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overlanding in America & Canada | Everything about VISA, ESTA, B1/B2 & eTA

We are going overlanding in America and Canada! And those who are going to travel for a long time and/or overland in the VS and / or Canada In most cases three months will not suffice, neither are we. Anyone who has an eye on our website has probably already seen that we do not intend to rent a motorhome, but are planning to rent our own 4×4 motorhome to ship to the United States to travel there for a year.

Also read: Shipping an Overlander vehicle, motorhome or motorhome bus | How much does that cost?
Also read: overlanding in America and Canada | Insure your vehicle

Since we plan to stay in the US for more than 90 days, an ESTA is not sufficient for us. We therefore have to apply for a so-called B1-B2 tourist/business visa so that we can travel freely in the US for a year. We also want to spend part of our trip in Canada, so we have to make arrangements for that as well.

Update 8 January 2022: with a lot of pain and effort (and paying 288 euros again…), we managed to get an appointment at the American embassy in Berlin on February 17th! More about that at the bottom of the article.


Plan your vacation to America here


Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada

Visa options for America

Are you going on vacation to America? Then the standard ESTA for the United States will be sufficient for you in almost all cases. you can do this here apply online and within two weeks you will receive a yes or no by email, so you quickly know where you stand. But what exactly is an ESTA?

Statue of Freedom, New York
Statue of Freedom, New York

Apply for ESTA

For citizens of the EU, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, the US allows 90 days visa-free travel through an ESTA. If you have an approved ESTA, you can use it to drive freely in the US for 90 days.

Je apply for the ESTA online here, the entire procedure is digital and you will also receive your ESTA digitally (by e-mail) when it has been approved. Print this out and take it with you when you fly to America. Piece of cake!

Apply for B1/B1 visa

Like us, are you planning to overland in America and stay in the US for more than 90 days? Then you have a B1/ B2 tourist & business visa required. A B1/B2 visa for the US can be obtained from the US Embassy in Amsterdam.

The process is very cumbersome and starts with filling out a D160 form and paying $160 per person. To start with, follow directly to the official US government page.

Note: if you thought they were already asking a lot of you with an ESTA application, wet your chest. Filling in the D160 form will take you just three hours.

They really want to know everything about you, but also about your online presence, travel history, education, family members and employer(s). They also want to know whether you are a terrorist, trade in organs and/or people, know how to make bombs and other such bizarre questions.

When you have successfully completed and paid for the D160 form, you must make an appointment at the Embassy in Amsterdam. There you will have to schedule a 1 on 1 interview (also via † A consular officer at the American embassy will test you once more to see what your goal is during this trip in America, and whether you don't want to stay secretly.

When all this also goes smoothly, your visa will be issued. You will have to leave your passport and it will be sent to your home within two weeks, with the necessary papers and stamps.

Monument Valley, United States | Nov 2016
Monument Valley, United States | Nov 2016

Visa options for Canada

While in America you are 'only' allowed to travel visa-free for 90 days, in Canada it is 6 months. This is of course very pleasant for world travelers like us. In Canada they call the visa-free travel form the etcYou can also request this online. With these 6 months we should come a long way during our overland trip in America and Canada.

apply for eTA

Canada allows 6 months of free travel for citizens of the EU, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. The form is called the eTA in Canada, here to find. There are some conditions attached to this.

  • You are traveling to Canada by plane
  • Stays in Canada for a maximum of six months
  • You are traveling to Canada for vacation or transit

Another important condition is that you have a return ticket or other ticket with which you will also leave Canada.

Note: eTA not suitable for Overlanders

At first I thought we would simply get away with an eTA. We do not intend to stay in Canada for more than 6 months. But because we want to travel overland from the US to Canada with our camper, we are forced to apply for a Tourist Visa. An eTA is only valid for air travel.

Apply for tourist visa

If you want to travel in Canada for more than 6 months, you will need to apply for a Tourist visa. This visa is issued to persons who want to visit Canada temporarily for tourist purposes. You can get the Tourist Visa for Canada apply here.

Wait a year for our visa?

