Comparing Comitan, Mexico and San Cristobal, Mexico

Q&A with a Reader

Piles of fruit and aqua frescas, Comitan Market

Piles of fruit and aqua frescas, Comitan Market

Dear Billy and Akaisha,

We just wanted to thank you for your newsletter “Retire Early Lifestyle.” It is so wonderful to read and we can glean so much information from it. You travel to places my wife and I want to visit such as: San Cristobal, Panajachel, Guatemala and Comitan just to name three. We are retired (older than you guys) and are planning on coming down to Mexico or Guatemala to live. We have watched the Solola market youtube several times and it is so interesting. I love videos of this type showing you wandering around a market.

Just a couple of questions if you don’t mind. Between Comitan and San Cristobal, which is your favorite town? Is it possible to find a fairly inexpensive apartment to rent in Comitan or maybe stay at a hotel at good long term rates for six months? When you visit Comitan do you fly to Tuxtla and catch a bus to San Cristobal and another to Comitan? Have you been to Oaxaca and what do you think of it? Do you think one could find a place to live in Solola or would perhaps Panajachel would be a place to live?

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

We are retired and can pick somewhere in Mexico or Guatemala to live in the near future, perhaps the end of June, 2016. We have looked at Chapala but it seems so crowded with Americans and Canadians.

Once again, thank you for your informative newsletter. No hurry on answering these questions.

All the best to you,

Michael and Patty

Streets of San Cristobal, Mexico

Streets of San Cristobal, Mexico

Hi Michael and Patty,

Thank you for taking the time to write and thank you for your kind words regarding our newsletter. We appreciate it!

You asked us which, between Comitan and San Cristobal, is our favorite town? – They are different in several ways and let me explain.

Comitan is a very Mexican town, with Mexican tourists. It is safe and very family oriented in terms of restaurants, things to do, and attitudes. It is also very clean, the weather is moderate (chilly in the winters) and the town is nestled in the mountains of Chiapas, so you can see mountain views when you walk through the Old Town.

There is no indigenous population to speak of (there are the Tojolabal who are Mayan but not really many of them around) to give contrast, or to influence the souvenirs and markets. I don’t think you would find many Gringos there at all and you would need to speak some basic Spanish, I think, in order to feel comfortable and at least to make some sort of social contact. It’s an up and coming city, complete with a Wal*Mart, shopping malls and movie theaters. There is decent public transportation.

Ruins at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ruins at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

I’m sure you could find a reasonable rate for either an apartment or for a long hotel stay. You would just need to negotiate and work it out with the owners.

San Cristobal is far more touristy with new people coming and going constantly. It is much cooler than Comitan and they have a lively Mayan population whom you will see every day and integrated into the market scenes and tourists shops. In terms of apartments or hotels for long term stays, yes, I believe that would be easy enough to work out. You could get by with less Spanish, but knowing some would be useful.

San Cristobal is in the mountains of Chiapas also, but as I mentioned, it is much cooler.

We prefer Comitan over San Cristobal, mostly because we don’t really like the cold. We stay in the Old Colonial section of town which is far more “cutesy” than the regular parts of the city. San Cristobal is more international with the tourists coming in and going out and they are from all over the world. They have a spirited bar and restaurant scene.

In terms of how to get to Comitan or San Cristobal, you could fly into Tuxtla as it is the closest airport to these towns, and then take a shuttle, a combi or a bus to Comitan or San Cristobal. I believe most of these transport options go through Comitan before they get to San Cristobal. And of course, you can get to San Cristobal from Comitan if you decide to see them both.

Yes, we have been to Oaxaca and we have really enjoyed it. It has a energetic and beautiful Zocalo (Plaza) and nice restaurants, markets and bars. The Monte Alban ruins are very close by and are a must see. It’s a little more pricey in our experience, but really worth visiting, and I think you could find an apartment or hotel which would allow you to stay longer term.

