London, a city where the old-world charm of cobblestone streets meets the bustling energy of the modern world. It’s a dream for many to call this city home, but the practicalities of such a move can often be daunting. If you’ve ever wondered, “How much do I need to move to London?”, you’re in the right place. We’re here to guide you through the financial maze of relocating to this iconic city.
The Allure of London
London is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, and contemporary vibes. It’s a city where history and modernity coexist, making it a top destination for expats from around the world. But beyond its allure lies the practical question: How much does it really cost to move to London? We’ve been through this journey multiple times, and each experience has taught us something new.
The Hidden Costs of Moving
Moving to London isn’t just about booking a flight and packing your bags. There are several hidden costs that can catch you off guard:
Visa expenses: Before even stepping foot in London, there’s the cost of the visa. And attached to the visa is the NHS surcharge, which gives you access to the UK’s health system. This can run into thousands of pounds, and it’s essential to factor this into your budget.
Airfares: The cost of flying can vary widely. If possible, avoid peak times like summer holidays to get better deals.
Moving your belongings: Consider the costs of shipping your furniture and belongings. Sometimes, it might be more economical to sell some items and repurchase them in London.
Temporary accommodation: It might take a while to find your perfect home in London. Until then, you’ll need a place to stay, which could be with friends, in an Airbnb, or other temporary lodgings.
Renting in London
London’s real estate market can be challenging. The rents are high, and there are several hidden costs associated with renting:
Agency fees: Some real estate agents charge fees to help you find a place. Always ensure you’re aware of any such costs upfront.
Deposits and administrative fees: Before moving into your new home, you’ll need to pay a deposit and possibly some administrative fees.
Proof of employment: Many agencies now require proof of employment or savings to ensure you can afford the rent.
Day-to-Day Living Expenses
Living in London comes with its own set of expenses. From transport to food, the cost of living can add up. It’s essential to have a backup fund for the initial days, especially if you’re job hunting. We recommend saving for at least three to six months of expenses to give yourself a comfortable cushion.
Bringing Your Furry Friend
If you’re considering moving with a pet, be prepared for additional expenses. The cost of flying a pet can sometimes be more than flying a human! Ensure you’re well-informed about the requirements and costs associated with bringing your pet to London.
Moving to London is an exciting adventure, but it requires careful planning and budgeting. By being aware of the potential costs and having a clear financial blueprint, you can make your London dream a reality without unnecessary stress. Remember, it’s all about the journey, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.
A few years ago I compiled this interesting set of interviews for a national women’s magazine in Australia, on when in life is the best time to live abroad and travel. I had the opportunity to chat with some inspiring women over 30 years old, who had decided to take a ‘late gap-year’ – that is, a year to live and work abroad (despite the expectation that a ‘gap year’ is only for under 25s).
Unfortunately, the editorial team at the magazine changed direction during a new year restructure, so this feature never saw the light of day. But, as it’s becoming more and more common to ditch the early backpacker years to develop a career, and then take a ‘risk’ on a life far away from home ‘later’ in life, I’ve decided to dust off this piece in the hope it inspires one more of you to take the plunge this year!
The great (late) gap-year debate.
Why now is your time to live abroad and travel
Would you press ‘pause’ on life in order to head overseas? Four women talk to Sarah Blinco about the risks and gains associated with taking time out for a mid-career ‘gap year’.
A few years back I could think of nothing else but going to live abroad. I felt like I’d missed my chance, entirely career-driven throughout my twenties. Finally I’d reached a horrible point where I felt like I was ‘too old’ to follow a dream. When fate presented an opportunity to move to London, I just scraped in securing a British work visa by age 31. I couldn’t believe what was happening – a chance to live and work overseas, just when I thought it had slipped away. Why then, on my way to London, did I sit fighting back tears, panicking, thinking, ‘what have I done’?
I’d packed all my worldly belongings into the required 20kg checked luggage, said goodbye to family, friends and dog (utterly awful), and was on my way to Britain. No job, no home, no friends. It had only dawned on me that making the decision to leave life as I knew it behind to experience some kind of Eat Pray Love dream was probably the easy (or perhaps stupid?) part. I was doing my utmost to contain my freak-out so that fellow passengers wouldn’t get the wrong idea!
