What I learned by getting rejected for EU residency

Written by Andrew Henderson

Dateline: Belgrade, Serbia

I got rejected, and I want to tell you about it. (More on that in a moment.)

I decided to extend my stay in Belgrade for a few days in order to do some more research on numerous flag planting opportunities here, and to fly down to Montenegro to handle more research there and pick up a debit card for a new bank account.

The Balkans are one of the world’s best kept secrets. While Serbia and Montenegro are not suitable for planting all of your flags, procedures here are relatively straightforward.

Want to be a resident? The process isn’t that difficult, and you only need to spend 91 days per year here.

Want to open a bank account? Also not difficult. While banks in Serbia in particular aren’t very remote friendly, they’re also not strung up in red tape. Banks in Montenegro are a bit better.

I often refer to Serbia, Montenegro, Georgia, and other countries as examples of European countries doing things the right way. I’m not going to argue that any of these countries are perfect, but they’ve eliminated a lot of bureaucracy and imperiousness for one simple reason: they have little other choice if they want to succeed.

For example, new businesses in both Serbia and in Montenegro can start operating with just one euro of paid up capital. Heck, here in Serbia, you don’t even need to infuse your company with that high amount of cash for five years after forming. In Montenegro, the administrative cost to start a business is practically nothing.

On the other hand, many countries in the European Union feel they do have a choice, and have become impossible to deal with.

Even EU citizens are having trouble within Europe, as British newspapers recently reported than more than one in four EU citizens living in the UK were denied the chance to get residency.

Sadly, much of western Europe is a disaster to do business in. Setting up a company can be a painstaking process. Opening a business bank account often requires multiple visits. Changing something as simple as the registered agent on your company can require three different stamps and seals.

It’s bureaucracy run amok.

While I do maintain residency in Europe, I wanted to conduct an experiment: could I become a resident of a top-tier European Union country that would not only offer me a prestigious way to live in the Schengen Area, but also to possibly obtain one of the best passports in the world in several years.

This is the story of my personal failure to get EU residency. I am not going to share the country name because I am appealing their denial, and because quite frankly it doesn’t matter. The process throughout much of the European Union – at least the “rich” countries that people seem to want in to – is rather similar.

Ways to Get EU Residency

If you’ve read this site at all, you know that there are several ways to obtain resident status in the European Union:

1. Make an investment.
This approach is simple: by investing in real estate, or government bonds, or by depositing money in one of Latvia’s crumbling banks, you can obtain second residency almost immediately, with all of the privileges of living in the Schengen Area, but not necessarily the obligation to, or the obligation to pay tax. Portugal is among the most famous with its Golden Visa program, but Spain, Latvia, and other countries have similar programs. The field is shrinking, though; Hungary cancelled its program earlier this year.

2. Start a business.
While not as simple, this approach is also straightforward. As one of my podcast guests recently stated, there will always be countries willing to welcome entrepreneurs who can generate profits and hire local workers. There are too many

3. Prove your wealth.
This option is less straightforward, and there are numerous variations among programs that tend to come and go. Up until recently, Italy allowed folks to deposit a nominal amount of cash in the bank and become resident rather easily (easy by Italian standards, at least). This option, in addition to being unclear, is not so popular any more, so unless you’re already an EU citizen, there aren’t many opportunities. That said, one option to bypass EU residency entirely is to buy an EU passport from Cyprus or Malta.

4. Prove your ancestry.
While most of the focus on having European ancestry is in obtaining citizenship by descent, a few countries like Lithuania offer residency by descent for those who can prove some ties but not enough, or those who would be forced to give up their current citizenship and don’t wish to do so.

My EU Residency Experiment

Sixteen months ago starting last January, I set out to get one of the top-tier second residencies in the EU. Seeing that this was something of an experiment (albeit one I originally hoped would also work out favorably), I decided to start a business.

Getting residency by investment is relatively easy; you invest, they give you a resident card. Not much to experiment with since there are few variables. It’s a binary process.

Now, did I need to start a business in the EU? Not particularly. I was willing to do so, and I immediately started generating a lot of ideas for potential businesses in western Europe, including expanding Nomad Capitalist on the ground, which I decided was ultimately the most straightforward option to present to the government.

