By Claire Trageser
Updated: June 27, 2019
Getty Images

Applying for a passport can be a lengthy and expensive process, with the normal processing time taking six to eight weeks (or two to three weeks expedited) and the cost to renew more than $100 in the United States.

Try not to make the process any longer or any more expensive by breaking any passport photo rules. And there are quite a few of them.

You don’t have to go to a passport photo center and pay extra for official passport photos, but if you take them yourself you need to be sure to follow these rules. And even if you do go to a passport photo center, there are extra rules to be aware of to be sure your passport photo is accepted.

The Basics

Passport photos must be in color and taken with a plain white or off-white background, according to the U.S. State Department.

The photo must have a clear image of your face, and no filters. Passport photos are definitely a #nofilter zone.

Also, no selfies allowed. Someone else must take the photo, or you can use a tripod.

Photos must be high resolution, not blurry, grainy, or pixelated. The photo must be printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper and cannot be digitally changed — so no photoshopping out blemishes or fixing red eye. The photo also can’t have holes, creases, or smudges.

All photos have to be 2 x 2 inches (or 51 x 51 mm), and your head in the photo from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head must be between 1 and 1 3/8 inches (or 25 - 35 mm).

No Glasses

In 2016, the United States passport rules changed to say no glasses allowed in passport photos, even if you aren’t using a flash camera.

If you still have a photo with glasses on, that’s fine, but when you renew you’ll have to be sure to take a glasses-free photo.

If you can’t take off your glasses for medical reasons, you need a signed note from your doctor with your application.

Recent Photos Only

The photo must be taken in the last six months, according to the U.S. State Department. So you can’t go the online dating route and use a nice photo of yourself from 10 years or 10 pounds ago.

No Posing

Save the sultry or silly poses for Instagram, says the State Department. In passport photos, you have to have “a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.” No big cheesy grins, no silly faces, no pouts.

In your photo, you also must be facing the camera directly with full face in view.

If you are getting a passport photo for a baby or young child, this is harder than it sounds. There is more leniency for baby passport photos, according to the State Department.

No Uniforms or Costumes

Passport photos are not the place to make fashion statements. The State Department wants your photo to be “taken in clothing normally worn on a daily basis.” However, no uniforms, or clothing that looks like a uniform, or camouflage clothing.

You also can’t wear a hat or head covering in your photo.

If you wear a hat or head covering for religious reasons, you need to submit a signed statement that “verifies that the hat or head covering in your photo is part of traditional religious attire worn continuously in public,” according to the State Department’s website.

And if you wear a hat or head covering for medical reasons, you need to submit a signed doctor's statement “verifying the hat or head covering in your photo is used daily for medical purposes.”

Even with those signed statements, your full face has to be visible and your hat or head covering cannot obscure your hairline or cast shadows on your face, according to the State Department.

Also, no wearing headphones or wireless hands-free devices. So keep the Bluetooth earpieces and Airpods in your pocket, please.

However, you can wear jewelry and keep on your facial piercings as long as they do not hide your face.

“Permanent tattoos are acceptable for passport purposes as well,” according to the State Department. 

Advertisement