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10 Inexpensive Countries Where $2,000/Month Buys the Good Life

Who hasn’t dreamed of standing up one day, telling off their boss, and storming out in a blaze of glory?

Few of us ever do that because we need a paycheck to pay our bills. But if you’re tired of working yourself to the bone just to live paycheck-to-paycheck in a boring American neighborhood, you don’t have to.

You can live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle on $2,000 per month in countries spanning from Europe to Asia to Central and South America thanks to “geoarbitrage.” Geoarbitrage is a fancy word for taking advantage of differences in currency value and the cost of living in other countries.

So if you’re open to adventure and an international lifestyle, you can exponentially accelerate your savings without sacrificing quality of life by moving overseas while working in the United States.

10 Countries Where You Can Live Comfortably on $2,000 per Month

These aren’t the cheapest countries in the world because those aren’t usually the safest or most comfortable for American expats.

Instead, these countries represent a balance of safety, affordability, high-quality health care, ease of visa and residency requirements, and climate. Many of these countries even offer “golden visas,” which allow you to buy residency or citizenship.

Many Americans harbor misconceptions about living abroad: that it’s only safe for men; that it’s only good for young, single people; or that it’s impractical for families. These are all false.

According to InterNations, a solid 58% of U.S. expats are women, and the average age of U.S. expats is 49.1 years old. Over two-thirds (68%) of U.S. expats are either married or in a long-term relationship, and many have children.

I’m a married expat myself, and most of the American, Canadian, and British expats I know have children who live abroad with them.

For each country, you’ll find an overview of what makes it so attractive to American expats and some sample financial data from Numbeo in addition to several other factors that influence the comfort and ease of living there, including:

  • Cost of Living. Cost-of-living data include the average rent for both a one-bedroom apartment in desirable city-center neighborhoods and a three-bedroom house outside city-center areas. But these numbers vary wildly depending on the city, neighborhood, and property. You can find lower-cost or more upscale homes. These are simply average rents based on Numbeo’s figures. Additionally, it includes some typical utility, entertainment, and miscellaneous expenses to create a snapshot of how living costs compare to the U.S.
  • Health Care. International health insurance rates also vary wildly — just like in the U.S. Even the health care systems within these countries are vastly different, with many offering excellent public health care. To compare medical costs, you can find data on per-capita spending on health care as reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). For reference, the U.S. averages $10,624 per person.
  • Crime and Safety. When I told my family and friends I was moving to Abu Dhabi in 2015, the first question nearly every one of them asked was: “Is it safe? It’s in the Middle East!” But Abu Dhabi is currently the safest city in the world, according to Numbeo’s global crime index. I will never live in a safer city. My home city of Baltimore actually suffers crime rates astronomically higher than Abu Dhabi. Frighteningly, my home city of Baltimore ranks lower in safety than Cape Town, South Africa, or Mexico City. For a country-by-country comparison, we include the most recent Global Peace Index scores. The U.S. scores 2.31 — worse than most of the countries on this list (a lower score is better).
  • Taxes. As an American expat, your first $108,700 of income (in 2021) is tax-free in the U.S. through the foreign earned income exclusion. In some countries, you may have to pay taxes on that income locally, though. Others don’t charge taxes on income earned from an employer outside their borders.

As a final thought, don’t expect widely spoken English except in touristy or expat-heavy neighborhoods and cities or in countries where English is a primary language. If you’re going to move somewhere, it pays to learn the language in most cases.

Pro tip: If you’re thinking about moving abroad, start learning the language with Babbel. You can choose from an app subscription or live subscription which includes live online lessons taught by top language teachers.

1. Panama

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $731 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $919 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $90 per month
  • Internet: $43 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $45 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $6 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $18,500
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $316 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $1,857 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.88

Beautiful Caribbean beaches, charming mountain towns, a vibrant cultural capital city — what’s not to like about Panama? Panama isn’t the cheapest country on this list by a long shot. But it still boasts plenty of advantages for U.S. expats.

The visa and residency programs available to Americans and Canadians are extremely friendly and welcoming. For example, Americans can qualify for a pensionado visa if they earn at least $1,000 per month in pension income.

