The ‘no smiling’ rule: Everything you need to know

There’s always plenty of excitement around going on holiday – but under no circumstances should you let this show on your passport photo. In fact, even the smallest hint of a smile could see your application rejected and your trip pushed back. So since holidays are supposed to be a happy time, what gives? Here’s everything you need to know about the controversial ‘no smiling’ rule.

The history

The rule was first introduced in the UK in 2004. At the time, Bernard Herdan, chief executive of the UK Passport Service, explained: “These new guidelines are an important step in the development of the new biometric ePassport and use of facial recognition technology that will be introduced in 2005 as part of the ongoing fight against fraud and international terrorism.”

Other countries soon followed suit, including France, who re-enforced the guideline as recently as October 2016.

The wording

There’s no grey area when it comes to how the rule is phrased. The official wording is as follows: ‘The photo must be of the applicant with a neutral expression and with the mouth closed (no smiling, frowning or raised eyebrows).’

The reason explained

In a nutshell, your passport has a pin that contains important biometric information from your application. This includes an in-depth break down of your facial features, such as the distance between your nose, chin and eyes. These measurements are then used to assess your identity when you pass through an e-gate at the airport. The ‘no smiling’ rule was introduced when it was deemed that even the faintest grin could reduce the effectiveness of these algorithms.

Could the rule ever change?

It’s unlikely. After all, travellers probably wouldn’t appreciate being asked to smile on command – especially when they are walking off a multi-hour flight in the middle of the night.

Follow the guidelines closely

Passport photos can be rejected for a number of reasons – and you don’t want yours to end up in the wrong pile. You simply need to resist the urge to smile and follow the other guidelines closely. After this, you should be permitted to travel abroad.

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