Unfortunately, applying for the visa for the United States does not go as I had hoped. It seemed for a while that our plan to go overlanding in America and Canada could not even go through. Filling in the D160 form went smoothly and the payment has been made, but we just can't make an appointment at the embassy in Amsterdam.

It is currently (December 2021) impossible to obtain a visa for the US within a reasonable time (say 1 to 3 months). This is because there is (unfortunately) a waiting period of almost a year before you can go to the embassy in Amsterdam. I was able to get an appointment for the end of September 2022. In the meantime, I still check almost daily to see if I can reschedule the appointment, but it doesn't look good.

This is usually what I see: There are no options available. Not even in a year, everything is full!

How did that happen? The US has reopened to tourists since November 8, 2021… Since then, the embassies have been struggling with a serious staff shortage while a flood of applications has been pouring in. Applying for a visa quickly is therefore no longer an option. So we will have to come up with another construction where we don't need a visa.

This is our new plan: visa hopping

Waiting a year for our visa is not an option. We are committed to launching our RV to be shipped to America† We don't want to postpone our trip of at least one year any longer. Corona has already caused too much delay and if it is at all possible (that the borders remain open), we will just go. Corona or not.

Our overlander / 4x4 camper in Switzerland | With this we also go overlanding in America
Our overlander / 4×4 camper in Switzerland | With this we also go overlanding in America

That is why we have devised the following construction. We were already planning to combine the overlanding in America with Canada anyway, so we split our time in Canada and the United States in such a way that we get away with one or more ESTA's.

  1. We ship the camper to America
  2. Fly to America with an approved ESTA
  3. Getting a valid visa for Canada
  4. overlanding maximum 90 days in America
  5. Cross the border to Canada by land
  6. overlanding minimaal 91 days in Canada
  7. After 91 days, apply for an ESTA again for America (because that is a requirement, you cannot apply for an ESTA on ESTA, you must first have been out of the country for another 91 days).
  8. Going another 90-day overlanding in America
  9. Then travel to Mexico or back to Canada

In the meantime, of course, I will continue to try to get a visa for America. Another option is that when we are in the United States with our ESTA, we can still apply for a tourist visa on the spot. We can try to visit an embassy there with our completed D160 form in the hope that someone will help us. If we succeed, it will give us more flexibility and we will no longer have to leave the country every 90 days.

Does that work? No idea. Time will tell!

Update January 8: US Embassies in Germany and Belgium

With a lot of pain and effort (and paying 288 euros again…), we managed to get an appointment at the American embassy in Berlin on February 17th! Yes, it's really crazy to drive up and down to Berlin for a visa, but we're going to do it anyway.

The above plan with the 'visa / ESTA hopping' we still see between America and Canada as a last way out, but since that entails risks (no longer being allowed in the US, and being stuck in Canada), we still want to do everything we can to get a VISA for America. That gives us peace of mind during our trip and will ensure that we do not HAVE to leave the country after 90 days and immediately takes away the worries about whether we can enter the US at all.

Apply for a US visa through another country

For those wondering whether it is allowed: yes, it is allowed. You may apply for a visa for America in another country, for example in Belgium or Germany. But there are some snags. First of all, you have to be physically in the country for the visit to the Embassy, ​​for the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Your passport will also be sent by post with the visa afterwards, but they will not be sent 'abroad'. So if you apply in Germany, you will have to provide a German address where you can pick up your passport afterwards.

You must also have 'ties' with the country where you are visiting the Embassy. I found this a rather vague concept, so I decided to contact the customer service of the American embassy in Germany. I asked if I could apply in Germany or America.

After e-mailing back and forth with customer service from ustraveldocs.com ([email protected]), she explained again that it is normally not possible (with no exceptions), but at the same time that they are currently more flexible to relieve the other embassies, such as the one in Amsterdam. See one of the email I got back below:

Make an Appointment and Visa Appointment Wait Times

Now that I had that in black and white, I continued to make an appointment across the border. Because the problems in Belgium (Embassy in Brussels) are just as great as in Amsterdam and you can only go there in '999 days', I moved to Germany.

