How do I keep my license and cars when moving to Germany?

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I ETS in about a year and I will be attending a university in Germany immediately after. I am already stationed in Germany and I’m confused about how to keep my license and vehicle already here. 
 

1. I read about doing a European out process. Is it possible to take care of license/registration/plates before and just ets normally and come back later?

 

2. I read I can get my USAEUR license directly translated. What paperwork is needed or can I just show up and present them with my USAEUR license. 
 

3. How do I go about changing my plates and registering my car on the German side. Will I have to go through a whole inspection? What paperwork will I need?

 

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Here are the quick answers to your questions, but I will provide more details later.

 

1a.  In order to apply for a German driver's license without much fuss, you must have a valid U.S. license from a state that has full reciprocity with Germany.  Some states have partial reciprocity, or none, which will require the applicant to take and pass the written and/or practical tests prior to applying for a German license.  If you meet the requirements, you will surrender your U.S. license when you pick up your German license.  You must provide a certified translation of your U.S. license so the issuing agency can provide you with a similar German license.

 

1b. If you want to keep your vehicle, you will have to fill out the transfer paperwork prior to your ETS, since this process will likely require you to go back and forth between the Zollamt (German Customs office), Zulassungsstelle (German vehicle registration office), the German TÜV (vehicle inspection), USAREUR Vehicle Registration, and your local USAREUR Customs Office.  As long as the vehicle has been in the USAREUR vehicle registration system for at least six months prior to the transfer, you will not be liable for taxes or import duties.  Before you do this, you will have to go to your local Rathaus and register as living in Germany.  You will need a German address and might need proof that you live there, such as a lease in order to receive your Anmeldebestätigung (residency certificate).  Note:  Everything you do to live in Germany starts with the Anmeldebestätigung.  You register at the Rathaus before you ETS, but you need the Anmeldebestätigung as part of the documentation for your vehicle transfer and when you apply for a residency permit.  You will also need proof of vehicle insurance by a German insurance firm. 

 

1c.  Once you satisfy the Zollamt, you will receive a paper that authorizes you to go to the Zulassungsstelle and register your vehicle.  You will take all of the documents, as well as your new license plates with you.  You can buy the license plates at any Autoschilder, which are usually near the Zulassungsstelle.  Once the clerk at the Zulassungsstelle gives you your new vehicle title and puts the seals on your new plates, you can put them on the vehicle and start the USAREUR deregistration process.  I recommend filling up the fuel tank one last time at an AAFES gas station just before you change the plates, since your fuel card will be cancelled and you will not be able to use the AAFES gas stations.  After you complete the deregistration process with USAREUR, you will take one copy of the form they give you to your insurance company so you can cancel the insurance policy associated with your USAREUR registration.

 

2.  If you are Army, you must go to the USAREUR Vehicle Registration main office in Sembach.  There is a fee, which I think is about $25, for the translation, but the clerk will prepare it while you wait.  You just walk into the office, sign in, and tell the clerk you would like an official translation of your USAREUR driver's license. 

 

3.  I address the plates in paragraph 1b above, but you will need both the mechanical and emissions inspection at an authorized TÜV.  When I transferred my truck into the German system, the TÜV inspection fee was about €110.  You will need copies of both inspection forms for the Zollamt and the Zulassungsstelle.  You will need your USAREUR vehicle registration at the TÜV, and your USAREUR plate will be on the TÜV forms.  This will not be a problem when you go to the Zollamt and Zulassungsstelle later.

 

 

 

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Okay a few more questions:

1. Will I surrender my USAEUR license or my stateside license? If it’s my USAEUR license will I be allowed to switch to a German license while still on active duty? If it’s my state license what is stopping me from just getting another copy when I go home on a vacation?

 

2. How do I find out if my license has full  reciprocity? It’s a license from iowa just in case you know off the top of your head. 

 

3. Will I be violating any sort of SOFA status rules if I register before my ets? Also will this start my 90 days of living in Germany as soon as I register? If so how far in advance before registering do you recommend before I ETS?

