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The Dos and Don’ts for Your Passport Photo
Imagine you need a quick escape to another country. Maybe you’re in dire need of a vacation or perhaps committed the perfect crime and looking to run. Everything’s set for the getaway – except for your passport. Before taking the newfound spoils to a desert island you’ve set up for the escape, you have to get your passport and passport photo.
If this part isn’t done right, it could really slow you down.
Passport photos were introduced just 100 years ago by the British because of heightened anxiety about the possibility of spies during WWI. When a German, Carl Hans Lody, was arrested in late 1914 for spying on Britain using a fake US passport, the concerns reached a breaking point.
The British realized that the passport at the time didn’t have any way of identifying its holder. Out came The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914, which required both a photo and personal description on all passports.
Since then, the passport photo has been integrated throughout the rest of the world, including the United States.
The passport application requires that you submit a photo with the rest of the paperwork. Requirements for passport photos are particular and strict. Many retailers throughout the United States offer passport photo services to help. You may take your own passport photo, but you should be aware of and follow all the requirements for the photo so that the application process goes smoothly.
Passport Photos Do’s and Don’ts(According to the U.S. Department of State):
- Print the photo on glossy or matte paper
- Provide a photo that is 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm)
- Make sure that the size of your head in the photo is 1-1 ⅜ inches (25-35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
- Provide a photo taken within the last 6 months
- Make sure the background is plain white or off-white
- Place the camera at eye level
- Face your head directly toward the camera
- Keep your eyes open, with either a neutral expression or a natural smile
- Print the photo in color
- Wear clothing you normally wear
- Get rid of red-eye (NOTE: This is the only photo alteration that is allowed.)
- Wear glasses (If you can’t remove your glasses for medical reasons, provide a note from your doctor.)
- Wear any hats or head coverings, unless you wear it daily for religious reasons. Your religious head covering should not cover or cast shadows on your face.
- Wear headphones or wireless hands-free devices
- Stand anywhere that casts shadows on your face
- Submit a blurry or dark photo
- Retouch or alter the photo
You can find good and bad examples of photos on the U.S. Department of State website.
Once you take the perfect photo and submit it with your application, you will need to wait 4-6 weeks for your passport. Or, you can expedite the process for an extra $60 fee.
In the meantime, you can iron out your plans for your perfect crime. Or, perhaps, you will come to your senses and decide to take a trip to Thailand instead, just for fun.
Still have more questions about your passport photo or any other travel documents? Passport Health can help! Give us a call at or check out any of our other passport and visa services.
Written for Passport Health by Adrienne St. Clair