Why Smiling in Your Passport Photo Is a Serious Matter

Passport photos are rarely flattering. We all know that the neutral expression required when taking the photo can make us look a bit like we’re in pain. And it can be tough to follow the strict guidelines on things like head positioning, lighting, and clothing that can bend and distort reality in interesting ways. One guideline that stands out as particularly strict, however, is the requirement that you do not smile in your passport photo.

If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t flash your pearly whites in your passport photo, you are not alone. Here’s everything you need to know.

Key Takeaways:

  • Smiling can create shadows and wrinkles on your face, making it hard for a facial recognition system to accurately identify you.
  • Many countries require people to look neutral in passport photos, so that they look the same in their passport picture throughout the validity of their passport.
  • The guidelines surrounding passport photos ensure consistency and fairness in the application process.

A Serious Matter

The guidelines for passport photos can vary from country to country, but one thing is almost always consistent: no smiling. In the United States, for instance, passport photos must “show a neutral facial expression or natural smile, and with both eyes open,” according to the State Department. However, the actual photo specs don’t allow for smiling.

In short, whether you’re trying to look cute, appealing, or just plain friendly, you will have to wipe the smile from your face and adopt a serious expression when taking your passport photo.

See also  Exploring the L1B Visa Extension Rejection Rate for 2023: Causes and Tips

Why No Smiling?

The reasoning behind this rule lies in the mechanics of facial recognition software. When you smile, your whole face changes – your eyes narrow, your cheeks rise, and your mouth moves. While these changes may seem subtle to us, they can make a big difference to a computer. In order to create a passport that is difficult to forge or copy, governments have turned to facial recognition software. This software needs to be able to accurately identify people based on their passport photo, and any change to the appearance of the face can make that difficult. A person’s facial expression could change over time as well, but the neutral expression remains same.

Smiling has the potential to impact the face’s defining characteristics, such as the distance between the eyes or the curvature of the lips. Even if a smile is genuine and not intended to deceive, it can create shadows and compressions on the face, thereby distorting the facial features.

In simple words, a facial recognition system essentially measures distances between key facial features in order to create an “identity template” for each person. A smile can shift those key features enough to confuse the software.

Consistency and Fairness

But it’s not just about facial recognition. The guidelines surrounding passport photos exist for several reasons, among them consistency and fairness in the application process. By requiring everyone to have a neutral expression, for instance, governments ensure that people are judged by the same standard, regardless of their backgrounds or personalities.

Passport photos also need to be able to stand the test of time. Since passports last for at least five years, if not more, officials need to be able to match a photo to a person even if there are slight changes in their appearance over the years. By having everyone adopt a neutral expression, officials can be reasonably sure that the photo is an accurate reflection of the person, no matter how much they may have aged.

See also  How to Change Date of Birth on Passport Illegally: A Guide

In the end, a passport is a critical document that can grant access to countries or even save lives in case of emergency, so it makes sense that governments are rigorous when it comes to the photo requirements.


Trying to abide by all of the rules and guidelines for passport photos can be a hassle, but it’s important to remember that they exist for a good reason. By maintaining a neutral facial expression, you’re helping to ensure the safety and integrity of passport applications. In the end, it’s worth looking a bit dour in order to join the millions of people who travel the world every year.


Q: Can I wear glasses in my passport photo?

A: This depends on where you are. In some countries, glasses are allowed as long as they don’t obscure your face. Other countries require that you take your glasses off.

Q: Why do I need to take a new passport photo every time I renew my passport?

A: Over time, our appearance can change in subtle ways, meaning that passport photos taken years ago may not resemble us as much as they used to. By taking a new photo each time we renew our passports, we can ensure that the photo on the document is an accurate representation of our face at the time.

About the Author

Latasha W. Bolt

Latasha is a travel writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. She has a degree in journalism and has been traveling the world since she was a teenager. Latasha is experienced in navigating the visa and passport application process and shares her knowledge and experiences on the blog. Her articles are personal and engaging, providing readers with a unique perspective on the joys and challenges of international travel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *