New look? You might need a new passport

Approx read: 3 mins

Hey, pal, Border Control isn’t Tinder.

So it’s been a while since you’ve been anywhere. Or you’ve been on the road for years. Dig out the old passport and take a look. Does that clean-cheeked innocent resemble from years ago resemble the sunburnt world-wise traveller of today? Would you recognise that person?

Here’s why it’s important

Western travellers can zoom between Western countries thanks to technology. Embedded chips transmit traveller data throughout a relatively decent point-to-point system. Like it or not, your travel details get tracked.

But what happens outside internet-rich zones with strong ideas regarding information sharing?

You’ve gotta look like your picture, mate.

Here’s why an old image sucks:

Statistics show that furners all look the same to locals.

Moving into countries with tenuous or no access to previous travel details and an old passport? You have some choices: cutting your hair, shaving the travel beard, wearing similar clothing as you did in your photo.

No go? Enjoy the fun of being detained under a mistaken identity!

Updating a passport photo is easy, right?

Yes and no. Due to forgery protections built into passports, if you want a new photo, you have to get a new passport. This isn’t such a big deal at home, with plenty of time to wait by the post box. But things can get trickier and lots more expensive on the road, where embassies in sleepy countries may have a waiting list weeks ahead just to get an appointment. Made of money? You can fast-track your passport. But even if it arrives on time, how long will it sit on a desk before you can collect it?

Bottom line: update your passport photo before hitting the road

Take a look at your travel document. Are you still sporting that ironic moustache? Gained or lost weight? This is especially important for people whose names already give border control officials pause. (Think you’ll be fine, John Smith. Other folks, you know who you are) Not sure? Google your name.

Unless the camera loves you, don’t play the passport office photo lottery. Go somewhere that offers official passport photos, splurge on a few shots, then pick the one that least makes you look like a serial killer in a lineup.

Travel changes people; that’s why they do it. A backpacker’s beard can be a badge of honour. But before you hit the road, make sure that your passport photo looks like your now self, not the you of 9 years ago.

 

Passports | Face-recognition

 

Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.