How Long Does an FBI Background Check Take? (2 Tips To Make It Faster)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 8, 2024

FBI looking at his watch to see how long does an FBI background check take with a clock on the wall next to him.

To find trustworthy, stable, and skilled employees, employers often require thorough FBI background checks for all job applicants…which leaves the common question: “how long does an FBI background check take?

The true answer is…it depends.

The process involves digging deep into a job applicant’s records. An FBI background check is a process that takes time, and resources, and in many cases even requires interviews and contact with the applicant’s relatives, friends, past co-workers, and so on.

As a result of this complex process, you may ask yourself, “how long does an FBI background check take?” Well, it’s not a simple answer given that it’s not the same each time.

It all depends on what is included in the background check and how easy it will be to gather the necessary information. But don’t worry, we’ll explain everything. In addition to that, you will also learn 2 great tips on how to make an FBI background check go faster!

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What Is an FBI Background Check?

First things first, you need to understand what exactly an FBI background check is and what goes into this entire process.

The main purpose of an FBI background check is to gather information about the applicant and disclose whether they are a safe fit for a governmental or municipal position such as law enforcement or public office. What emerges from a background investigation from the FBI will provide a much deeper search of records than a typical level 2, fingerprint-based check.

A screenshot of the IDHSC (Identity History Summary Check) website, which provides an overview of the service for obtaining a criminal history record from the FBI.

(Image: Federal Bureau of Investigation7)

The process goes through the applicant’s criminal history records and includes an identity check, credit history reports, and other types of information when necessary.

Most government and federal positions have the right to request an FBI background check as a mandatory condition for the job application. This means that the timeline for an FBI check will line up with the duration of a screening for a government post (because most government jobs will use an FBI check).

However, no one but you can request to get a copy of the information in an FBI background screen. So, you can rest assured that the records from the check won’t be shared by the company or anyone else. They will simply go over the details of the report and use that information to determine whether you will be a good fit for the job.

After the reviewing process is over, you will be notified whether you have a criminal history or any other issues that may have prevented you from getting the job. You can understand why this is important because no company wants to hire an employee with a bad rap sheet to handle something like sensitive information, financial planning, or similar tasks. As a result, an FBI background check is simply a safety measure that helps protect companies from risky or even unskilled applicants.

How Long Does an FBI Background Check Take?

Depending on how much information is gathered, a full FBI background check may take between 30 days and up to a few months, but it can also be as quick as a few days in some unusual circumstances. This extended time delay comes down to the fact that an FBI check is a form of thorough background investigation.

This is why we mentioned that it’s a bit difficult to answer. For example, if the background check requires everything from criminal history records, identity checks, motor vehicle reports, medical history, and so on then it will naturally take a lot longer. One of the main things that prolongs this process is getting a security clearance if needed.

On the other hand, if only details like criminal history and identity checks are requested then the background check is likely to take much less time. It all depends on the exact job position and the type of access and responsibilities the applicant will have.

In any case, the average time for an FBI background check is usually one week. But, as we mentioned, as a result of lack of information or any errors or issues on their end, the check can take even over a month in some cases. Let’s go over what goes into an FBI background check so that it’s easier to grasp why it could take such a long time.

Keep in mind that a screening for a security clearance will take even longer as FBI agents dig into every minute detail of the past.

Criminal Record Check

Among the most important steps in an FBI background check is a criminal history report. Companies that work with sensitive information or include security roles must obtain a criminal history report for their applicants; it’s just that simple.

In fact, this is highly recommended for all types of companies. Making sure that the applicant has no serious crimes in the past is crucial to ensure a company is not open to liability, which can cause serious legal troubles later down the road resulting in fines much, much higher than the comprehensive background check performed by the FBI.

FBI Fingerprint Check

A fingerprint check is one of the main things that gives the FBI access to critically important information about each applicant.1 This includes details about one’s identity, previous jobs, financial debt details, and so on.

An image showing a magnifying glass placed over a police fingerprint form, revealing the magnified fingerprint impressions on the form.

Even though you can purchase your own fingerprint scanner, scan your fingerprints, and send them yourself, it’s advised that you go to a professional for this process. Furthermore, in the case of a federal or government job, you are often required to go to a local authority such as a police station. So really, buying your own scanner can be a big waste of time and money.

Furthermore, a professional technician will do this job best and save time. If fingerprints aren’t scanned correctly, the process will have to be repeated, wasting precious time and costing more money. By doing so, you will prolong your FBI background check even further.

Credit History Report

A credit history report is another background check that most companies also ask for, not just federal agencies.5 However, you should know that a low credit score isn’t the worst thing that you can have when it comes to the FBI. Most of the time a bad credit score won’t disqualify you.

On the other hand, it can certainly lower your chances of getting hired quickly and you may be forced to resolve your credit until you can officially be hired for the job. This is why it’s always preferred to have a good credit score or at least provide a truthful answer on your application if it is low.

Security Clearance

When it comes to the FBI, security clearance is what differentiates this background check type from many others.2 This is an absolute must-have for every employee who may have access to Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret national security information.

An FBI security clearance check is a long process that includes interviews with the applicant’s friends, family, neighbors, and other contacts who may be close to the applicant. FBI agents conduct interviews in person and attempt to gather information spanning the previous 10-year timeframe.

How Long Does an FBI Background Check Take Compared to Other Background Checks?