Young Mayan girl, Guatemala

Young Mayan girl, Guatemala

As to whether or not you might like to live in Solola or Panajachel, I would definitely say to choose the Lake Atitlan Area over Solola. Panajachel and all the towns on the lake are much prettier, and have better weather than Solola. The way that Solola is situated, it tends to get (very cold) fog in the early afternoons and have a drizzle which takes the view away from the lake below. Pana and the towns on the Lake are warmer, sunnier and have more attractive personalities as villages than Solola. Most certainly, get to the Lake, find a hotel or apartment and then visit any of the other dozen villages around the lake. Go to Solola if you need certain kinds of medical care or perhaps some computer equipment, but otherwise, stay at the Lake.

If you are considering a visit to Guatemala, then take a look at our Guide to Guatemala.

I am hoping that you speak some Spanish, but if not, you can easily take lessons here at several towns on the Lake. I would also wait quite a while before purchasing property, and visit around to see which villages speak to you the most.

Hopefully this answers your questions and if you have more, feel free to write again.

Take care, and stay in touch.

All the best,

Akaisha

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A Financial Discussion with a Reader

Q&A with a Reader

Hi Billy and Akaisha,

Hope all is well!  We traded emails in the past but it’s been a while.

I bought your ebook years ago and have ready many articles since (among many other books).  They inspire me to produce more now to prepare for an early retirement.

I am 38 now with a healthy nest egg and income outside of my W2.  I feel financially free which gives me a better attitude about my work because it’s a choice.  It allows me to be more bold and actually produce better. So in a nutshell I’m doing well and feel great knowing at any moment I could hang it up.

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So, here’s my question:  I have 3 kids from 5 months to age 4.  We plan to homeschool them up to High School.  At what point is a safe point to call it quits and focus on family?  Should my goal be a nest egg plus a certain level of passive income?  I don’t plan on funding college for them but would like to help out a bit if needed.  After my mortgage college seems to be the next biggest upcoming expense.

Thoughts?  Any simple spreadsheets you can share?

Andy

Hi Andy,

You certainly are in the sweet spot…congratulations. Yes,it cannot hurt to have other streams of income…right? I am sure you’ve thought about any tax issues regarding this.

Regarding your children, here’s a couple of thoughts. You could open a Uniform Gifts to Minors account for each of them and contribute annually. The bad news is that they have control of the funds at the age of 18 and may or may not be responsible enough to handle them.

Another option is to create a trust for each of them. Put 10K in today and forget about it. You could set it up so that they do not receive the accounts until they are ….say 35….by then those accounts should be worth a tidy sum and by not letting them have access before that age, you skip the “wild years,” “first marriage” – yes it happens – and other irresponsible behavior.

But first check with your tax adviser and attorney before taking my word on these suggestions.

Regards,

Billy

Thanks Billy,

I suppose it doesn’t hurt to put a chunk away for each kid now and stick it in some index EFTs.  Can’t image what 30 years would do to 10k in today’s money.

So as far as a nest egg and passive income goals…what do you think there?  I estimate we spend about 60k a year as a family today.  So as long as my passive income is above that I should be solid?

And what to do with the nest egg, a combo of index EFTs?  I’m sure you shy away from specific advice (totally understandable) but maybe you have something like a goal range or broader strategy to share?

Andy

Andy,

My guess is that 10K invested in SPY or VTI would create well over $1 million. Never know but based on historic returns that’s about right.

Yes…as long as you have more income than outflow you should be fine.

I use a combination of DVY, SPY, VTI and DIA. Being 30 you have a ton of time on your side to ride out the never ending market cycles. My being 63 is a little different as long term is getting shorter by the day for me. But I believe these ETF‘s are solid holdings.

Billy

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Financials, of Course

Q&A with a Reader 

Billy and Akaisha,

Your articles continue to inspire.

So far, at 65, I have not withdrawn money from my IRA. All situations are different, but have you always used your IRA comfortably without fear? I don’t have a financial adviser (who would be objective) at this point, but do recognize that having saved money, it may take one to convince me to go in the opposite direction to use funds. I am taking SS, but someone pointed out that at this age, I should use my savings without worry.

Best,

Paul

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams. 

