Passport Guidelines 101: Could smiling for your ID photo protect your identity?

2018-06-26 18:00 - Saara Mowlana
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 south african passport

Should you bare it all (orally) for your next legal shoot? (Photo: iStock)

We all know the age old tale of keeping a straight face when getting our professional document photos (or mugshots) taken, but this study by University of York seems to think it might be wiser to smile.

The news, reported by The Telegraph, has us all wondering whether our warnings against doing so were misguided.

According to the study, it is quite hard to match a pair of unfamiliar faces in photographs. Facial morphing technology and crafty identity thieves tend to make spotting identity fraud difficult for officials as the tech not only deceives the human eye, but smartphone software as well.

READ: Say goodbye to your passport: Biometric airports across the world

The University's Department of Psychology conducted research, led by Dr Mila Mileva, which looked at the possibility of smiling photos being more easily matched to a different image of that same individual, while also being more easily distinguished from an image of a similar-looking identity.

The outcome found that between comparing neutrally expressive ID photos with closed mouth smiling photos and neutrally expressive ID photos with open mouth smiling photos, there was a significant increase in being able to match the neutral expressions with their open-mouth-smiling partner.

According to the study's statement, an analysis of the study's results found a 9% improvement in performance for smiling images when comparing two images of the same person and a 7% improvement when comparing images of two different, but similarly looking, people.

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Dr Mileva said that their research suggests that replacing the neutral expression that many usually use when taking identification photographs with an open mouth smile, can make face matching an easier task. 

"As soon as there's a mismatch in emotional expression – comparing a smiling and a neutral image for example – the matching accuracy drops substantially," Mileva added.

She concluded by stating that their team had also had success in showing that an open mouth smile can help people to tell two similarly looking, but different people apart which is critical when checking photo identification.

While it may be able to save many from identity theft, in many countries, as well as South Africa, it's simply not permitted to bare it all (orally) in your ID, passport or legal photos.

CHECK OUT: How to apply for your South African Passport

So, what do you need to know about your passport and its requirements?

Photo rules:

  • What the DHA wants, essentially, is a clear picture of you (and only you) showing your entire face, including your eyes, and not your teeth.
  • The photos should be 45mm high and 35mm wide.
  • The photos have to be in colour for passports and visa/permit applications (although, for some reason, for a South African ID book you can have black-and-white photos). 
  • The photos must be printed on high quality photographic paper (no photocopies), and all the photos you submit must be identical - this is why it always pays to have them taken in batches of at least four.
  • The photos should not be creased or damaged.
  • In the photos, you should be the only person. Pictures that include other people won’t be accepted. There should also not be any items in the photo, such as toys or equipment.
  • Your face should be clear of any obstruction, such as a long fringe or dark glasses.
  • Your eyes have to be open, and your mouth closed.
  • You should be facing the camera directly, NOT portrait style (at an angle).
  • The background should be absolutely clear.
  • Also, you shouldn’t have 'red eyes' or a bright photographic flash reflected on your skin.
  • Lighting is also important in the photos. There shouldn’t be any shadows, such as behind you or across your face.
  • You are also not allowed to cover your face, for any reason. However, if your religion dictates this, you may cover your hair, as long as your face, from the bottom of your chin to the top of your forehead, is clearly visible.

There are different passports for different people and purposes:

The one thing that remains the same, is that you will have to go to your nearest Home Affairs Office to go through with the procedure, and you will have to fill in a DHA-73 form.

Tourist passport

Issued to South African citizens over the age of 16 and is valid for 10 years from the date of issue.

What you need:

  • Identity Document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Finger prints will be taken

Cost: R400

Timeframe: It will take about ten weeks to process the application and issue the passport.

SEE: #TravelNightmares: What to do when you've lost your passport

Child's passport

Issued to South African citizens under the age of 16. It is valid for five years from the date of issue.

What you need:

  • Your (parent's) ID and child's birth certificate
  • Two colour passport photos of the child
  • Death certificate if one parent is deceased
  • a copy of the Court's appointment letter, if you are the child's guardian
  • There are special rules for children born out of wedlock, check out the Home Affairs website for more details.

Cost: R400

Timeframe: Takes about 10 weeks to process

Maxi tourist passport

It is a document for frequent travellers and is issued to South African citizens of 16 years and above. The document contains 48 pages to provide for more visa pages. It is valid for 10 years from the date of issue.

What you need:

  • Identity Document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Fingerprints

Cost: R600

Timeframe: Takes about 10 weeks to process.

Temporary passport

Issued to South African citizens who have applied for a regular passport but need to travel urgently before the regular passport can be issued.

Temporary passports are not accepted in all foreign countries. Applicants are advised to check first with the countries they intend to visit before applying for a temporary passport. It is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.

What you need:

  • Identity Document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Fingerprints
  • A valid reason for your urgent travel

Cost: R180 to process the temporary one, then an additional R400 when you get your tourist passport.