Through the friendly nations visa, Americans can qualify for residency by opening a bank account with $5,000 and getting a job in Panama, opening a business there, or buying real estate worth at least $10,000.

Climate-wise, Panama is sunny and tropical yet outside the hurricane belt. And it’s a quick, easy flight from Panama City to the U.S.

One huge perk of living in Panama is that it doesn’t impose taxes on money earned outside its borders. So whether you’re a digital nomad or retiree, you’re off the hook for income taxes in your adopted homeland.

Plus, average health care spending falls below a fifth of America’s per-capita spending, according to OECD data.

Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, which is convenient but also precludes exchange rate advantages. Even so, the cost of living is far lower in Panama than in the U.S.

The official language is Spanish, although a sizable percentage of the population speaks English as well, especially in more touristy areas.

Escape to Paradise” by Richard Detrich is an authentic resource for anyone thinking about making the move to Panama. It details a comprehensive firsthand account from a couple who emigrated themselves and serves as mandatory reading for any Americans thinking of moving to Panama.

As in any budget, you could reduce or increase each of your expenses, depending on what you’re looking to spend. The cost of living, excluding rent, is 25.4% cheaper in Panama than in the U.S., and rents are 44.3% cheaper.

For more detailed information, see Panama’s Numbeo page.


2. Costa Rica

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $494 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $615 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $67 per month
  • Internet: $51 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $41 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $6 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $22,698
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $340 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $1,337 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.69

Not far from Panama lies another Central American paradise catering to U.S. expats. Often known as “the Switzerland of Central America,” Costa Rica is known for its neutrality, safety, strong banking system, and excellent health care.

Like Panama, Costa Rica offers a range of climates and geography, from warm beaches to cooler mountain towns. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, with excellent outdoor activities, such as surfing, fishing, golfing, hiking, scuba diving, and outdoor yoga. Look no further than Costa Rica’s national motto of “Pura Vida,” or pure life.

There’s a public health care system that charges 7% to 11% of your reported household income, which entitles you to high-quality health care services. Many expats combine this public health care with the occasional private payment when they want expedited same-day service for a treatment or test.

And like Panama, Costa Rica’s health care system includes a high percentage of U.S.-educated doctors and partnerships with U.S. hospitals.

And like Panama, Costa Rica charges no foreign income tax.

The book “Happier Than a Billionaire” by Nadine Hays Pisani talks about how one couple quit their jobs, moved to Costa Rica, and now live the zero-hour workweek. For more information about Costa Rican residency visas, check out the U.S. Embassy’s overview.

Prices vary based on the city or town and whether you’re stocking up on inexpensive local vegetables or Russian caviar. Nationwide, the cost of living, excluding rent, is 30.4% lower than in the U.S., and rents are 63.6% lower.

For more detailed information, see Costa Rica’s Numbeo page.


3. Mexico

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $343 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $483 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $41 per month
  • Internet: $26 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $25 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $4 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $17,135
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $166 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $1,066 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.57

Mexico sometimes gets a bad rap in the States. But with its stunning beaches, rich culture, colonial cities, low cost of living, easy access to the U.S., and availability of quality health care, Mexico has become a mecca for expats.

Some cities and regions are particularly expat-friendly and surging with Americans, Canadians, and Europeans.

Check out San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato — beautiful, colonial cities with sizable American expat communities. For a seaside paradise with plenty of English-speaking neighbors, check out the Riviera Maya.

There are two national health care plans to choose from, and the Seguro Popular plan remains a favorite of expats, who may only spend a few hundred dollars per year for coverage.

However, Mexico does charge income taxes to residents with foreign income, such as from the U.S.

For a comprehensive read, check out “Retirement Secrets of Mexico” by Russell Blake. Blake breaks down how couples can comfortably and safely live on just $25,000 per year in Mexico. Find residency visa information at VisaGuide.world.

Nationwide, the cost of living in Mexico is 51.6% lower than in the U.S., excluding rent, and rents are 72.4% lower.

For more detailed information, see Mexico’s Numbeo page.


4. Ecuador

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $393 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $464 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $46 per month
  • Internet: $41 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $30 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $6 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $22,000
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $287 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $955 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.09

Like many Latin American countries, Ecuador offers a range of climates, from warm, sunny beachside towns to breezy mountain cities. It also offers tens of thousands of Americans.