The issue at hand was “how big am I willing to make this business?” After all, I’ve worked hard to get my global tax rate down to 1% – a far cry from the 43% I paid in the United States – and I’m not sure that residency in Europe and the shaky potential of a passport years down the road was enough to start paying western tax rates on my entire income again.

So I devised a plan: I would invest in hiring western Europeans to offer consulting services within Europe. I packaged the idea in a nice, government-friendly presentation, and set off on my way.

The first step was to form a company. This required me to be a shareholder, of course, which was annoying because I would have preferred to make the company a subsidiary of Nomad Capitalist which would allow for an easier capital contribution, especially as a US citizen.

However, using corporate shareholders on companies formed for residency is often a bad idea.

I was also required to appoint a “non-remunerated director” who lived in Europe or could prove ties to Europe. This part was easy, at least after the awkward conversation asking my friend and then-employee to serve in that role.

The company took about a month to setup, which is a far cry from speeds in Hong Kong or the BVI or even Delaware, but not as bad as I expected.

What took quite awhile and caused a lot of frustration was the bank account. While I was only required to visit one time, and the bankers were quite cordial, the list of questions and forms to fill out was daunting, and the time to actually open a simple bank account was about six weeks. Thankfully I had someone handling the documentation for me.

Once the bank account was open, I could apply for residency. That didn’t mean the bank account functioned easily; it took about eight letters before I even got an online banking token, and to this day I still can’t figure it out.

Applying for Residency

I wasn’t required to do any business right away in the same way any other company can sit dormant. My goal was to use the company as a means to live in a hot spot in Europe, one that would surely remain in the good graces of the western world, even if eastern EU countries were eventually kicked out of a crumbling European Union.

Last June, I started the residency process. Admittedly, it was a slow start, as I was traveling a lot last summer and dealing with a lot of issues alongside an ever-growing business. However, my document guy was making sure that the paperwork was filled out and that my ideas were turned into a workable, bureaucrat-friendly business plan.

The entire stack of paperwork was about fifty pages, all of it in a language I do not yet speak (and now, likely will never bother to learn). It was daunting and seemingly repetitive.

The real issue was filing the paperwork and waiting for a response. That was, unsurprisingly, the hardest part.

I remember the week that we sent everything to the immigration authorities to process, because it was the same week I was in Hong Kong. That week in July 2016, I sat down with a good contact of mine whose parents still live in Europe and offered to rent me their guest house for a very reasonable 200 euros per month to serve as my official residence.

While the idea of living in a guest house in someone’s backyard seemed odd for someone discussing Hong Kong tax law over tea and piano music at the Four Seasons, I eventually warmed to the idea as I realized that my travel schedule would still keep me out of Europe for most of the time, and out of my potential country of residence for the vast majority of the time.

Basically, I just need a place to call home in the country and a few employees running the shop while I would check in periodically.

As time passed, something funny started to happen. I started talking to the country’s people and came to like it. They were surprisingly laid back and far less nationalistic than I expected. One guy even said the country was the most unpatriotic country on earth.

For someone who advises “go where you’re treated best”, such a lack of nationalism seemed to be an attractive feature. Maybe I could feel at home in this place after all.

Building my Residency Business Plan

Suddenly, I went back to the drawing board to think of new ways to expand Nomad Capitalist into Europe, dreaming up everything from opening retail offices to offer emerging market real estate to serving as the headquarters of a chain of investor services offices.

As I dreamed, I also waited. And waited. And waited.

From our filing in July, months passed without hearing anything. Then finally, I was summoned for a residency interview. As anyone who has filed for residency in a “serious” country knows, you are required to do everything at the embassy nearest your current country of residence.

That means if you live in the US or are a US citizen or green card holder, you can use the embassy in the United States. However, you would be prohibited from doing so if you were simply visiting the United States.

While countries like Mexico or Malaysia could care less, EU countries are strict about this thing. There was only one problem: the embassy in my country of residence didn’t process immigration applications.

After six months of waiting, I was ready to visit the embassy for my interview… in a country I needed a visa to visit. That visa process was so ridiculous that I literally decided to wait for a pending new citizenship to be issued to me so I could get my new passport and travel there visa-free.

That delayed the process another two months.