 

4. You mentioned registering your truck. I assume it was US specifications. Did you encounter any problems registering a US spec vehicle on the German system?

 

5. How proficient does my German have to be for all this? I am at the A1 level now which is relatively basic. Should I take a German friend with me?

 

6. You mentioned Sembach to get my license translated. Will they be able to help me through this process if I need further assistance? Also will this translation suffice for the one you referenced in answer 1a?
 

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All good questions. 

 

1.  When you pick up your German license at the Führerscheinstelle, you will surrender your Iowa license.  No one will care about your USAREUR license since it is not valid without your military ID.  I suppose you can get your German license at any time, but will need a German address for the forms.  I know lots of U.S. government employees who have their German license.  The Führerscheinstelle is supposed to return the surrendered license to the issuing state, but I think most can't be bothered to do this.  If they don't return it, then nothing is stopping you from getting a replacement.  However, it is against German law to have two driver's licenses from different countries.  I have no idea what the penalties are, but not having a U.S. license has not affected my ability to rent a car in the U.S. when I go back for visits.

 

2.  Germany has full reciprocity with Iowa, so you will not have to take the tests.  Here is the source to confirm this:

https://de.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/living-in-germany/driving-in-germany/

 

3.  I don't think you will be violating any SOFA rules by registering prior to your ETS.  However, as soon as you register, you lose your exemption to avoid paying the TV tax in Germany.  Within a week or two, you will receive a notice from the office, it used to be called GEZ, to make arrangements to pay the monthly TV tax.  You're on your own to figure that part out, since the tax liability depends on where you live, such as an apartment or house.  I retired at the end of April 2019 and registered with the Rathaus in early January 2019.  This gave me enough time to finish my work projects and still go to all of the German offices to apply for my Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit), driver's license, transfer my truck, and plan my graceful transition as a German resident.

 

4.  I wanted a Ford F150, but the military sales representative couldn't guarantee delivery in time to meet the six-month registration period to be tax exempt, even though I was looking a year out from my retirement.  It was just as well, since the F150 wouldn't fit in my two-car garage.  A vehicle built for the U.S. market might have to be modified to pass the German TÜV, and the estimates to convert a new F150 ranged from €2,500 to €5,000.  The main items to change were the windshield, lights, brakes, and exhaust system.  I decided to buy a German spec Ford Ranger, which just fits in my garage.  The dealer I bought my truck from now imports F150s, but these sell for about €100,000 by the time they complete the conversion and add the import duties.  Other dealers are importing Dodge Ram trucks, but these are too large for my garage and still have the same conversion and duty issues.

 

5.  I recommend bringing a German-speaking friend with you as you navigate the various offices.  You might luck out and find some of the office clerks who speak English, but I wasn't so lucky.  My German proficiency is also the A1 level, and I would not have been able to accomplish all of the tasks on my own.  When the time comes to become a resident in Germany, you will need an Aufenthaltstitel.  In addition to the income and health insurance requirements, the German language proficiency standard for the permanent Aufenthaltstitel is the B1 level and the integration course certificate.  If you plan on attending a German university, you will likely need to be at the C1 level.  I needed the A1 certification to receive my initial 3-year Aufenthaltstitel, which required me to take a test and bring the certificate when I picked up my Aufenthaltstitel.

 

6.  Don't expect any help from the Sembach office beyond the USAREUR translation.  The translation you receive will be for only your USAREUR license.  You must find someone to provide a translation for your Iowa license.  I can't remember where I had mine translated, but it cost me €35 for the front and back.

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There can be some flexibility with respect to having to surrender your stateside license. Apparently our German friends are aware that our driver's licenses are also used as ID cards in the US and will consider letting us hold on to them. I'd read about this online while doing my research on the process and was able to keep mine with no fuss after simply asking the question. Of course, I'd given up my USAF ID years ago so this was more important to me than perhaps for someone who also carries a military ID card. 

