Profitable Nomad Couple

61. International Taxes for Digital Nomads | Marchela Georgieva

October 04, 2023 Austin and Monica Mangelson
Profitable Nomad Couple
61. International Taxes for Digital Nomads | Marchela Georgieva
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Are you baffled by international tax systems? Wondering how taxes impact you as a digital nomad?

In this episode we sit down with Marcella, an experienced tax professional and a digital nomad herself. After many years of working as a private client tax consultant, she decided it was time to go after her dream of becoming location-independent. She quickly realized that this new digital nomad community has a huge need for a tax expert who lives the same lifestyle and who's able to help nomads figure out their taxes. She now helps location-independent business owners and digital nomads pay less taxes by securing tax residencies in tax-friendly countries around the world, without the stress and fear of making costly mistakes and doing it alone.

If you're ready to pay less taxes, you can send Marchela a DM on Instagram @marchela_georgieva_ or you can book a free call and chat about your current tax situation to see if you'd be a good fit to work together. You can book some time directly here: https://calendly.com/marchelageorgieva/30min

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Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the profitable Nomad Couple podcast. This is a show where we share all of our secrets about building a sustainable location independent lifestyle.

Speaker 2:

We're Austin and Monica. We're a digital nomad couple here to help you develop an entrepreneurial mindset, ignite your passions and develop a purpose driven online business.

Speaker 1:

Get ready for weekly insights and inspiring stories to empower you to live life on your own terms.

Speaker 2:

So are you ready to unlock the Nomad mindset and embrace a life of limitless possibilities? Let's dive in. Alright, welcome everybody. We are doing our second part of our tax series today. Last week you guys listened to an episode that we recorded with Crystal Pino from Nomad Tax, and she dove into all of the nitty gritty details about US taxes. And now we are super fortunate to meet with Marcella, who is going to be talking with us today about taxes outside of the United States. So welcome, marcella, to the podcast.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much, you guys, thank you for having me.

Speaker 2:

Of course, we're super happy that you could join us. We're just going to kick off by letting you introduce yourself and share a little bit about your story and how you got into taxes and what your expertise is all about.

Speaker 3:

Sure, yeah. Well, yeah, my name is Marcella, originally from Bulgaria. I left Bulgaria when I was very little. I was 17 when I went to the UK, so a lot of my professional experience is actually from the UK. I went to uni in Scotland and then after I finished uni, I did the classic route by going to London. So I went into taxes almost right away after graduation, not knowing really what I was getting myself into. But I was super excited about working with people as opposed to corporates. So I went into private client tax. So I was working with kind of individuals with multiple issues kind of around the world, and I was lots of lots of fun.

Speaker 3:

I did that for me for quite a lot of years out of the London office of price for the house and this number of years after I decided, okay, this was fun. I've learned a lot, I've met some incredible people, but I actually quite like the idea of being location dependent. When I obviously got that question out to my boss at the time that was before COVID they were like what the hell? No, we can't, we can't, we can't. Let you go in the wonder of the world and and do taxes remotely, because at that point old work was just not not a thing, especially for a big corporate like they were.

Speaker 3:

So I left, which we got hands, we said our goodbyes and very shortly after I actually realized that the community the digital, not community that I became part of, has a massive need of someone who's got tax tax knowledge but also who's living the same same lifestyle, to come in and actually demystify some of those questions around taxes and where taxes even fit in with our whole lifestyle and all in the life of all of us who run our businesses remotely. That's what. That's what I do nowadays, you know, helping people like us who have online businesses and the digital nomad life figure out their taxes and essentially lower the tax bill and the most tax efficient and, of course, legal way.

Speaker 2:

Fantastic, and thank goodness for people like you too. Because, we, when we started our online business, we discovered all these things that we didn't know about. You know doing your own taxes and it gets it gets overwhelming very quickly, and so to have people like you who enjoy it and are there specifically in the space of location, independent entrepreneurs and digital nomads to help them with their taxes, it's such a blessing, and so we're just grateful for people like you who enjoy doing this stuff.

Speaker 3:

Thank you. Yeah, I do hear that a lot, so it's it's good to to feel that there is a very big need and and yeah, like I said, I do enjoy what I do, so I'm happy.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, good, especially someone who's like living the lifestyle, because we've talked to a lot of tax people who just don't even know what to do with us. They're like you don't have an address, like what are you talking about? And they're like you have to have an address. We're like, but we don't. And they're like, well, you have to. And so it's really nice to talk to somebody who is living it, who understands it, who I don't know. It's just so, so good, and I'm so excited that you're here to help with help with our audience's taxes. So, just to kick off, why don't you tell us a little bit more about the different tax systems that there are around the world?

