How Long Does a Background Check Take?

Written By
G. Dautovic
July 10,2023

The most common situation in which you’d have a background check run on you is when applying for a job. However, there are other circumstances, including applying for a gun permit. 

So, how long does a background check take? The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may appear. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to five business days, and there may be delays in some cases.

This depends on the type of background check and the data that needs to be collected, among other factors. In this article, we'll take a look at a variety of scenarios in which a background check is conducted and provide information on how long it might take.

Employment Background Check Time

When you apply for a job, many employers will do a background check to verify your identity and other information you’ve provided. They may also uncover potential issues that show you’re not qualified for the job. 

For instance, if you’re applying for a truck driver position, but your motor vehicle record shows that you frequently get into traffic accidents that are your fault, the employer won’t consider you for the job.

You may also conduct a free background check on someone on your own, although you’re then limited to public records. If you don’t know how to pull information from public records, there are also excellent people search websites at affordable prices.

In case you’re prepared to pay a higher fee for a more comprehensive background check, you can turn to one of the websites for background checking. However, keep in mind that you aren’t permitted to use these sites to determine whether to rent someone a home, hire someone, or make other similar decisions.

The time it takes to run a background check for employment varies according to the information the employer is looking to retrieve. For instance, it’s common for employers to check whether or not a potential employee has a criminal record. Other information the employer is likely to review includes:

  • Identity verification
  • Employment history
  • Educational background
  • Motor vehicle record (MVR)
  • Credit history

Identity Verification

In the majority of cases, a background check starts with identity verification. Confirming a candidate’s identity is a key step in the hiring process. This is usually done by examining the individual’s government-issued documentation, including ID, passport, or driving license. An identity check can take a few minutes or up to two days.

Employment History Verification

When conducting a background check, employers want to verify the candidate’s employment history. Unfortunately, they don’t have access to a database that contains this information. 

Rather, what they do is utilize the information provided by the candidate on their resume. They call the employers listed on the resume to confirm the individual actually worked there.

The time it takes to complete this part of the pre-employment background check depends on the response times of the candidate’s previous employers and the number of job positions listed on their resume.

Educational Background Verification

Education verification is a process of confirming that the educational credentials, such as a college degree, training, and certifications listed on a job application are accurate. This involves contacting the school or institution where the person claims to have earned their degree. The employer will also typically ask for copies of the degrees, certificates, and other documentation as proof.

The turnaround times are dictated by the responsiveness of the institutions and the amount of information that needs to be checked. 

Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) Verification

For jobs that require driving, the employer will want to verify the candidate’s motor vehicle record (MVR). An MVR shows information about your driving history, such as accidents, violations, and suspensions. 

So, how long does it take for a background check of this kind to be carried out? The timeframe in which you can expect an MVR verification to be completed can be anywhere from a few days to two weeks. This depends on the state where you live.

Credit Check

Some employers conduct a credit check as part of the pre-employment screening process. The reason is that they want to ensure that the person they are hiring doesn't have any financial issues, such as the inability to meet payment obligations. They might conclude from a bad credit report that the person in question lacks responsibility and organizational skills, although this isn’t always the case. 

This type of background check is most commonly conducted when the position includes handling money. Prior to starting the process, the employer must obtain written permission from the applicant. The verification typically takes 24 to 48 hours. 

Criminal Background Check

A criminal background check involves retrieving and reviewing criminal records. This check is used to ascertain if the person has been arrested or has had any convictions. Therefore, if the subject has ever been charged with a misdemeanor for drunk driving or vandalism, the information will appear on the criminal background check. The same goes for felonies, such as arson and kidnapping.

The time it takes to carry out this kind of background check depends on whether or not the individual has moved from state to state or another country. Searching through databases across states or countries can take as long as three weeks. On the other hand, the check may only require one to two business days if the individual has been residing in one state.  

Fingerprint Background Check

The fingerprint background check is slightly less common, as it’s conducted mostly for specific jobs. For instance, those who wish to work in a public school or hospital are required to undergo this process.

This background check compares the fingerprints to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) database. One to three business days are required for this procedure to be completed.

Gun Permit Background Check Time

If you’re looking to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer, you’re required to undergo a gun permit or universal background check. The purpose of this check is to minimize gun violence. Basically, firearm dealers in some US states need to have a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), which binds them to follow certain rules and regulations. One such rule is to do a background check on their clients. 

Specifically, the client must provide an ID and fill out the Firearms Transaction Record form. Then, FFL will carry out a background check on their own through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Possible Reasons for Delays

All of the mentioned types of background checks may take longer than expected for a number of reasons. These include incomplete or incorrect information supplied, the applicant being a foreign resident, and the applicant sharing the same name as many other individuals. 

Incomplete or Incorrect Information Input

One reason for possible delays in a background check can be human error. This can happen because the applicant has provided incomplete or inaccurate information. For instance, they could misspell the name or provide the wrong social security number. Thus, the screening process may take days or even weeks longer.

The Applicant Is a Foreign Resident

It can take longer to conduct a background check on someone who is not a US citizen or resident. That’s because extra steps are necessary to verify the individual's identity, criminal history, and other information. These additional steps can include contacting embassies or government agencies for information about the applicant. An international background check can therefore take five days to three weeks.

Common Name

A background check may be delayed due to multiple name matches. For instance, if you’ve signed up for a gun permit and someone whose information is similar to yours isn’t allowed to own a gun, it may take longer for your application to be processed. 

What You Can Do To Speed Up the Process

While some causes of delay are beyond your control, there are steps you can take to expedite the background check process. Here is what you can do:

  • Provide all of the information required
  • Double-check to make sure that the information is accurate
  • Answer the questions from the background check company or your potential employer promptly

This will help minimize delays in receiving your background check results. However, as you’ve seen, there are instances where a delay may occur that you can’t prevent.

Final Comments

This concludes our overview of the potential lengths of time for background checks in various scenarios. As you can see, the duration varies according to the type of information being sought. It can be as quick as one day but may also spread out for a few weeks. There are ways to speed up the process if need be, but most delays are due to factors you cannot influence at all.


What do employers look for in a background check?


When conducting a background check, employers may want to ascertain the applicant’s educational background, employment history, credit score, criminal records, medical history, and other relevant information. The specific information each employer looks for may vary, as some may do a more in-depth background check than others. 

Do companies tell you if you passed a background check?


You will know you passed the applicant background check if the recruiter notifies you that you’re among the candidates who’ve advanced to the next stage of the hiring process. If for some reason, you failed the background check, the recruiter is obliged to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and inform you. They are also required to issue you a copy of the background check if you ask for one.

What are red flags in a background check?


Some red flags in an employment background check include unemployment gaps, a bad credit report, and a criminal record. This won’t necessarily deter the recruiter from hiring the candidate, as there might be a valid explanation, but it will certainly raise some questions. The recruiter will be prompted to look into the matter and question the candidate about it.

How long do background checks actually take?


Depending on the information that is being requested, a background check can take a few minutes, but it usually takes one to five business days. In some cases, a delay may occur, extending the timeframe to as long as two weeks or more. In our article entitled “How long does a background check take?" you can find details concerning the causes of background check delays and ways to reduce these.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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