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1 hour ago, Big Village said:

There can be some flexibility with respect to having to surrender your stateside license. Apparently our German friends are aware that our driver's licenses are also used as ID cards in the US and will consider letting us hold on to them. I'd read about this online while doing my research on the process and was able to keep mine with no fuss after simply asking the question. Of course, I'd given up my USAF ID years ago so this was more important to me than perhaps for someone who also carries a military ID card. 

 

I asked the clerk at the Führerscheinstelle if I could keep mine, since it was also my voter registration card for my state.  The answer was a quick no, but I could exchange my German license for my U.S. license if I was returning to the States, but I had to bring it back when I returned to Germany.  She confirmed that they can't be bothered to return it to my state, but kept it with my file.

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I got my German drivers license just this past August and they let me keep my US license without me having to ask.  Not sure if there has been a recent change, or if it is dependent on the office or person processing the drivers license.  

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I don’t understand how such rules are even enforceable. For instance, you can go to your DMV in the US and say you lost your license and get a new one reissued.  How will the German authorities even know?

 

My husband went to driving school and obtained a German DL in 1986 when we lived in West Berlin.  He was never asked to surrender his US license.  I realize that’s not a switch as in this case, but he had a license from each country. We moved back stateside in 1989 and the old paper German DL sat in the file cabinet until we moved back here 30 years later. It is still valid, has been reissued as a card, and his US license is still currently valid.  
 

I’m not advocating law breaking.  I simply don’t understand the logic of it all or the enforcement mechanism.

 

 

 

 

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1 minute ago, jill_ said:

I got my German drivers license just this past August and they let me keep my US license without me having to ask.  Not sure if there has been a recent change, or if it is dependent on the office or person processing the drivers license.  

 

I got mine in 2017, so I would consider that „fairly recent“.  I suspect that it is dependent on the person or office.

 

 

21 minutes ago, JG52 said:

 

I asked the clerk at the Führerscheinstelle if I could keep mine, since it was also my voter registration card for my state.  The answer was a quick no, but I could exchange my German license for my U.S. license if I was returning to the States, but I had to bring it back when I returned to Germany.  She confirmed that they can't be bothered to return it to my state, but kept it with my file.

 

Nice.  My US license is now expired, so that wouldn‘t help me.  I will have to re-apply when I go back - but I would have to do that anyway, as I will not return to my last State of residence.

 

The truly sucky part of the whole process was that Germany does not recognize the Motorcycle endorsement from my last State of residence, so by getting a German license, I have lost the endorsement.  If I want to get a Motorcycle endorsement again when I go back, I will have to take the test again.

 

 

 

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12 hours ago, nickstraub said:

 

2. How do I find out if my license has full  reciprocity? It’s a license from iowa just in case you know off the top of your head. 

 

 

You are fortunate.  My last State of residence only has partial reciprocity, so I had to take the Theoretical test to get my German DL.  The Theoretical test is very, very difficult.  I would much rather have had to take the road test.  I studied for two months straight to ensure I would pass the Theoretical test on the first try.

 

Even though you don‘t have to take the Theoretical test, I would recommend studying it anyway.  I had driven in Germany for years, but I learned a lot from studying for the test - many things I didn‘t know.  This knowledge has kept me from getting Points in Flensburg.

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18 minutes ago, Space Cowboy said:

Even though you don‘t have to take the Theoretical test, I would recommend studying it anyway.  

 

I totally agree with this suggestion. My state has no reciprocity and so I had to take both the written and driving test. It did take awhile to learn everything that was needed for the exams, but I am far more confident driving now than I was when I first arrived. For me, it was all of the signs and priority rules which differ from the US that I had to learn to recognize.  

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6 hours ago, JG52 said:

All good questions. 

