21 May, 2013 @ 09:29
5 mins read

A picture is worth a thousand… expletives

passport photos head size

“Photos should show a close-up of your full head and shoulders. The image of your head, crown to chin, must be sized between 29 millimetres and 34 millimetres deep. Photos must be 45 millimetres high by 35 millimetres wide – the standard size used in photo booths.”

Therein lies the rub.

PASS the PORT … I need a drink

My British passport will expire in November this year, and as it’s advisable to renew it about six months before its expiry date, in April I downloaded the passport application form and instructions from the British Embassy’s webpage: https://www.gov.uk/overseas-passports.

The rules for the photos were extensive, and some seemed contradictory; for example, if ‘photos must be professionally printed’ but be ‘the standard size used in photo booths’, could I therefore send photos I took in a booth, or did I have to find a photo studio?

I decided it was easier to try the ‘booth route’ rather than find a professional photographer and try to explain, in my limited Spanish, the nearly 20 rules of how the British passport office wants my photo to appear.

The last time I had photos taken in a booth was about 40 years ago, when I was goofing around with a girlfriend after a night out on the tiles. There were not then the multiple options available now … we just got a strip of 4 or 5 different photos showing us acting sillier in each successive one.

Once into the booth, I discovered there were at least seven categories of photo from which I could choose. I realised that I could not select the love heart, cartoon character or flower border option around my photo. I could pay 2 euros for two pictures without any frills; although it did not specify the size I was going to get out of the machine, the price seemed very reasonable, and I did need only two photos.

I had to lean forward slightly so my face would fit into the outline on the screen in front of me, and the automatic Spanish lady’s voice in the booth told me to press the green button when I was ready. There was no botón verde (maybe the paint had rubbed off?), but I determined that it was perhaps the centre button of the five below the screen. Maybe that’s why my photos came out with me looking somewhat quizzical and confused? Or was that because I was trying for the ‘neutral expression with your mouth closed’ look? The two photos were far too big anyway, measuring more than four times larger than I wanted.

So I plugged in another 2 euros, fiddled about with all the categories and tried again. I realised too late that I had made the same selection (you can’t change your mind once you’ve put the money in), so I went for a ‘happy expression with mouth open showing my teeth’ look. (I’ll perhaps frame one of these to give to my husband).

Third time lucky? I realised the option I had to choose was for 6 small photos and 2 slightly larger ones. The 6 photos looked like they would be the right size, 45mm x 35mm. The extra two, 50mm x 50mm would be of no use. For this set of photos I had to pay 5 euros.

At last I had (more than enough) of the right size photos with the appropriate expression. I took them home, whereupon I got out the tape measure to check that the ‘image of my head – from the crown of my head to my chin’ – was between 29mm and 34mm deep. It measured 35mm.

I then decided I should go to a professional photographer, Juan Manuel & Hijos in Ronda. He had a display of document photos on his wall, so I assumed he knew what to do. I was able to ask if the photo would measure 45mm x 35mm. “Si, si, el el tamaño normal,” he replied.  For 6 euros I got 8 photos measuring 40mm x 32mm, with my head size at 24mm. I can only assume that Spanish passports, driving licences, identity cards, etc. have different requirements than the British passport office.

Back I went to the photo booth … this time armed with my tape measure. In the first 5-euro set I was sitting too far back; head size only 25mm. One more try and I finally got it right; head size of 33mm. Hoorah!

After a total expenditure of 25 euros, I finally had two photos I could attach to my passport application.

The British consulate in Malaga is only a 90-minute drive away, so I decided to take my application there. This way, I could save courier charges and would not be without my still-valid passport while the new one was being processed, as I assumed the officer at the consulate could confirm the old one’s existence and let me hang on to it. I also thought I would go and pick up the new passport when it was ready, as the cost of petrol to drive to Malaga would be less than the 30-euro courier fee to have it sent to me.

On Tuesday, May 7, about a month after I’d printed the application form off the website, and 10 days after my first photo booth experience, I arrived at the guard’s desk outside the Malaga consulate office. He asked the purpose of my visit, and I held up the envelope of my paperwork and photos and explained I had come to renew my passport.

