First let me say... Congratulations!!
You've been accepted into the EPIK program, and you're on your way to teaching English in Korea. Now, all you have to do is collect and send your required documents, pack your bags, and then you're off! Except, there's one problem...
Collecting and sending those required documents is more difficult and hugely more time consuming than the actual application process itself. There's the background check, the transcripts, the diploma, and on top of all the that you need apostilles as well.
What the hell is an apostille anyways?
Don't worry! All these questions will be answered below in my comprehensive, step-by-step guide to gathering you required documents for the EPIK program. It you haven't yet made it to the required documents phase, and you're still just looking into the program, be sure to check out Part 1 of this series - my EPIK application guide.
Keep in mind that this guide is a summary of the official EPIK guidelines for compiling required documents. If you are accepted into the program, your interviewer/handler will send you a large file with in-depth instructions. This guide is meant to streamline the process, answer the FAQs, and streamline your overall experience. Though the EPIK guide is very thorough, a lot of the language can be confusing, and certain parts (especially about the apostille process) can be difficult to understand.
Also, I am writing this as an American and therefore some of the advice I'm giving is specific to other Americans. EPIK has slightly different regulations for other countries, and I did not include this information because I don't know much about it and I don't want to confuse anyone.
I've arranged this guide in order of what needs to be done first. Some of these processes can take weeks or even months, so you'll want to get them started as soon as possible. Others are quite simple and only require a few minutes with a photocopier. For the most up-to-date information, your interviewer/handler is probably your best resource, but you may also feel free to leave a comment below and I'll do my best to clarify.
Dealing with bureaucracy can be time-consuming and frustrating, but with the help of this guide, a little luck, and a whole lot of patience, you'll soon be on your way to your exciting year of living and working in Korea.
Step 1: Criminal Background Check (CRC)
If you're American, this process goes through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A state record will not be accepted. You need the federal level record of your criminal history (or hopefully lack thereof). Also, when you send this document to EPIK it needs to be a hard-copy of the original. No photocopies, and no digital versions.
1. Print out Form 1-783 and fill it out.
2. Head to your friendly neighborhood police station to get fingerprinted. Make sure they are using the Standard Fingerprint Form FD-258.
3. Choose a Payment Option
- Credit Card: Fill out the Credit Card Payment Form - Make sure to fill out the expiration date for the card on this form, or your payment won't be processed
- Obtain a money order or certified check for $18 dollars that is made payable to the Treasury of the United States. Make sure you sign it!
- Cash, personal checks, and business checks will NOT be accepted
4. Review this handy checklist to make sure you remembered everything
5. Mail everything listed above - the application form, the fingerprints, and the payment ($18 dollars per person or copy) to the address below:
FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
***Important Note: Make sure that you include a sticky note on your application form requesting that the criminal record check (CRC) be authenticated, because you will need to have it apostilled later. If you don't specifically request this it's possible the background check won't be notarized, meaning it can't be apostilled. If this does occur you will need to send the completed background check back to the FBI for autentication, which will add more weeks of waiting.***
Now all you have to do is wait. Normally, this process can take between 4-12 weeks, but as of right now (June 1015) the FBI has a notice posted on their website - it explains that there has been a change in IT and warns that the right now the process can take anywhere from 12-14 weeks. Eep! So that's why you need to start this process as soon as possible. After you get the CRC back, you will need to get it apostilled, which will take additional time. So hop on it! Go! Right now!
Step 2: Request Sealed Transcripts
This part of the process is pretty easy, but depending on your university, it can a few weeks. With my university all I had to do was login to the student portal, and follow the breadcrumbs to the "Request Transcripts" page. I would suggest ordering three just in case. Things get lost in the mail, you might want to open one out of curiosity, and it's always a good idea to have extras. Besides, it's free so it can't hurt to cover your bases.
With my university this process takes only about a week, but with some I know it can take much longer, so it's smart to get it out of the way early on. Your transcripts help determine your pay-grade, so though acquiring them is quite simple, they are still an important part of the process.
When you sending in your documents, you need to include one copy of your transcripts per each degree earned. Meaning if you only have a Bachelors Degree, you only need to send one set of transcripts. However, if you have a Masters or any other higher degrees, you need to send in separate transcripts for each. Do not instruct the university to send the transcripts directly to EPIK, rather have them sent to you, and then include them in the complete package of required documents.
Sidenote: If you've only recently graduated make sure your transcripts reflect this before you send them into EPIK. When I sent mine in, my transcripts had not yet been changed to reflect my graduate status, so when EPIK received them it showed that my credits were done but did not officially state that I had graduated. It wasn't a huge problem, I just ordered more and sent them to EPIK by express mail, but it was an added annoyance. So just check it out beforehand.
