Can You Smile in a Passport Photo?

A girl smiling and winking at the camera and a man keeping a neutral facial expression.

Before we answer this question, we would like to tell you more about biometric passport photos and the facial recognition system. Why does every country in the world today issue only  biometric passports? And what are the restrictions when it comes to smiling in biometric photos?  

Passport Size Photo Maker

Well, the whole idea of a biometric photo is to make facial recognition easier. The facial recognition software reads your passport photo as well as scans your face at the airport, comparing the two based on very precise measurements of your facial features.

A smile, especially one where you show your teeth, can impair that recognition making it difficult for customs officers and facial recognition software to identify you based on your picture. This can obviously translate to delays, missing your flight, or being declined to board a plane altogether. The only country in the world today that actually does allow its passport holders to maintain a smile (with the teeth showing!) is the United States. Of course, this smile cannot be an exaggerated one and must be natural.

Facial recognition in biometric passport photos

For us humans,  fast recognition of another person’s face is natural and often unconscious. But for machines, this is a real challenge. Computers and algorithms must compare a 3-D face with a 2-D image. It can work only by pinpointing and measuring facial features from a given image. So, highly specialized devices at airports, metro stations (for example in Osaka, Japan), in  offices, hospitals, and many institutions worldwide measure the users’ facial features including the distance between the pupils, ears, nose, and mouth, the width of the mouth and of the eyes, and many others.

It is nothing surprising then that ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has imposed standards of biometrics in passports. Now, every issued passport is biometric and it means that it contains biodata of its holder stored in the chip which is a part of the document. That is why all passport photos must fulfill the norms specified by the ICAO.

Can you smile in a passport photo?

So, getting back to the topic of smiling in biometric passport photos – it’s actually one of the most commonly made mistakes that cause rejections or delays in the passport application process. It is understandable, because it wasn’t  such a long time ago that we were allowed to have a friendly facial expression in passport photos (as we’ve mentioned before, the U.S. still allows smiling in passport pics). But now there are strictly executed requirements for official documents.

While the United States is a bit more lenient on the smiling matter, other requirements are the same as those for most other countries: applicants cannot tighten their mouth, frown, or crinkle. Making silly faces is also forbidden for obvious reasons. In most countries’ passport pics, the photographed person is obliged to maintain a neutral expression, look straight at the camera with their facial muscles relaxed, their mouth closed, and keep their eyes open directed straight at the camera lens.

Another thing that must be avoided in passport photos are digital alterations that cause many passport applications to be rejected. The photo in the passport must be readable for the facial recognition software and  let the computer recognize faces with neutral expressions faster and easier. That is why you should not smile while capturing your passport photo or during identity control.

Smiling in passport photos – babies and kids

As we’ve learned, in most countries with the exception of the United States, adults should maintain a neutral facial expression and avoid smiling in their passport pics. But what about babies and older children?

Since it’s usually challenging to have your child, or baby especially, maintain a neutral facial expression, they can smile in their passport photo. Again, the smile cannot impair the recognition of their facial features, but as long as the child is facing the camera and has his eyes open, a smiling photo should be accepted by the passport authorities. Clearly, it would be best if your infant or toddler didn’t smile in his photo, however passport office employees and government officials are people too, and they do realize it’s close to impossible to just tell your child to maintain a serious face like in a mugshot, hence the leniency in this matter. 

Learn more about baby passport photos with our other post.

Smiling in passport photos around the world

Not all smiles are created equal, and one country’s understanding of a ‘natural smile’ may differ from the next. While most of the world’s passports call for a neutral facial expression with some allowing a slight smile without showing teeth, some countries’ governments are even stricter than others. For example, France has actually officially ruled out any smiling in their passport photos, and this even includes having the corners of your mouth turned up in a neutral expression. The ruling was upheld in December 2014 and as of then, absolutely no smiling (or anything resembling a smile) is allowed in French passport or ID photos.

For countries like the U.K., Australia, and Canada, a neutral, or even serious expression is required as they use a different type of face recognition software in which the identification of one’s facial features may be difficult if a smile is involved.

Having said that, most countries around the world lean toward either a neutral or serious expression (read: mugshot). Even in a country like the US that sees no problem in open-mouth smiling for passport photos, citizens are still encouraged to refrain from smiling in this one case in order to avoid any issues when traveling.

Passport Photo Online – take your own photo at home

Passport Photo Online is an online passport photo tool based on artificial intelligence helping  prepare professional-quality photos dedicated to passports, visas, driving licenses, and many other documents in most countries worldwide.

ThThe smart Passport Photo Online application  uses the same technology as machines that read photos! In this way, you are able to create an ideal photo for any document without leaving your house.

You can choose a convenient moment and place, and you’ll also get to try different hairstyles and varied outfits or make-up. And nobody will charge you for extra time and shots! Once you order the chosen picture, you pay only for that one picture.

The intelligent app resizes and crops your images to the required dimensions, moreover, the tool removes the wrong background and replaces it with the perfect one in the demanded color. In the end, the passport photo generator verifies if your photo complies with all the standards. If the photograph is marked by our app as “correct”, you may be absolutely sure that it will be accepted by authorities.

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Smiling in passport photos – wrap up

Remember that you will look at the photo in your passport for the next ten years. You will show it to many people such as border officers, flight attendants, hotel receptionists, maybe new friends. So it is understandable that you want to look great in your photo. Even if you are not allowed to smile in your passport photo, you can still smile seeing your new passport pic!

Can you smile in passport photos: FAQs

Can you smile showing teeth in a passport photo?

In most countries, with the exception of the United States, you cannot smile showing your teeth in biometric passport pictures, in fact, smiling is not allowed at all. The US, however, allows you to show your teeth in biometric photos.

Can you smile in an Indian passport photo?

Smiling is not allowed in photos for the Indian passport; you should maintain a neutral expression in the picture.

How much can you smile in a passport photo?

Smiling is not advised for biometric photos, as they must be readable for the facial recognition software. This doesn’t mean that your expression should be stern or that you should frown, just maintain a neutral expression and you’ll be fine! The US is the only country that allows its citizens to smile with their teeth showing in their passport pics (the smile shouldn’t be over the top, just natural).

Can you smile in a South Korea passport photo?

The South Korea passport photo does not allow smiling.

Can you smile in a U.S. passport photo?

For U.S. passport photos, you can have a natural smile even with your teeth showing, but nothing exaggerated.