Police Clearance Certificate :
A Difficult Document



Proving You Are Not Guilty

I Didn't Do It...

A police clearance certificate is a document to which you are entitled provided you have committed no crime. Getting one is a different matter. A certificate is concerned solely with criminal matters. Misdemeanors and civil actions are not included. No country wishes to "import" trouble. Most do their best to keep out those with a criminal record. This is done by requiring prospective immigrants to provide a Police Clearance Certificate from all countries in which a person has spent an appreciable length of time. This is often as short as six months. No standards apply to the needs of countries requiring such certificates. The extreme requirement is from the United States of America. This country demands that a police clearance certificate is supplied from every country in which to applicant for a residence visa has lived for more than six months since the age of sixteen years. The Philippine authorities require a certificate from the current country of residence only

What is Needed to get a Police Clearance Certificate

The obvious requirement is to be able to supply proof of identity. Again no two countries will have the same needs so far as this is concerned. Whenever the question of proof of identity arises the minimum set of documents may include:-

  1. a copy of the data page of the passport
  2. a birth certificate, adoption documents (if applicable), a marriage certificate, divorce decrees (interim (nisi) and final)
  3. employer reference 
  4. bank references
  5. utility (water or electricity) accounts
  6. a driver's license
  7. perhaps even details of property ownership.
You Can't Write Your Own!

No country requires all of these documents. Some may need only a minimum set comprising the passport and birth certificate. Since positive proof of identity is vital with regard to criminal matters an additional, almost universal and certain proof of identity is needed to obtain a police clearance certificate.

Conclusive Proof of Identity

Not You? Please!

A full set of fingerprints, including all fingers, the thumbs and side and full palms must be made and certified by an acceptable authority. In most countries the local police station can supply standard, internationally acceptable finger print cards. Often up to three sets may be provided free of charge but any more may induce some fee. These cards should be carefully protected. Any damage or smudging could cause them to be unacceptable. Together with the appropriate application form and the other documents handling in the post can cause damage. The Canadian government provides useful and detailed information on many countries about the documents that need to be included in an application for a certificate.

The Process

The documents plus the fees required must then be sent to the issuing authority. Take advice from your bank with regard to the transfer of money. It may require an international money order, a bank draft or a wire transfer. Under no circumstances send cash. In the U.S.A. the procedure is slightly different. The appropriate form must be downloaded from the F.B.I. web site, completed and returned. An appointment window will be made at the nearest issuing centre. At the centre the finger print form is made and this together with any other documents required must be returned to the F.B.I. The charges will be paid at this centre.  A letter advising of the results of the processing will be returned to the applicant and this is the clearance certificate required.

How Long Have You Got?

Less Than You Think

A police clearance certificate is valid on the day of issue only. Most countries will "grant" a certificate a life of six months. After this it is considered stale and a new updated certificate will be required. Even if certificates are needed from a number of countries this period would seem to be a sufficient and adequate in which to collect all that are required. The issuing authorities in the U.S.A., Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are very efficient at producing their certificates. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many Third World or newly independent countries. It is also necessary to contend with the difficulty of official corruption, usually at a junior level.

Problems can be suspected when the local embassy or consulate will not answer questions on behalf of the department responsible for issuing police clearance certificates. This may not always be the police. It could be an administrative department responsible for the non-operational duties of the police force. All countries charge for the issue of clearance certificates and some make very high levies. For most the cost of returning the certificate is included in the cost which must accompany the application.

No Help

Not Honest? Me?

From some countries you may get a call from the "official" holding the issued certificate requesting payment of the return costs. At this point it is probably best to abandon recovery of this document. Make a new application and have it delivered, its progress monitored and subsequently collected by an international courier organization. The required fees may then best be paid to the courier company which will provide local currency at the point of lodgment of the application.  This may seem expensive but it is cheaper than having all certificates already in hand expire while fruitless negotiations proceed.

If a country requires that a police clearance certificate is translated into the national language and apostilled the expiry date can approach very quickly. If more than one certificate is needed then the plan must be to apply first for whichever is likely to be the most difficult. In general you may expect no help from your country's diplomatic representatives in the country to whose government you are applying for a certificate.

It must be remembered that a police clearance certificate is a vital document. No application for a residence visa can proceed unless this requirement is met. It is often the most difficult item to obtain.


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