Fact Check: State Department Does NOT Forbid Smiles In Passport Photos

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: State Department Does NOT Forbid Smiles In Passport Photos Legal To Smile

Does the U.S. State Department forbid U.S. citizens from smiling in their passport photos? No, that's not true: The State Department's webpage on passport photos features multiple photos marked "acceptable" showing smiling faces. In the section on expressions in passport photos, the U.S. government says passport photos should "Have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open."

The claim was made in a February 13, 2022, Facebook post (archived here) where it was published on the Lillian McDermott's Radio Show page under the title "It is time to renew my passport and I went to get my passport pictures. This time, I was NOT allowed to smile!!!" It opens:

I asked, 'why?'
And the guy said, 'new regulations.'
I said, 'why? In All my passports I have a smile.'
He said, 'no one is allowed to smile and the software rejects anyone smiling.'
To that I said, just like a mug shot, when in prison!'
I was amazed that the software approved my smirk!
First, they covered up our smiles. Now, we are no longer free to smile. I guess facial recognition does not recognize you when you are expressing feelings of joy... It is time to WAKE UP!!!

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Feb 16 18:26:14 2022 UTC)

Here is the section of the U.S. State Department's webpage about what kinds of photos are acceptable.

Expression.State.Passport.JPG

(Source: travel.state.gov screenshot taken Wed Feb 16 at 18:42:53 2022 UTC)

Included in examples of acceptable photos are the following three pictures of smiling faces:

Illegal Smiles.JPG

(Source: travel.state.gov screenshot taken Wed Feb 16 at 18:51:10 2022 UTC)

Smile 2.JPG

(Source: travel.state.gov screenshot taken Wed Feb 16 at 18:54:11 2022 UTC)

Smile 3.JPG

(Source: travel.state.gov screenshot taken Wed Feb 16 at 18:54:52 2022 UTC)

The site also includes a web page that directly addresses the question, "Can I smile in my passport photo?" confirming that it is allowed.

Smile Question.JPG

(Source: travel.state.gov screenshot taken Wed Feb 16 at 18:53:07 2022 UTC)

Lead Stories has asked State Department public information staff if there are secret or new regulations against smiling and will update this fact check when they reply.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Dean Miller

Lead Stories Managing Editor Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy for six years, then as Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. Most recently, he wrote the twice-weekly "Save the Free Press" column for The Seattle Times. 

Read more about or contact Dean Miller

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