Spinning in my mind were questions like what if some of those loved ones aren’t around when I return? Will I adjust abroad? What if a job isn’t here for me when I come home? Will all my friends be married with kids when I get back? Will I be completely out of the loop? What was I thinking?
If the numbers of older professional Australians working and residing in cities like London, Dubai or New York are anything to go by, women are evidently getting over these fears (as I quickly did) and letting go of safety nets in order to embark upon a ‘contemporary gap year’ – that is, choosing to take a mid-career pause to travel and develop international skills.
In fact, a recent Wanderlust travel survey found that over 50 per cent of respondents thought that taking a gap year for the ‘big trip’ of a lifetime mid-career was actually the best time to go, above post-university, after having children, and retirement.
Taking my homeland, Australia, as an example too, in 2012 there were over eight million overseas departures, and of that number, 372,200 left with the intention of going ‘for good’. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) anticipates that around 80,000 of those Aussies will see the dream realised, starting a new life abroad. Australian Department of Immigration statistics share that 66.1 per cent of this 80,000 departing permanently were in employment prior to leaving, and 25.5 per cent – the largest group, were professional adults, 25 to 39 years old (almost even between women and men); highly skilled and well educated, and increasingly mobile, moving between Australia and other countries as career and life chances appear.
The concept is undoubtedly exciting, especially to career-minded women who missed a chance to travel earlier. However, when an adult gap year becomes reality and with seemingly more at stake the older we are, is the experience worth the worries associated with putting ‘real life’ on hold?
Teaching in the Middle East
Hannah Wallis, a teacher and education recruitment consultant, admits to a panic attack mid-flight to her new life over such a decision. “I was 30-years-old and chose to move to Jordan following an invitation I’d received to teach there. I had never been to the Middle East and I was really interested in going somewhere that my friends had never tried”. Hannah says the biggest risk to her was leaving a happy life behind in Australia. “I was worried about hating it in Jordan, but it wasn’t until I actually got on the plane that I panicked.”
A gap year involves starting again on one level or another (new home, job, friends, routine…), and obviously for Hannah these issues were magnified. “I arrived in the capital city at midnight… was raced through the airport and taken to a hotel that was in the middle of the desert. I thought this is crazy, what I am I doing? It was like landing on the moon… I was taken to a medical centre where I had a needle stuck in my arm. I wasn’t put in a chair or anything, just jabbed. It was very scary”.
Hannah lived and worked in Jordan for two years. “The first year was good because it was all new to me. The difference in culture is difficult; I was ready to come home at the end of my contract”. She adds that she doesn’t regret the experience and might consider a future gap year teaching in Asia, however Hannah maintains that taking time abroad in your twenties is preferable. “You’re less mouldable [in your thirties]. You know your own limits a bit more but that’s not to say you don’t know them in your twenties. I think it’s easier to go with the flow when you’re younger. Also, when you come back home when you’re 25 for example, you still have time to kick around for a bit; but when you come back in your thirties you have to be serious. Everyone expects you to settle down.
It’s harder to secure visas when you’re over 30, and there does inevitably come a point where you question whether you’re prepared to start again”.
Setting up fresh in Hong Kong
“Is it brave or stupid to take a late gap year?” Sydneysider Fleur Filmer, Startup and business growth specialist, and Managing Director of Lulu and I.com, laughs heartily at the question.
Only a clinically insane person would do what I did – going to Hong Kong, one of the most expensive places in the world, on my own at 35, with no job but yes, I’m very happy for the experience!”
Fleur decided that she wanted to do something totally different with her life and thought that a gap year would broaden her horizons.
“This incredible opportunity presented itself when I was 35 and it’s honestly been one of the best decisions I ever made. My family was shocked – I’d never flown the coup before! They didn’t expect something like this from ‘professional, ‘responsible’ me, but they thought it was courageous… It wasn’t until I’d set up my apartment in Hong Kong and the shipping container with all my belongings was on the sea that I thought, ‘wow, I must be nuts’; I felt empowered though – I’m the only person I know who has ever moved to another country without a job, but I went out, sought advice, started my own business in Hong Kong and the whole thing just felt right”.