 

1.  When you pick up your German license at the Führerscheinstelle, you will surrender your Iowa license.  No one will care about your USAREUR license since it is not valid without your military ID.  I suppose you can get your German license at any time, but will need a German address for the forms.  I know lots of U.S. government employees who have their German license.  The Führerscheinstelle is supposed to return the surrendered license to the issuing state, but I think most can't be bothered to do this.  If they don't return it, then nothing is stopping you from getting a replacement.  However, it is against German law to have two driver's licenses from different countries.  I have no idea what the penalties are, but not having a U.S. license has not affected my ability to rent a car in the U.S. when I go back for visits.

 

2.  Germany has full reciprocity with Iowa, so you will not have to take the tests.  Here is the source to confirm this:

https://de.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/living-in-germany/driving-in-germany/

 

3.  I don't think you will be violating any SOFA rules by registering prior to your ETS.  However, as soon as you register, you lose your exemption to avoid paying the TV tax in Germany.  Within a week or two, you will receive a notice from the office, it used to be called GEZ, to make arrangements to pay the monthly TV tax.  You're on your own to figure that part out, since the tax liability depends on where you live, such as an apartment or house.  I retired at the end of April 2019 and registered with the Rathaus in early January 2019.  This gave me enough time to finish my work projects and still go to all of the German offices to apply for my Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit), driver's license, transfer my truck, and plan my graceful transition as a German resident.

 

4.  I wanted a Ford F150, but the military sales representative couldn't guarantee delivery in time to meet the six-month registration period to be tax exempt, even though I was looking a year out from my retirement.  It was just as well, since the F150 wouldn't fit in my two-car garage.  A vehicle built for the U.S. market might have to be modified to pass the German TÜV, and the estimates to convert a new F150 ranged from €2,500 to €5,000.  The main items to change were the windshield, lights, brakes, and exhaust system.  I decided to buy a German spec Ford Ranger, which just fits in my garage.  The dealer I bought my truck from now imports F150s, but these sell for about €100,000 by the time they complete the conversion and add the import duties.  Other dealers are importing Dodge Ram trucks, but these are too large for my garage and still have the same conversion and duty issues.

 

5.  I recommend bringing a German-speaking friend with you as you navigate the various offices.  You might luck out and find some of the office clerks who speak English, but I wasn't so lucky.  My German proficiency is also the A1 level, and I would not have been able to accomplish all of the tasks on my own.  When the time comes to become a resident in Germany, you will need an Aufenthaltstitel.  In addition to the income and health insurance requirements, the German language proficiency standard for the permanent Aufenthaltstitel is the B1 level and the integration course certificate.  If you plan on attending a German university, you will likely need to be at the C1 level.  I needed the A1 certification to receive my initial 3-year Aufenthaltstitel, which required me to take a test and bring the certificate when I picked up my Aufenthaltstitel.

 

6.  Don't expect any help from the Sembach office beyond the USAREUR translation.  The translation you receive will be for only your USAREUR license.  You must find someone to provide a translation for your Iowa license.  I can't remember where I had mine translated, but it cost me €35 for the front and back.

Just a few more questions:

1.What is the point of getting my USAEUR license translated if they won’t be needing it?

 

2. Since I can register my residence while on active duty, will that begin my 90 day window for staying in Germany with no visa? Even when I’m still sofa status?

 

3. Do you know where I can find information regarding if my vehicle will need modifications to be registered? It’s 2009 mustang which I see fairly often driven by Germans and Im not sure what if any modifications will be needed. If modifications are needed I assume I will be better off just buying a German spec car. 

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35 minutes ago, nickstraub said:

Just a few more questions:

1.What is the point of getting my USAEUR license translated if they won’t be needing it?

 

Good question.  FWIW, I did not need a translation of my US State DL

 

 

35 minutes ago, nickstraub said:

3. Do you know where I can find information regarding if my vehicle will need modifications to be registered? It’s 2009 mustang which I see fairly often driven by Germans and Im not sure what if any modifications will be needed. If modifications are needed I assume I will be better off just buying a German spec car. 

 

TÜV Nord.

