Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A visit to the police station

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia. For previous installments check out posts labeled "residency."

Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the summary on fingerprinting.

Today I went down to the local police station to get fingerprinted for my FBI criminal record check. I called first and confirmed that it is a service that they offer for residents of the city (and college students). When I last called, they gave me the impression that I would have to provide the fingerprint cards myself.

But where to get fingerprint cards? I asked around a bit and nobody knew. So this time I asked again and they do have them at the police station, but were accustomed to people providing them themselves. Confusing.


It was tricky finding a time to go in because the officers go out on calls and sometimes they are all busy. I was lectured about this by each person I talked to after innocently asking what time I could come in. As if I wanted to keep the police from going out and fighting crime! It was considerate of them to warn me, though. Finally the receptionist gave me the number of the station officer so I could call him before going in.

I printed out the FBI fingerprint card from online, although it wasn't on the right kind of paper. I filled it out so that I could just quickly transfer the information to the real card. I had wanted to make sure there were no surprise questions on there.

After calling ahead, I immediately went down to the police station and the lady in the records department confirmed that someone was available. I gave her the $10 and asked about the fingerprint card again and she said everything was computerized anyway. Then I went into the waiting area where another "customer" was sitting. He looked like he'd seen better days.

"Bet you love to spend your afternoon this way," he muttered.
"Yup," I replied (had no idea what he meant).
"Accident report?"
"What? Ummm, no, background check."

Just then I heard a voice call out "Fingerprints?" I was saved.

A police officer in shorts led me to a room and looked at my ID. Then we went to the fingerprint station, which was in fact computerized. No ink pads to be seen here. He typed in my information and then pressed my fingers to the glass panel. The prints were being rejected because they were too dark. "Your fingers are oily," he explained, grabbing a paper towel. Awkward!

After taking the prints all together, he then rolled each finger individually. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have the procedure done by a Russian policeman, because they are so different.

"You said you need the FBI one?" "Yes." He opened a filing cabinet and rummaged through some folders until he found the correct form. After printing it out from the computer, he gave it to me and I inspected it. "I think you're supposed to sign it, " I said. "Oh yeah. And you are, too."

He signed it and handed it to me to sign, but I noticed that he had signed on my line instead of his. We had to print it out again. This time, we did everything correctly. I hope.

So now I have the fingerprint card that I can send off to the FBI to get my background check. The tricky part now is when to send it in. I want the background check to be as "fresh" as possible, but I want to leave time in case there's something wrong with my fingerprints and the check doesn't go through.

I have a feeling that this whole thing would have been easier to do at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg! Renewing my passport there was so easy; no lines, and they knew exactly what to do. And there was no risk of the officer getting called away to fight crime!

However, I've gained new insight into the U.S. Criminal Justice System.

So here's the run-down on getting your fingerprints for an FBI background check:

1) Call ahead to clarify that the station performs the service you need, and that you are eligible.
2) Download a sample FBI fingerprint card and fill it out to practice (make sure you look at a current one).
3) Make sure the place where you are being fingerprinted has the correct form. If not, ask them where to get one.
4) Call ahead to confirm that someone is available to fingerprint you. Be prepared to wait if they go out on call.
5) Before leaving with your fingerprints, double-check to make sure everything is correct.

It might seem simple, but it took me a week or so to figure out. Of course trial-and-error is another option, but I like to do my research. ;)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hello. I saw your posting about getting finger prints, and was wondering if you could assist me in the same process. Do you know if I can go to any police station in St. P? And can I take the printed form from the FBI with me? Any help would be great. Went to an office today to get them done, and the lady was out sick again today. Do you know if the police stations will do them on weekends?

  3. Hello, not quite sure what you mean. What form do you have from the FBI? The application? Fingerprints for background checks (for foreigners) can only be done in Moscow at the International Organization for Migration.

  4. Hi Elizabeth,
    My name is Vivi, i am Chinese, just got married with Russian, and living in Peter on a study visa, now i am trying to apply the residence permit for 3year, and they need the backgroud check, i need to send my finger prints to China, but i am so confused where to get it in Peter, thank god, i found your blog and it give me hope =) i saw your reply above, that this finger prints can only be done in Moscow? or u mean the background check? if in Peter i can do it, should i just go to the police station in the area i am living? or they have special place to make it? your answer will help me a lot, coz i only have 5 month on my visa, and if i can get the permit in time is really important =) thank you so much!

    1. Hi Vivi! You need to contact your embassy and ask where to do the fingerprints because it is different for every country. When you get the fingerprints (in Moscow or wherever) you should be able to mail them to China with a request for a background check. It's also important to request an apostille from your government. Then when you receive the apostilled results, you can get it translated here in St. Petersburg.

    2. Thank you so much, Liz, will call our consulate tmr ;)


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