In Germany, waiting times in Munich and Frankfurt were also quite long (2 to 3 months). Fortunately, there were still a few places available in Berlin, in 5 weeks on January 17th.

Tip: If you want to see for yourself what the waiting times are, you can go to this page see for yourself what theVisa Appointment Wait Timesfor US embassies around the world.

You enter an embassy of your choice and you will immediately see what the average waiting time is there. Currently it is 285 days for Amsterdam.

Tip: Germany has three US embassies and/or consulates. You can apply for a visa at all three. These are Berlin (embassy), Frankfurt (consulate) and Munich (consulate.

Pay again pancake

Okay, I now know that Berlin is the best option for us. But because the American embassy in Germany is completely separate from the embassy in Amsterdam (and that applies to all embassies in other countries too), you can't pay the fee (144 euros per person) for making an appointment at an embassy in a certain country, never transfer to another country. You would think so, but unfortunately… Pay again, pancake. So there is another 2x 144 euros flying over the bar.

D160 transfer form

Fortunately, your D160 form can be transferred to another embassy. You can add the code you receive after filling out this gigantic form to your new account. And speaking of your new account, for the German embassy you also have to create a new account on a completely different website than that of the Netherlands… Not great, but let's do it again…

The Netherlands: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/nl-nl/niv/
Germany: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/de/index.html
Belgium: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/nl-be/niv/groups/26701912

Next challenge: insure the camper

So, the appointment for a visa is finally set. so now i know how much does it cost to ship our RV to America so we can overland with our own vehicle. I also now know what the possibilities are in terms of visa. Then there is actually one very important topic left: how are we going to insure our motorhome?

The current insurance in The Netherlands with extensive coverage in Europe is not valid in America and Canada. Logically. You are therefore obliged to take out new insurance there. Sounds simple, but it isn't. You are not a resident of both countries and you do not have a postal address there. The options are therefore limited and that is of course also a good reason for local insurers to drive the price up enormously. I have already received the first offers and I almost fell off my chair, I just couldn't believe it!

But I'm not giving up. My search for affordable insurance continues and I am convinced that it will work. You can read all about insuring your own motorhome or vehicle (to be able to overland in the United States of America and Canada), in my next blog.

Update December 29, 2021: The blog with all the information about insuring your vehicle in America is online. See: overlanding in America and Canada | Insure your vehicle

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Chris

Owner of Wereldreizigers.nl † Discover the world!

✔️ January 2021 - Friesland
✔️ February 2021 - Dordrecht
❌ March 2021 - Hard lockdown
✔️ April 2021 - Roadtrip Switzerland
✔️ April 2021-Elsloo, Friesland
✔️ May 2021 - Eijsden & Maastricht, Limburg
✔️ May 2021 - Breda
✔️ May 2021 - Achterhoek
✔️ June 2021 - Mallorca, Spain
✔️ July 2021 - Roadtrip Croatia
✔️ August 2021 - Roadtrip Slovenia
✔️ August 2021 - Kenya Tour
✔️ September 2021 - Round trip Uganda
✔️ October 2021 - Ostend, Belgium
❌ November 2021 - Home
❌ December 2021 - Home

➡️ 2022 - 1 year United States & Canada

0 comments

  • @Jacoline I missed your comment earlier. I don't think your plan will work, because with that ETA from Canada you will not enter the US, it is really only intended for Canada. You must have at least an ESTA or visa for the US. They really won't let you in without one of those two…

  • I received a question from someone who asked: is the VISA a multiple-entry one? Can you leave the USA and return on the same VISA? The Answer is yes, but there are some limitations. I'll copy my reply to that person from another page below because it might be valuable to other readers.
    ---------
    The B1/B2 VISA is valid for 10 years and you can stay in the US for the maximum of 1 year in one go. You can go in and out of the country, but please note that every time you do that you risk something. This is because the immigration officer will decide right there on the spot, how many months you'll get when you try to get back in. And we've heard from numerous other travelers, that they sometimes just get a few weeks or months because the immigration officer does not trust the plan or thinks you don't have sufficient funds to take care of yourself for such a long period of time .