Step 3: Apostilles
This was the part of the process that I found to be most convoluted. So, what is an apostille?
Essentially, it's a form of authentication that makes your documents viable for international use. My understanding is that it's similar to a notarization, except on an international level. It's a fancy word, but all it really means is that you need to send your documents to various government agencies and wait for them to return with an extra piece of official looking paper stapled to the top.
This part of the process is somewhat complicated, so I've written a separate, more detailed guide for obtaining apostilles for both your diploma and your criminal record check (Coming out on Friday). However, I have also outlined the bare-bones below.
For you diploma, you need to make copies, have the copies notarized, and then head to the office of your states Secretary of State. Though you can do mail-in service, I think it's much easier to just go to the office in person. Bring your original diploma, the notarized copies, and cash. Once you get to the office the process should take from 15 minutes - 1 hour, depending on how busy they are.
For your criminal records check, the process depends on what state you are in. Some states can apostille federal documents and some can't, so call the office of your Secretary of State to ask. If they can, just bring your CRC with you when you get the diploma apostilled. If they can't, you will need to send it to the National Office for Authentications in Washington D.C.
Please check out my upcoming post for a more detailed breakdown on the apostille process.
Step 4: Passport Sized Photos
Go to your nearest Walgreens and get passport photos taken. Make sure you look presentable, as this picture will be used on a lot of important documents: the printed copy of your application, in all of EPIK's records, your mandatory medical check, and quite possibly on your ID card once in Korea.
Ask your photographer how many copies come in each order and depending on his answer, purchase more than one set. For me, each order came with three pictures, so I requested two orders (total of 6 pictures). This being said, I kind of wish I had requested three orders (for 9 pictures).
The reason for ordering more than you think you need is that it's just so convenient to already have around. You need them for the EPIK application, your Korean ID, your medical check within Korea, and various visa applications (if you plan on traveling once in Korea). It's much easier to just get them all at once, and have them ready for if/when the situation arises. Since you're already there you might as well stock up.
Step 5: Your Application Form
When you applied to the program, you sent you sent a digital copy of your application in via email. Now that you have been accepted, they want the hard copy. So, make sure you've made any changes suggested by your interviewer/handler and signed in ink on the 'Consent for Verification and Statement of Truth' page (I believe page 5).
Also, you will need to attach one of your passport sized photo to this document. According to EPIK guidelines it should placed in a small envelope and then attached with a paperclip to the first page of your application.
As with everything else, I would suggest making copies for yourself before you send off the original. Things get lost in the mail, people spill coffee, and the universe can be a sly trickster when it comes to important paperwork - so it's better to be prepared.
Step 6: Copy of Passport Information Page
Like Step 5, this is pretty easy. Just make a color photocopy or scan of your information page. The information page is the one with your name, picture, date of birth, and nationality. In other words, it has all your information on it ;)
***Your passport must be valid for at least one and a half years from the commencement of your contract.***
Step 7: You Original Letters of Recommendation
You should already have this, since you have already applied and been accepted. Broken record time... Make copies for your personal files! But don't actually send the copies - those are only for your peace of mind and insurance. Send the originals.
Step 8: Carefully Check Everything
EPIK supplies a very comprehensive (if somewhat difficult to follow guide) that should help you out with this process. They also provide a document checklist. Make sure to fill it out, make a copy for you, and then send it in with the rest of your documentation.
Double and triple check everything before sending. Have you X'd all the right boxes? Have you signed in the right places? Have you filled out everything you were supposed to? Though a mistake on the paperwork won't ruin your chances of joining the program it can cause extra headaches, more money in express mail envelopes, and possibly even delay your arrival time.
Step 9: Send Your Document Package
Once you've dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's, doubled (triple) checked everything, cried to your mom about how frustrated you are, and finally gotten everything together - it's time to send it off! Good for you!
I would suggest using FedEx. With FedEx (or similar courier service) you'll be able to track your parcel every step of the way, and it will arrive quickly and on-time. Yes, it's significantly more expensive than using the U.S. Postal Service; however, for the peace of mind and insurance of quality, I think it's worth it.
With most things I would normally say trust the universe and save your money, but with something as complicated and time-consuming as these documents... I say 'F that! I want it to get there!' Once you send the package off you can congratulate yourself, sigh a breathe of relief, and smile knowing that you're almost all set for your big move. For more information on what to pack for one year in EPIK, my best suggestions for fun destinations and activities, or tips on expat living in Korea, please check out the Korea section of this site.
I've done my best to be clear and comprehensive with this guide, but if you have any further questions please do comment below or shoot me a message on my Facebook (I reply there the quickest). Collecting my own documents was a total nightmare - I'd love to make it easier for anyone in the same position :) So, please share this guide with anyone you think might find it helpful!
Enjoy the beautiful view!