Paul,

I do not know your specific situation but you will have to take money out of your IRA once you reach 70.5 years. Here is a calculator you can use to get an idea what you are dealing with regarding a tax hit or not.

http://apps.finra.org/Calcs/1/RMD

Thanks for writing and good luck to you.

Regards,

Billy

 

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The Top Trends In Baby Boomer Travel

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I’m Ready to get out of the Rat Race

Q&A with a Reader 

I’m going to be 61 this year, and I’m ready to hang it up.  I do not have a lot in retirement because of divorce and  a little cancer scare, but still kicking, hate my job and ready to say quit.  I have a couple of options, like moving into a room with my kids in an area that I really like. And, yes I would like to become a gypsy.

Are you doing Obama Care for health insurance ??  I could sell my house and put that money into an account that could earn interest income. I have already talked to a financial guy about that.  Did you do early retirement at 62 for social security? That is another thing I am debating about.  Have to get out of this rat race.  I have no problem being a minimalist.

Yes I would pay off my car and one other account, then be debt free if I sold the house.

What are your thoughts??

Thank you.

Vicky

Reduce your cost of living. Pay less for medical care. Find better weather. Create a healthier way of life.

Hi Vicky,

You bring up a lot of good questions and I think, given your personal flexibility, you could have several options that might work for you.

If you would like to become a gypsy, renting a room out from your children could be the best of both worlds. From there you could travel for weeks or months at a time. You could house sit all over the world or just in the US and Canada, if foreign locations worry you. But if you do go overseas, that could also be your answer for medical care, at least until Medicare kicks in for you.

We have utilized medical tourism for decades and it’s our primary means of getting care. We are not on any plan from the Affordable Care Act and we stay out of the country for the required amount of time to not have to pay the penalty. You could consider your choices in this area of your retirement life and then decide what you would like to do – apply for Obamacare, live overseas for the required amount of days, or go back and forth from your children’s home and pay the penalty.

If you decide to live overseas for a greater period of time, you might consider going car free. I realize that living in the US without one’s own vehicle it is more of a challenge than it is overseas, but there are certainly cheaper ways to obtain transport than owning a car. You might research this topic so that you have all the information available to you to make a clear decision. Even paying a girlfriend, taking a taxi, utilizing Uber, using mass transport, bicycling, walking, etc. are all cheaper than the expenses of maintaining a vehicle.

We did decide to take Social Security at age 62 and you can read about it in our article on this topic. This may or may not work for you, depending on what you choose to do in your retirement. – Getting back to house sitting as a housing option, this would save you thousands of dollars a year in housing costs, and being car free would do the same. So your spending could be different than you might have already thought about. I don’t know what your financial adviser said, but you may be able to purchase stocks and obtain dividends for your income, which might be more than simple interest on your money.

Things to think about.

Do you track your spending now? Do you know what you need annually to cover your costs?

I hope these suggestions are useful to you and if you have further questions, feel free to write again.

Wishing you all the best,

Akaisha

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6 Truths of Early Retirement

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I Want to Retire and Travel. Should I Have Kids or Not?

Q&A with a Reader

Hi Guys,

I bought your guide about 5 years ago and enjoy your website.  I’m 46 years old and unmarried with no children, although I hope to settle down with someone like-minded in the next couple of years and prepare our plans to retire abroad (of course).

I know that the decision about whether or not to have kids is a very personal one that depends on many things which are unique to the people deciding.  The thing is, kids change everything when it comes to retirement, especially for someone middle-aged like me.

Wondering if you have come across any good articles or online forums where this subject is wrestled.

All the best,

David

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Hi David,

Thanks for taking the time to write and to ask a very good question.

We know of several people who travel with their children and have simply included the children into their traveling lifestyle. You might take a look at their websites for information and answers to your questions.

One family has 6 children now and the Mother home schools them. They have been traveling the world for years now.

Another family has one child, and I don’t know what they are thinking about education in the future. And Jeremy and Winnie have just had a child – and they frequently write about the impact of having a child on their lifestyle and their future plans.