    Be prepared, have a plan and show it to them. Make sure you have enough funds, that is important for them as well. We got 6 months at first when we arrived in the USA, but we could have gotten a year right there and then at the airport in New York City. The officer was ready to stamp for a year until we told him that we would go to Canada in summer as well. So he decided to give us 6 months instead, that was back in March. We then went to Canada for 2 months in the summer and returned to the USA just two weeks ago. We explained our plan once again to another immigration officer, that we plan to head back east and ship the vehicle back to Europe 6 months from now. After some questioning, he gave us another 6 months, totaling 1 year.

    The immigration officer did urge us to understand that we cannot stay any longer, because we've been in the states a full year on that VISA. We would have to go back home for an extended period of time, before retuning again, if ever. What 'extended period time' means in definite months or years, we have no idea. He wouldn't clarify.

    I would assume however that we would have to be out of the US for at least a year, before they would let us in again. The VISA remains valid though, it's 10 years. So technically you can just keep trying, even after you've had a full year, but it will never be clear how much time you'll get when entering, if any.

    Hope this answers some of your question(s).

  • Hi! how interesting to read this! we want to go to America for six months next year, but probably won't manage to arrange a visa before that time either.

    We were thinking of the following option,

    Fly to Canada with an ETA, (with which you can travel for six months) then immediately cross the border to America and then travel there for six months and then ensure that you fly back to the Netherlands within six months.

    Anyone have experience with that? I can't find anything about the rules regarding length of stay in America from Canada.

  • Hi Marco and Miriam,

    Great!! It is then best to start arranging your visa now, because this is a lengthy process, but the good news is that it is valid for 10 years. As soon as you have the visa in your passport, you have 10 years to travel to the US. Then you arrange things at home, such as rental.

    And yes, Malou has a sabbatical, I work online (independently). Malou has had an employer's statement drawn up in English that she will return to NL after one year. This was not necessary, but it was done as a bonus.

    What America finds especially important is 1: money. Do you have enough money to stay here for a long time, and can you prove it (screenshots, statements, stocks, parents, etc.). And 2. When are you going to leave the country, and do you actually have reasons to leave America. They're just afraid you'll stay. If you can clearly demonstrate what your plan is (for example, I assume that you want to visit several countries), then you will be fine. Be clear in a day and date when you leave the US again.

    Good luck arranging!

    Greetings,

    Chris

  • We want to quit our job and sell our house, only then can we realize our dream trip. Our idea is to travel through North America with a camper, but we are afraid not to be able to get a B1/B2 visa, because then we would no longer have any connection with NL, even though my friend's children live here. Have you been able to agree something with an employer or have you rented out a house or something? Tips for us maybe? Thank you!

  • Hi Chris & Malou,

    I am planning to go on holiday to New York, now I have already arranged my esta for that and it has also been approved. During that holiday in New York I also plan to go to Montreal for a weekend, but not by flying but by bus. Now it is only very unclear to me whether I should apply for a visa. So an eta is not necessary because I am not going to fly, but do I need something else? when i follow the steps on the canadian government site to see if i need an eta it says i only need a valid passport. it's not so clear to me anymore. Do you perhaps know more about this?

    Regards,
    Lorena

  • We get stressed from reading your travel program.
    There is so much beauty to see and visit in North America… for that you don't have to cover such an extremely long distance in a short time and therefore spend a large part of your trip 'driving'.
    Distances are great, once in Canada, there are no more highways on the route to Alaska and even a very long stretch before the border consists of bad road that you only move slowly (permafrost problems).
    Perhaps it is an option to explore the western United States for 90 days, then travel on to Canada. The kids take over the car in Canada and drive it back to your friends or put the car in a bonded warehouse in Canada until you have time to travel to Alaska.
    Currently in the United States you have to book almost all national parks, national monuments, state parks, camping places, ... in advance, otherwise you will not get in ... due to the large crowds and Corona rules. We hope this will improve again after the pandemic. But something to keep in mind at the moment.
    You can find many experiences on our travel blog: http://www.herlindemarc.com