 

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1.  You might not need the USAREUR translation.  I needed it because it had heavy trucks and larger trailers, in addition to my motorcycle endorsement.  I could not drive my fully-loaded pickup without the extra endorsement because the combined total gross vehicle weight exceeded the limit for the basic driver's license.  If you are driving a car and don't intend on towing a large trailer, then the basic German driver's license will be adequate.  The rules are clear, but as others have observed and experienced, it is up to the person you are working with to determine what they do not need. 

 

2.  As was explained to me by my caseworker at the Ausländerbehörder, my tourist status would not start until the day after my retirement when I lost my status under the NATO SOFA.  However, once I started the residency process, the 90-day status did not apply.

 

3.  I can't answer this question, as I never had to research it in detail once I abandoned importing the F150.  My wife has a 2019 Mustang, which we bought from the German dealer and was built in the States for the German market.  There are enough parts that are different, such as the drive train, lights, brakes, and emissions system, that we can't buy parts from a U.S. vendor.  Her Mustang had a warranty issue with the rear differential, and Ford told the dealer to replace the entire differential.  We waited nine weeks for delivery of a differential that was specific to this market.  My recommendation to others in your situation is sell the vehicle unless you have a strong emotional attachment to it and make a clean break when you transfer into the German system.  I wouldn't begin to speculate on the issues you will have with trying to make a 12-year old vehicle comply with European standards. 

 

More details on the vehicle transfer process:

 

4.  Here is the link to the online fillable form you will need for the Zollamt process:

https://www.formulare-bfinv.de/ffw/form/display.do?%24context=D71B2A968CC0551D8F4A

 

4a.  Once you decide when you want to start the transfer process, go to the "kfzonline" website below and click on the city closest to where you will live or where you will apply for your residency permit.  You can reserve a license plate number for your vehicle, if the letter and number combination is available.  You need to identify the size of the plates to fit your car.  If you have a U.S. model, you might need the short plates for front and back.  As I remember, when the selection is done, you will print out the reservation form and can take it to any place that makes the license plates.  These are normally near the Zulassungsstelle and the reservation is good for three months:

 

https://kfzonline.ewois.de/

 

4b.  Take the vehicle to any German TÜV and have it inspected, and you can do this with the USAREUR plates still on it. Depending on the size of your city and inspection station, you might have to make an appointment for the inspection.  I had my truck inspected in Darmstadt and made an appointment online.  You will need the mechanical and emissions inspection.  I verified that I paid €135 to have my truck inspected.  If the vehicle passes both inspections, you will receive two blue forms.  Make three color copies of each form, as you will need these at the Zollamt.  I can't remember if the Zulassungsstelle kept the original, but I made a color copy for them just in case.

 

4c.  Get the insurance coverage you want (need) for the vehicle.  The insurance company will issue a code that any Zulassungsstelle can access to verify you are covered.

 

4d.  Go to the Zollamt website and fill out the Form 0350.  Each time you click on the link, you will have a unique session number with a 45-minute time limit to complete the form.  This is the German customs declaration you will need in order to transfer vehicles or any personal item with a cost in excess of €5,000.  Although I had lots of expensive items I accumulated over the years, none of them exceeded the individual €5,000 price, but some came close.  The form is filled out online and will automatically populate three copies.  Assuming you don't have any single items over the limit, put the vehicle  price in Block 8 and the vehicle information in Block 10.  The Block 10 information includes the make, model, and FIN (we call it the VIN).  I think you can save the form, but I printed it.  You will take all three copies, and supporting documents, to the Zollamt.

 

https://www.formulare-bfinv.de/ffw/action/invoke.do?id=0350

 

4e.  Go to the nearest U.S. Customs Office and complete the AE Form 550-175B.  The form is not available online.  Everyone listed on the USAREUR registration must accompany you to the U.S. Customs office.  You will also need a Bill of Sale, and there should be blank forms at the Customs Office or the USAREUR Vehicle Registration Office that you can fill out.  You will need your German address that matches the address on your Anmeldung.  I didn't understand the need for this, and neither did the U.S. Customs Office; however, the Darmstadt Zollamt would not process the Form 0350 without the AE Form 550-175B transferring the truck from me to me.  Stupid, but that was the mysterious process.  You might not need this, it all depends on what your local Zollamt wants.