It’s probably already clear that FBI background checks can take significantly longer than the average pre-employment background check. The main reason that prolongs this is the security clearance phase. On average, the standard pre-employment background check usually takes between three days and a week. An FBI background check would probably take the same amount of time if it weren’t for the security clearance process.

How long do federal background checks take graphic showing the FBI background check timeframe for security clearance background check, secret level background check and top secret level background investigation processes using FBI Sf 86 form and other fbi security clearance options.

Given that a security clearance is necessary, depending on the government job you’re applying for there are three levels of security clearance, including Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.

  1. Getting Confidential security clearance for your background check would usually take about 30 days to complete. During this time, all of your other reports and checks would be ready and the Confidential security clearance would be all that’s left of your background check.
  2. A Secret level security clearance can also take one month to complete but it can also be up to three months. It’s usually no longer than that.
  3. Top Secret security clearance, on the other hand, may take between four and eight months. In rare cases, this type of security clearance can prolong your FBI background check by as much as one year.

These are the biggest reasons why FBI background checks usually take longer than the average pre-employment background check. However, as we mentioned, not all government positions require a security clearance. In that case, your FBI background check will likely be finished within a week or up to a month.

Hearing all of this begs the question, how can one make an FBI background check go faster?

2 Tips To Make an FBI Background Check Go Faster

Waiting for something and not being able to do anything about it is a painstaking process. It’s even more painful if your wait turns out to be for nothing and ends up a big waste of time. Looking at past data, the wait for an FBI background check can either be mild and last a few weeks, or it can be severe and last more than a few months.

Luckily, there are concrete ways to reduce the waiting period and make this type of background check go much faster. There are two main ways to do this.

Use a Channeler

A channeler is literally a provider for a faster FBI check.

The FBI contracts with various private firms called channelers to collect applicants’ fingerprints. Preparing your fingerprints beforehand and submitting them on time will significantly reduce your waiting time for an FBI background check. All you have to do is find a channeler near you, have them professionally scan your fingerprints, and they will do the rest of the work.

Keep in mind, that picking the right channeler should not be taken lightly. This is why you have to do your research and look at the reviews. Not all providers are the same. Some are sloppy, some work slower than others, and some simply have too many applicants. As a result, you will have to wait even longer. Find the best channeler near you before you go ahead and decide to work with them.

Using a channeler usually costs more, depending on the one you choose. However, it will almost always take less time and get you your results faster than without using one; this means getting the job quicker and making more than enough money to cover the channeler fee. Luckily, the FBI showcases a roster of authorized channelers who work with them and can help you out,4 so be sure to start there first.

Carefully Fill Out Your Application

Another reason for even longer FBI background checks is having too many mistakes in your application. Usually, these types of background checks start by filling out an application form called SF-86.3 This document features 136 pages and requires the applicants to submit various details about their employment history, travel logs, financial records, and more. As a result, it’s easy to mess up something here and have to fix it or apply it again.

A screenshot of a 'Questionnaire for National Security Positions' form used to collect personal information for security clearance purposes.

(Image: US Office of Personnel Management8)

Don’t rush this process. Read everything carefully and take your time. At the end of the day, making sure everything in the form is correct will never take longer than having to do it all over again because of a mistake! Make sure you give extra attention to the payment details at the end of the application form. This is one part where you can’t afford to make a mistake. Otherwise, they will reject your form or send it back for correction. In such a case, the process will take even longer than expected.

Lastly, you have to ensure that your fingerprint card is up to date. This also goes for all other documents that have expiration dates. Make sure to double-check all of these details. Missing even the slightest one increases your chances of getting rejected or slowing down the background check process. Naturally, such problems can significantly increase the waiting period.

What Can Delay Your FBI Background Check?

Several potential problems can slow down your FBI background check and make you wait longer. The main reason is making a mistake on the application. Read everything clearly and double-check all facts, names, expiration dates, and numbers. Don’t forget that your spouse needs to sign the application form if you want to include them in the background check.

Poorly scanned fingerprints are another cause for delay. As mentioned above, this is why the FBI recommends that you visit a fingerprint technician and provides recommended channelers. If you want to be extra sure, make multiple fingerprint cards and attach them all. All of this increases your chances of getting accepted and everything being on time.

Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To Get An FBI Background Check for YOU?

How long an FBI background check will take for you depends on several factors. This includes the type of position you’re applying for and whether you will need some sort of security clearance. Confidential and Secret level security clearance will prolong the background check up to 3 months. Top Secret security clearance can take up to 8 months to be granted.

As a result, you must ensure that everything on your application form is correct to avoid delay. It’s also recommended that applicants use an expedited background check service and channeler to speed up the process.


1Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Identity History Summary Request. FBI. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from <>

2Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Security Clearances for Law Enforcement. FBI. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from <>

3Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024). Standard Form 86: Questionnaire for National Security Positions. FBI. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from <>

4Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2024, April 4). List of Approved Channelers. FBI. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from <>

5Federal Trade Commission. (2022, July). Free Credit Reports. Retrieved April 18, 2023, from <>

6U.S. Department of State. (March 6, 2024). Criminal Record Checks. Travel.State.Gov. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from <>

7FBI. (2024). Identity History Summary Checks. Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). Retrieved May 7,2024 from <>

8U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2024). Standard Form 86 (SF-86) Questionnaire for National Security Positions. FBI Jobs. Retrieved May 7, 2024 from <>

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