Important Due to Covid-19, processing times for passports are taking longer than normal for both standard and expedited services.

Do I have to pull my long hair behind my ears for the passport photo?

by Bree
(St. Louis, MO, USA)

Question: I had my passport photo taken a few days ago and the person taking the picture instructed me to tuck my hair behind my ears. I was hesitant to do so considering I never style my hair that way. The photo technician said it was a requirement. She also instructed me not to smile.

I did some asking around and my female friends and family who had also recently had their passport photo taken said they were able to wear their hair down and over their ears as well as smile in their picture.

I visited some government websites and did find that you are not supposed to smile, but saw no regulations about having your hair over your ears. I understand they need to be able to see your face, but it makes more sense to be able to wear your hair in a style you normally wear it since you would most likely have your hair styled that way when you travel.

Is there any regulations documented that say its a requirement for people with medium length or long hair to have it pulled back or tucked behind their ears in the photo?

Answer: Actually, Appendix E of the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7 which regulates passport photographs states that "normal, unexaggerated smiles are acceptable, but unusual expressions and squinting are not." There are many countries that do not accept passport photos in which the applicant is smiling but the United States is not one of them.

Concerning the need to tuck your long hair behind your ears, the manual says nothing. What it does state is that "the photograph must be clear with a centered, full frontal view of the applicant's facial image." This is followed by the declaration that "the ears do not have to be visible."

Understand that the manual is well over 200 pages of detailed passport regulations about types of passports, application forms, required documentation, photographs, names to be used, fees and much more. It is quite likely that there are a few agents at the more than 9,000 authorized application acceptance facilities (not to mention the tens of thousands of locations that offer passport photos only) that may not have complete knowledge of every regulation in the manual.

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UPDATE: Mailing delays and high demand are impacting passport processing. The Department of State's processing times begin when applications are received at a passport agency or center and not when you mail them or apply at a local acceptance facility.

Standard service may take between 10 and 13 weeks. This timeframe does not include delivery time. Mailing times vary across the country.

Expedited service takes from 7 to 9 weeks excluding mailing times on the front and back end. Current mailing delays are significant. Requesting 1-2-day mailing service is recommended.

Regional passport agencies are offering two types of appointments: Life-of-Death Emergency Service and Urgent Travel Service.

Life-or-death emergencies are serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (parent, legal guardian, child, spouse, sibling, and grandparent) that require you to travel outside the United States within 3 business days.

If you need to travel due to a qualified life-or-death emergency, please call the National Passport Information Center for an appointment.

For Urgent Travel Service, you need to call 14 days before your scheduled international travel or 28 days if you also need to secure a foreign visa.

If you need to travel urgently for reasons other than a life-or-death emergency, please call the NPIC.

A registered expedited passport courier can often assist in obtaining a passport as quickly as the same day. You can learn more about this service here.

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