The United States Army has strict regulations for tattoos. Tattoos that are visible in the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) or on a military dress blue uniform must be approved by Military Reviewing Authority (MRA).
Soldiers are prohibited from getting tattoos that are cowardly, personally degrading, prejudicial to good order, and discipline or service discrediting. The Army regulations for tattoos are outlined in Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.
Table of Contents
- What Tattoos Are Allowed In The Army?
- What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed In The Army?
- Navy Tattoo Policy
- Air Force Tattoo Policy
- Marine Corps Tattoo Policy
- Coast Guard Tattoo Policy
- National Guard Tattoo Policy
- CIA Tattoo Policy
- FBI Tattoo Policy
- British/UK army tattoo policy
What Tattoos Are Allowed In The Army?
The Army has very strict regulations on tattoos, especially on the uniform. Tattoos that are already on the soldier’s body or hidden under clothing are not allowed on the uniform.
There are two places on the body where you can get a tattoo: over the heart and over the buttocks. These are clearly marked on the Army Uniform Regulations. The font of a tattoo can be a different font from that which is used in official documents.
But soldiers can get tattoos on the head or face if they are in a religious or traditional style that is not visible while wearing a military hat for male soldiers and a male soldier’s cap for female soldiers.
The Message of the tattoo
For safety reasons, the Army does not allow tattoos that are rude, obscene, or vulgar or which contain symbols or religious emblems that could represent a religious belief.
But the Army allows some tattoos that promote good citizenship. The Army allows tattoos on soldiers after they’ve received the requisite counseling and after the paperwork is approved by their chain of command.
Army Regulation 670-1 states: “If you have a tattoo and it so happens to be visible in an official way, such as visible in a photograph of your Drill Sergeants’ School class photo, then it must be reported to your commanding officer for approval prior to getting it done. If the tattoo is visible in a photo of your unit in your official ABU or other Army Uniform, then it must also be approved by your MRA.”
If the commanding officer approves the tattoo, then you must go to a Military Arts Tattoo Studio to get ink or mechanical drawing of that design. If you are giving the tattoo artist an idea of what you want, be sure they can produce an accurate rendering. The Army requires that imprints (or copies) of approved tattoos be submitted to the unit historian for permanent records.
A person who is 18 years of age or older and has been in the Armed Forces for less than five years can get a tattoo if he or she has consulted with his military chain of command and the Military Reviewing Authority (MRA) and obtained written approval.
The soldier must be in good standing and all requirements for military duties must be met at the time. The tattoo artist should receive an approval letter from his commanding officer on forms provided by the unit historian.
The Tattoo Artist Must Be Licensed by Local Laws
The US Army recommends that soldiers attend a licensed studio for their tattoos. You are responsible for knowing the laws of your state. If you are not sure, call your local police department or sheriff’s office. If you are planning to do the tattoo at home, be sure that no one under 15 years old is present when you do it.
As an Army soldier, you have certain opportunities to have your tattoo reviewed by a Military Reviewing Authority (MRA).
What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed In The Army?
Army regulation 670-1 does not allow tattoos that contain symbols or words, including astrological symbols or numerals, that indicate membership in any organization external to the United States Army. In general, if you have a tattoo with external identifiers, such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Wizard of Oz, or 666, it is not allowed.
Soldiers are prohibited from getting tattoos that are cowardly, personally degrading, prejudicial to good order, and discipline or service discrediting.
The army allows some tattoos on soldiers after they’ve received the requisite counseling and after the paperwork is approved by their chain of command.
Military regulations state that soldiers cannot get tattoos that are to be visible in photographs, or that are to be offended by other regulations. There is one exception: Soldiers can get “Monkey” tattoos for their unit if it’s military-related.
The U.S. Army prohibits tattoos on the hands, wrists, fingers, neck, facial areas or any other parts of the body. These areas are considered sensitive and constantly visible.
Message of Tattoo
The US Army does not allow tattoos that are rude, obscene, or vulgar or which contain symbols or religious emblems that could represent a religious belief. They also do not allow tattoos to promote organizations external to the United States Army, such as social groups, fraternities, sororities, and secret societies.
