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Should You Smile in Your Passport Photo?
4 min read
Updated on May 14, 2024

Have you ever taken a look at your passport photo and thought, "I don't look very happy in this"? Maybe you even felt some dissatisfaction with your dour look. If so, you aren't alone. As a matter of fact, there have been others who've made an effort to change the way we think about smiling in our passport photos. A smile can brighten someone's day, lift your mood, and communicate a lot, all without words — but would we all be happier if we took the time to smile in our passport photos?

One Frenchman thought so; in fact, he sued the French government to attempt to make his point. His thought? If people smile more in their official photos, it will create an atmosphere of happiness across the country. Unfortunately, after several years of litigation, a French court issued a final ruling confirming that smiles are not permissible on passport photographs.

However, we were curious about the idea behind this quest to make a nation happier. We decided to look at how often rejections for photos occurred in each country and assigned this metric a number from 1 to 10 which we call the Smile Factor. The higher the number, the more likely a country is to allow smiles in its photos.

Next, we looked at the World Happiness Report and compared each country's score with our Smile Factor. The results were surprising — not only was there no correlation between happiness and smiling in photos, but happier nations reject smiling photos more frequently! For example, Australia is a country with a very high happiness score. Its Smile Factor was just 1, though. Meanwhile, the Philippines scored near the bottom of the Happiness Report's list but has a smile factor of 8. Clearly, there's no real difference here.

Just because you aren't always allowed to smile doesn't mean you can't take a gratifying passport photo, though. A few simple tricks can make your photos look much better! Those with long hair should tie it back if possible; in all cases, check yourself in a mirror to keep your hair in proportion across both sides. Makeup can lessen the shininess of your skin, and standing in the line of a good light source can help to create a pleasing image of your face. Finally, find a neutral expression that you like. Not only will this practically ensure approval no matter whose passport you're applying for, but it will complement the rest of your efforts to look good.

Don't be afraid to take practice photos! Whether you're snapping selfies with your smartphone or practicing online, these pics let you see what your passport photo could resemble. From there, making your real picture look the way you want is simple. Even though smiling in passports won't boost an entire country's mood, a little common courtesy still goes a long way no matter where you are on the globe. The best moment to share a smile is when you hand your passport and its perfect picture to a customs agent for approval.

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