Can You Smile in a Passport Photo?

Can You Smile in a Passport Photo?
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Before getting to the heart of the matter, we would like to say something about facial recognition and biometric passport photos.

The main point of biometric photography is to facilitate facial recognition. This kind of software compares the data from your passport photo with a scan of your facial features at the airport based on precise measurements of your appearance.

Smiling can make it harder for facial recognition software and port officials to confirm your identity, especially if you show your teeth. Only the United States currently allows smiles on passport photos; however, the subject’s teeth can only be slightly visible.

Thus, only a natural smile is acceptable, silly faces, forced smiles, and wide-mouthed grins are all off the table.

Want to find out if your smiley passport photo will be accepted by US passport agents? Download our application (available on iOS and Android) or upload your photo to get instant confirmation it meets all official requirements.

A photo taken with PhotoAiD’s mobile phone app and turned into a valid passport photograph in 3 seconds.

Biometric passport photos and facial recognition

For humans, facial recognition is an automatic, unconscious process. However, software needs to examine all features separately, making it a much more complex action. Machines need to compare a 2-D image with a 3-D face. They can only do it by analyzing features from an image.

For this reason, high precision equipment in airports, metro, and train stations (like in Osaka, Japan), hospitals, and many other high-traffic areas take detailed measurements of people’s facial features—width of the eyes and the mouth, the distance between them, etc.

To make this whole process easier, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) imposes specific rules on biometric passports. Today, all passports are biometric and they contain a chip storing all the information the software needs. This is why the ICAO requirements are now the standard for issuing passports.

Smiling in passport photos—children

As you now know, except for the U.S., most countries require adults to have a neutral expression on their passport photos. What about children, though?

Because it’s not generally easy to convince children, babies, in particular, to maintain a neutral expression, they are allowed to smile. It can’t be an exaggerated smile that distorts the features, but, usually, it’s enough for children to keep their eyes open and face the camera for the passport photo to be accepted.

It would, of course, be better if your baby didn’t smile, but government officials do understand that it’s not possible to convince very young children to keep a straight face, so they are quite tolerant.

Smiling in passport photos in different countries

Not all countries define a “natural smile” in the same way. While most official requirements around the world allow subjects to display  barely a hint of a smile, some countries have no leniency on the matter. For instance, the French Government forbids  even the slightest hint of a smile in passport photos.

The U.K., Canada, and Australia require applicants to maintain a completely neutral expression since their facial recognition software might have problems identifying a smiling face.

In any case, a neutral expression is the preference of most countries around the world. To avoid any issues abroad, even in the United States, applicants are advised to avoid smiles in passport photos.

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PhotoAiD®—take your own passport pictures

PhotoAiD® is a passport photo editor that can help you obtain professional photos for your passport, visas, and many other official documents from all over the world.

PhotoAiD’s artificial intelligence is based on the same software and algorithms used for facial recognition. Thanks to this feature, you can take photos for documents from the comfort of your home.

You can pick the best place to take pictures and try different combinations. You only pay for the final picture so go ahead and snap as many photos as you like.

FAQ

Read through the following questions for the most up-to-date answers about smiling in passport photos. 

Can you smile and show your teeth in a passport photo?

Most countries around the world don’t allow you to smile or show your teeth in a passport photo. However, it is accepted in the United States.

Can you smile for Indian passport photos?

No, Indian authorities require you to maintain a neutral expression when taking a passport photo.

How much can you smile in passport photos?

Smiles are generally not allowed in biometric photos. You don’t need to have a serious expression, though, a neutral one will do. Only the U.S. allows natural smiles, even with teeth showing, in passport photos.

Can you smile in South Korean passport photos?

No, you can’t smile in a South Korean passport photo. Please, maintain a neutral facial expression.

Why can’t you show teeth in your passport photo?

The State Department classifies a smile showing too many teeth as an unusual or unnatural expression that distorts the subject’s facial features. You cannot fully show your teeth in passport photos (even in the U.S.).

Can a child smile in a passport photo?

Newborns, infants, and babies are permitted to smile in their passport photos. Once a child is old enough to follow directions, they should maintain a neutral expression in their passport photos.

Should you smile for a passport photo?

No, you should not. While smiling is permitted in U.S. passport photos, most countries require the subject to make a neutral expression. It is therefore recommended to go with the convention rather than the exception. 

What happens if you smile in a passport photo?

A natural smile is only acceptable in U.S. passport photos. In most other countries, your passport application will be rejected if you apply with a passport photo that does not have a neutral facial expression.

Passport photo neutral expression—what is it?

A neutral expression is a blank expression or one showing no discernible emotion (i.e., not looking angry, sad, happy, etc.). Relax your face and pretend to be a little bored to get the perfect neutral expression for your passport photo.

Closing thoughts

Passport photos will stay with us for 10 (ten) years and we have to show them to customs officials, flight attendants, and many more people. So, wanting to look the best we can is perfectly understandable. In most countries, a smile on a passport photo will not be accepted, however, in some parts of the world (like the U.S.) it is allowed.

Even if they require you to maintain a neutral expression, by using PhotoAiD® you can take your time and get a picture you’ll be proud of.

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