Retirement Abroad – Police Clearance Certificates

The transportation of criminals to distant shores was common in nineteenth century. Most countries now concentrate upon preventing the entry of criminals. Retirees have no exemption from any such control measures. Successful retirement abroad will often depend on the acquisition of police clearance certificates from at least the last place and possibly all countries of previous residence.

A police clearance certificate is a document which confirms that no criminal offences have been recorded or are pending against the person named on the certificate. It is issued by the police or other authorized organization in the originating country. Although valid only on the day of issue most countries requiring clearance certificates consider them to be “unexpired” for a period of about six months from the issue date. These certificates are concerned only with criminal offences. Debt, minor misdemeanors and civil matters are not reported items so far as police clearance certificates are concerned.

Any certificate issued must refer specifically to the applicant and not to any other person. The identification standards enforced for an application for a clearance certificate are more stringent than for most other documents. In addition to whatever application form must be completed documentary evidence of identity includes the provision of a birth certificate and a copy of the data page of a passport. A copy of a birth certificate must usually be provided by the authority that issued the original certificate. A notarized copy of the original document is often not sufficient. There is usually a cost involved in obtaining such a copy. A photocopy of the data page of a passport will need to be notarized. A charge is not always made by a public notary but it is not cost free in all places. Secondary identification documents such as a copy of a driver’s license may be needed. Some countries require that the documents to be produced are translated into their national language. Some also require that the documents be verified by being granted an “apostille”. This certification of authenticity is similar to notarization in domestic law but is an international certification. Well over a hundred countries are signatories to Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, the Apostille convention or Apostille treaty.

The definitive identification requirement for a police clearance certificate is a fingerprint chart. This will show prints of all digits and may include the palms and side palms. A local police station will usually take and supply a full set of prints on charts that comply with international standards. It is the fingerprint chart that ensures that the certificate produced is in respect of the applicant.

The application form, all required documents and the fingerprint chart must be sent to the issuing authority together with the prescribed fee. Exactly which department is the issuing authority can be ascertained from the local embassy or consulate or by an internet search. Often the country requiring the clearance certificates can give advice about issuing authorities and the fees. It is essential to confirm all such information, if necessary, by a telephone call to the issuing authority. Much time can be lost if letters are exchanged.

Fees can be as little as $US10 or as much as $US250 and are best delivered as a bank draft drawn in the currency of the issuing country. The fee rarely covers the cost of the return of the certificate. This can be a major problem. In many third world countries the civil services and police authorities are neither efficient nor totally honest. Many will not understand the use of paid postal return certificates even though these are valid in all countries which are members of the Universal Postal Union.

Sending a self addressed envelope bearing the correct value of mint stamps of the country issuing the certificate purchased from a stamp dealer in the applicant’s country can become “lost.”

The only certain method of ensuring correct delivery of the application and return of the clearance certificate is to employ a courier service. A good service will take the application to the correct office, check on progress regularly and ultimately collect and return the certificate. This kind of service is expensive but it does prevent the loss of either the application or the certificate. International companies such as Fedex or DHL can usually assist in such matters.

Some countries require intending immigrants to produce a police clearance certificate from just the current or last country of residence. Others, such as the U.S.A., want a police clearance certificate from every country in which the applicant has spent more than six month since attaining the age of sixteen. Clearly this can be expensive and logistically difficult to ensure that all certificates are valid (within six months of the date of issue) when submitted to the requesting government. Some countries require the prospective new resident to spend in excess of a year as a temporary resident without exiting the country before application for a permanent residence permit is made. In some cases such a country may then require only a police clearance certificate from its own authorities. This is very good arrangement for applicants.

Of all of the formalities with which retirement abroad requires retirees to comply the obtaining of police clearance certificates can be the most onerous both financially and practically. The only comfort that can be derived from all of this is the knowledge that all is being done to ensure that the intended country of residence will be crime free and safe.