How Long Does a Federal Background Check Take? View the Full Timeline

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 24, 2024

Court building on the left with an FBI agent wearing a black suit above it looking at his watch and a clock in the middle with a question mark instead of hands and a calendar on the right with pages flipping through the months and below it, a computer screen with an online background check record showing how long does a federal background check take.

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With more and more job industries opting for the federal background check process, many individuals ask “how long does a federal background check take?”

Fortunately, a federal background check is still a relatively fast process (depending on the type of check needed), and being able to view the full timeline of a federal check will give individuals a better idea of how long they can expect to wait before receiving the results.

Want to skip the wait? It’s easier than you think.

In fact, there are two simple ways to learn how to get a federal background screening on yourself so that you can reduce the wait time.

  1. Use an online background check agency that offers a free criminal background screening, or a 7-day free trial background screening membership.
  2. Navigate to the FBI’s Identity History Summary page and formally request your RAP sheet after submitting your fingerprints, the request form and the processing fee.

To reduce the DIY time, you’ll need to submit forms digitally, but knowing the full timeline for any federal background check can help indicate when there might be something that needs attention.

How Long Does It Take for a Federal Background Check? (How Long Does a Basic Federal Background Check Take)

In order to figure out how long does a federal background check take, there are a few factors that need to be acknowledged.

The first factor and the one that will likely have the biggest impact on the timeline is if the check is fingerprint-based or name-based.

Name-Based Checks

A federal background check generally refers to a background check that checks for a person’s criminal history information using both state and federal databases. This allows the background check service to find any crimes that an individual has been convicted of anywhere in the United States, regardless of whether or not it was a federal or state conviction. Many background check services for entry-level jobs only check the state and local databases, so federal background checks are generally more thorough.

With a name-based check, a federal background check shouldn’t take any longer than a local background check as all the information is still checked electronically, resulting in a background check that is completed in 2-5 days on average. Based on the company or agency performing the check, the check can even be completed in mere minutes, such as when undergoing a background check for purchasing a firearm.

Timeline For Name-Based Federal CheckTime Frame
Complete Application and Forms1 Hour
Run Criminal History National1-3 Days
Run Criminal History Local(included)
Public Records Check1 Day
Offender Registries Checks1 Day
Report GeneratedTotal Time: 1-5 days

Fingerprint-Based Checks

The other kind of background check that may be referred to when using the term federal background check is the kind of background screening that is required to work for the federal government. Virtually all positions with the federal government will require even more through the FBI Identity History Summary Check.1

This is generally even more thorough than a typical federal background check as it requires the applicant’s fingerprints to be run through a national database.

This gathering of fingerprints and checking of additional databases also means the entire background check process is elongated as the fingerprints must be gathered and sent to the proper agency before the check can even begin. This results in a check that takes around 5-10 days to complete.

Certain jobs in the federal government will also have additional background check processes besides the criminal history check performed by the FBI, such as credit history checks, reference checks, etc. Which can add a significant amount of time that may cause the entire process to several months.

Timeline For Fingerprint Federal CheckTime Frame
Complete Application and Forms4 Hours
Visit Certified Fingerprint Location4 Hours
Submit Paperwork1 Hour
Run Criminal History National (FBI)1-3 Days
Run Criminal History Local (Name Based + Fingerprints)(included)
Public Records Check1-3 Days
Offender Registries Checks1 Day
Report GeneratedTotal Time: 7-21 days

How Long Does a Background Check Take for Federal Employment

There are tons of different jobs in the federal government and the background check requirements for each job vary widely, so answering questions like “how long does a federal background check take?” Can get a little bit tricky.

Entry-level jobs with agencies like the United States Post Office, generally have minimal background check requirements but are often still greater than most jobs. As mentioned it is standard for an FBI identity history summary check to be used as part of the criminal history check for jobs in the federal government. This check alone will likely take over a week, assuming the individual is able to submit their fingerprints immediately after moving into the background check phase of the hiring process.

Beyond entry-level jobs in the federal government, things start to get much more complicated and take much longer. The federal government uses six different levels of security clearance based on the importance of the role and the type of confidential information that the individual will hypothetically have access to.

Unfortunately, unlike typical background checks that are performed through private background check services, the time a federal employment background check varies widely. This is mainly due to the fact that many of the steps that are taken as part of the background check can not be completed electronically, and require a government employee to investigate certain matters directly. This isn’t always the case, especially with entry-level positions but for jobs that require any amount of security clearance there will be a significant portion of the background check process that will be very “hands-on.”

Basic Check

Keep in mind that when applying for jobs that require a security clearance, it is not as simple as filling out a basic application and having a background check performed. The level of security clearance must be requested on a separate form so that the proper information is gathered from the applicant for the agency to run the specific background checks that are required for the corresponding level of security clearance.