Timeframe: It will take approximately one week to process the application and issue the temporary passport. (Although they have been known to be processed more quickly)

ALSO CHECK OUT: #PassportGang: Easy steps to renewing your passport

Emergency travel certificate

Can be issued to South African citizens who need to travel urgently and there is insufficient time to process a passport application. Valid for 9 months, but can only be used for a single journey

What you need:

  • Identity Document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Fingerprints
  • A valid reason for urgent travel

Cost: R140 to process, but you will need to pay an additional R400 to get your proper tourist passport when you return.

Timeframe: Normally takes about a week to process.

Official passport

Issued to South African citizens in the employ of the Public Service or of a government institution and who need to travel abroad on government official business. It is valid for five years.

What you need:

  • Identity Document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Fingerprints
  • Letter from your employer

Cost: Free

Document for travel purposes

Issued to South African permanent residence holders who cannot obtain travel documents from their country of origin, for example refugees and stateless persons lawfully residing in South Africa. It is valid for 5 years.

What you need:

  • Proof of identity
  • Two colour passport photos
  • Fingerprints
  • Proof of permanent residence as well as written confirmation from your country of origin that they cannot issue you with a passport.

Cost: R400

Timeframe: About 10 weeks.

ALSO SEE: #AfriTravel: SA passport ranks 3rd strongest in Africa but slips in global power

Other useful information: 

Take a look at the passport and ID photo specifications.

You can track the process of your passport application through the Department of Home Affairs website.

Also visit the Department of Home Affairs website to find out the contact details of your closest branch.

What to do if you lose your passport abroad: 

These are the steps you should take if you do happen to lose your passport while abroad:

  • Contact the authorities immediately

Panic mode is the default option. However, take a few deep breaths, assess your situation and run through your options. Whether you have fallen victim to a pick-pocketing or not, you’ll need to file a police report immediately, which you will need when you apply for a replacement passport. 

  • Contact the South African Embassy or Consulate

Remember that handy list of contact details for the nearest embassies and consulates that you prepared before you left? Now is the time to break it out. Send an email, make a call, and get yourself over there as soon as you can. The sooner, the better.

  • Apply for an Emergency Travel Certificate

Emergency passports are no longer issued so you will only be able to apply for an Emergency Travel Certificate, which is valid for a maximum period of nine months but only for a single trip.

Find more info on applying for a new passport at the Department of Home Affairs website here.

ALSO READ: Tips to save money when your travelling feet and passport trump your savings plan 

How to renew your passport? 

Renewing your passport is a lot easier than applying for a new one. SA passports have to be renewed every 10 years and for people who are 15 years or younger, their passports can be renewed up to 5 years after they expire. 

What you need 

  • A copy of your ID
  • R400 for the passport
  • Access to internet banking


Step 1: Account registration

  • Register on the eHome Affairs website
  • Create a profile
  • Answer the simple security questions
  • Create a password
  • Capture the one time pin sent to your cellphone
  • Attach a copy of your ID

Step 2: Make a payment

  • Enter your account details on the site.
  • Log into your internet banking to authorize the payment – go to ‘My Bills’ under ‘Payments’ to initiate a payment instruction.
  • Add the Department of Home Affairs as a beneficiary and a payment instruction will now appear under ‘My Bills’.
  • Enter your reference number and approve the payment of R400 to the Department of Home Affairs.

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Step 3: Make an appointment

  • Once the Department of Home Affairs has registered that you have paid, you will be able to make an appointment to record your biometric data.
  • If you live in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Pretoria, you will be able to select a bank branch with the required facilities. If not, you will have to go to your local Home Affairs – this does not require an appointment.
  • If you are able to make an appointment at one of the bank branches you will be given a choice of time slots.
  • Select a time slot, after which will receive appointment confirmation via email and an SMS which you will need to take with you to the bank.

Step 4: Record your biometrics

  • Option 1: Home Affairs Branch - Once the Department of Home Affairs has registered your payment you will be eligible to proceed with your biometrics data – two thumbprints, a photo and your signature. You do not need to make an appointment at Home Affairs. Simply go to your local branch to have your biometrics done. You will need to take your ID book with you to the Home Affairs branch.
  • Option 2: Home Affairs equipped bank branch - Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria residents can make an appointment for their biometrics at their local bank branch once their payment has been registered. You will be given a choice of time slots. Once you’ve selected a time slot, you will be sent a confirmation via SMS and email. You will need to take the confirmation email or SMS to the bank. You will be given a choice of time slots. Once you’ve selected a time slot, you will be sent a confirmation via SMS and email. Take your ID book and confirmation email or SMS with you when going to your local bank branch.

Step 5: Wait for an SMS or email

  • When your passport is ready for collection, you will receive notification. This should take roughly ten days.
  • Home Affairs has some handy information here in case you get stuck.