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Appearance Change? You May Need to Renew Your Passport

Renew Your Passport for an Appearance Change

Let’s be honest — in the ten years that you’ll hold your US passport, you will have some sort of appearance change.  You’ll change your hair style, maybe even your hair color.  You might grow a beard or shave one off.  You may gain weight, or lose weight.  Small appearance changes are normal and expected, but if you’ve had a major change of appearance, you may need to renew your passport to reflect your new look!

Drastic Appearance Changes Require Passport Renewals

A basic rule of thumb as to whether your appearance change is significant enough to require a passport renewal is to look at your photo in your passport, look in the mirror, and ask yourself if a stranger would recognize you as the person in the photo.  If you no longer resemble the person in your passport photo, you should renew your passport right away, no matter how long you have before it expires.  Otherwise, you may have major problems when you try to travel with your passport, because border authorities and airport staff may not believe that you’re really the person shown on your passport!

An early passport renewal for appearance change should only be done if you have had a truly drastic change in appearance, such as:

  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain.  If your weight has changed by more than 100 pounds, your face may not resemble the photo in your passport.  Not only may you no longer look like your old self to the naked eye, but the changes in the size of your face may also throw off the biometric scanners used at many airports.
  • Extensive plastic surgery. We’re not talking about an eye lift or a little botox, but major reconstructive surgery, such as you might have if you were in an accident.
  • Gender transition. Transgender travelers who have transitioned their appearance from one gender to another should also get an early passport renewal.  If you’ve also legally changed your name as part of your transition, you can have your name changed on your passport at the same time.

Minor Appearance Change? You Can Keep Using Your Passport

Over the course of ten years, it’s understood that you will have some changes in appearance.  Your appearance change may be due to aging, or due to fashion.  You don’t need to renew your passport if you’ve changed your appearance in any of the following ways:

  • New hair color. Has your hair gone grey?  Did you bleach your brown hair to see if blondes really do have more fun?  Have you jumped on the “mermaid hair” trend and dyed your locks blue and green?  It doesn’t matter what color your hair was in your passport photo or what color it is now.  Hair color changes are easily understood by immigration officials.
  • You got glasses. Worried that your new specs will make you look different than your passport photo?  It’s not a problem.  In fact, the US State Department no longer allows glasses to be worn in passport photos.  The new norm is for bespectacled travelers to have passport photos that show them without their glasses.
  • You’ve gained or lost a few pounds.  Unless you’ve moved way up or down the BMI charts, your weight loss or weight gain won’t change the shape of your face to the point of confusing the facial recognition scanners.
  • You’ve gone bald… or started wearing a wig. Whether you’ve lost your hair to the sands of time or to a razor, having gone bald isn’t enough of an appearance change to require a new passport.  And if your passport photo shows you with a bald head, and you’ve grown your hair back or bought a toupee, that’s fine, too!
  • You have colored contact lenses.  If you’ve made your brown eyes blue with the help of colored contacts, it’s not a big enough appearance change to make you unrecognizable.  You can still travel with your passport until it expires.
  • Minor plastic surgery.  Most plastic surgery procedures, including full facelifts and rhinoplasty, aren’t a radical enough change in appearance to mandate an early passport renewal.

Are There Extra Requirements for Passport Renewals Due to Appearance Change?

Wondering if you should renew your passport because of your appearance change?  You can always call G3 and talk to one of our passport specialists to get our expert advice on whether or not you should renew your passport early.

An early passport renewal due to an appearance change will have all the same required documents as a normal passport renewal.  The only additional document you’ll need to submit is a signed letter addressed to the US Department of State.  In the letter, you should explain why your appearance has changed, and request that your passport be renewed early with an updated photo.  It’s that simple!