For high concentrations of expats, check out Vilcabamba and mountainside Cuenca. These cities blend old-world colonial charm with modern conveniences and utterly perfect weather.

Cuenca sits near the equator at an elevation of 8,400 feet, so it maintains daily highs in the low to mid-70s all year round. Among its dramatic landscapes, Ecuador’s natural beauty includes the Tiputini River, one of the top adventure destinations in the world.

Unlike Mexico, Ecuador sees U.S. expats spread more evenly across the country rather than concentrated in a handful of cities. The Ecuadorian people are famously friendly, making it a welcoming destination for American expats.

And if you’re still earning income in the U.S., you’ll be glad to know Ecuador charges no taxes on income earned from outside its borders.

Terry Dean Roberts discusses his decision to move to Cuenca, Ecuador, in his latest book, “Relocating to Ecuador: Eyes Wide Open.” You can read up on visa information on VisaGuide.world.

Overall, the cost of living in Ecuador is 44.9% lower than in the U.S., excluding rent, with rents 71.4% lower on average.

For more detailed information, see Ecuador’s Numbeo page.


5. Malaysia

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $335 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $406 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $47 per month
  • Internet: $31 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $15 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $4 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $37,812
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $158 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $1,194 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.53

With roughly 880 islands, the first Asian country on the list is Malaysia, renowned for its pristine white sandy beaches. Water sports like diving and sailing flourish, and unblemished rainforests also make for fun outdoor adventures.

Malaysian health care is robust. It has evolved into a hotspot for medical tourism. Resident expats can expect high-quality care at an eighth of the price of average American spending.

Plus, Malaysia charges no income taxes on foreign earned income.

Most Americans are surprised to discover that English is the unofficial language of Malaysia, as the country remained a British colony from the late 1700s through 1957. Penang has a particularly strong British influence and expat population. It was among the first ports leased to the British for trading purposes.

While its location is much further from the U.S. than other popular places for expats, it’s well situated to reach all of Asia and Australia.

Kuala Lumpur offers a modern city experience, which you can read about in Lonely Planet’s “Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang” by Simon Richmond and Isabel Albiston. So does neighboring Singapore, which is great for weekend jaunts you can plan using DK Eyewitness Travel’s “Top 10 Singapore” guidebook.

For more about life in Malaysia, check out “Malaysia — Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture” by Victor King. Read about permanent visas at VisaGuide.world.

Malaysia as a nation offers a cost of living 46.3% cheaper than in the U.S., excluding rent. Rents are 75% lower.

For more detailed information, see Malaysia’s Numbeo page.


6. Colombia

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $281 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $366 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $66 per month
  • Internet: $28 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $19 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $3 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $19,000
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $164 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $1,155 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.65

Sadly, most of what Americans know about Colombia comes from TV shows like Netflix’s “Narcos.” But Colombia’s violent decades in the 1980s and 1990s have given way to modernization and plummeting crime rates.

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with crystal-clear water along beach-lined coasts, lush rainforests, and sweeping mountains.

For a beachside city teeming with tourists and expats, try Cartagena. For luxurious mountain living with plenty of expats, head to Medellin. Better yet, explore the less-hyped “Coffee Triangle” of Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales, which provides a similarly gorgeous mountain city experience for even less money.

Most Colombians speak Spanish only, although you can find more English speakers in wealthier and more touristy areas. Pick up “Colombia — Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture” by Kate Cathey if you want to learn more about living in Colombia. If you’re interested in moving there, read up on visa options on VisaGuide.world.

Colombia’s health care system has also modernized, providing excellent care at a low cost to residents. Per-capita health care spending in Colombia equals roughly a 10th of America’s.

Unfortunately, Colombia does charge income taxes on worldwide income. And this is the one country with a worse Global Peace Index score than the U.S.

But the cost of living in Colombia is 59.7% lower than in the U.S., excluding rent, and rents are 79% lower.

For more detailed information, see Columbia’s Numbeo page.


7. Portugal

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $710 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $868 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $121 per month
  • Internet: $40 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $36 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $8 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $30,196
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $412 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $3,242 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.25

South America and Southeast Asia aren’t the only regions offering a low cost of living and warm weather. Portugal offers both along with an old-world culture and a relaxed lifestyle. The people are mellow and welcoming, and it’s incredibly safe, ranking third-best in the world on the 2020 Global Peace Index.

