How to Take a Passport Photo Cheap - And Legal

Don't wait in line; snap and print a passport photo on your own!

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Tuan Tran / Getty Images
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Getting a new passport can be a real hassle: taking a good photo, waiting in line at the post office, and hoping you have all the right forms. Luckily, passport renewals can almost always go through the mail, but getting the photo right is still a challenge. You could spend weeks waiting for your new passport only to have the picture get rejected for any number of reasons. But taking a passport photo is no longer expensive now that just about everyone has a camera and access to a printer, and if you follow a few guidelines, you'll have an acceptable passport photo in no time. 

The following guidelines apply specifically to U.S. passports so be sure to check whether or not your country has any additional requirements.

Note: If you're getting your first passport, or you're a minor who is renewing one, you'll have to apply in person.

Take Your Own Passport Photo

Portrait of serious young woman against white background
A good passport photo example. Maskot / Getty Images

The U.S Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs oversees passport applications and approvals and provides a list of guidelines for passport photos.

It also offers several examples of acceptable and unacceptable passport photos, so it's worth taking a look if you're not sure your final product fits the bill. The rules come down to making it as easy as possible for customs agents and border control to match your face with the photo.

Except for red-eye removal, you can't modify the image. In fact, the state department actually will reject pictures with red-eye, so get out your photo editor or choose another shot. 

Take your photo using a high-resolution camera (this includes the best and newest smartphones) and in good natural light.

The State Department will not accept pictures that:

  • are low-resolution
  • are dark
  • are out of focus or
  • have color inaccuracies.

Parents: If you're submitting an image of an active toddler or child, you'll have to be patient and be sure to get a clear shot when your subject is sitting still.

To print the passport photo, you can use your home printer if you have good quality photo paper. Otherwise, you can visit a photo service, such as a local drugstore, Target, or Walmart. FedEx and other retail locations offer passport photo services as well. 

Specific Passport Photo Requirements

Young woman, eyes closed portrait
Closed eyes and hair on the face will get you rejected. Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Your photo must be:

  • On a plain white background
  • In color
  • Two by two inches in size
  • Taken within the last six months
  • On matte or glossy photo quality paper

Do:

  • Look directly at the camera with your eyes open
  • Have a neutral expression or natural smile. (Don't be a ham!)
  • Take off your headphones or Bluetooth headset

Don't:

  • Wear glasses and headwear
  • Wear anything that obscures your face
  • Let your hair cover your face
  • Wear a uniform or camouflage attire

Passport Exceptions and Requirements for Infants and Children

Baby with Binkie
Take out the pacifier!. Image by Erin Vey / Getty Images

There are some exceptions and special requirements for infants and young children.

  • It's OK if an infant has closed eyes as long as they are facing the camera
  • Older children must have their eyes open
  • No one else may be in the photo
  • No toys or pacifier should be in the photo

Medical and Religious Exemptions

Some religious or medical exemptions can be made. Mohd Akhir / EyeEm/Getty Images

There are exceptions to the rules when it comes to glasses and headwear. If you can't remove your glasses for medical reasons, you can get a signed statement for your doctor to enclose with your application.

Likewise, if you wear protective headwear for medical purposes, such as epilepsy, you can also submit a signed statement from a medical professional.

Finally, if you wear a head garment for religious reasons, such as a hijab, you can provide a signed statement indicating that your hat or head covering is required religious attire or is customarily worn in public.

Time to Travel

Following these guidelines will ensure that you can renew your passport—or get your first one—with relative ease. Next step, start planning that international trip.