Fleur attributes her positive experience to the fact she was older. “You face things with a different head on your shoulders once you’re out of your twenties. Financial security is also a big thing for this version of a gap year. You can experience another culture and not have to slum it. If I’d done this when I was 21 I wouldn’t have appreciated it… I wouldn’t have had the ability to understand how awesome the opportunity to take a gap year is. My experience taught me that if you follow dreams there will be lots of rocky things happen along the way, but if you stick to your guns you’ll get there. This is exactly what I’ve done and now I have devised my absolute dream business in Australia – I owe it all to my gap year in Hong Kong”.
Falling for Paris
Sydney-based book editor, Desanka Vukelich, agrees that an older gap year has improved her confidence. “It’s most certainly a brave thing to do, taking a gap year when you’re mid-career. The experience has helped me to have the courage to know I can do anything”.
In 2008 at the age of 30, Desanka left a prestigious job as an in-house editor and moved to Paris for a year. She explains, “I knew I wanted to travel and work overseas but mostly in my twenties I was shy and wasn’t ready for the adventure”.
The critical risks to Desanka were employment, and pride. “I was really scared of failing in the respect that I wouldn’t get a job in Paris, and that I’d have to turn around and come back with my tail between my legs. My cousin inspired me by reminding me that I’d never failed at anything I’d tried before, so why should this be different? This gave me the confidence to stop worrying about home safety nets and just get on with my dream”.
Desanka, like Fleur, insists that ‘gut instincts’ played an integral role in overcoming concerns relating to this type of ‘controversial’ life move.
“The period before I left for Paris was definitely a confirmation of the fact I was doing the right thing. It was a very positive time. For me the gap year later in life was worthwhile because I simply had more wisdom than I did in my twenties… I now maintain my own successful business thanks to inspiration and lessons from my time overseas that I couldn’t have gained at home.
Too often we get caught up in worries that turn out to be unnecessary, like what people expect us to do – I feel it’s not a sufficient way to live. I understand that not everyone has the option though, and it’s difficult when people feel obliged to others or even themselves to do certain things. The overriding lesson for me though, is that the risks are worth it and I now live following my heart and instincts. I found work, everything was the same in Australia when I got back, but I had a life changing experience in Paris, it was home”.
There’s no place like London
Katrina Dudley, a marketing professional from the Gold Coast says that she stands testament to the fact that age is advantageous when dealing with challenges associated with a new life elsewhere.
“When I was 19 I moved to Tokyo to live, but stayed for three weeks and had to come home because I was too overwhelmed. My biggest fear ten years later however, was that I wouldn’t have the chance to take this gap year. I was running out of time to secure the working visa and was keen to accept an opportunity in England”.
The British gap year option for Katrina wasn’t about taking a break from her career but was more about adding to her skill set. “There was some resistance. My parents hated to see me leave. They queried why I would want to go when I had a mortgage, a good job and would have to come back and start again, but a large part of me knew it would be worth the risk. My career was in full swing but I had to follow my dream and I was fortunate to be presented with amazing opportunities in London… Now I am in Australia I see how easily you can slip back into life. I think people are concerned that they will come back to nothing, but it’s all the same.
If anything, employers love the fact that you have broadened your horizons, experience and skills”.
Is an adult gap year brave or stupid? Katrina replies, “In my experience it’s not stupid at all. I think it is a shame that people don’t step outside their comfort zone… When you’re younger a year away is a bit more like an extended holiday; when I lived in London it was ‘real life’. All the risks that seem like issues before you leave home turn out to be inconsequential. In the UK had a network of friends, a responsible job, annual leave. Other people find love and their dream jobs overseas! It is also easier when you’re older and have a well paid career – you appreciate it all differently and have money to do many amazing things… I would definitely consider another gap year. I think it would be brilliant to move to Mexico one day, work remotely on my laptop and learn Spanish”.
When is the best time to live abroad and travel?
Tracey Batty, CEO of Pure Professional Recruitment encounters many considering the ‘contemporary gap year’: “Working offshore is a great thing to do but my advice is to be very clear about what you want to achieve. Build your ‘gap year’ around goals for the year, whether they are to explore, improve career marketability, to make money or to find your passion”.
Not ‘settling down’ and buying a house.
Missing out on home front career opportunities.
Not being taken seriously / finding employment abroad.
Criticism for being ‘irresponsible’; also missing friends and family. Tracey adds, “remember though, twelve months is not a lifetime”.
