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What is an FBI background check?

What is an FBI background check?

Getting an FBI background check is a big deal. The checks are only available to non-criminal justice agencies when authorization is granted by the Attorney General of the United States. And permission is usually only given in connection with the licensing of local or state employees.

An FBI background check involves a search of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a national database of criminal records maintained by the FBI. The database is only accessible to employers whose workers are required by law to have a criminal background check – and usually only for jobs that involve working with children, the disabled or the elderly.


The database covers anyone who has a criminal conviction, is ‘wanted’ by the authorities in the USA or Canada, has an outstanding federal warrant held against them or is wanted for extradition. It also holds information on missing persons, violent felons, members of violent criminal gangs, members of illegal organizations, and records of fraud, counterfeiting and embezzlement charges.

The FBI background check can only be used in very specific cases though. Most criminal background checks cannot access information from the NCIC and investigators must carry out a series of other public records checks instead. You can however, conduct your own FBI background check by requesting access to your own FBI Identification Record. Also known as a Criminal History Record or Rap Sheet, the check covers any information held on you in connection with arrests, military service, naturalization or federal employment.

You can request a copy of your file for personal review or if it is required as part of an application for international adoption or permission to live or work in a foreign country. If the FBI Identification Record is required as part of a background check for employment or licensing the request for information must go through the requesting federal or state agency.

To get a copy of your FBI record for non-employment purposes you must submit an application in writing with a full set of rolled fingerprints and proof of identity. The record check costs $18, can take up to 12 weeks to process, and can only be delivered to the subject of the request. If you wish to challenge any of the information on your record you must take the matter up with the local, state or federal agency that originally submitted the information.