You might also want to check out Travel with Kids – a site focused on world travel with children and Soul Travelers 3, a couple who raised their child while traveling the world. Their focus was on the child in just about every aspect, and the child is now tri-lingual, plays violin and sings and is currently publishing albums and performing in films.

All of these sites seem to see the vagabond life as a bonus, giving the children a world view and the opportunity to become multi-lingual, certainly an asset for them in their future lives and careers.

I hope you find this information to be useful. Good luck and do keep in touch!

Best,

Akaisha

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Exploring the ExPat Lifestyle in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende

Posted by Jonathan Chevreau

San Miguel 1

View of San Miguel from top of the Rosewood Hotel (Photo J. Chevreau)

Last week, my wife Ruth and I enjoyed a week’s vacation in San Miguel de Allende, which is located in central (and landlocked) Mexico. We’d been to Mexico several times over the years but never this particular community, which is not handy to a major airport.

It was also our first trip to Latin America in about five years, since we had been taking our February breaks in Florida in more recent years.

Ironically, San Miguel was prominently featured in the old magazine I published around the year 2000: The Wealthy Boomer. At the time, I remember being impressed by the fact the cost of living for semi-retired American and Canadian baby boomers was roughly half what it was in our home countries. This theme was also applied to various Asia locations in a Hub blog last year featuring the book Planet Boomer. See also my post, titled 5 Asian locations where retirement is more affordable than North America.

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Trading high taxes for crime?

Back during the days of the tax-and-spend Jean Chretien Liberals, I found the Mexican expatriate fantasy quite compelling, so much so that I listened to Spanish instructional tapes on my long commutes to the National Post’s bunker then located in Don Mills. But the fantasy of becoming a tax exile/early retiree faded once the Conservative Party achieved power and seemed to offer at least the hope of more reasonable levels of taxation (the Tax-free Savings Account being a major positive example.)

Meanwhile, the unremitting press over drug-cartel-related crime in Mexico reached a crescendo in the last few years so we stopped visiting for a spell. Even now, you don’t have to look far for for scary media coverage of Mexico.

In our previous trips to Mexico, we had briefly experienced two other famous Mexican expat communities: Puerto Vallarta (twice) and Lake Chapala/Ajijic. We were put off Puerto Vallarta by the aggressive timeshare sales people. Chapala was nice but in correspondence with one of the Wealthy Boomer readers who had actually moved there, I learned that the couple ultimately moved back to Canada, in part because of the treatment of animals.SanMiguel2

My fantasy two-bedroom condo in San Miguel (Photo J. Chevreau)

Still, San Miguel stuck in my mind and finally we decided to visit it late in February/early this March. It did not disappoint. Of course, my personal circumstances are much different now that I’m “findependent” and no longer a salaried journalist. In theory, I could do my work from anywhere, although Ruth is still tethered to a Toronto job.

Escaping high costs, high taxes

My original fantasy about Latin America was to escape what I perceived to be excessively high taxation in Canada. Alas, with new Liberal administrations in Ontario, Alberta and federally, it appears taxes are once again headed much higher here. We’ve already seen a retrenchment of the annual limits on TFSAs and as Jamie Golombek recounted last weekend in the Financial Post, it could get worse when the next federal budget comes down: see his ominous prediction of rising capital gains taxes in Why a capital-gains hike may be on the table in the March 22nd federal budget.

One Kindle book I read on the plane back makes a similar argument for Americans experiencing similarly high taxes on earned income and investment income: David Ellsworth’s Leaving Home, Going Home Mexico. There are dozens if not hundreds of similar books but Ellsworth believes in steering clear of the more expensive expat enclaves in favour of the “real” small-town Mexico.

You can live on government retirement sources alone

Personally, I doubt I’d go the small-town route. A week’s vacation is little more than a tease and a fantasy but the last day in San Miguel really made me think. On one stroll, we wandered into a two-bedroom condo on sale, located in a gated community not far from a collection of artist studios crafted from a former textile factory that wound up in 1991. If memory serves, the cost was about US$170,000, say $240,000 Cdn, with annual property taxes of around US$150 and condo fees of about US$1,400.