Attending My Residency Interview

About eight months after we filed the initial application, I finally visited the consulate. All in all, I can’t complain about the visit. Everyone was very polite to me, even if their hours of operation and small staff made scheduling inconvenient.

As this is Europe we’re talking about, every detail was scrutinized. The consular staff politely but firmly informed me, for example, that my CV needed to include all citizenships and my eye color… two details that were conspicuously missing.

The evening after my first consular visit, I went back to my hotel to type up everything from the replacement CV to a letter explaining why I wanted to live in the country.

During the entire process, I wondered how many starry-eyed immigrants to the United States ended up with some form of buyer’s remorse because it was overhyped. For years, immigrants poured into countries like the United States purely for the opportunity, and those countries accepted them without the need for a CV or a letter explaining their love for the country.

I imagined that my letter expressed the immigration version of that girl you dated because you liked her on paper, but never thought about being more serious with her. I didn’t love the country, at least not yet… I was an economic immigrant who wanted to bring a solid business track record there in exchange for a residence permit.

You know… like every single freaking person who ever passed through Ellis Island. Those immigrants wanted more freedom and greater prosperity. They weren’t in love with American ideals when they arrived because they had no idea what those ideals were.

Anyway, the second day I returned to the embassy with all of my updated documents and a few extra documents from my preparer. The staff consciously reviewed every document before introducing me to the ambassador, with whom I would have my formal interview.

Accompanying the ambassador was a young go-getter who never spoke, but seemed to take copious notes of everything that was said. Occasionally, he would peek up from his notepad to look at me as if seeking clarification on the topic at hand. In other words, he was the European ambassador’s version of Jared Kushner.

The ambassador asked me why I wanted to obtain a residence card, and I explained the business opportunities in front of me and why Europe should play a role. Obviously, I refrained from using terms like “high-tax hellholes” or “communist dump”; not that this country fit into those parameters, but I didn’t want my libertarian streak to show through, and I played it cool.

At some point near the end of the interview, I slipped into some sort of Donald Trump impression when I explained the growth potential of my new European business, then followed it with “and I think you’ll be very proud”.

True to European form, the ambassador was stoic, but I wonder if he took my comment as overly braggadocious or simply “too American”. After all, I wouldn’t imagine that guys used to working at EU headquarters have a particular fondness for Donald Trump.

It was not long after that moment that the ambassador informed me that I would receive a decision within four months, one that would be influenced by my business plan as well as, he firmly stated, his decision.

“Oh, great”, I remember thinking. One unintended Trump impression and I’m sunk. I left the office, but didn’t get far. Within fifteen minutes, the embassy called my assistant to inform her that there was still one document that I needed to provide, and I rushed back to find the embassy closed. The issue was finally resolved several hours later.

Being Rejected for EU Residency

One good thing about much of western Europe – at least the parts that aren’t warm enough for everyone to be lazy and take afternoon siestas – is that they operate on a predictable timeline. When the German embassy says something takes a week, I imagine it takes exactly a week; no more, no less.

In my case, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email last week explaining that there was a decision reached in my case a mere two months into the four-month process.

Normally, this could be either very good (think: you’re starting the next Facebook, they know everyone wants you, and they don’t want to risk losing you) or very bad (think: you did a low-level Trump impression and the ambassador told everyone you’re an idiot who can’t be trusted).

The email I received last week merely implored that I “return to the embassy immediately”, but provided no further details. As a Nomad, returning to the embassy forthwith was not an immediate option, but I asked my contact to inquire further.

A few days later, the verdict was in: denied.

We’re still seeking full details, but both of us can surmise the potential reasons, any or all of which may apply.

For one, my business isn’t exactly EU friendly. They like their taxes over there.

Secondly, my listing “all of my citizenships” as required on my CV may have worked against me. The ambassador specifically asked “oh, and one day you’ll be our citizen, too?”, a sort of odd invitation that seemed like a trap either way. I politely downplayed the idea, not wanting him to think I was on a passport collecting spree, but then worried that perhaps he was insulted that I wouldn’t want to share a citizenship with him. Oh, well.

Lastly, the most desirable parts of the EU have simply become difficult in general. Unlike here in eastern Europe, they scrutinize everything carefully there, and I suspect they figured I wasn’t giving it my all. If it were an issue of business experience, my CV provided plenty; they must have wanted a bigger business.