Worth the risks
Increased confidence, professional and personal growth.
Finding love, inspiration or adventure abroad.
A professional / marketable skill is advantageous in most ‘adult gap year’ cases, improving financial and job security. Tracey notes, “look for international transfers or secondments within your organisation – you may be surprised what you find when you speak to HR or a recruitment company”.
It’s now acceptable to not be restricted by antiquated age stereotypes.
For me, I ended up returning for a second time, and am generally happier for the experience (at least for now!). What are your thoughts on the best time to live abroad and travel? Please let us know in the comments below. Similarly, any questions, please ask.
Re-edited in 2015, original interviews prepared in 2012.
This is our second stint living and working in London, and wow, was it easier this time around to find a place to live. Not so much in that it’s simple to get a place here – on the contrary, unless you’re seeking to rent a single room for yourself (which is achievable using services like Airbnb.com, spareroom.co.uk, easyroommate.com or Gumtree.co.uk), finding a home can be a tricky affair. It was easier for us this time however, because we knew exactly the area we wanted to be in, which is half the battle, given this can be one very big, daunting place for the uninitiated.
For those new to town, “homes” here usually come in the form of a studio (literally one room, possibly with a bed on a mezzanine level), one or two bedroom “flat”, otherwise known as an apartment or unit in other parts of the world. London’s renowned for its small spaces so don’t expect to rent a huge house or apartment which potentially you’ll be used to if coming from somewhere like Australia (unless you’ve already secured a high powered job – good on you if so). Never fear however, because London’s palpable energy makes up for any of these other concessions you may have to make.
When we first arrived in 2010, the only area we were aware of was Notting Hill because, you guessed it, we had seen the movie! We ended up in a studio room in Bayswater (next door to Notting Hill) which, while well situated in terms of transport and convenience amenities, didn’t really do it for me regarding value for money, comfort, nice neighbours and a homely type of feel. It’s also very touristy – not very “English” at all, unless you’re talking tacky Cool Britannia gift stores. When we first arrived we had no idea how to find a flat in London. In fact, everything we looked at seemed overpriced, dingy, dirty and overwhelmingly bad.
Fast forward a year on from the Bayswater experience, and by chance we ended up in a one bedroom basement flat in a gorgeous area of the east called London Fields. Our flat had been newly refurbished and was positioned as the lower section of a beautiful Georgian-period three-level home. This was a private rental that we happened across by chance (good timing) on Gumtree.com one Sunday morning – the location wasn’t even listed! We loved London Fields so much that we truly believe it was fate that lead us there. With a serene park up the road, coffee shops, markets, many cute dogs and nice people around, we’d finally discovered a part of the city we could truly enjoy; it is what I describe as “my authentic London”. London Fields presented an opportunity to settle in to a community, topped off with the conveniences and joys the east end now offers, including fabulous transport links (at that point our nearest stations were Haggerston and London Fields).
How to find a flat in London – top tips (particularly for first-timers)
This time around we knew we wanted to be in the east, which has really developed over the past few years to become the new, “hip” area of town. With fantastic overground and underground transport links, as well as bus routes heading every which way, and hot new bars, restaurants, coffee shops and cool communal areas opening every day, we knew this is where we wanted to be. Ironically, the flat (or one bedroom apartment/unit) we’ve ended up in is part of a relatively new complex we saw being built when we were last here, and we’d eyed it off saying, “we’d love to live there one day”! The application process and waiting period can be a bit stressful though. Patience is required. Here are my top tips on how to find a flat in London:
1. Start looking the moment you get to town – turnover of properties here is swift, and you have to be online and making phone calls every day to secure an appointment for the properties you want to view. There’s not much point in looking before you get here because real estate agents want you on the ground. Flats are snapped up in a jiffy so be on the ball and check your favourite websites every morning and afternoon. Our go-to sites included rightmove.co.uk and gumtree.co.uk (for private rentals and agency – but be mindful of scams, if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
2. Make calls rather than sending emails, in the interest of saving time.
3. Be mindful, real estate fees for those looking to rent may include the agent’s time for showing you around, referencing and administration fees. These are legitimate, BUT only if they’re outlined on a “terms and conditions” agreement. We once had someone try to charge us after showing us around, with no prior warning of a fee, and invoiced via a very dodgy PayPal transaction – I refused to pay and they did not chase me. These costs are part of finding a property here though, and can range from £99 (AU $200) so save your pennies before you arrive.