Ever wonder what the official policy is for getting a tattoo while on active duty? The U.S Navy has a pretty straightforward answer: don’t. It’s not hard to understand where that decision might have been coming from. A navy tattoo would be easily seen as an expression of military pride, and that is something the Navy officially frowns upon. In fact, many sailors will wear clothing to cover tattoos they may have had done on the outside of their uniforms as a way of avoiding embarrassment on base or at mess hall chow lines.
The Navy has very specific rules for visible tattoos, regardless of how small. Any tattoos that are visible must be covered at all times. That means covering any visible tattoos with clothing, sleeves, bandages, long sleeves, or other creative cover-ups. Tattoos can not be covered with makeup. It also means no swimming with tattoos exposed and no getting tattooed while stationed at a Navy facility.
The rationale is that tattoos can affect the perception of the sailor, regardless of their sincerity or quality of the artwork created by the artist. The last thing most sailors want is to look like they’re trying to draw attention to themselves in order to stand out from the crowd—which they shouldn’t be doing anyway due to operational security concerns.
Read more on New Navy Tattoo Policy.
Air Force Tattoo Policy
Ever wanted to know what tattoo policies are in the Air Force? Want to be sure you don’t get in trouble with your service or feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity?
The Air Force has a tattoo policy that applies to everyone, both active duty and civilian members. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the Air Force will have “a professional appearance” among its members. This policy covers both enlisted airmen and officers, as well as family members who are assigned to the Air Force.
While the Air Force doesn’t seem to mind a few small tattoos, anything that’s visible will have to be covered if you’re in the military. The Air Force also specifies that tattoos must be socially acceptable and can’t be offensive, graphic, or a reflection of gang affiliation. But don’t worry about getting a tattoo for your boyfriend or girlfriend because even those will have to be covered by clothing or removed entirely if you join the Air Force!
The Air Force policy also has restrictions on where visible tattoos may appear on airmen. For more information, click on the link to the air force policy.
Marine Corps Tattoo Policy
Marines are known for their tattoo traditions, but the Marine Corps has recently made it clear that these personal tattoos do not comply with Navy Department Regulation (NDR) #116. The regulation states that “To maintain professional appearance” any tattoos should be made “unrecognizable by means of facial hair growth, clothing changes, or removal of tattooed body areas.”
The Marine Corps tattoo policy has been known to the Marine Corps for fourteen years, but it is only now that it is being enforced. Commanding officers are allowed to grant permission to Marines who request permission to keep their tattoos. However, this permission must be approved by the Commandant of the Marine Corps within 60 days.
Tattoos are prohibited on the head, face, neck, scalp, or anywhere else where they are visible while wearing a uniform. They are also prohibited on the fingers or hands.
A tattoo is defined as any marking placed on the body by insertion of color through dermal injections or any other method. This results in an alteration of the skin’s pigmentation for more than six months. A tattoo is considered permanent once it has been altered by these means.
Coast Guard Tattoo Policy
In case you were unaware, the U.S. Coast Guard is a military service that enforces maritime safety and regulates navigation on the seas and coastal waterways of the United States and its territories. You would be correct in assuming that their members are likely to uphold their duty out of patriotism for their country, but did you know that they also often uphold the policy of refusing to get tattoos? This doesn’t just apply to new recruits either — it’s also applicable to current members who do not wish to permanently get inked with an ink-heavy tattoo or an unprofessional one such as a skull or photo.
The Coast Guard is not the only military service to use tattoo policies. The United States Marine Corps, for example, has a tattoo policy that may be more restrictive than what many would assume. The Marine Corps forbids Marines from getting tattoos that are vulgar or derogatory or that do not have a direct correlation to the military. This means that they are almost always unable to get tattoos with profanities or obscenities, offensive symbols, names of illegal drugs, gang-related symbols, references to alcohol and tobacco products, and so on.
This Coast Guard tattoo policy has long been in place but it seems as if there are now more members of the Marine Corps who are aware of it now than ever before.
National Guard Tattoo Policy
The most common question I get is about tattoo policies for National Guard members. It is definitely not something I know the answer to, so instead of giving my own opinion on whether they are allowed or not allowed, I decided to write this article.
The National Guard has many different tattoo policies based on duty position and rank. This includes which tattoos are permitted and which are not, the location of the tattoos, and how big they must be. You can read about them in more depth if you scroll down; however, it’s important that you understand that every state has different rules for their own National Guardsmen too (stateside). The rules may be similar but each state decides who falls under what guidelines (and when).
