Getting your passport photo taken is a rite of passage, but can also be tricky if you don’t know the rules and regulations. Figuring out what to wear for a passport photo, what color the background has to be, and who can take your picture are just a few of the hurtles you have to handle before you even submit your application.
That’s why we’re taking the guess work out of the passport application process. Follow these passport photo do’s and don’ts for everyone in the family, including babies.
What to Wear for a Passport Photo
There are a few things you should not wear for a passport photo, though. Work and sports uniforms, or anything that may look like a uniform, shouldn’t be worn. You also can’t wear fatigues or camouflage prints.
Obviously, you can take a passport photo with a facial tattoo. It’s not something you can take off. Permanent piercings are also allowed (ears, nose, eyebrow, etc.). You just can’t wear any jewelry that hides your face. When in doubt, keep the accessories simple.
What Not to Wear for a Passport Photo
Hats (With Two Exceptions)
Hats are a big no-no, but there are two exceptions to this rule: religious or medical purposes. If you wear a hat or head piece for either of those reasons, you must submit a signed statement.
Those who cover their head for religious purposes must sign a statement that confirms they’re wearing a head covering as part of traditional religious practices and that they wear it all of the time. If you cover your head for medical purposes, you must submit a signed doctor’s statement verifying you cover your head every day.
Your hairline cannot be obscured and you cannot have any shadows on your face for the passport photo.
You cannot wear eyeglasses in a passport photo. If you absolutely cannot take off your glasses for medical reasons, you will need a signed doctor’s note submitted with your application. Sunglasses are obviously a big no, as well as tinted glasses. Your photo must show your eyes and face.
How to Take Your Passport Photo at Home
Yes, you can take your own passport photo at home. But no selfies, ever. You will need a tripod or someone else to take your photograph for you so that it is straight on. Your image must be shot in high-resolution and clearly lit. Go outside or have multiple light sources on your face.
Do not use a filter. Your passport application will be sent back if any digital enhancements have been made.
Leave the retouching for your personal photos. If you have red-eye in your photo, you cannot touch it out. You will have to take a new passport photo to submit. You also can’t touch out pimples, facial scars or other imperfections. (Embrace those imperfections or use a little make-up to cover them up.)
Choose a White Background
Your passport photo background must be white or off white. If you want to make sure your photo is accepted with your application, stick to a white wall. People have had their applications returned because the background wasn’t white enough.
You want a very simple wall or flat sheet without any big wrinkles. No shadows should be cast on your face from your light source either.
Smile, But Keep it Simple
According to the U.S. State Department’s website, you actually can smile in your passport photo. Just keep it natural with both eyes open. Your smile should be simple, not exaggerated.
Where to Get Your Passport Photo Taken
Unless you live near a passport agency, you’ll want to look at commercial passport photo locations. There are plenty of camera shops and drugstore photo departments that offer passport photo services in cities and towns across the U.S., including CVS and Walgreens. Two printed images will normally cost you under $20. If you took a photo yourself, photo labs and drugstore photo departments can print your passport photo for you, too.
AAA is also a great spot to get your passport photo taken. UPS and FedEx stores offer passport photo services as well. You can also pop into Costco, if you are a member, as well as Walmart. Keep in mind that you’ll have to mail in your application or go to your local post office to submit your application in person (first timers and children).
Many U.S. Post Offices can take your passport photo and submit your application to the government. There is a service fee for applying at a post office, but it can be much easier to get an appointment at your local post office than a U.S. Passport agency in your hometown. For those getting a passport for the first time, as well as any children renewing passports, you will need to go in person to the post office either way, so you might as well get your photo done at the same time.
Baby Passport Photo Requirements
Babies are some of the hardest subjects to capture for a passport photo. There are two simple ways to get their headshot, though. First, lay your baby on a flat white sheet, and photograph him or her from above. Make sure you aren’t casting any shadows on your baby’s face when doing this.
Another great way to photograph a baby, especially infants, is to place a white sheet over a car seat and put your baby in their car seat (unstrapped). Make sure neither the sheet nor car seat covers your baby’s ears or face in any way. Also, you will need to do this when you baby is awake, and their eyes are open. When in doubt, go to your local AAA or passport agency. They’ll ensure sure you get a photo that will be accepted.
Keryn Means lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband, two boys and one fluffy little pup. She is an award-winning travel journalist with bylines on Thrillist.com, Travel Age West and more, and loves to talk travel on ABC’s Good Morning Washington. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around the DC area most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow along on their adventures on WalkingOnTravels.com and on Instagram.