The first step in the background check process is the gathering of basic information. This usually entails the applicant filling out the required forms and submitting them back to the agency in a timely manner. This shouldn’t take the applicant more than a couple of hours as most if not all the information should already be known by the applicant such as education, addresses, names, phone numbers, and family member contact information.

After this, fingerprints are generally gathered and sent to the FBI for the initial criminal history check to take place. For jobs with minimal security clearance, the fingerprint-based check will likely be one of the only checks that are performed, meaning the whole process should be completed in just a couple of weeks. However jobs that have even a slightly higher security clearance, the process will take much longer.

Advanced Checks

For security clearance applications, the checks beyond the basic fingerprint checks will vary widely. In general, these checks will essentially be similar to the reference checks that are common in lots of jobs. However, rather than the applicant providing a handful of individuals to the employer, the employer will request an often lengthy list of individuals that they wish to contact.

This won’t just include former co-workers and supervisors but family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and more. Since not all of these individuals can be reached immediately or at any time of day, and because someone will have to reach out to these individuals directly to ask specific questions, the process can drag on for months.

The higher the security clearance, the more questions will be asked and the more people will be questioned.

Although speaking with people that know the applicant personally is the most tedious part of the process, it is far from the only other check that will be performed. Based on the security clearance level and the position being applied for, there are several other checks that are performed during the multi-month background check process.

Many background checks will look in great detail into a person’s financial history as well. This includes not just looking for major things like bankruptcies but also analyzing income and tax records, in great detail. Although it’s not uncommon for financial information to be a part of a background check, this will be by far the most thorough look through a person’s financials that is possible and can be similar in scope to an IRS audit.

All of the standard background check processes will also take place but are usually far more intensive. For example, education history will be checked in far greater detail to ensure no that the information is false and there is nothing out of the ordinary. Although certain parts of an individual’s education history may seem irrelevant the main reason for the veracity of the check is to obtain a full picture of the individual’s life and integrity. Something as simple as a grade being altered can be a major cause for concern.

Finally, for most high-security clearance jobs, there will be at least one interview with the applicant themselves. For many jobs, applicants can expect to be interviewed several times. The exact questions for the interview will vary widely but they will be quite different from a typical job interview. As mentioned the goal of such a thorough background check is to essentially be able to view an individual’s entire life, so many of the questions will revolve around understanding the individual’s goals, motivations, and integrity, in order to judge if they can be trusted with valuable and potentially harmful information.

Security LevelForms RequiredHow Long the Background Check TakesAdditional Information
Non-Sensitive PositionsSF85-1330 days30 days at most, usually less than two weeks.
Level 1SF854-8 Weeks
Level 2SF864-8 WeeksNACLC Check is required every 5 years
Level 3SF861-3 MonthsSSBI-PR Check is required every 5 years
Level 4SF861- 3 MonthsSSBI-PR Check is required every 5 years
Level 5SF85P, SF864-8 MonthsTimes will vary based on the type of level 5 – Public trust or National Security
Level 6SF85P, SF85P-S, SF864-8 MonthsTimes will vary based on the type of level 6 – Public Trust, National Security, Public Trust Duties

How Long Does It Take for a Federal Background Check To Clear?

So exactly how long does a federal background check take? It depends on the job and the kind of check. A background check for a federal job will take the longest to clear. As discussed above, jobs that require a certain security clearance will take up to 8 months to complete and other issues like background checks being backlogged at the federal level can cause the process to take even longer.

On the other hand, individuals who are applying for a job that happens to use a federal background check such as an FBI identity history summary check can expect the process to take no longer than two weeks in most cases. Jobs in the education and healthcare sectors will often use the FBI criminal history check as their standard background check. Once again, certain factors like a backlog of background checks, not submitting fingerprints immediately, or making a mistake on any of the forms can delay the process.

How Long Does a Federal Background Check Take for TSA?

A TSA background check will be completed fairly quickly compared to other federal jobs. In general, most individuals can expect a TSA background check to be completed within 30 days. Usually, the background check will entail an FBI identity History Summary check, which is a fingerprint-based check, as well as reference checks of friends and family. These checks will not be quite as thorough as a job that requires a high-security clearance so the process is generally much faster.

How Long Does It Take for a Federal Gun Background Check To Clear?

Fortunately when it comes to how long does a federal background check take? The normal timeline doesn’t apply when talking about the check required for firearms purchases.

The FBI performs all federal gun background checks using what they call an “instant check.” This generally occurs when the individual is attempting to purchase the firearm, or at least start the process if they are in a state with mandatory waiting periods or other similar laws that are intended to slow down the process. Regardless of local and state laws, the background check itself is done extremely quickly and should take less than a day and in most cases will be completed in just a couple of minutes.

