What is Live Scan, and What is the Process?

What Is Live Scan Fingerprinting and How Does It Work?

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What is Live Scan, and What is the Process?

Live Scan is a method of collecting fingerprints that has gained widespread use in the United States. The California Department of Justice developed the Live Scan process (DOJ), and other states have adopted it since. Live Scan is a highly accurate fingerprinting method that produces better images than the traditional ink-and-roll method.

It’s a type of criminal background check you might need if you work in a sensitive field. For example, if you work with vulnerable adults or children, then you need it. It’s also a requirement for certain positions, like working as a police officer. The name “Live Scan” sounds intense, but it just refers to collecting your fingerprints. 

What is a live scan?

Live Scan refers to electronically capturing fingerprints and taking a digital photograph. It’s becoming a popular method of background screening and evaluating candidates for jobs, licensing, and certification.

The electronic submission system provides 100% accurate identification of your fingerprints. This service allows you to get fingerprinted and submit the results to any state or federal agency in the United States.
Live Scan provides employers with a certified copy of their employee’s fingerprints which can be helpful in many different ways, including:

• Verification of employment eligibility, i.e., Social Security number (SSN)

• Proof of identity for security clearances and background checks

• Employee Background Checks (EBC) – Criminal History Record Check (CHRC), verification that the employee is not ineligible for employment based on criminal convictions or other reasons such as employment-related drug testing

• Employment Eligibility Verification, i.e., “Form I-9” –
Confirmation that the applicant is eligible to work in the US

Live Scan fingerprinting places the submitted fingerprints into the DOJ and FBI databases (along with criminal history information). These agencies have 24-hour access to the Live Scan fingerprinting results, giving them a comprehensive look at your criminal history information. 

What is the Live Scan Process?

The process of live scan fingerprinting is very similar to traditional fingerprinting. You need to go to the agency you’re applying with and submit your fingerprints before they appear in the databases.

Getting a Live Scan can vary slightly depending on the state.

  • California – Request a Live Scan form from your employer or find it here.
  • Florida – Request an ORI number from your employer.
  • In other states – A Fingerprint Card service is available, and applicants receive an FD-258 card.

The Live Scan process includes the following three steps: 

Step 1: Collect the Live Scan Request

Typically, you receive a request to complete a Live Scan from your employer. They will provide a form with three copies for you to fill out and take to the service location. Some employers have certified fingerprinting technicians who perform the Live Scans in-house. The pre-registration form may look slightly different for individual states. For example, Maryland has the following Live Scan application.

Step 2: Visit a Live Scan Facility

Visit a Live Scan facility near you to submit your fingerprints. You may need to make an appointment over the phone or online. The first step is to get fingerprinted by a Live Scan operator. This person will use a special scanner that collects your fingerprints and sends them electronically to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ then runs your prints through its database and gives you a report.

You receive a fingerprint card, an official document that the FBI uses to collect individual fingerprints. It helps identify you and your fingerprints. The card has spaces for ten fingers (including thumbs), so you’ll need to use both hands when getting your prints taken. 

Step 3: Wait for Approval

The DOJ and FBI send an approval or denial letter to your address of record within 30 days. The time it takes for your fingerprints to be processed depends on how many people are waiting before you.

The FBI and DOJ databases are often backlogged with thousands of applications, so it’s possible they cannot process yours immediately. If this happens, don’t panic! You can visit another live scan facility (if there is one nearby) and have them submit your application again. 

How Long Does a Live Scan Take?

Live Scan fingerprinting is a quick and painless process. The time it takes to get your fingerprints done depends on how many people are waiting in line before you. The average wait time at a Live Scan facility is 30 minutes, but some locations are faster than others.

Expect the following waiting times for the results below:

• Live Scan Fingerprints – 3 days

• Fingerprints – 5 days

• Child Abuse Central Index check – 4-6 weeks

The length of time a Live Scan takes depends on the application you are filing. If you apply for a new job and need fingerprinting, the process should only take about 15 minutes. However, it will probably take about an hour if you require a security clearance or want to enter a law enforcement position. 

Where Do You Get a Live Scan?

There are hundreds of locations you can choose from nationwide. Each state has unique fingerprinting locations. For example, you can get fingerprinted at any California Live Scan location. You may get fingerprinted at a local police station, military recruitment office, or law enforcement agency.

Private companies also offer live scan services to individuals and businesses. Some companies will open early in the morning or stay open late at night, so you can get fingerprinted when it’s convenient for your schedule.

The staff at these locations will give you the necessary forms and help complete them. Once they have your information, they will digitally take your fingerprints and submit them to the FBI for processing.

Live Scan Benefits

Live Scan is a quick, safe and non-invasive process that allows employers to confirm an applicant’s identity. The benefits of using Live Scan include the following:

• Reducing human error and saving time – Electronically transmitted fingerprints are faster and more accurate. It eliminates the need for paper forms and manual entry into a computer database.

• Live Scan images can be stored electronically in the California DOJ database, facilitating searches and sharing with other states or agencies that use Live Scan technology.

• Live Scan technology allows the electronic transmission of fingerprints directly from the field to the DOJ’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). It reduces the time required for matching prints with criminal offenders because fewer steps are involved between submission and searching against existing records.

• Privacy protection for applicants – Live Scan fingerprints are never shared with employers or other agencies. They are stored at the state or federal level. This privacy protection means that your personal information will not be compromised during the background check process.

Live Scan technology has been widely adopted in recent years because it is accepted by law enforcement agencies throughout California, including all state and local police departments, sheriff’s departments, district attorney’s offices, and courts. The DOJ also accepts Live Scan fingerprint cards processed through the state’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). 


Below you can find answers to frequently asked questions about the live scan process.

Q: What do you need to bring to a live scan?

A: You must bring a government-issued photo ID and proof of address. Your primary ID, like a passport, can be anything with your name, date of birth, and proof of current address.

You may also want to bring your social security card when visiting one of these locations so they can verify your identity. Secondary forms of ID include a utility bill, bank statement, or official documentation proving where you live. 

Q: What does a live scan cost?

A: You can expect to pay $50 – $75 at most locations. The fee varies depending on the facility.

Q: Is it safe?

A: Yes. The entire process is done with a live scan machine that works like an inkless fingerprinting system.

Q: What does the live Scan entail?

A: When you visit your local law enforcement agency for a live scan, they will take two fingerprints from each hand.

Q: How long does a live scan take?

A: The process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. It depends on how busy the location is.

Q: What happens if I fail the background check?

A: If you fail the background check, you must pay another $50-$75 for a second live scan.

Q: Who needs to get a Live Scan?

A: State and federal employers often require Live Scans. Examples include appraisers, caregivers, contractors, doctors, foster parents, lawyers, licensed DMV professionals, notaries, nurses, realtors, security guards, stockbrokers, surgeons, teachers, and volunteers.

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