  • Good I read all.
    Unfortunately we only have 5 months for USA /Canada Alaska. But you're left with those 90 days.
    Our plan is as follows.
    Fly to SAN Francisco, a friend lives there. Where we will stay for a week So we have an address for mail, etc.
    We have already arranged (bought) a bare American Dodge Van that we simply furnish with a bed and some boxes. Of course V8 with a lot of gas guzzling, but it cost almost nothing to buy.
    Maybe in our name or in his name. We still have to find out about the possibilities and impossibilities with insurance and cross the border.
    At the end of the holiday, we will leave it or sell it again.
    The itinerary is as follows. Please comment if this is possible.
    Fly to SAN Francisco
    With the “RV” from California / Nevada / Utah / Idaho. And then bridge the 4km to Alaska in 3000 days from the Canadian border. And then on day 90 of Alaska to drive back into Canada to further explore Canada at a slower pace.
    We leave the campervan in Vancouver Canada, where our children will fly there, who will then travel for another 5 weeks and deliver the campervan back to my friend in San Francisco.
    So for me an ESTA for the USA for 90 days and for the days after in Canada as I read a Canadian visa and no ETA because we enter the country by road.
    Is this correct?

  • I'm curious if this will work. I don't understand the part about Canada. You can normally just cross the border from the US by land. You don't need an ETA, but basically nothing else either. The alternative idea of ​​going to Canada and then back again, sorry but that doesn't work. On the one hand, an ESTA is valid for 2 years, so you don't have to apply for a new one, but going to a neighboring country and then returning from there 3 months later is simply not allowed, this is considered circumventing the visa requirement.

  • Thanks for all the tips, I'll definitely keep these in mind when we cross the border into Canada and return later.

    But it worked! We can contact the Embassy in Berlin and the article has been considerably updated. So it seems that we will get a visa arranged before we leave. Let's hope they agree to 12 months 🙂

  • We're just telling you how we experienced it during our 4 1/2 years traveling on the North American continent (with a B1/B2 visa), we've also heard many different stories along the way. We always have to wait and see how such a border crossing will go.
    Our big advantage is our age. They believe that we don't come here to work.
    In the US embassy we were told the theory, we were told that in principle with our B1/B2 visa we could get another 6 months visa after a few days, nowhere is a 'waiting period' mentioned. They pointed out to us that it is very important that you are honest and tell the right story. However, they were also informed that the migration officer at the border is in charge. So you are completely dependent on that person and it showed.
    In practice, they asked at the border when we last arrived in the North American continent, they expected us to return 'home' at least once per period.
    Prepare yourself well for all possible questions, make sure you can show a travel plan, know your previous US entry and exit dates / border posts, they always ask for a first overnight address (camping), ...
    Choose a small border post when crossing, there is usually a little more flexible.
    We once experienced real problems at the border, even with a B1/B2 visa. There was a discussion between the migration officials themselves, because there was no reason to refuse us. But that one man stubbornly persisted, he reproached us that we were not well prepared ... Finally he found the solution, so as not to lose face ... we were allowed to enter the country, but the vehicle was refused. We were welcome again, provided we could provide him with proof from the Canadian migration service that we would be allowed to return with the camper within 6 months and thus be out of the US in time, only then would we be allowed to continue. We returned and asked for such a document at the Canadian border post, they did not want to give it to us because a lot can happen in 6 months (understandable). According to them, the US was not allowed to refuse our vehicle, it was completely fine for Canada and the US (these countries work together for this). We were tired of the discussion and returned to Canada for a few months, after which we were allowed to enter the US without any problem via a small border post.
    With a 6-month visa, you can cross the border several times without being difficult, the time continues to run until the end of those 6 months, so you don't get another 6 months at that time. The last time you use the 6 month visa, you have to hand over the visa document you received. At that time, this visa must not have expired yet. If you don't hand it in, you will not be deregistered from the country and thus considered 'illegal' in the country, even if you are no longer there.

  • Thanks for the tip, someone else already mentioned this. We could indeed choose to ship the camper to Halifax (Canada) instead of Baltimore in the US and then cross the border to the US by land . The only downside is that we will be in the North in the middle of winter, but it might make the rest of the trip a lot easier. If I really don't succeed in getting a VISA, I will definitely consider this.