Keep in mind that just because the background check cleared doesn’t mean the gun can be purchased immediately. Many states have additional laws that will affect when the actual firearm exchange can take place.

How Long Does It Take To Do a Background Check To Visit Federal Inmates?

In order to visit an individual that is incarcerated in federal prison, several steps must be taken to ensure the visitor is eligible. This ensures that visitors can not show up unannounced and that only individuals that have been approved by the prisoner may visit as well.

The process is fairly simple and should take about 4-6 weeks to be approved for visitation.

Step 1: Locate the Inmate

The first step to visit a federal inmate is to use the inmate locator form provided by the United States Bureau of Prisons.2

Step 2: Receive a Visitor Information Form

Once the inmate is located, the next step is to make sure the inmate has filled out the visitor information form and mailed it to the potential visitor. Keep in mind that the only way to get a visitor information form is directly from the inmate you wish to visit, this form can not be requested through the prison.

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It is also important to keep in mind who is allowed to visit the inmate. A complete list of allowed visitors as well as information on visiting hours and how often an inmate can be visited can be viewed on the BOP website.3

Step 3: Fill Out Visitor Information Form and Return to Inmates Address

Once the individual has received the form, they simply need to fill out the visitor portion of the form and mail it back to the inmate’s address, which will be included.

Step 4: Await Additional Information Requests.

In some cases, the prison may request additional information from the potential visitor before they are approved.

Step 5: Await Approval

The final step is to await approval. If the potential visitor is approved, they will be contacted by the prison. However, unapproved visitors will not be notified and it is up to the inmate to inform the individual that they have not been approved for visitation.

How Far Back Does a Federal Background Check Go?

There are currently no federal laws that prohibit how far back a federal background check can go. Although there are background check laws outlined by the FCRA,4 only state laws have time frames regarding the legality of going back a certain amount of time during a background check. This means that a federal background check can go back indefinitely.

Although not all background checks will check an individual’s entire life, background checks for security jobs will almost certainly go back as far as they possibly can.

How Long Is a Federal Background Check Good For?

How long a federal background check is good for will depend entirely on the job. Most jobs will require all employees to undergo a background check every several years, especially if the job deals with sensitive information or requires a security clearance.

Everyone knows just how stressful a standard background check is, and a federal background can be significantly worse. Being able to understand the timeline and being able to confidently answer questions like “How long does a federal background check take?” Can help ease nerves and allow the process to go much smoother.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Does a Federal Background Check Take?

Why Is My Federal Background Check Taking So Long?

Federal background checks are extremely thorough and unlike most background checks, not everything they look for is accessible through an online database. This means that many of the checks must be performed directly and will be at the mercy of other agencies or individuals that they need to contact.

How Long Does a Federal Criminal Background Check Take?

A federal criminal background check will usually be performed by the FBI as a fingerprint-based check. Assuming fingerprints are submitted in a timely fashion, the check should take no more than two weeks.

What Can I Expect From a Federal Background Check?

Many federal background checks are the same as pre-employment background investigations with basic information and likely fingerprints being required. Beyond this, they may ask for information about relatives, neighbors and past jobs as well as several interviews that may not deal directly with the job duties, but rather questions of integrity and loyalty.

Why Are Background Checks Taking So Long 2021?

Background checks seem to be taking longer due to an immense backlog of background checks at the federal level.

Is It Hard To Pass a Federal Background Check?

There are many different kinds of federal background checks, many of the lower level checks can be passed by most people, providing you do not have a criminal record or anything significant. However, security clearance checks can be much more through and thus harder to pass.

Why Do Government Background Checks Take So Long?

The federal government frequently gets overloaded with background checks. Many of these checks take longer than normal anyways, so its quite common for their to be a significant backlog.

How Long Does It Take for a Background Check To Come Back?

A typical pre-employment background check should take 3-5 days to come back. Background checks that require fingerprints should be completed in less than two weeks.

How Long Does Pre-Employment Background Check Take?

A pre-employment background check should be completed in less than a week. With many entry-level jobs this will be even less and can be completed in just a couple of days.

How Long Does a Fingerprint Background Check Take?

Fingerprint background checks tend to take slightly longer as the process of getting fingerprinted and sending the prints to the proper agency adds a few days to process. It is rare that the process takes more than two weeks.

How Long Does a Criminal Background Check Take?

Most criminal background checks can be done in just a few days. Name-based checks can be completed almost instantly using online databases.


1FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022). Identity History Summary Checks. Services. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from <>

2Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2022). General Visiting Information. USA.Gov. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from <>

3U.S Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2022). Visitor Information. Form BP-A0629.052, Visitor Information. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from <>

4Federal Trade Commission Protecting America’s Consumers. (2022). Fair Credit Reporting Act. USA.Gov. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from <>

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