Can I take my own passport photo?

There are many specifications that a photo must meet to be acceptable for use in a Canadian passport. (Photo: iStock)
There are many specifications that a photo must meet to be acceptable for use in a Canadian passport. (Photo: iStock)

The 21st century is shaping up to be the age of the selfie. The Internet is littered with self-portraits, a type of photograph so popular that someone invented a “selfie stick” just to make it easier to take a picture of oneself.

In fact, the quality of many self-portraits is excellent and so too are the cameras in phones normally employed to take them. Since a high-grade picture of one’s own face is so easy to obtain, it begs the question, can I take my own photograph for my passport?

Worth a thousand words

Of all the pieces of photo ID the typical adult accumulates over a lifetime, the passport is arguably the most important. It is an acceptable form of identification for nearly every purpose, including proving age of majority. Most importantly, it is the only government ID that is always accepted after you cross an international border.

For that reason, it is imperative that the photograph be clear and trustworthy. No matter what words are printed on the passport, it is the photograph a border guard or customs agent is going to scrutinize most carefully.

Government regulations

There are many specifications that a photograph must meet to be acceptable for use in a Canadian passport. The very first requirement listed on the website for the Government of Canada is: Taken in person by a commercial photographer.

So how does the government know if you used a commercial photographer? On the back of the photo, the full address and name of the photo studio must be stamped or handwritten. In theory, a government worker could cross-reference the name and address to authenticate the picture.

Was your picture taken by a friend who is a professional photographer? That’s great but unless he or she has an actual studio somewhere, the photo is still not acceptable.

Online passport photo services

Several websites claim to offer you the chance to print your own passport photos at home or at a drug store or other commercial photo printer. The idea is you take your own picture, and their software allows you to crop and adjust the photo to meet the specifications of governments around the world.

While the prospect of saving money on a professional photographer but still using a passport “photo service” may seem ideal, the product still won’t meet government specifications. Not only are you not using a professional photograph, the Government of Canada forbids the use of “altered photographs.” A professionally done picture will meet all the requirements for cropping, centering and exposure without alteration.

What if I am a professional photographer?

Technically, the passport photo regulations do not exclude self-portraits. So, could a professional photographer take his or her own picture and submit it? The answer is yes, according to Passport Canada.

The photographer does not have to verify the identity of the subject, he or she just has to take the picture and state it was commercially done. Therefore, as a paid photographer, you can submit your selfie, so long as the photo meets all the other specifications.

But they’re doing it in the U.S.!

South of the border, passport photo regulations are slightly more relaxed. American passport applicants can submit a non-commercial photograph, but it has to meet similar criteria to what the Canadian government requires.

Questioned on the issue, a spokesperson for the Canadian government said there were no plans currently to change the rules about selfies for passports. Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence online to suggest some Canadians are sending in their own photos, one runs the risk of having the photos and the entire application rejected.

Trying to save a few dollars by taking a selfie would be an unfortunate reason for missing the trip of a lifetime and is probably not worth the risk. Smile for the photographer and save the selfie stick for when you’re actually on vacation.
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