived in the last ten years. If you have lived outside the UK for more than a decade, you will need to provide the address of your last UK residency)
  5. National Insurance or Driver’s License number, if you have them

You can start your online ARCO statement application at the bottom of the page, but know you have only 60 minutes to complete the process. Make sure you have all your needed documents ready.

If you wish to apply by mail, download and print the application form in Word on PDF from here.

An ACRO Police Certificate will set you back £65 (£95 for expedited service). This is considerably more than for a DBS check. However, you could apply for a DBS and wait two weeks for it, only to discover it’s not enough, and you’ll then need to apply for an ACRO anyway. If time is of the essence, apply for an ACRO from the get-go.

What to do once you have your criminal background check from the UK

Once you’ve finally secured your certificate, you’ll need to get it notarized and authenticated by the local government and then have it legalized by a Chinese Government.

The fun ain’t over yet!

1: How to get your criminal background check notarized in the UK

The easy part! In the UK, documents can be notarized by solicitors and public notaries

  1. How to get your criminal background authenticated in the UK

It’s weird, right? Why does an official certificate issued by a government body need authentication by another government body? Bureaucracy!

The government’s Legalisation Office is the entity that can authenticate your criminal background check. See how to do that here.

  1. How to get your criminal background check validated in the UK

The last step in this process will be dealt with by your closest Chinese Embassy, although note that it must be an embassy in the UK. If you are outside of the country, you can utilize the services of a third party (as is the case for the application), although an altogether different agency. Vital Consular is a well-rated option.

All documents must be authenticated by a Chinese Embassy in the country they were issued. If you must get criminal background checks in various countries, they all must be authenticated in the specific country they are issued.

Aside from the 14-day processing period, getting a criminal background check in the UK can be time-consuming in certain situations. Given the 6-month validity, however, you can go ahead and apply for this at the same time you’re applying for Teaching Jobs in China.

If teaching and living in China is the next step in your professional life, trust that you’ll find the right job within six months and have this certificate ready to apply for your visa.

At China by Teaching, we can help you get your UK criminal background check, find the right job, and start your new life in China. Submit your CV, and we will be in touch with jobs from quality schools throughout China.

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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