Lessons from my Rejection

One lesson I’ve learned is that this rejection is a reminder of the importance of what we do here at Nomad Capitalist. I charge high fees because, unlike any service provider I know, I actually invest years of my life and thousands of dollars at a time of my money to try stuff out and see what works… and what doesn’t.

It’s real-world experience that makes the difference.

Just as importantly, I am reminded of the fact that Europe is on the wrong side of the bell curve when it comes to making things easy. Just changing the registered address of my company took one week and cost 600 euros, so why would I expect the residency process itself to be straightforward?

Like Hong Kong and Singapore, western Europe is trying to be particular about who it excepts. Unlike Hong Kong and Singapore, they are not doing so because they are full and don’t have room for anyone else. They just want to be picky.

This is why the world’s new safe havens, as I call them, are so important. There are countries like Serbia that, while not always a walk in the park, are generally on your side. They want you to come there, even if it’s not full-time and even if you’re not planning on earning millions there. They just want people to help them grow.

Western Europe, on the other hand, has a cornucopia of reasons to keep foreigners out, and I expect with the rise of nationalism this trend will only increase. I’m fortunate to have other residencies, and quite frankly I believe that EU residency and citizenship may become devalued in the coming years from a tax perspective.

I tried to go for the creme de la creme, and I failed. Fortunately, I still enjoy open access to Europe, but my rejection serves as a lesson that going where you’re treated best is so important.

I’m honestly not upset about my rejection because, quite frankly, the prospect of five years of paperwork and mindless compliance with stupid rules would have put me in an early grave. Contrary to Oscar Wilde’s famous quip, I want to go places where I am wanted, and where the process is easy… and nothing in the European Union is easy.

If you plan to obtain EU residency by starting a business, your chances will be better if you shoot for countries in the eastern part. By east, I mean really east; think Romania or Slovenia or Estonia, and skip countries that have become more nationalistic and closed off, like Hungary or Poland or Czechia.

Otherwise, I do see a trend toward non-EU countries being the way to go. Europe is becoming more open to tourists, but less open to immigrants. Perhaps being Montenegrin, with the daily ritual of having coffee overlooking beautiful Kotor Bay, could be a far more simple and rewarding procedure than becoming French or Belgian or Dutch.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Apr 3, 2020 at 2:18PM

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  1. Shawn

    Great article Andrew, sorry to hear about your troubles, but a terrific service to your readership to share this story. I’ve been thru the business immigration process in another country (non-EU), I can certainly attest to how long, arduous, and detail-orientated it is.

  2. J.

    Why would anyone want residency anywhere that has worldwide taxation? Ugh. And especially in one of those western European countries that is moving to citizenship-based taxation and a massive “fee” in order to renounce citizenship. And about half your net worth to end residency or citizenship. No thanks!

    • The Emigrant

      The OECD and the European Union will not tax on the basis of citizenship because it is impractical. Lots of EU passport holders who don’t have a passport issue like the USers, are now seeking to ‘ buy’ a domicile in a country that doesn’t have a worldwide taxation policy. It is still do able because they don’t have to chase after a second passport. I recommend that you check Malta and Cyprus, Gibraltar, and even Monaco Non-Domiciled Resident Status. I am sure that there are other countries out side Europe that can now offer Non-Dom status.

      • J.

        Right, I forgot the that EU gives a pass on taxes and won’t do something impractical. I know France wants to heavily tax the thousands of ultra-high-worth citizens who left for tax reasons, including many thousands who moved across the channel to London. Citizenship based taxation is their only way. As they can’t get the French in London like in Monaco.

        • The Emigrant

          Taxation based on citizenship cannot work within the EU because EU passport holders are free to move freely among the jurisdictions and establish themselves. Moreover, they can incorporate in any EU member state without any hindrance . FATCA and AEOI are two big bureaucratic nightmares that banks and tax authorities have content with as is. So basically, EU passport holders do not have to worry about chasing after a second passport which is a major relief (at least financially). Let’s call a spade a spade. All those Caribbean passports that are catered for USers (travel-wise) are no more than Mickey Mouse passports.

