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August 31, 2017

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to turning in your passport application (or renewal) is getting the required passport photos. It’s not something you do every day. In fact, you really only have to do it once a decade. Also, there are a lot of rules to remember.

Related: The 25 Most Powerful Passports in the World

But rather than asking your friend to take a photo (and hope it's right) or trying a passport photo selfie, opt instead to have the photo taken professionally at a pharmacy. This service is widely available at nationwide pharmacy chains, including CVS. CVS’s passport photo service includes taking your photo, ensuring it meets State Department regulations, and printing the required two copies for a total cost of $13.99.

What to Know Before Taking a Passport Photo

All applicants for new or renewed, United States passports are required to provide a photo. Even newborns must provide photos.

The rules governing the size, color, and composition of the photo — as well as your personal appearance in the photo — are strict and almost always non-negotiable. The State Department asks for two 2-x-2 inch color copies on glossy or matte photo-quality paper.

No uniforms of any kind are allowed in the photo. (You are otherwise encouraged to wear whatever clothes are normal and comfortable for you.) Headgear, whether a head covering or a pair of glasses, is also forbidden, unless you wear one or more items for reasons of religion or health.

If you fall into one of the excepted categories, you must bring a signed statement either attesting to your spiritual practices, or from a doctor confirming that you must wear the medical accessories in question at all times.

Related: Lost Your Passport? Here's What to Do

Your face will be front and center. Neither grimace nor grin: your facial expression is supposed to be neutral, and if you choose to smile that must be “natural” smile. You must submit a photo taken within six months of your passport application.

Passport holders do not need to update their photo until it’s time to renew their passports, which expire a decade after they are issued. Whether or not you have shaved your head, grown a mustache, pierced your nose, or just gotten older, so long as your photo is still recognizably you, you are set. (Perhaps illogically, even photos of newborns in passports remain valid.)

Exceptions to this rule, however, include passport holders who have transitioned, who have experienced significant weight gain or loss, who have had considerable plastic surgery, or who have acquired extensive facial tattoos or piercings.

Getting a CVS Passport Photo

Thousands of CVS pharmacies across the nation are able to quickly take and print passport photos for your convenience. While the base fee is $13.99 for two photos, coupons are also frequently available for this service. (At the time of publishing, for example, customers could save $2 on passport photos just by visiting the website.)

Travelers do not need to make appointments before getting passport photos taken at CVS, but should call their local pharmacy in advance to be certain the service is provided.

All photo technicians, CVS says, are trained to provide professional pictures that meet U.S. State Department requirements for passport, visa, and ID card photos. 

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