Why You Can’t Smile in Passport Photos: Regulations, Science, and Tips

Passport photos might seem like a mundane part of international travel, but they play a crucial role in ensuring security and verifying identity. To achieve this, passport photos must conform to strict regulations, which prohibit certain facial expressions, including smiling.

In this article, we’ll explore why you can’t smile in passport photos, the science behind these regulations, and provide helpful tips for taking the perfect passport photo.

Brief Overview of Passport Photo Regulations

Passport photo regulations vary from country to country, but they all serve the same purpose: to ensure that the passport holder’s identity can be verified. Some rules are universal, such as photo size, composition, and image resolution.

However, one of the most common regulations that can differ from country to country is the rule against smiling. Most of the world’s countries prohibit smiling in passport photos, including the US, UK, EU, and Japan.

The Science behind the Ban on Smiling

The ban on smiling in passport photos isn’t merely about uniformity. The key reason for prohibiting smiling in passport photos has to do with facial recognition technology used at border control points.

Facial recognition technology relies on biometric data, such as the distance between facial features, to identify individuals. When someone smiles, this changes the position of several facial components, making it harder for facial recognition software to compare the photo with the person’s appearance in real life.

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The use of facial recognition technology at border control points is becoming more common around the world, so regulating passport photos has become more critical than ever.

International Differences in Passport Photo Regulations

While most countries require a neutral facial expression in passport photos, some countries allow for slightly different types of expression. For example, in Russia, passport photos often allow a slight smile or a more relaxed expression, whereas, in Canada and Australia, a neutral facial expression is mandatory. In contrast, in France, the brochure for passport registration shows someone with a faint grin. Such differences are due to cultural and national factors and aim to make the passport photo seem natural.

Tips for Taking the Perfect Passport Photo

Taking a good passport photo should not be rocket science, but it must adhere to the regulations. Here are some quick tips to ensure your passport photo is compliant:

  1. Choose a solid background that’s neutral in color
  2. Wear appropriate clothing that contrasts the background
  3. Maintain a neutral expression
  4. Eliminate any glare or shine
  5. Make sure the lighting is even, and shadows are minimal

Key Takeaways

  • Facial recognition technology relies on biometric data, which is why a neutral expression is essential in passport photos.
  • Most countries prohibit smiling in passport photos to ensure conformity with this regulation.
  • Some countries allow for variations in expression, but a neutral facial expression is required in most countries.
  • Following the tips above can make sure that your passport photo is compliant with the regulations.


Q: Can I wear glasses in my passport photo?

A: You can wear glasses in your passport photo, but only if you wear them regularly. Make sure your glasses lenses aren’t too reflective and that your eyes are visible.

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Q: Can I take a passport photo myself?

A: Yes. Still, if your passport photo isn’t compliant with the government’s regulations, you may face unwanted delays or even a rejected application. It’s always best to have photographs taken by a professional photographer or a reputable passport photo service.

About the Author

Raymond Broady

Raymond is immigration attorney based in Los Angeles, California. He has a law degree from Harvard University and has been practicing immigration law for over two decades. Raymond is passionate about helping clients navigate the complexities of the US immigration system, and he shares his knowledge and expertise on the blog. His articles are informative and detailed, providing readers with valuable insights into US immigration policies and procedures.

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