There are several places in the world that require permission to travel to. This is called a visa. Usually it's not too hard to get. You visit the nearest consulate for the country you want to visit, fill out some paperwork and give them some money. A few days later you go back to the consulate and pick up your passport with a shiny new sticker that says you are allowed to visit.
OR... You can just hire a visa service to do all that for you. It costs a little more but it's way worth it. When we got our first visa to visit China I spent two days waiting at the Chinese consulate. One day to drop off my passport and one day to pick it up. It would have been worth it to pay someone else to do that for me.
Our first Chinese visa was a tourist visa. It was good for 90 days. It allowed us to get into the country. After we arrived the company we were working for got us a business visa that allowed us to stay for a year. Finally we ended up with a "Permanent Resident" visa that came with William's "Alien Worker" permit. Both had to be renewed every year.
To get our Permanent Resident Visa we had to fill out lots of paperwork and get a very silly but very long "physical exam" that required half a day spent at a specific hospital shuffling down a long hallway in a flimsy hospital gown with all the other foreigners trying to get visas. Then we spent another day at the "Exit Entry Bureau" waiting for our number to be called. Luckily we were allowed to wear our own clothes at that place and it was close to the fake market so you could get a little shopping done on your way home.
To renew it every year we had to fill out more paper work and spend another half a day at the Exit Entry Bureau, and then report to our local police station.
It all sounds very tedious and silly, I know. And trust me. It was.
(You can read more about the silliness of the red tape on my friend Shelly's Blog, Tai Shan.)
Maybe that's one reason why we felt a little sad this week when we realized that our permanent resident visa expired on the 6th of April as we were flying back from a week with William's parents
It feels a little sad. It also makes life here feel a little more concrete.