Having a valid passport is key to traveling the world, whether you're embarking on a safari in South Africa or strolling through the streets of Paris. All U.S. citizens must have a current passport when traveling internationally, so it's important to know when yours is going to expire. Be aware of an upcoming expiration date so your passport doesn't lapse, possibly throwing the wrench in the works of upcoming vacations.

Finding the Expiration Date

Every U.S. passport has a signature and data page. This is the first page in the passport, which displays the traveler's photograph, personal details, nationality and date and place of birth. It also includes a line below the personal details showing date of issue and date of expiration. The date of expiration is the day a particular passport will no longer be valid. It's typically 10 years after the date of issue. When looking at the date page, the date of expiration will be on the bottom left-hand side, just to the right of your photograph. It's easy to find, but check online to clear up uncertainties.

Knowing When to Renew

Don't wait until a passport has already expired to renew it. Because it can take some time for the government to process a renewal application, it's essential to plan ahead and renew your passport a few months prior to its date of expiration. Most renewals can be done by mail, making it easy to send in all the information and documents. If you're traveling within the next few weeks, use the expedited passport service for an additional fee at a passport agency or center or at a designated acceptance facility. There are several types of expedited services, so check which applies to your circumstances. To avoid paying extra fees and to make sure you have your passport on hand if traveling soon, it's best to renew as early as possible.

Renewing a Passport

When renewing a passport by mail, there are a few things to consider. The passport must have been issued within the past 15 years and should be undamaged, as well as issued in your current name. If it's in a different name, you'll need to provide documents certifying the name change. Fill out Form DS-82 and mail it in with your passport, an acceptable photograph and the relevant fees. If applying for a new passport in person, take these documents along with Form DS-11 and a current ID to a local passport agency. Find the nearest passport agency on the State Department website. There is a similar process for lost passports, so check online for the correct documents needed if your passport has been lost or stolen.