Background Checks in TEFL

You want to teach English. And you’re not a hardened criminal, right?

Of course not! But you may well need to prove this last fact to get a job.

Many countries (though not all) ask prospective teachers to provide a valid Background Check when they apply for a teaching job. This is simply an official document from your home country saying that you have never killed anyone or done anything terrible!

These checks are variously known as a:

  • Background Check
  • Criminal Records Check or CRC
  • Police Clearance
  • Subject Access Check
  • Certificate of Character
  • No Criminal Record

What they are called depends on which country issues them. In most cases this is by the national authorities of your home country (and not, for example, the local authorities).

This article is all about what a background check is and how you can go about getting one.

Applying for a Background Check

Although the process varies according to your nationality, in most cases it will begin by submitting your fingerprints on an official form along with various other documentation which will include your ID, contact details, current and former names, etc.

This is sent to the official authorities in your country (e.g. the FBI or national police; for links see below), often with a fee which varies depending on where you are. The checking process can take several months to complete so it is best to apply for a background check as early as possible allowing at least 3 months for the whole process in case of delays.

Following receipt of the background check it may need to have an apostille‏‎ depending on where you will be using it; this can include having it verified by the embassy of the country you’re intending to work in.

In general, background checks cannot be older than 3 months to be used. They are normally required from your home country however if you are currently living in another country and have been there longer than six months then you may be required to get a background check from this country also.


In the USA the FBI have allowed so-called channelers to help with the process of getting a background check. For a fee these can speed up the process and if you are pushed for time it may be the way to go.

Channeler obtained background checks are accepted by most countries including South Korea, however you should always check this before submitting your documents.

Convictions & Countries

Although there are no hard and fast rules, in many cases, minor convictions (e.g. for traffic offences) can be overlooked.

However, those offences which are likely to cause problems are:

  • drug offences
  • sexual offences

In some cases you may need to write an official letter to the authorities of the country you are going to work in to explain any convictions. This will be detailed on your application depending on where you are going.


  • Australia – Checks supplied by the either the state police or the federal police depending on your location.
  • Canada – Check for details on the process from the RCMP website (cost: 25 CAD + 50 CAD)
  • Ireland – CRC checks can be obtained from your local Garda station and are known as a Certificate of Character.
  • New Zealand – The Ministry of Justice is frequently asked to provide a CRC for persons who wish to apply for residence in a foreign country.
  • South Africa – Check for details on obtaining your CRC, known as a Police Clearance Certificate.
  • UK – a Subject Access Check can be issued from the local police station in England, Wales or Northern Ireland; in Scotland you will find more information at the Disclosure Scotland website.
  • USA –The CRC must be made to the FBI and CRCs from the state authorities are no longer acceptable; you may, however, use an authorized channeler to speed up the process.

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Posted in Teaching Around The World.

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