Getting a passport photo is one of those tasks that never seems to go as planned. It’s like school picture day all over again: Blemishes pop up unexpectedly in all the wrong places, carefully styled hair gets blown every which way by the wind on the way into the store, the fluorescent lighting wreaks havoc with your complexion, and the picture that will represent you to foreign immigration officials for the next 10 years ends up looking more like a mug shot.

For example, when I renewed my passport for a trip this summer, I actually ended up trying two different stores. I stopped in my local Walgreens first. When I saw that the nice gentleman behind the photography counter squinting at me like Mr. Magoo, that should have been my cue to leave. Even after two retakes, the resulting picture wasn’t exactly a mug shot, but it was so out-of-focus that I wasn’t even sure the State Department would accept it. I’m not the argumentative type, so I paid and left, deciding to take my chances on a redo elsewhere. Fortunately, Wal-Mart also takes passport photos, and their photo department was staffed by a young guy who could actually, you know, see. That helped immensely!

Joan Rusek of the Sun News had an even worse experience at a different drugstore when she went to get her passport photo taken. Apparently, the employee who helped her was not in the mood for an additional work responsibility that day. After the employee caught by surprise with the first shot, she asked for a retake and tried on a pleasant smile. Here’s how well that worked out, in her own words:

“YOU CAN’T SMILE IN A PASSPORT PHOTO,” she barked. At that second, my face involuntarily tensed and, yes, she snapped the photo again without warning to prove she had all the power in her hands. Frankly, I would have fared better in a police mug shot.


For tips on how to take a decent passport photo, see How to Look Great in Your New Passport Photo and Passport Photos: How to Get Them Right the First Time.

Once you’ve got your photos, it’s time to submit your application. Remember to allow enough time for the application to be processed before you attempt to travel: 6 weeks for regular processing and 3 weeks for expedited. If you need your passport more quickly, RushMyPassport is the most convenient option, with no need to travel to a regional passport agency office and processing times as low as 24 hours.

Do you have a funny passport photo story? Share it in the comments!