Snapshot Secrets: 5 Surprising Facts About Passport Photos

Passport photos capture our no-smile rule-abiding selves, specifically designed for identification as we traverse borders. However, there’s a plethora of quirky and fascinating tales hidden behind these seemingly straightforward photos. Dive in for five facts that’ll offer a fresh perspective on your next passport pic:

1. A Casual Affair: Venture back to the early 20th century, and passport photos painted an entirely different scene. Prior to the stringent 1920s regulations, these images resembled personal album snaps more than anything else. Whether it was individuals sporting their favorite hat, indulging in hobbies, or just snippets from larger group photos, the regulations were conspicuously lax. Often, photos recycled from other documents, possibly due to the exorbitant photography rates, made the cut.

This temporary American passport was issued to a family traveling to occupied Germany to visit their father, who was in the Air Force.
This temporary American passport was issued to a family traveling to occupied Germany to visit their father, who was in the Air Force.
Photo by Our Passports

2. Post-Op Passport Puzzles: For many Chinese tourists, South Korea beckons with the promise of superior yet affordable plastic surgery. However, the post-surgery elation can quickly turn into a dilemma. Their transformed visages often starkly contrast their passport photos, causing re-entry into China to become an unforeseen challenge.

3. McCartney’s Passport Perplexity: 1967 saw Paul McCartney in France, sans his passport, prepped for a music video shoot. Confronted by customs, he nonchalantly remarked, “You know who I am, so why do you need to see a photograph of me in a passport?” His iconic status ensured he breezed through without a hitch.

4. Double Trouble: Pondering passport protocols for conjoined twins? They are entitled to two distinct passports. Recognizing each twin’s individual identity mandates separate documentation, upholding the tenets of travel.

5. All Smiles? Think Again!: When prepping for that crucial passport photo, remember to tone down that gleaming smile. Believe it or not, the U.S. government classifies toothy grins as “unusual or unnatural expressions” for passport and visa photos. Smiling with teeth in passport photos is discouraged because facial recognition software at airports and border controls relies on consistent facial proportions to identify individuals. It requires a neutral facial expression, as smiling can alter the distances between facial features, making identification harder for biometric technology.

Exclusive Passports: The Fascinating World of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The diplomatic passport of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is said to be the rarest passport in the world.The Sovereign Military Order of Malta issues the world’s rarest passport, with only a few hundred people possessing one. As of February 2018, there were around 500 diplomatic passports in circulation. Eligibility for this passport is exclusive and limited.

However, the passport’s utility is restricted, as countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, and New Zealand do not accept it for travel. Furthermore, many other countries and territories enforce similar rules. Out of the 26 Schengen Area member countries, only 23 recognize the passport.

Established in 1113 and officially recognized by Pope Paschal, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is among the oldest Christian institutions. The Order’s full title is “Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta,” reflecting its historical development and various headquarters over the centuries. The Order comprises over 13,500 knights, dames, and chaplains, alongside 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 medical employees. Although it does not govern any territory, it maintains diplomatic relations with more than 100 states.

The Order primarily operates as a charitable organization, providing medical aid worldwide. Passports are issued for four-year terms, allowing holders to carry out diplomatic assignments. In addition to passports, the Order also produces its own postage stamps and currency. Despite its unique status, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta passport is far from being one of the world’s most powerful passports.