Perhaps you’ve heard. It is going to take a long, long, long time for US passport applications to be processed this summer. The wait times can’t be changed, but the amount of time you spend running around trying to get an acceptable passport photo can be reduced. As someone who once had to take a passport photo 24 hours before heading to a passport renewal center, I’ve felt the rush of trying to get a good photo quickly.
Here’s what you need to know to navigate the process more seamlessly:
If you aren’t interested in trying to get the right photo on your own—it can be tedious to try and fulfill the exact requirements of the State Department at home— there are a couple of ways to get that done. You can go to the photo center at Walgreens, which offers the service and printing of the images for $16.99. You can find a Walgreens photo center near you via the Walgreens website. Other stores with a photo department, like CVS, offer similarly prices services.
Another option is seeking out one of your local post offices, libraries, or local government offices, which will also provide you with the photos. USPS offices require appointments in advance. Some State Department acceptance facilities offer photo services, which you can determine by accessing this website.
For my most recent passport photo, I actually went to a small independent photo shop near me. For $15, I got two printed passport photos (proper size and everything) in under 10 minutes. I also had the added benefit of having my photo taken by someone who helped tilt my chin and set my posture in a way that left me walking away feeling satisfied with a quickly snapped photo with flash taken on a digital camera. You can search your area for local photo studios, just make sure to call ahead to make sure an appointment won’t be necessary.
Finally, the nearest passport photo center near you is in your hands. You can use your self-phone camera and a passport photo app to produce the image. Then you’ll just need to get the photos printed, which can be done at your local printing or photo center.
Ultimately, there is no difference between a passport photo produced at home and one that a professional is responsible for, except maybe the level of frustration you’ll feel trying to take a symmetrical looking image of your face. The State Department has the same requirements no matter how you take and submit your photo. Photos included with passport applications need to be:
The State Department has its own video to guide you through its passport photo requirements as well:
If you are taking photos at home, the most important tips you need to follow have to do with posing and what you can and cannot wear in your photos. You’ll need to have a neutral facial expression, both eyes open, and your mouth closed. You can smile, but it needs to be a closed mouth smile. Make sure to face the camera directly, straight on. This is not the time for finding your angles.
Unless you have a signed note from a doctor, you cannot wear glasses in the photo. You can wear clothes you would normally wear. You are not allowed to wear uniforms or anything that looks like a uniform, such a camouflage print.
You cannot wear a hat or head covering, unless it is a part of your traditional religious attire worn on a daily basis. If you are wearing an approved head covering, it cannot conceal or shadow your face. No headphones, large jewelry that obstructs your face, or wireless earbuds. Permanent face tattoos are fine.
To make sure the photo you have taken meets the requirements for submission, you can use the State Department’s photo tool, which will analyze the image to save you from having to resubmit photos.
If you’ve taken your passport photo at home and don’t have access to photo printing, you can head to a place like Staples or Walgreens to print your photos in person. Many photo print centers will allow you to upload the photos online and pick up the prints—national chains like Walmart, Duane Reade, and Rite Aid offer these services. There are also online services that will deliver the images to you via mail—just plan to budget time for the time it will take to receive them through the postal service.
You now know where and how you can get your passport photo taken near you. But the final tips I have for you have less to do with efficiency and everything to do with vanity. A passport photo is one that will be your companion for the next 10 years of your life, and serve as the first impression of you in every new port of entry. For me, that meant I wanted a photo that wasn’t going to make me cringe every time I looked at it.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the ID photo a bit more flattering, even if you can’t adjust the angle of the camera or rely on a sultry filter. There are dozens of video tutorials on TikTok and YouTube on how to best apply makeup, style your hair, and adjust your expression to capture the most flattering image. Makeup is allowed in photos, again as long as it’s not severely altering or obscuring your appearance.
My top tip, whether you are a usual makeup wearer or not, is to give your skin a bit of TLC in the days before you plan on taking your passport photo if you’ve got the time. Do a face mask, a gentle cleanser, and a good moisturizer.
If your hair will be visible in the image, take a bit of time to style it away from your face.
Finally, make sure you’ve got good posture. Straighten your back, pull your shoulders down and back, and slightly elongate your neck, if possible. This will not only help to make sure you are facing the camera straight on. It will also give your features a bit more definition.
After all of this, you should be plenty prepared to take and submit the perfect passport photo. Just be prepared to wait several weeks to see how it turned out.
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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.
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