“We stopped processing passports last week,” he replied, handing me a piece of paper which read: For all forms and current information relating to UK passports please visit the British Embassy’s webpage. Or if you wish to request a form to be sent to you, you can contact the Passport Information Line at: IPS Passport Advice Line: +44 300 222 000, email: overseasNewportCC@ips.gsi.gov.uk.

So much for my idea of saving courier fees by driving to Malaga. Once back home, I went onto the website and looked again at the passport application form that could be downloaded. It was very different from the form I had printed off a month earlier. This new one had boxes to be crossed out in response to the questions, and looked like the type of form that could be fed into a computerized reading machine rather than reviewed by a human being. The completed form that I had taken to Malaga was no longer available online. And now everything had to be sent to Belfast in Northern Ireland, together with a completed form giving my credit card details to authorise a payment of ?147.86 … about 15% more expensive than the original euro cost of the passport and the in-Spain courier charges.

And would the old form still be acceptable at Her Majesty’s Passport Office in Belfast? I thought I had better telephone the IPS Passport Advice Line in the UK to find out. After going through a series of questions, to which I responded by pressing the appropriate buttons on the ‘phone, I was connected to someone who told me that, no, I could not submit the old form – and that it would not be processed if I did so.

Finally, on Monday, May 13, I paid the 51 euro courier charge to send the new application form, two photos and the payment authorisation to Belfast. Now it’s a waiting game to see if everything has been done correctly and to find out if the measurement from the crown of my head to my chin really is sized between 29 millimetres and 34 millimetres deep.

In the meantime, if I need to travel outside of Spain before I receive my passport, I will have to go the consulate in Malaga to apply for an emergency travel document. I think this might be the only service that is now being offered there.

Carolyn Emmett

Am an inveterate traveller. Born in the UK and spent teen years in Stratford-upon-Avon. Emigrated to Canada in 1976. Married 33 years, with three children and two grandchildren. Have lived in Jakarta, Indonesia (1997-2001), Botswana (2001-2003) and Johannesburg, South Africa (2003-2010). I'm a perfectionist, very organised, typical Aries; as Purple Ronnie would say: I would be good at being Queen of the World because: I love bossing everyone around and telling them what to do; I am great at making clever plans; I am great fun to be with 'cos I love action and adventure, and I always think up crazy ideas.


  1. I went to my local professional photographer in Baza who knew exactly what the British passport regs were, gave me four copies, completed application on line signed, sent, back in a week, my wife’s took ten days, which was pretty good as the local bar lawyers had convinced me I would need half a dozen signatures and it would take about six months to get them back.

  2. I had no problems with the photo, even though they had “Kodak” printed on the back. The courier stuffed the passport package (clearly marked) half in the letterbox and threw the paper I should have signed into the front garden. I did complain to Malaga consulate but wish I had not bothered !!
    I think the extra price for getting a passport here is a rip off.

  3. Talking of rip off why is a Spanish passport less than £25 when British ones are so expensive, they may not have the Royal Crest on, but you can go to the same places in the world with then.

  4. I could not believe how quickly I got mine back too. Like Peter, our local photography shop knew what I wanted; I did mine a couple of years ago and did not do it on-line, cannot remember why now but there was a reason at the time. I did have to pay for the courier but it seemed to be the easiest way of doing it and I was not going to be travelling anywhere for a couple of weeks anyway. Think the whole thing took about 10 days. Completely stress free. Like PM, not much of a story!!

  5. Better way is to jump onto a cheap Easyjet flight to the UK and prebook a visit/interview at one of the passport agency offices and pay for the “premium ” service (£129 I think). The passport is completed and collected the same day. My wife went to the one in Peterborough- the staff there were efficient, friendly and gave great service! Then enjoy a few days holiday in the UK!

  6. Obtaining a new British passport is a total rip-off. The wonderful “biometric passport” costs around 154 euros, plus the cost of courier service delivery.
    Total: around 170 euros. That’s DOUBLE what Brits resident in the UK pay. Meanwhile, the poor, under-privileged Spaniards pay only around 20 euros for their passports.

  7. Postscript to my story … my new passport was delivered to me on Friday, May 24, less than two weeks after I sent the documents and photos to Belfast. Fantastic service, albeit rather expensive! Please note that neither the consulate in Malaga nor the Embassy in Madrid now processes passports; all applications have to be sent to Belfast.

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