 

4f.  Take all of the documents so far to the Zollamt for processing.  I don't know what more you will need, but I had to bring a color copy of my passport and DoD retirement orders.  You might need a copy of your ETS orders.  You must take the vehicle to the Zollamt office, since the agent will need to verify the information on the Form 0350.  If the Zollamt agent is satisfied with everything, he or she will return one copy of the signed Form 0350 and will issue a Form 0060 that you will take to the Zulassungsstelle to register the vehicle.

 

4g.  Take the license plate reservation form you received from Step 3a and go to any place that makes license plates.  The staff will make two plates for your vehicle, but you must make sure they make the plates that will fit your vehicle.  Some offices will also offer, at additional cost, to print the green Euro X sticker that goes on the inside of the windshield.  They will need proof that your vehicle meets one of the standards, but when I did it, they took my word for it since the truck was only seven months old.  I can't remember how much the sticker cost, but it wasn't much.

 

4h.  Take the license plates, Zollamt documents, TÜV documents, proof of insurance, and your Anmeldung to your servicing Zulassungsstelle.  I can't remember how much I paid, but you should receive a new long title and.  You will also receive the short vehicle registration that you keep in the car.  The clerk will attach the seals and inspection sticker to your plate. If you didn't get the green Euro X sticker at the license plate office, you can get it at the Zulassungsstelle.  I think the cost was €5 or €10.  I already had the sticker from the license plate office, so I didn't buy the sticker from the Zulassungsstelle.

 

4i.  Replace the USAREUR plates with the new German plates and make sure you also remove the old green Euro X sticker in the windshield and replace it with the new sticker. I took my tools with me and changed my plates in the parking lot.  I also had a razor scraper to remove the old green sticker.

 

4j.  Take the USAREUR plates and any remaining documents you have accrued during this process to the nearest USAREUR Vehicle Registration Office so the vehicle can be de-registered.

 

4k.  Provide a copy of the de-registration form from the USAREUR Vehicle Registration Office to your insurance office so the insurance can be cancelled.

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4 hours ago, Space Cowboy said:

You are fortunate.  My last State of residence only has partial reciprocity, so I had to take the Theoretical test to get my German DL.  The Theoretical test is very, very difficult. 

 

Last time I took my car for TÜV, I was waiting outside as a group of kids were doing the theoretical.  Some came out crying.  

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6 hours ago, LukeSkywalker said:

Kids? Like 12-year-olds 👯?

 

They were doing the theoretical for the drivers license so no, they weren't 12.  One quite muscular looking young man fell crying into his mothers arms who was there to pick him up.  A crying young woman fell into the arms of a guy who was picking her up.  Another came out grinning though, she probably passed.

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On 1/30/2021, 6:00:03, nickstraub said:

Okay a few more questions:

1. Will I surrender my USAEUR license or my stateside license? If it’s my USAEUR license will I be allowed to switch to a German license while still on active duty? If it’s my state license what is stopping me from just getting another copy when I go home on a vacation?

 

 

As stated by some others, while the default tends to be the Germans want you to surrender your U.S. license, you can likely avoid that.  However, as your devious mind suggested there also is nothing to stop you from getting another one when you return to the U.S. 

 

I would have willingly given the Germans my license to destroy and then got a new one when I returned to the U.S., but in my city they didn't want to just cut it up.  Then wanted to keep it on file and charge me a storage fee.  Weird.  So, at the German office's suggestion, I got a letter from the U.S. consulate that said in the U.S. a driver's license is commonly used as identification.  And with that the German's let me keep my U.S. license so I had both.

 

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Thank you all so much for this advice. I will try to keep my US license when I apply but if not, oh well! It seems like the easiest things to do is get my German license and sell my vehicle before I ets. Then get a different vehicle on the German market. 

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