Mugshot or Passport? The joke is on travelers.


A dear friend of mine was very distraught by the "mugshot" passport photo she had taken at a local shop. She was scolded when she tried to smile for the photo, so she ended up with something more like a scowl. I didn't want her to be stuck with that for 10 years, so I offered to have an emergency photo shoot to see if we could do better before she submitted the photo. We played it safe with a closed mouth smile. (But it turns out we didn't need to play it so safe after all)

To smile or not to smile, that is the question.

Passports have somehow become the cruel joke of the photo world. To this day, when getting your passport photo, you will likely be told that you must not smile. Many business travelers have complained to me recently about this, so I decided to get to the bottom of it. And the truth is that YES, Virginia, you can smile! The requirements I found clearly say that "a neutral expression or a natural smile" are acceptable.

Had smiles always been allowed, or was this a new update to the guidelines? I reached out to the State Department to find out, and they answered with this: "Common myth is that you cannot smile in your passport photo. You can, as long as it isn't an exaggerated smile."

So now we have the clear answer and there is no reason to guess if you're posing for a mugshot or a passport photo. From now on, SMILE! Though passport photos aren't broadcast throughout social media, it doesn't mean nobody will see them. Now you can impress the customs agent with your beautiful smile.

I wish someone had told these kids:

To see full requirements for passport photos, look here:

And finally, today, I realized I have many years of my own documented proof that we can smile in passport photos... Here are the photos from my last two passports:

Smile! -Amy

A.E. Fletcher Photography,


If you are in need of a new passport photo, we can help. In honor of A.E. Fletcher Photography's 10-year anniversary, and because people are stuck with passport photos for 10 years, we are offering (over the next 10 weeks) high-end passport photos... You'll find more info if you click here: FANCY PASSPORT PHOTOS!

(This is the first installment of my "ten for ten" posts, celebrating AEFP's 10-year anniversary)