The cost of living and health care are a bit higher in Portugal than in many of the best Latin American countries for expats. But per-capita health care spending still falls below a third of that in the U.S.

If you want a Western lifestyle in a Western European country, Portugal is an enticing option. A relatively high percentage of Portugal’s people speak English, making it more expat-friendly than most countries.

On the downside, Portugal does tax legal residents on their worldwide income, not just income within Portugal.

For urban areas with a rich culture and plenty of English speakers, check out Lisbon, Porto, and the expat-heavy Algarve. Expect housing — and everything else — to cost more in these cities, though.

If you prefer a beachside town, try Ericeira, Cascais, or the picturesque town of Mafra with its white-washed homes and cobblestone streets. Mafra is only a 15-minute drive from the surfing at Ericeira and less than a half-hour from the bustle of Lisbon.

For further reading, check out “Portugal: Europe’s Best-Kept Secret” by Sar Perlman. Explore visa options to research the legal side of the move.

Comparable to Panama, the cost of living in Portugal is 26.9% cheaper than in the U.S., excluding rent, and rents are 47.7% lower.

For more detailed information, see Portugal’s Numbeo page.


8. Thailand

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $424 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $624 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $74 per month
  • Internet: $22 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $22 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $6 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $38,278
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $329 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $723 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.25

Unlike Malaysia, Thailand was never colonized by a European power, so it retains an authentic, untouched feel. The Thai people are as warm and welcoming as their beautiful beaches, and there are plenty of expats to make you feel right at home.

The climate is warm and tropical, usually humid, with no cold winters.

Costs are low, and health care is modern yet costs one-fifteenth of U.S. spending per capita.

Inbound expats have their choice of everything from exciting cities like Bangkok to more relaxed, historic regions like Chiang Mai with its ancient temples. For a beach destination, try Hua Hin, where you can still rent homes with a view of the ocean for under $1,500 per month.

But Thailand does charge taxes on income earned overseas, so do your homework before you move.

Flights within Thailand are under two hours, and you can often find round-trip airfare for under $100. Thailand also serves as an excellent launching pad for the rest of Asia and Australia.

Thailand’s cost of living is 34.4% cheaper than in the U.S., excluding rent, and rents are 62.4% cheaper.

Read “Settling in Thailand: An Expat Guide” by Stephen Saad for more details about daily living. Look up visa options on VisaGuide.world before moving.

For more detailed information, see Thailand’s Numbeo page.


9. Spain

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $783 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $915 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $140 per month
  • Internet: $48 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $48 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $10 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $24,157
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $441 per month
  • Per-Capita Health Care Spending: $3,576 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.71

While it’s among the top beach destinations in Europe, Spain offers far more than just beautiful beaches.

The climate is pleasant and varied, with something for everyone. It’s hot and dry in the south, mild in the north, and you can find chillier weather in the mountains. Spain even offers skiing for anyone who wants easy access to the slopes.

The rail system is extensive and efficient, providing easy and affordable travel between large and medium-size cities. In such cities, residents can generally avoid car ownership.

Spain is a fully developed Western democracy with all the first-world amenities an American expat could want. Its public health care system is affordable and high-quality, with average spending around a third of Americans’.

While more expensive than most popular options for expats, Spain proves an excellent option for Americans looking for a European lifestyle.

However, Spain taxes residents on foreign income.

For some affordable-but-picturesque and culture-rich cities, try Jerez in the south, Vitoria-Gasteiz in Basque country, and Pamplona in the north.

Grab a copy of Moon’s “Living Abroad in Spain” by Candy Lee LaBalle for a better sense of daily life. Spain does offer a golden visa but also other types of visas, so do your homework.

The cost of living in Spain, excluding rent, is 18% cheaper than in the U.S., and rents are 43.8% lower.

For more detailed information, see Spain’s Numbeo page.


