Your U.S. passport is your ticket to the world, giving you visa-free access to more than 150 countries. To get that passport, you must supply a clear photo that meets a series of very specific requirements. Often, it's the stringent clothing requirements for a passport photo that create the biggest surprise for applicants. Because your passport photo only shows you from the shoulders up, it's natural that the greatest concerns about clothing are related to giving a clear, unobstructed view of your face and hairline.

The Basic Clothing Guideline

The primary rule for passport photos is simple: Your photo should be taken in the type of clothing you wear on a normal, everyday basis. Sorry: That means clown outfits and gorilla suits are out. So are headbands, headphones, sunglasses, wireless hands-free devices and any other "accessories." Even if you have this sort of thing regularly attached to you in everyday life, the Department of State wants the most natural, unaltered look possible.

Doctor's Notes Can Help

As a general rule, you can't wear eyeglasses, hats or head coverings of any sort in your passport photo. There are, however, a couple of exceptions. If you have a good medical reason for not taking those glasses off, you can keep them on – as long as you include a signed note from your doctor with the passport application. If you must continuously wear a head covering of some sort for medical purposes, include a doctor's note explaining that too.

Religious Items in Passport Photos

Similarly, if you need to keep your hat or head covering on for religious purposes, you can do so – if you submit a signed statement explaining that a recognized, traditional religion requires that you wear the head covering continuously in public.

So, to recap: A Stetson or propeller beanie on your head is a big No. But a hijab or taqiyah is fine, as long as your application is accompanied by the appropriate explanatory note.

No Shadows on Your Face

If you do use any of the exceptions above to wear a head covering, hat or glasses, you have one more thing to watch out for: No matter what you do (or don't) have on your head or face, your passport photo must still give a clear, unobstructed view of your entire face and hairline. That can be related to lighting too; for example, if your photo is lighted from the side or the top, a hat or head covering may cast shadows over your face or eyes. Having your passport photos taken by a professional service helps you avoid this pitfall.


Every time you renew your passport, you'll need to submit new photos – including new supporting documentation for any of these exceptions to the headwear/eyewear rules.