Were it not for my marriage, I might have been tempted to buy then and there and tear up the return air ticket. It’s quite true that you can live in some of these expat communities for as little as C$2,000 a month, which means a lot of American and Canadian almost-retired boomer couples can survive strictly on Social Security or its Canadian equivalent (CPP/OAS), even without massive investment portfolios. As regular Hub readers may know, we have run a lot of guest blogs from Billy and Akaisha Kaderli, of the RetireEarlyLIfestyle.com website. See for example, their own take on Must-see Places in Mexico.

Unlike Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel features none of those touristy beaches. San Miguel is landlocked  almost in the dead centre of Mexico, at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. It’s centuries old and nestled in a valley with hills on all sides. See the photo at the top of this blog, showing the panoramic  view from the top-floor terrace of the Rosewood Hotel.

You’ll do a lot of walking here, and on narrow cobble-stone streets. This place was not designed for the automobile, although there are plenty of them, despite a pretty decent and low-cost bus service and taxis. (No sign of Uber that we saw).

SanMiguel3

Typical cobblestone street in San Miguel, plus green taxi (Photo J. Chevreau)

Enclave for the creative class

When we later examined our credit-card bills for restaurant meals we found them to work out to roughly half of what their Toronto equivalents would have been. True, all these expats — estimated at about 14,000 American and Canadian expat retirees on a population of 140,000 — have driven up costs somewhat. San Miguel is hardly what you would call an undiscovered gem: it’s well discovered, especially by writers, artists and musicians. Prior to going I enjoyed reading a memoir by an American writer who got in and bought early: Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel. Also check out John Scherber’s San Miguel de Allende: a Place in the Heart, as well as some of his detective novels set there.

As fate would have it, on our second-last evening, we ran into a former colleague when we all attended the premiere of a one-actor play, Mistakes Were Made. My former co-worker (Dean) from the Post travelled for a few years with his partner to identify the perfect ex-pat community to retire to.

But San Miguel had set the bar pretty high, they told us over drinks on our last night, and in the end they bought a place here. Actually, they’re still renting, waiting to move in this summer. They had sold their Toronto home before setting out on their global adventures.

Leading their list of motivations for repatriating were weather, the arts scene, and lower cost of living.  In a followup email, my friend elaborated:

“I’d add to the main motivation the interesting and friendly people in San Miguel, both Mexican and ex-pat.  Foreigners have been an important part of the town since the ’40s; they’ve created a lot of jobs for the locals.  Everyone rubs shoulders here, unlike resort towns and other ex-pat havens.”

Over the coming year, you can expect to see plenty more book reviews by me (and others: just ask!) about expat life in Latin America, the Far East and Europe. This is a major theme — you might call it “fruit” — of Financial Independence.

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10 Tips to Get to Early Retirement Faster

By Shawn Stevenson

Many people dream of early retirement. Being finished with the workforce years ahead of your peers produces an earned feeling of satisfaction. However, if you want to retire early you need to plan early and often as well. Here are ten early retirement preparation tips:

10 tips

Make a plan for early retirement

Every achievable goal begins with a well thought out plan. Draft a flowchart to plan early retirement. It’s not necessary for people who successfully retire early to make great amount of money, but being low on funds may call for creative thinking. The most important thing is to decide what you will need to successfully retire early.

When putting your plan together be sure to list all possible future expenses. Things like medical bills, home repairs, travel expenses, and home health care support or respite care, in your later years may be a few decades down the road. However, it’s important to understand what the future may have in store and plan for these expenses accordingly.

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Get professional advice

Take professional advice from a financial consultant. A decent professional consultant will review your situation and charge between $200 and $300 for putting together a general plan on how to achieve your targets. No matter how great of a financial planner you are, it’s always better to take professional advice.

