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Passport Photo Requirements: What You Need To Know

Applying for a passport in the near future? If so, then you’ll need to submit a passport photo as part of your application. Before you whip out your smartphone to snap a quick selfie, however, there are some important rules and regulations you’ll need to be aware of. The United States Department of State is quite strict in regards to passport photos, and failing to follow photo requirements is one of the most common reasons for a rejected passport application.

Before you take your passport photo, then, be sure to keep a few things in mind.

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Size Regulations Are Strict

One of the most confusing aspects of taking a passport photo are the size and space regulations. Specifically, all printed passport photos submitted with applications need to be exactly 2″ x 2″ in size. On top of that, the amount of space from the bottom of your chin in the photo to the top of your head should be between 1″ and 1 3/8″. This can be one of the most difficult passport photo “rules” to follow, but using a template (such as this one provided by the United States Department of State) can be helpful.


The Photo Needs to Be Recent

Passport photos should reflect your current appearance. Otherwise, it may be difficult for customs agents and border employees to confirm that the photo in your passport is, in fact, you. Specifically, your passport photo should be one that has been taken within the past six months.

You’ll Need to Remove Your Glasses

In the past, prescription glasses were permitted to be worn for passport photos. However, as of 2016, glasses are no longer allowed because of the glare that they can create when a photo is taken. You can always swap your glasses out for contacts prior to your passport photo. Or, if you have a legitimate medical reason for being unable to remove your glasses for the photo, you can provide a statement signed by your doctor along with your passport application.


Smiling Isn’t Allowed

When taking a passport photo, you are expected to maintain a neutral facial expression. So as tempting as it may be to smile for your photo, you’ll need to avoid doing so. The primary reason for this is that when you smile, it is natural for your eyes to squint—but the eyes need to be completely open for identification reasons.

Backgrounds Need to Be Neutral and Solid

The background of your photo is also important. All passport photos should have a white or off-white background that is solid. This means no patterns or wacky colors. If you’re planning on taking your own passport photo at home, take it as you stand up against a neutral wall or consider tacking up a plain white sheet behind you.

Your Head Shouldn’t Be Covered

Your hairline also needs to be visible in a passport photo; hats, headscarves, and other coverings should not be worn other than for religious reasons. If you do wear anything on your head for religious reasons, you’ll need to make sure that your face is still visible and that there aren’t any visible shadows.

You Should Wear “Everyday” Clothes

The idea of a passport photo is for it to represent how you look on an everyday basis. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to wear the same kinds of clothes for your passport photo that you would wear on a typical day. There is no need to buy a special outfit for the occasion or to wear anything special. After all, your photo won’t show much of your outfit anyway.

Also, if you plan on taking a passport photo on the same day that you work, be sure to change out of your uniform (if you have one) before taking the photo. Uniforms are not allowed to be visible for these photos, so don a set of street clothes first.


Having Your Photo Professionally Done is Worth the Cost

Taking your own passport photo is certainly possible, but it can be quite a time commitment. In addition to making sure you have a camera that can take quality images, you may also need to go through the hassle of setting up a neutral backdrop for your photo and measuring to ensure the dimensions and specifications are exactly right. Combine this with the costs associated with printing a 2″ x 2″ photo and you can see how this is a pretty significant undertaking.

And of course, there’s always the possibility that something won’t be done exactly right and your passport application will be rejected anyway. From there, you’ll need to go through the hassle of re-taking your passport photo and re-submitting the application (as well as paying applicable fees!). It’s important to get these photos right because they will also be used or can be used for your TSA PreCheck application, Global Entry application or REAL ID.

Instead of taking your own passport photo, then, you may want to consider having one taken by a trained professional. Most pharmacies, such as Walgreens, with a photo center, for example, offer passport photos on-the-spot. CVS passport photos are taken by photo employees who have been specifically trained to follow United States passport photo regulations. Often times, they even have software that will upload and confirm that all the dimensions and specifications are correct before printing.

When using one of these services, it is possible to have your passport photo taken and printed in your hands within five minutes. Yes, you’ll pay a bit of a premium for this service (it is not uncommon to pay $50 or more for a passport photo), but you’ll also enjoy added peace of mind and confidence when you submit your application. Sometimes, your payment for these services will even come with a guarantee that if your application is rejected for photo-related issues, they will pay to re-take and re-submit your application for you.

Tips for Taking Your Own Passport Photo

If you’d still prefer to take your own passport photo, whether it be to save money or just because you’re up for a challenge, there are some tips you can keep in mind for greater success.

Start by choosing a location with a neutral and solid background where you can take your photo. Tacking a white poster board up behind you is a cheap and easy way to get a plain background that will conform to requirements. Also, be sure to check the lighting before you take your photo. If there are any shadows, your photo will be rejected, so it’s best to choose an area with plenty of natural light.

Selfies aren’t accepted as passport photos, so you’ll have to either ask a friend to snap your photo for you or use the self-timer feature on your camera.

One of the hardest parts about taking your own passport photo is making sure you have just the right amount of white space and that your face isn’t too close or too far from the camera. Remember, the amount of space from the bottom of your chin in the photo to the top of your head should be between 1″ and 1 3/8″. The best way to accomplish this when taking your own passport photo is to keep it zoomed out; you can always crop and edit later on to meet those specifications. Having a quality photo-editing program on your phone or computer will also come in handy here.

If you’re having trouble getting the dimensions of your photo just right, check out the United States Department of State passport photo cropper tool. This free tool is easy to use and allows you to line your photo up with a template. From there, you can save your finished product and either print it at home or send it to your local photo printer to pick up later. Just make sure that you have it printed as a 2″ x 2″ photo, ideally on glossy paper.

Finally, keep in mind that you can only attach one passport photo to your application, so if you’re taking multiple photos, you’ll need to choose one and stick with it.

Problems With Your Application?

If your passport photo is rejected for any reason, you will receive a written notice in the mail. Most often in situations where a photo doesn’t meet requirements, the application will be placed on hold instead of being outright rejected. From there, you will be contacted with instructions on submitting a new photo. You will typically have 90 days to submit your new photo, and as long as the new photo meets all requirements, your application should be approved and processed as normal.

In some cases, there may be problems not only with your photo, but other information submitted with your application as well. If this is the case, you will need to send more documentation or you may be asked to resubmit your application altogether. This may result in extra fees, which is why it’s so important to follow application requirements as closely as possible the first time around.

Passport Photos: The Bottom Line

As you can see, taking a passport photo can require a lot of careful planning. And as frustrating as it may be, it’s important to remember that these strict requirements are in place for good reason—to protect your safety and the safety of others.

For most, the easiest way to get a passport photo taken will be to head to your local pharmacy or big-box store that offers photo processing. You’ll pay a bit of a premium for this service, but you’ll also save yourself the time and headache that can come along with trying to take and print your own photo. Just be sure that the person taking your photo seems to have a solid understanding of the requirements set forth by the Department of State. If he or she seems confused, ask to speak with a photo center supervisor to ensure that your photo will be taken properly.

Once you have your passport photo, all that’s left to do is to attach it to your application (just be sure not to staple or tape it) and drop it in the mail. Assuming everything checks out, you should have your passport within six to eight weeks. Don’t forget to get a nice passport holder for your brand new passport. Happy travels!

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