10. Italy

  • Rent for a One-Bedroom in City Center: $716 per month
  • Rent for a Three-Bedroom Outside City Center: $898 per month
  • Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage): $192 per month
  • Internet: $35 per month
  • Dinner Out at Midrange Restaurant: $66 (three courses, two people)
  • Movie Ticket: $10 per adult
  • Cost of a New Volkswagen Golf: $27,177
  • All-Day Day Care or Preschool: $538 per month
  • Per-Capital Health Care Spending: $3,624 per year
  • Global Peace Index Score: 1.69

The home of “la dolce vita” (the sweet life), Italy offers a laid-back, mellow lifestyle, rich culture of art and history, world-renowned cuisine and wine, and surprising affordability — once you get away from the major cities and touristy areas.

The visa process for Americans is among the easiest in Europe, as Italy struggles to combat a declining population. You can obtain Italian citizenship simply by providing proof a direct ancestor was born in Italy (read more at Italian Citizenship Assistance). For more visa options, see the overview at Immigration Italy.

Many towns are so desperate they offer to sell houses for 1 euro to foreigners willing to move in and renovate them (check out the list by travel magazine Departures). Others are willing to pay foreigners over $10,000 to move there or to pay couples over $1,000 per child to have babies, as CNN reports.

Health care isn’t as strong in Italy as in some of the Latin American countries that maintain close ties with U.S. hospitals and health care companies. But high-quality health care is available through both the public health care system and private insurance, costing around a third of the average American’s health care spending.

But as with the other European countries, Italy charges all residents taxes on worldwide income.

For further reading, pick up Moon’s “Living in Italy” guide by John Moretti.

Italy’s overall cost of living is similar to the States’ at 1.5%, not including rent. But rents are 46.1% cheaper than in the U.S., and like in the U.S., the overall cost of living is dramatically cheaper outside major cities and tourist hubs.

For more information, see Italy’s Numbeo page.


How to Generate $2,000 per Month

Depending on how well you’ve budgeted and invested your money, you may already have enough passive income from your investments to generate $2,000 per month.

It could come from rental properties you’ve purchased through real estate investing services like Fundrise, bonds, dividends paid by your stocks, a business, or any number of other passive income streams you’ve developed.

You can also sell off some assets to live on, even if you’re not at retirement age. Depending on your age and how many more decades you expect to live, you can safely sell a certain percentage of your investment portfolio every year.

How much varies by how long you want your portfolio to last. You just need to figure your safe withdrawal rate.

Even if you want your nest egg to last forever, you can still sell around 3.5% of your original nest egg every year without worrying about ever running out of money. If your investments can cover $2,000 per month, you may be able to quit today and retire to a tropical paradise.

If not, don’t sweat it. You can still transition to working remotely, whether in your current job, current industry, or in something completely new.

There are loads of jobs that can pay well remotely, including:

  • Accountant
  • Freelance writer
  • Proofreader
  • Phone nurse
  • Software developer
  • Development operations (DevOps) manager
  • Web designer
  • Graphic designer
  • User experience (UX) researcher
  • Online marketing manager
  • Attorney
  • Project manager
  • Digital entrepreneur

You could also work locally in a new country. There are many ways to travel the world for free through jobs or volunteering that provide free housing, free travel expenses, or both.


Final Word

From Central and South America to Asia to Europe, Americans have plenty of options for high-quality lifestyles at a low cost. But most Americans feel overwhelmed at the very idea of moving overseas and never seriously consider an international lifestyle.

As an expat myself — and as someone who has lived briefly in one of the countries on this list — I can assure you the expat life is easier than most Americans assume.

I spend two months each year in the U.S. to get my fix of friends, family, and fatty foods. But I also get to visit an average of 10 countries per year and live entirely on my wife’s salary, with my salary going straight into retirement investments.

Financially, I could never have done either while living in the States.

Start with a simple vacation to one of these countries to scout it as a potential home. Connect with other American expats while you’re there, either by looking up local American haunts or through an expat social network like InterNations.

These fellow Americans can tell you what it’s like to live there and introduce you to life behind the tourist curtain. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how easy it is to live in these countries as an American and how welcoming both the expat and local communities are.

For more information, read our article about the process of moving abroad.

G. Brian Davis
G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor, personal finance writer, and travel addict mildly obsessed with FIRE. He spends nine months of the year in Abu Dhabi, and splits the rest of the year between his hometown of Baltimore and traveling the world.

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