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Jun 4th, 2020 by David O Connor

How Can I Get a Criminal Background Check in the USA?


If you’re applying for a China work visa, and intend to teach abroad, you’ll need to provide a recent criminal background check (less than 6 months old) from every country you’ve resided in during the last 5 years. This is a visa requirement. You won’t get a working visa without one.  For US residents, past and present, the process is a takes a lot of time so you’ll want to get it started as soon as you can.

The criminal background check is a document that details any past illegal activities for which you have been charged. Although the document is issued by a government body, it still needs to be either notarized or authenticated (or both) and THEN you’ll also need to have it authenticated by a Chinese Embassy.

Basically, once it’s been issued by the US, you’ll need to have the document accepted by China.

Criminal background Check form USA, things you need to know

  • The US issues criminal background checks on three levels: local (from the Sheriff’s Office), State (from the State Police Office) and Federal (from the FBI)
  • Ask your new school which level they would require from you (if you are applying for a job and have not yet started the process of getting your criminal background check). If you’re lucky, a local or State-level will suffice – these are the easiest/fastest certificates to get.
  • In most cases FBI criminal background check will be accepted by all schools and teaching institutions in China whilst a local and State-level check will be accepted only by some.
  • If you want to get the ball rolling early, then start your FBI procedure asap and you can be sure you’ll have the right document by the time you find the right job.
  • Once you have the certificate, you’ll need to have it authenticated and/or notarized – again, ask your employer if they’d like both procedures done. Sometimes, a school may only require a criminal background check from the USA to be notarized and not authenticated, which can save you some time
  • The procedure for getting a criminal background check is pretty consistent throughout the country yet authentication requirements differ by State.
  • All criminal background checks at Federal level (ie. issued by the FBI) MUST be authenticated by the US Department of State in Washington, DC (from another State? You can simply send it by mail)
  • IF you have an FBI-issued document that has been notarized and authenticated, it must be authenticated by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC. The embassy does not accept mail so if you don’t live nearby, you will have to use a dedicated agency that can do this for you (yes, they exist)
  • For local and State-level criminal checks, you can have it authenticated at your nearest Chinese Consulate (ie. it doesn’t have to be the embassy in Washington).

Getting a Criminal Background Check in the USA – Local/State

  1. Apply for your certificate

Your local and State Police offices have all the forms you need to apply although you must tell them the reasons for your request (applying for a Chinese work visa) and ask that the document be notarized, automatically, at time of issue. At a local/State level, the documents should cost USD 10-20.

  1. Wait just a few days for your certificate to be issued

2/3 days, at most.

  1. Some States require documents to be sent to the County Clerk for verification, at this point

Make sure you research your State’s precise requirements – residents of AL, GA, KY, MD, TN and NY, take note.

  1. Visit your local Office of the Secretary of State

This will be the first level of certification and, hopefully, the only one you’ll need on the US side of things.

  1. Visit your nearest Chinese Embassy/Consulate

Here, you’ll get the document authenticated and accepted by the Chinese Government. You’ll need to show up in person to do this and do note that if your nearest option is the main embassy, in DC, you may need to have the document authenticated by the US Department of State first, if you are from one of 20-odd US states, so check ahead!

  1. Use your document to apply for your China Work Visa within 6 months

You’d better use this document within 6 months of date of original issue or you’ll have to do the whole thing again.Be careful not to run too close to the expiration date of your certificate. The Chinese visa process can be a slow process and this may prevent you from getting a visa right when you are on the cusp on that awesome job!

Teach in China_How to get your Criminal Background Check USA

Getting a Criminal Background Check in the USA – FBI

Channel your inner zen-master and get ready for the ultimate mission pain-in-the-rear-end: getting your criminal background check issued by the FBI!

  1. Get your fingerprints taken at a local police station

Tell then what it’s for (a Federal-level criminal background check) and ask for two sets. You’ll need to pay with a money order here – which you can pick up at your nearest Post Office. The cost should be around USD25-27.

  1. Apply directly through the FBI

Fill in the form, include your sets of fingerprints and payment slip and off you go. That easy? Not really. Nowadays, the criminal background check is known as an Identity History Summary Check and you can (try to) apply online, directly with the FBI. The website also has details on how to request fingerprints and submit payment – this costs just USD 18.

  1. Have the certificate authenticated by the US Department of State

You’ll need to send it to the Washington office, as this is the only one authorised to authenticate FBI-issued documents. This should set you back about USD 10.

  1. Have the certificate authenticated by the Chinese Embassy in Washington

Chinese Consulates in varying States don’t have the power to authenticate criminal background checks that have been authenticated by the US Department of State in Washington – only the Chinese Embassy in Washington can do this. This service costs around USD 25.

All up, the process for getting your Federal criminal background check in the US can take upwards of two months.

Pro-Tip: Use a channeler

For all of the above considerable and numerous reasons, many prospective teachers employ the services of what’s known as a ‘channeler’ – an accredited agency that’ll channel all your overwhelming frustrations and get the job done, for you, for a nominal fee. Although you must personally apply for a local and State-level certificate (due to privacy laws) an agent can help you get the document authenticated and certified.

For FBI checks, an agent can take over after you’ve had your fingerprints taken, taking care of every step after the first. Yes, you will pay more but, in this particular case, a channeler may just be Worth.Every.Cent.

Agencies like Accurate Biometrics and FBI Apostille Services can take as much or as little of the bureaucratic burden off your hands as you wish. Moreover, this can save you some valuable time if you’ve left this step to the last minute – some channelers offer expedited services – however, note that authentication by the US Dep’t of State AND Secretary of State Offices cannot be expedited, so expect it to take three weeks, at the very least.

Usually, you can expect to pay an extra USD100 for a channeler, plus mailing costs to and fro.

Wondering what other documents you’ll need, to apply for a teaching job? Learn all about the China work visa, before you start your teaching job search, and you’ll be a step ahead.

At China By Teaching, we can help you find the right job, in the right city. 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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