What Happens When You Don’t Look Like Your Passport Photo?

A woman shared video this month after being “pulled into a room” and “interrogated” in Turkey because she didn’t look like her passport photo. She’d “undergone different facial treatments, such as Botox” which contributed to the difference, and wound up “interrogated by 6 members of passport control.”

@joanneprophet

That time i got interegated by 6 members of passport control

♬ original sound – Joanne Prophet

This is hardly an isolated incident. Here’s a woman that almost got barred from her flight. She’d taken a glamor shot (“hot photo”) for her passport. And that’s never what you look like at the airport.

@alishamarie ive never been SO HUMBLED IN MY LIFE #passportphoto #passport #traveltiktok #grwm ♬ original sound – alishamarie

My daughter’s passport is four years old, and her photo is of a baby! It looks nothing like her, and fortunately we haven’t had a problem. It never even occurred to me that we ought to update it, since baby (and children’s) passports are valid for five years and of course children grow and change in appearance more quickly than that.

Several readers, though, have shared stories with me about their appearance not matching their passport.

One had their photo taken at their City Hall’s passport office, and received their passport back with “the entire upper portion of my head, beginning in the middle of my forehead…just a “whitewash,” i.e., with absolutely NO detail of the rest of my head.” Despite the long wait for passports (which have been coming down somewhat), he had the passport replaced.

Another reader offered that their daughter’s appearance “changed so much between ages 16 and 21 that she was twice detained when re-entering the U.S.”

One of those experiences was a 3-hour, grueling interrogation as to why she was entering the US on a US passport–and she is a US citizen, born and raised in Key West!

Her sun-bleached hair, tan, and round face of a young teen in no way matched the dark-haired, slender-faced young woman of 21.

It seems like this becomes less of an issue with biometrics. Photos already weren’t always helpful because Americans might often look alike to passport officers in other parts of the world, and vice versa.

Plus, people gain and lose weight all the time. Probably more so with the popularity of Ozempic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. When my son and I entered DFW from Italy we were questioned about why we had gone to Italy. I don’t think I looked any different from my passport (which is unfortunate)! I’m not sure why I was questioned. My son uses a wheelchair. I told them I was on vacation and had always wanted to go to Italy.

  2. have to say she did a great job with her procedures, products, and skin care. sure some parts a little overdone, but overall a much more captivating look for her than the ‘before.’

  3. I had a similar situation in Istanbul last summer. At that point my passport was 9 years old and I had a buzzed head at the time. After interrogation and showing additional forms of identification I was sent on my way

  4. People have biases related to the people that they grew up around. They can usually detect the features of people who look like them and may have trouble detecting the features of someone who looks a lot different. To me, the before and after photos look similar enough and that along with the identifying text would make me conclude that they are the same person.

  5. Biometrics doesn’t always work. In January we went to Punta Cana and immigration took my picture coming in. In March we left and I had several weeks of further beard and hair growth. The computer refused to match me and the emigration folks had trouble overriding it. Finally did of course but it was interesting to watch them getting annoyed fighting the system.

  6. Your photo should look like you just got out of bed after a boozy night out.
    This is probably pretty much how you’ll look when you front up at passport control.
    Thinking otherwise is delusional.

  7. Passports for babies and other young children in some places are only issued with 3 years maximum validity due to a concerns about misuse of passports and border control authorities having trouble with identification of kids against passports.

    With regard to adults being subject to identification troubles when it comes to photographs of people whose make-up contributing to the issue, part of it is because makeup can mask or accentuate features in photographs and make it harder to cross-match. It’s also an issue with pigmentation — and otherwise — with some facial recognition technology.

  8. I’m sure, deep down, she was elated that they stopped and questioned her for 6 hrs!!

    Great fodder for social media clicks!!

  9. Several years ago, I relocated from South Florida to a cold weather (at least to my FL acclimatized body) location with a job on a military base. Because of the cold weather (and the fact that I was outside for a significant portion of the day), I decided to grow a beard – after I had obtained my ID card to get me access to the base. For two years, I only had one MP give me a hard time about it (and it turned out he was joking with me anyways) and by that time, my beard was half-way down my chest, so he would have been very much in his rights to question me about my photo.

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