4. Have savings! In London you need around six weeks deposit, four weeks rent and additional fees (as mentioned above), and you’ll need to have this on hand (or accessible in a bank account/credit card) to secure the accommodation you want. Also, keep in mind it can take weeks to find a job here, and most people are paid monthly, so potentially you’ll need another month’s rent saved too. Rent here is expensive, but once you’re earning the pound it’s not as bad, and cost of living in London is actually rather inexpensive once you begin to “live like a local”, so keep that in mind at the beginning if your outlays are feeling really large and getting the better of you.
5. The referencing process is rigorous, so be prepared – ensure you have details of personal, rental and employer referees on hand, make sure they know they’re likely to hear from a referencing agent (in our case, it was via email) and ask them nicely if they would mind facilitating a swift turn-around of information. You may need pay-slips and/or personal taxation documentation (if you have been/are working for yourself), and ideally you’ll have (or one of you, if you’re a couple) London-based employer details, to show that income will indeed be coming in, and at what level it will be. The process can be a little stressful, but if you’re prepared with all this information and contacts on hand, you’ll be fine.
6. Be open to meeting the owners (landlord(s)) if they’re interested in meeting you. It’s great for keeping the lines of communication open and easy, and you never know when you might need to call on them.
7. If you need to establish yourself with anything from cutlery to kitchen appliances and linen, head directly for inexpensive options (until you’re earning the pound, at least) like the pound stores (e.g Poundland, everything just a £ (situated on most high streets/within high traffic areas)), argos.co.uk, Primark and Matalan. When I first moved here I bought everything from M&S because I didn’t know any better – talk about watching as your money disappears faster than you can say Superman!
Essentially you need to be organised with information,thorough with following up on all aspects of the process with your agent, make sure you have funds saved and available, referees ready to vouch for you, and details of your past, present and future financial situation on hand.
Also, don’t take it for granted you’ll be approved for the property you hope for – have a few options on the boil until someone makes you a solid offer. You definitely need a plan A, B or C, otherwise you’ll be in that hotel/hostel/staying with friends for a good while.
If you’re unsure as to where in London (or any big city, for that matter) would best suit you, do some research – ask your friends on social media for advice, or drop a line to bloggers and expats on the ground in the city – most are happy to share what they’ve learned and we’ve all been in the same boat. Don’t just choose an area because you’ve seen it on TV or because a friend recommends it – it might not feel or be right for you, or it could be miles from where you’re meant to be working. If in doubt, and if possible, consider signing a six month lease so that if for any reason where you first end up isn’t ideal, you can move on. In summary, read, ask questions, and discover a life you love here in old Blighty!
Do you have a question, or perhaps additional advice to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
I tell everyone I meet how amazing it is to be back in London. I’m so grateful, and I think I’m being rewarded for a positive attitude because it’s been sunny! And hot! Although I could do with it being a few degrees cooler (don’t tell the locals I said that though, they’ll not be pleased with me). Have I mentioned lately that I just love it here?!
It’s been a jam-packed first week in London as we hunted for accommodation – a task we commenced the morning we stepped off the plane at Heathrow. We’ve been blessed in that we have two beautiful friends, Barry and Paulo, who invited us to stay with them in SE1, not too far from Tower Bridge. This enabled us to not have to worry about expensive hotel fees while house hunting, and we’re so thankful to them for sharing their space with us. We met Barry and Paulo on the Mediterranean cruise we did back in January of 2013 and have been friends ever since, although this was an opportunity to get to know each other much better, and let me tell you, they are two of the nicest people you could ever know. I’m not even saying it because they read this space, in fact, they’ll probably never see this post, but still, we are lucky. They even got us into a new show, The Honourable Woman, which we’ll continue to stream on BBC’s catch-up viewer online.
We explored trendy Bermondsey – an area new to Cooper who took to sampling a Guinness in every pub we encountered (he’s on holidays, after all); and indulged at Brick Lane Coffee along this same strip which offers a funky, arty-type atmosphere, nice coffee and fast free WiFi. Another business of note which we found here is Holly & Lil, Handmade in England – a boutique pet store with gorgeous wares and cute dogs hanging out inside for good measure.
