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How to Get (almost) Free Passport Photos

If you’ve ever travelled internationally wth kids, you know how expensive it is. There’s the hotel, food and entertainment for everyone. Airfare is outrageous, and long layovers can add an extra night in a hotel and lots of incidentals. Oh–and don’t forget, everyone needs a passport! 

At time of this writing, passports cost $135. Multiply that by your average family and it’s a lot of moolah. And then there’s the photos! Average going rate for a passport photo in my area is $12, and professional portrait photgraphers charge even more. Twelve bucks isn’t that much, really, but a penny saved is a penny earned. Especially with young kids–you never know how they’re going to react for a photographer, and the guidelines for passports are very specific. Eyes open, neutral (read: not screaming) facial expression, facing forward, etc. 

Most drugstores, photo centers, and discount stores who offer passport photos as a service will tell you that you can not print your own passport photos form their store. They tend to word it something like, “The government requires that travellers use only approved passport services for their photos”. It sounds scary and full of legal repercussions, but did you know that it’s 100% legal to take your own photos? It’s true. The US Dept of State even has a free online photo cropping tool, and the full list of guidelines at their website: 

Photos don’t have to be hi-res…a decent phone camera will do, because they’re going to be cropped down to an itty bitty 2″x 2″ square. Here’s how to DIY, and save enough for a nice lunch or a fun little souvenier at your destination. 

  • Hang a solid white background. This could be a sheet, shower curtain, even a large bath towel. Make sure it’s relatively wrinkle-free and flat. Use thumbtacks or strong tape to attach it to a wall with soft, natural lighting. Recommended: a shaded exterior wall of your house when the sun is low in the sky–not directly in front, above, or behind the subject. Morning or after dinner is a great time of day for portrait lighting. 
  • Review the guidelines regarding framing the shot, clothing, glasses, facial expressions, etc. at the US Dept. of State website. 
  • Take your shot! 

Now…to get that elusive 2×2 size. 

(The photo counters don’t want you to know this. They want you to pay them $12, not $0.20.) 

  • From the US Dept. of State template, save your photo and go to, a totally free photo-editing website that is very easy to use. 
  • Click on “Collage” in Picmonkey, and select your cropped passport photos. 
  • In the Collage menu on the left hand side, choose the Layout icon
  • Click on “Square Deal”, and choose the layout that looks like this: 
  • Now click the “X” in the top right corner of each of the blank squares in the bottom row. This will erase the whole row. (you need two rows)
  • Now, adjust the aspect ratio for a 4×6 print. Click on the little lock symbol at the bottom of the screen, and then manually change it to 1800 x 1200. 
  • Populate the collage squares with your passport photos. 
  • Save, and order as a 4×6 print from your local photo counter or kiosk. When a 4″ x 6″ photo is cut into six squares, those squares will be…you guessed it…2″ x 2″. Take that, you dirty, scheming photo counter! 

how to get (almost) free passport photos