Joining the military or aspiring to be promoted? Your tattoos could have an impact.
Each us military branch has its own tattoo policy that dictates the type, size, and location of allowable tattoos. Here is a brief overview of tattoos in the military by branch.
All military tattoo policy is consistent regarding the content of allowed tattoos. Tattoos in the military cannot feature vulgarity, nudity, graphic violence, or any sentiments that could be considered racist, elitist, or anti-government. If the content of a military tattoo is in question, the decision is made by the soldier’s commanding officer.
Many believe that the CIA and FBI have policies similar to the military tattoo policy. However, that is not the case.
The Army tattoo policy was updated and relaxed in 2015 but is still one of the most strict in the military. It prohibits any Army tattoos on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands, or above the t-shirt collar. The only exception is one ring tattoo per hand where a regular ring would lie. Leg tattoos must be two inches below or above the knee, and cosmetic Army tattoos must be conservative and are only allowed on women.
The Navy tattoo policy, updated in 2016, is the most lenient in all the branches. Navy tattoos can be anywhere on the body except the head, face, or scalp. The Navy is the only branch that allows tattoos on the hands. Although Navy tattoos can be located anywhere, those located on the torso must not be visible through Navy dress whites.
The Air Force tattoo policy is almost as lenient as the Navy policy, except it prohibits tattoos on the hands. Those serving in the Air Force can have full sleeves as well as large pieces on their backs and legs and are allowed one single band ring tattoo on their hand. The Air Force tattoo policy, which was updated in 2017, is the same for enlisted members and officers.
The Marine tattoo policy is the strictest in all the armed forces. Marine tattoos must be entirely covered by the standard physical training uniform, and no tattoos may appear on the head, neck, wrists, knees, elbows, or hands, although one ring tattoo under 3/8 of an inch in width is allowed. Visible tattoos must not exceed the size of a Marine’s hand and must end two inches above or below the elbow or knee. Marine tattoos for officers must not exceed four visible tattoos when the Marine is in his or her standard PT uniform.
The Coast Guard tattoo policy states that Coast Guard tattoos on the chest cannot be located more than one inch above the v-neck undershirt in the Tropical Blue uniform. Hand tattoos are limited to one ring tattoo per hand that cannot extend past the first knuckle. This means neck and large upper chest tattoos are not allowed under Coast Guard tattoo rules. Sleeves are permitted under Coast Guard tattoo policy.
There is a misconception that those who want to join the CIA cannot have tattoos. However, unlike tattoos in the military, tattoos on CIA agents or recruits are not regulated.
The FBI requires its agents and other employees to look professional and has high standards for how they present themselves, but there is no official FBI tattoo policy. Speak with a recruiter before getting a tattoo if you want to join the bureau. Click here for more information on joining the FBI.