          So practically, if a French or an Irish citizen decides to take advantage of the Non-Domiciled Resident Status that is offered by Cyprus, all that he has to do is move to Cyprus and register as an EU national at Alien and Immigration Department. No real-estate purchase or any other investment on Island is required. Residence permit is issued almost on the sport, and a Cypriot taxpayer number is issued on the spot, and you can play ball. And if they decide to move instead to the Far-East as you suggest, again, they have no passport issue or tax issue once they have re-domiciled overseas.
          And have almost forgotten: with the introduction of FATCA and AEOI, my best advise to you all is Comply! Comply! Comply! The banks who have been assigned by the tax authorities to determine fiscal domicile will not let you play for time. The time is up. Otherwise you may end up with a liquidated portfolio and a cashier check.

      • J.

        Don’t know whether this is a fairy tale, but I’ve heard that the US is going to somehow crush all the Caribbean second passport programs, just how they crushed swiss banking privacy. There is no such thing as national sovereignty when it crosses US interests.

        • The Emigrant

          Read my lips! Uncle Sam is going to crush all those Caribbean second passport programs. it is just a matter of time. I refer you to CBS’s 60 Minutes (Passports for Sale). The US, Canada, and the EU are not happy at all when Dominica sells diplomatic passports to Iranian intelligence operatives as part of sanction busting schemes. Moreover, the selling of passports has become a hot hot issue in Dominica. The prime minister of Dominica and a group of fat cats are corrupted men, and the people don’t like it at all, and that is an understatement. Malta, another EU passport seller, is having a snap elections on the 3rd of June because of a corruption case stemming from its passport for sale program.

          As for Swiss banking secrecy laws, Does the 29th of April, 2013; the Non-Prosecution Agreements with Swiss Banks;Department of Justice ring a bell? As a result of FATCA and AEOI all taxpayers are now assigned to a jurisdiction. The banks have now become the enforcers. It is there duty to determine fiscal domicile for tax purposes. They are the ones who will automatically report to the tax authority of their jurisdiction, and that information will be passed to the designated tax authority according to fiscal domicile, and in the case of a US Person, to the IRS! There is no escape.

          UBS clients who had failed to present letters from their tax authorities had their portfolios liquidated and ended up with cashier checks that no other bank even want to touch! Therefore compliance now is of the utmost importance. Later on if you can re-domicile to a more friendly jurisdiction, do it by all means. Lost of countries now offer a Non-Domiciled Resident Status. Just google!

  3. The Emigrant

    Red tape is king, at least in Europe. I totally agree you that an EU passport, in the long run, is over rated, and tax-wise the EU is becoming more burdensome by the day. If one can get an EU passport on the basis of ancestry, I say go for it. Otherwise it is not worth it.
    EU citizenship programs
    As for Malta the 1800 quota should have reached by Q2 of 2017, and with the looming scandal and the coming snap elections (June 3rd), the opposition has promised to CANCEL all passports obtained though the program if it forms the new cabinet (perhaps only electioneering talk). I have been following developments in Malta closely for the last three years, and the public hates that program.

    The average wealth of the Malta or Cyprus passport applicant stands at 100 million!!!
    No wonder that the majority of applicants are rich Arabs from the Gulf States, Chinese and Russians, and a few South Africans. It is simply unrealistic and beyond the reach of the small fellow. Perhaps the Caribbean programs fit the small guy’s needs after all. The US, Canada, and the EU, however, don’t like those programs at all due the fresh Dominica scandal (CBS’s 60 Minutes). My fear is that the US will eventually crush all those islands into submission in the same fashion that it crushed Swiss bank secrecy laws. I just hope that when Congress come to its senses and approves a new tax reform, it will do away with FATCA, and will decide once and for all that the USA collects taxes on the basis of fiscal domicile rather than citizenship( like the rest of the sane world).

    • J.

      Wishful thinking about any repeal of FATCA. No, the trend throughout the West is toward more taxation, more onerous reporting, more punitive confiscation of wealth and more draconian enforcement. Look at the recent evolution and rapid implementation of the AEOI, OECD CRS, multilateral international tax conventions and inter-governmental mutually assisted collections. Social trends such as socialism & taxation are like market trends; they must play out to extremes before a true trend change.