  • Hi Herlinde and Marc,

    I've heard so many different stories that I just don't know anymore. Some succeed, others don't. As you say, it's entirely up to who you get in front of you, and whether that person has slept well haha.

    The fact is that we run a great risk if we go with an ESTA and drive into Canada after 3 months, we may not be able to go back and we will be stuck in Canada… And that while we want to travel in America for 9 months and only in want to be in Canada during the summer months.

    I don't see driving to Guatemala as an option either...

    In the meantime I am trying to get another appointment at the American Embassy in Berlin, to get a VISA. I had to pay 2 euros a second time without any guarantee that it will work. Currently the 288st appointment option in Berlin is February 1th, however my payment still needs to be approved before I can commit it.

    In Germany I couldn't pay with a credit card, only cash or bank transfer, which can take another 5 days. I hope this goes quickly so that hopefully I can go to Berlin before March 1. Yesterday the 1st possibility was again mid-March, which is too late for us. It really goes in all directions and the dates for appointments are increasing very quickly.

    It will be exciting in any case. Never experienced anything like this, what a bizarre 3rd world process this is

  • Addition to our previous comment:
    When you travel overland into the US, you do not need an ESTA.
    With a B1/B2 visa you do not need an ESTA, even if you are flying to the US.
    The same goes for Canada, if you fly there you need an ETA, not overland. You can easily get a visa for Canada at the border for 6 months. They ask few questions about this, an extension is easy to get if you re-enter the country within that period via a national border and the remaining time is too limited for your travel plan.
    http://www.herlindemarc.com

  • We have 4 years of experience traveling the North American continent with our Canadian vehicle.
    Your proposed plan has little chance of success.
    In order to travel for a second period in the United States, you must first have left the North American continent. So you have to either return home first or at least travel to Guatemala or Belize. Very exceptionally, you can enter the country a second time, even with the B1/B2 visa, so that you always receive a visa for 6 months, with which you can cross the border several times, as long as this period lasts.
    Everything depends on the person standing in front of you. The younger you are, the harder they do. People are afraid that you will come and work there.
    You also have to take into account when you ship your vehicle to the North American continent and you do that via the United States, then your vehicle will be registered and the vehicle can stay for a maximum of 1 year. If you ship your vehicle via Canada, your vehicle will not be registered and the 1 year period will not apply.
    Have fun traveling,
    http://www.herlindemarc.com

  • Hi Nele,

    Thank you! And what a cool plan you have! Just like you, we also ship our camper with Sea-Bridge to Baltimore. I've approached several insurance companies why Thum Insurance and Progressive, the others I don't know off the head right now, but I'll list that in a new blog shortly.

    It is indeed very challenging in corona time, but we won't just let ourselves be stopped 🙂 For example, I am also working on the American embassy in Germany, where we might still be able to get our visa in time.

    Another (new) joker is that the 2nd vaccinations for the EU now 'expire' after 9 months, the US will probably use the same period. So getting that booster shot on time is also exciting.

    Can we follow you somewhere? We are also very curious about your trip.

    Regards, Chris & Malou

  • Hi, super interesting to read your experiences. We also leave on a tour on February 6th and ship our camper with Seabridge to Baltimore to start a journey through America and then through Central America, towards South America to end after a year in Buenos Aries from where our camper is shipped back will be sent to Antwerp.
    We applied for our visa in October and have the same problems. I was then able to make an appointment on May 31 in Brussels and I have been trying to bring it forward ever since, without success. We will probably also leave with an ESTA and then cross the border into Mexico earlier than planned.
    Which insurance companies have you already contacted? I have yet to sort this out, but Seabridge, the organization we ship the RV with, recommended Thum Insurance Agency, LLC.
    Very curious about your further preparations. In corona times it is a huge challenge to prepare everything. We also had to look for an airline that wanted to take our dog with us. Most such as KLM do not transport animals over 8 kilos due to corona. Fortunately, Air France still does, so we fly from Paris.
    Best of luck!
    Greetings
    Nele

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