In addition to the federal tattoo regulations, some state National Guards may have their own policies as well. In order to make sure you don’t get in trouble for a tattoo, make sure you check with your state first. This can easily be done on your alphabetically last state or it can be done here on the NGB’s site.
The first thing you’ll want to do is find out what size a tattoo would have to be before it is allowed. This is because some tattoos are not allowed at all and others require certain sizes of tattoos depending on where they are placed.
CIA Tattoo Policy
The CIA, or Central Intelligence Agency, is an intelligence agency of the United States government responsible for producing foreign assessments. The CIA does not have jurisdiction to operate inside the United States.
The law governing tattoos states that visible tattoos are prohibited when in a duty status but are still permitted in off-duty hours. However, this prohibition does not apply to military members. Military members are still permitted to take their tattoo into their duty status and can be present in uniform during any meeting where they’re representing the military at any time regardless of it being a combat mission or otherwise.
CIA employees are prohibited from having any tattoos that are visible in the workplace, which includes tattoos that are not only visible but permanent. Tattoos cannot be removed in the workplace either. Your tattoo cannot be bigger than a quarter when measured with a ruler. The smallest size tattoo you can have is 15 centimeters by 14 centimeters, otherwise, your tattoo must stay under one centimeter in diameter.
If you have an American flag on your body, or if you have any other political message on your body at all, then you are not allowed to display it when in an official duty status after being cleared by the Agency’s regional directorate.
Read more on The CIA Tattoo Policy.
FBI Tattoo Policy
On October 28th, the FBI released their updated tattoo policy. The new rule prohibits any tattoos with significant religious, political, or violent content on the face, neck, hands and arms of FBI agents. Since tattoos are permanent and many of these images require painful removal procedures (which can result in scarring), this new regulation may also make it easier for recruits to pass the FBI’s stringent background checks.
Some tattoos that were offensive against the policy were removed by laser treatments under supervision; however, there is no guarantee that they would stay removed forever.
* Tattoos/branding on the neck (except for women with tribal tattoos below the neckline that are acceptable), above or below the hairline is prohibited.
* Tattoos/branding that is visible through clothing must be reasonable in size, tasteful, not offensive to good taste, and cannot depict nudity or sexual imagery.
* Flash art, letters, words, slogans, logos, or symbols are prohibited on the hands. Exceptions include one ring tattoo per hand (excluding engagement/wedding rings).
* Any tattoos/branding visible during normal duty wear must be professional in nature and in good taste.
See more live discussions about Tattoo Policy when joining the FBI.
British/UK army tattoo policy
In the British Army, there are some general guidelines for tattoos. If a tattoo is offensive or threatening in nature, it will be judged as unacceptable for the army. The policy also states that tattoos may not be displayed when in uniform and members must cover them up if they are displayed while out of uniform. There are also guidelines about types of tattoos that may not be accepted due to religious or cultural sensitivities, such as Japanese characters or images associated with gangs.
The British Army does have some rules regarding tattoos, which may affect your decision whether to get one. When you join the British Army, the soldiers have to provide you with a copy of their tattoo policy. It says that if your tattoo is offensive or threatening in nature, it will be judged as unacceptable for the army. The same goes for any tattoos that are religiously or culturally sensitive.
The policy also states that tattoos are not acceptable on men while they are serving in uniform and the soldier must cover them up if they are displayed while out of uniform. You should also ensure that your tattoo has no religious or cultural significance before bringing it to the attention of your commanding officer, who may object to its display.
If you have a tattoo that will restrict your movement, then you’ll probably have to try and hide it from your commanding officer, as it may prejudice their decision whether to allow you to go on operations or deploy to areas where the climate is hot.
All UK Army recruits must be at least 18 years of age, to be able to serve in the army. UK military personnel may tattoo their entire body, however, only one tattoo may be visible at any point on the body (except neck or ears). Tattoos that are visible must not obscure any other part of the uniform or equipment worn by the soldier (for example; shoulder flashes).
UK military personnel may not have any tattoos visible on the face (for example; nose or mouth). UK military personnel may not have tattoos visible on the neck or ears, however, other body parts (for example; arms, legs, head) are acceptable.