We also sampled our way through Borough Market – tip: find the vegetarian Indian curry stand – best curries I’ve had in a looooong time. Delic!!
As Tower Bridge, Tower of London and St Katherine Docks are within a short walk from this area too, we explored across the Thames to where, this very week, moving tributes commemorating the beginning of World War 1 – The Great War – have commenced.
On Tuesday, Barry, Paulo, Cooper and I wandered across for dinner at The Dickens Inn, a divine pub situated along St Katherine Way, a bit of a local secret, even though it’s only a few steps beyond the Tower of London and the bridge. The reason for our journey in this direction though, aside from dinner, is that we wanted to see what’s being called an “evolving installation” by artist, Paul Cummins, and award-winning stage designer, Tom Piper, surrounding the famous Tower of London. Called Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation is, in fact, thousands of ceramic red poppies which by 11 November 2014, will be “planted” around the Tower of London, and will number 888, 246 representing all British military lost during the war. The poppies – each uniquely hand-crafted – will be sold off in November and monies raised will be shared between the UK’s six key service charities. –Read more here.
Tip: Head into the area late afternoon so you can view it all as the sun goes down and then prettily lit up into the evening.
Night fell around 9pm, and the sound of canon fire from outside the Tower of London rung through the air. As we walked across the bridge we could see smoke billowing out from around the river front – a surreal experience in 2014! We then noticed a tower of blue light beaming into the night sky in the distance. We’ve since discovered it originates from Victoria Tower Gardens, and is another of the city’s commemorative nods to The Great War. On closer inspection, the light – called “Spectra”, by Japanese sound and light artist, Ryoji Ikeda, is a square of black matting on which 49 powerful spotlights are beamed upwards into eternity.
Background story and image source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/05/ryoji-ikeda-spectra-first-world-war-artangel
The light was actually launched on the evening of the fourth, when the city plunged into darkness as a mark of respect commemorating the beginning of a terrible and tragic time for families of the period. It will be visible for seven evenings from sun down, and I hope it reminds everyone of how lucky we are 100 years on. “Spectra” is visible for miles across the city, and indeed we can see it from our new place in Dalston, east London.
Spectra and London Eye visible from Dalston – evening view across the East by Sarah Blinco.
All in all it’s been a memorable and wonderful first week back. We’ve now secured a place to live and are gradually catching up with friends. Here are some of our discoveries, August 1 to 7, 2014:
Best free WiFi:
Costa coffee, Shepherd’s Bush
Westfield Shopping Centre, Shepherd’s Bush
Brick Lane Coffee, Bermondsey
Le Ziz Restaurant & Lounge Bar, Dalston Junction
Cafe Route, Dalston Junction
Brick Lane Coffee, Bermondsey
The random little stand on platform 2 at Highbury & Islington train station
Lime Orange, Victoria (Korean cuisine)
Le Ziz, Dalston Junction (Turkish)
I’m super excited that my visa finally came through, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Is it your dream to live the expat life in the UK too? Here are five lessons I learned applying for a visa to live and work in the UK.
Live in the UK visa application tips
Use an agent – unless you’re applying for a very straightforward visa like the two year working/youth mobility visa, engage assistance from someone on the ground because it really isn’t as easy as you might first assume, especially when technical errors arise during the application process as they did for me.
Keep your filing and documents in order. I’ve been so busy over the past year that my filing isn’t as organised as it used to be (read: paperwork was all over the shop). I swear I’ll never be disorganised on that front again!
Save your dollars – visas aren’t cheap, but you also need to demonstrate you can fund your own way.
Get things moving in good time, and follow up – these processes tend to be slow, and the longer it drags on the more stressful it becomes, so don’t be behind the door at following up and asking questions.
Work out a rough time frame before you apply for your visa – most visas require that you enter the country within 6 to 12 months of approval, and you’ll need to put an estimated date of departure on your application. The benefits of planning however, mean you can budget accordingly for not only your visa, but flights, rent deposit (sometimes six weeks is required in London now), general rent and expenses until you find a job.
Do you have other tips, or maybe a question? Please drop me a line in the comments below -Sarah :-)
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