Make a budget and follow it

After making a basic plan, and getting professional advice, the nest step is to make a budget. Create a budget which can be easily followed and stick to it firmly. Having a budget in hand will be a great help towards achieving the goal of early retirement. Make use of apps like You Need A Budget (YNAB), Mint, or Mvelopes to keep yourself in line and track your expenses.

Clear debts

At any level of income it is very important to avoid piling up debts. If you do have a few that were unavoidable, clearing off debts is crucially important to living an early retirement life. Not only Budget your finances to clear all your debts in the shortest time possible. Killing debt should include paying off credit cards, medical bills, student loans, car payments, and mortgages. These payments should be considered prerequisites in any budget.

If you need help coming up with a game plan there are free tools, like Zilchworks’ free calculators and sample budget sheets, that can help you visualize how fast you can pay off your debts by changing only a few variables at a time. The calculators can help you save thousands of dollars over the course of your loans and pay off debts sooner than you think. You may also want to look into debt consolidation and federal loan forgiveness programs offered by the federal government.

Start saving

Saving is an idea which should automatically come to mind when planning an early retirement. The earlier you start saving, the better retirement you’ll enjoy. Setting aside savings every month will secure resources for tough days as well.

Start investing

Aside from your budgeted regular expenses, emergency funds, debt repayments, and savings, be sure to start investing whatever is remaining. This will also be advantageous in taxation matters.

Develop additional income streams

If someone is planning for early retirement, they must have multiple sources of income. Investing in stocks, dividend paying investments, and property (for rental income) are all good options. You may also want to consider starting a small business earning money with a skill or hobby you’re passionate about. Speak early on with a boutique accountant to work out how to optimize your new small business for maximum earnings.

Keep spending in control

It is understandable that people are at different income levels at different levels in life. Usually in our youth our income is low, spending it at its peak, and savings is difficult. However, as we age and grow our income should be saved for retirement goals. To save for early retirement any spending on unnecessary items should be kept to the utmost minimum – no matter what our income level.

Downsize living

For comfortable and early retirement, life style may need to be downsized. The rule is simple, the more money is saved, the more comfortable early retirement will be. Cut down on things which are not needed in everyday life and put that money towards your financial goals. Moving into a smaller house can be considered as well, especially if frequent travelling is expected as a part of your early retirement life.

Keep enjoying the present day life

Although the early retirement is the main focus, living a beautiful life in the moment will make beautiful memories. Spend some quality time with your friends and family to make the most of every moment you have.

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Our Schengen Debacle – A Tale from One of Our Readers

We are usually very aware of visa issues. But because we were spending only a month in each European country that we were visiting, including a non-EU country, we assumed visas would not be an issue. We ended up spending a total of 96 days in France, Sweden and Norway. Under Schengen visa rules, for US citizens, we were actually only allowed 90 days every 6 months. Without realizing that we would be further overstaying our visa, we accepted a house sitting job in Portugal, also a Schengen country. Just before leaving Norway we realized our mistake.

Having committed to our Portugal job, we decided to make our best effort to get there. Leaving Norway, the immigration officer noticed that we had overstayed by six days. The officer photocopied our passports and said it would be in our records, but because it was only 6 days it was probably not going to affect us. Little comfort, considering we were headed to Portugal for a month that very day. Luckily we were transiting though England, a non-Schengen country so no alarm bells went off there.

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Arriving in Lisbon that night was very stressful, knowing that it was a possibility that we would not be allowed in. Much to our relief the immigration officer there seemed oblivious. He stamped our passports and we were in.

But we knew that a month later when we were leaving Portugal, having now overstayed by 36 days, we might be in for a nasty surprise. Based on what I had read online, being caught overstaying has a number of possible consequences, all depending on the officer’s mood. Anything is possible from a slap on the wrist to a 1200 Euro per person fine to being banned from Schengen countries for a few years.  We had also been told that immigration officers tend to be more lenient to US overstayers and that Germany, not Portugal was the real stickler for Schengen rules.

We held our breath and hoped for the best. Exiting Portugal ended up being a breeze. We just waltzed out.  Phew!

Related Story

Visas, Ai Yai Yai, The Schengen Visa

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