      You are better off residing somewhere like Asia, or perhaps parts of Latin America and eastern Europe ex-EU, that has already hit the socialist wall splat and has done an about-face. Because the West’s destiny is to crash & burn under socialism and it’ll be very ugly & violent when the masses are denied what the politicians’ “social contract” has promised them. Glad I left and cut ties; good riddance. But hurry, the price to leave is rising rapidly, and before long the exit will be blocked altogether. People controls and capital flow controls, already in place throughout the West, are increasingly restricting movement with each passing year. They NEED your money – all of it – as like Obama said, “What you have, you didn’t get that yourself”; and Hillary’s “Imagine what we could do with that money”.

  4. Munly Leong

    Thanks for taking the time to write this Andrew and barely a few days after I compiled my own passport collecting bucket list and sketched out a rough acquisition strategy and timeline. Your describing the process and all the bureaucracy hell is literally priceless.

    Screw europe and their socialism. Gee I wonder why they have no businesses and no jobs

  5. lonetour

    Pay tax, self centred bustard.

  6. Gaudente

    I actually don’t understand why you want to become an EU resident. That means you would be taxed on your world wide income , on your capital gains , dividends and global bonds coupons , while if you are resident in Singapore or Hong Kong at least capital gains on EU stock markets and global bonds coupons deposited in a EU bank would be tax exempt (I am not sure about dividends).

    • Shawn

      Andrew is a US citizen, thus he’s taxed globally regardless of residency.

    • J.

      Singapore and HK don’t tax foreign-sourced gains or interest or dividends. Regardless of where the income is deposited or remitted. As they have territorial tax system. These are two of the best nations in the world. Best financial institutions too. I agree becoming an EU resident is toxic

    • PointstobeMade.com

      Not all EU countries tax your worldwide income. The UK and Malta being a couple if your domicile is not there (which I would bet Andrew’s is not).

      But the power of many EU countries is their vast array of double taxation treaties, so even if they did try to claim your foreign income, they might not be able to if it is already covered by the treaty with the source country.

  7. Andrea Gerák

    What a story, Andrew! I wouldn’t really believe it if it was not from you whom I know to be truthworthy, ever since I am following you.

    So a developped, free, liberal, tolerant, welcoming, inclusive, multicultural, open society state somewhere in the European Union doesn’t want a successful businessman with high standards, money brought to invest in the host country, intellect, experience, network and similar cultural heritage to the locals, to be there and contribute.

    Now if we compare this to that hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants of a completely different cultural background (which doesn’t intagrate well, instead creates a paralel society), without papers or with fake IDs, without money to cover their most basic living expenses (but many of them having iPhones and expensive clothes), without any qualifications to do any business (not even speaking basic English and many of them are illiterate), in most cases without even any willingness to take a simple menial job, but only wanting to live off welfare… (Let’s not even mention the security issues, the rising crime rates with them, including terror attacks.)

    These hords are not only warmly welcomed by leftist, socialist EU leaders and countries, but certain political circles are trying to further bring them in to Europe by the masses, and ENFORCE the local nations to receive, host, house and feed them, with health care, schooling and all that, and to shape the culture of the host countries to suit the “guests”.

    THIS is what countries like Hungary (mine), Poland, the Czech Republic (where I spend lots of time) and Slovakia are against. Which is not xenophobia, nor other derogatory terms we are often referred to – it is simply common sense.

    It might be indeed that in some cases these governments make mistakes and err on the side of too strong measurements, but generally and on a long term, this protectionism seems to be working alright: the economy of the V4 area is on the rise, and it is much more safe here than in Refugees Welcome West and Scandinavia.

    So much so, that beyond the thriving “normal” expat life with business people, students etc, citizens of Western Europe are coming to us in order to escape the disaster in German, Sweden, France and other places, caused by the migrant flood from MENA states.

    That being said, and fitting your story with all this bureaucratic nightmare into the puzzle, it can be seen even clearer that the globalist EU leaders do not have the interests of their people and countries in mind.

    Your slogan holds true: Go where you are treated best…

    • Gemma

      Well said. And one of the main reasons why we are leaving Canada as well (with our money and our business) and applying for citizenship to live and invest in the Baltics.

  8. Andrea Gerák

    Huh. My comment disappeared after a few hours…
    I wonder if you deleted it Andrew, or Disqus did.
    It was not politically correct…

  9. Kenny

    Well, as they say “another door opens”. BUt really loved your humour in this piece.


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