Its surprisingly difficult (unless you’re arrested) to have your fingerprints taken abroad. If you need them for a visa or a citizenship application, chances are that you are not in your country of residence. I ran into this problem, while applying for a Chilean Temporary Residence Visa during our road trip through Central America.

At the American Embassy in Belize, an authoritative consular representative told me that I should have had my prints taken before I left the United States. I would’ve gladly had the prints taken in the US, but the Chilean embassy only accepts visa applications 3 months before the visa start date and requires background checks be no more than a month old. Since my trip to Chile would take 7 months, I couldn’t have taken the prints back home.

I’m certain that this fingerprinting paradox isn’t unique to travelers, but fear not! I have found a way. You may have to spend a day running from one office to the next, but you’ll be able to find a place to get them taken.

Tips for sleuthing out fingerprinting locations

  1. Big cities are better. Big cities are much more likely to have the ink pad and roller required to professionally take fingerprints.
  2. Countries known for being safe are best. You’re going to have better luck convincing a police officer to help you.
  3. Choose a city with a FedEx location. You spent all this time getting your fingerprints, you’ll likely want to send them through secure mail, especially if the package contains sensitive information.

I spent a while running around cities trying to get my fingerprints taken. I successfully had fingerprints taken in Belize and Panama, and tested the bureaucratic waters in Costa Rica.

Getting fingerprints taken in Belize

Best Location: Belmopan

My experience getting fingerprints

I emailed the American consulate in Belmopan, Belize, which gave me an appointment for fingerprinting services. The services would cost $88 USD, but I was willing to pay a little extra given the difficulty of finding places that would actually take my fingerprints. Upon arriving at the American consulate, the manager/man-in-charge/jefe rudely told me that U.S. embassies never perform fingerprinting services. After some bureaucratic kerfuffle, I was able to get my fingerprints taken and pay the exorbitant fee.

They wouldn’t give me back the fingerprint cards. Instead, they directly mailed my fingerprints and background check application to the FBI.

My recommendation 

Although I don’t think this embassy would do this again, the jefe man told me he would call the police station in Belmopan to have them take the prints. He assured me that they would have the proper tools, but that there would likely be a cost.

I recommend emailing our home country’s consulate, and asking them if they can call the local police to make an appointment to have fingerprinting services. They may charge less than the American consulate.

Getting fingerprints taken in Costa Rica

Location: San Jose

I didn’t successfully have fingerprints taken here, but I did inquire at a few police stations. Although all were happy to help, none of the stations had the proper equipment to take the fingerprints.

I would recommend beginning your mission in San Jose. Go during the week – one police officer told me he could do it, but he wouldn’t perform the service on the weekend.

Getting fingerprints taken in Panama

Best Location: DIJ, Panama City

GPS: 8.9651582, -79.5452417

Okay, Panama has it dialed. They don’t look at you like you’re crazy when you ask for fingerprints.

When you get to the DIJ, walk up to the kiosk and tell them you need to have fingerprints taken. They’ll give you a badge and send you inside.

Once inside, you’ll wait until a technician comes out to get you. Before they take fingerprints for your purposes, they’ll take a set of fingerprints for their records. They’ll give you as many sets of fingerprints as you ask for at no cost.

Before they give you back the forms, they’ll need to send the prints to a separate office to be notarized. It’ll be about 3 days before they’ll release the prints back to you.

Bring multiple copies of the form which needs fingerprints. This will allow you to use other copies if some don’t turn out. Make sure you don’t put any confidential information on the form, since it’ll be in their offices for a few days before they release it back to you.

Cost: Free

Time: 3 days

If you’re applying for an FBI background check

I recommend using a FBI channeler. I sent prints directly to the FBI and to a channeler. The FBI took 3 months, and offered no help telling me if they had even received my application. The channeler took 3 days. If you need the prints for a visa application, its worth it to know if your prints were accepted as soon as possible.

Make sure that the FBI channeler accepts fingerprints taken abroad.  I confirmed that both National Background Check and MyFBIReport will accept fingerprints from abroad.