Speaker 3:

Sure, yeah, that's a. That's a very good question because actually not a lot of people talk about this and it's actually very fundamental what tax system is operated in the countries that people are considering potentially going to. So there are effectively three tax systems in the world. One of them will be very familiar to you guys as your US citizens, so it's the citizenship tax system, which effectively means that the authorities in in the country that operates that tax system would effectively tax you on everything, regardless of everything, based on your citizenship. So they would look at they wouldn't look at anything other than your citizenship. Effectively, they wouldn't look at where you spend your time physically, where your income comes from, what business activities you perform. They would essentially tax you on everything just based on that passport that you hold. Luckily, at the moment we only have the US and their talks around Australia as well, but the rest of the world is likely outside of that tax tax system.

Speaker 3:

So the other one that's very, very prevalent in the world is the residential tax system. With the residential tax system, the country that operates that system would effectively look at your residential status, so they would look at whether you're a tax resident or not for the particular tax year and if you were to be a resident in that tax year, they would usually tax you on the worldwide basis. So first they would look at residency are you resident, are you not? And if you are, then they say okay, well, you fall into our tax regime, so we'll tax you on the worldwide basis, which means effectively everything, all the income and assets that you have in that particular tax year will be taxable in that country.

Speaker 3:

Now the third one. The third system is very important because especially for us who are very flexible geographically, and that's the territorial tax system, With those countries that operate that tax system have this very favorable rule that they would only tax, they wouldn't look at residency, they would only tax whatever has been derived from their territory. So if, say, we take Malaysia, if you have some income coming from Malaysia, Malaysia will tax you on that income, but if you were to have income from somewhere else, all of that income outside of Malaysia will effectively be kept away from the tax system in Malaysia.

Speaker 3:

So it's a very good, effective way to safeguard everything else that you generate from other countries. So those are kind of the. Those are the three taxes that we have around the world, and which one we fall under is just very dependent on the country. Yeah, so the citizenship is mainly US territorial. With that, like we say, we've got Malaysia, we've got Georgia. The residential examples are the western countries, like all of you know France, spain, germany, that operates such a such a system.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so three tax systems we got citizenship based, residence based and territorial based. So potentially could you be paying taxes in more than one country, like, for example, if I'm living in a country that's based off of territorial tax system, so I'm taxed from that country's income, but then not from somewhere else. Can I be taxed on the income I'm making from those other countries?

Speaker 3:

Absolutely yeah. And that's the tricky bit with tax residency, because it will be very important for in that case, to look at double taxation agreements, because if there's no, if there are double taxation agreements between the two countries that are impacted, the taxation agreement will say who has the taxing rights. So that would, in those cases, you are basically saved from paying tax on the same income twice. If, however, there is no double taxation agreement between the two countries, then it becomes tricky because there isn't any law to regulate who's got the right over the income and in those cases, unfortunately, a lot, of, a lot of the times, you end up paying double tax effectively.

Speaker 3:

So tax on the same income twice, which is the scenario that we absolutely want to and have to avoid, as they just don't know much, obviously from place to place, and this becomes quite topical.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So when does that kind of come into play? Is it more like when you set up a residency somewhere, or is it like just by going there am I at risk of being taxed double E? Does that make sense?

Speaker 3:

So tax residency in itself is quite a complicated matter because different countries always have their own local tax residency rules. So if you were to go somewhere on, you know, on a two week holiday, there's no basis on which you would trigger tax residency. But, for example, if you spend a substantial amount of your time in a country say you go to Thailand and then you spend one month but then you extend it again and again and again, you end up spending quite a lot of time there Then there is a high risk that you might trigger tax residency in that country. And you know, and that could become, you know, potentially a tax, a tax issue, or sometimes, if people buy assets, that's a that's another prerequisite, if you will, in some countries to trigger potentially residency in the country.

Speaker 3:

A lot of the times it's a matter of, okay, am I tax-resigning in that country or am I not, and where does my income come from? So, for example, if you're not tax-resigning in Malaysia, like we said, but you end up working with Malaysian customers and obviously that money is Malaysian, aren't Malaysia will want to tax that money. So it's a question of effectively where your income comes from and where are you personally tax-resident. But if you just go for a short amount of time, you know, that's never really an issue. But if you start acquiring assets, incorporating companies, you know getting income locally, that's when you're spending substantial amount of your time there. That's when you have to look out, consult the local tax rules and actually see okay, at what point do I actually break tax residency in that particular country?

Speaker 2:

And I would assume that each country kind of has their own criteria for like how long you have to be there or how much you make in order to be considered a tax resident. Is that right?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that's the. That's the annoying bit of it, because every single person has its own rules.

Speaker 3:

So, yeah, we have this myth around the community that as long as you don't you know, spend over 183 days, then you're safe because you don't hit the 183 days. So you know you don't, as presumably, become tax resident. Unfortunately, it's not as as clear as that. Otherwise it would have been very nice and simple. But sometimes, you know, you trigger residency after 60 days, sometimes 180 days. Some countries don't even look at your data, they don't even look at your days present at all. So it's a very country specific thing and that's why it's so complicated, because a lot of people assume that they know the 183 days and they kind of disregard anything else, assuming that they're safe because you know if they leave on the 180 day, they say, okay, I'm good.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, wow, that's a lot more complicated than I even realized at all. Again, super glad that you're here to help us untangle this a bit. So one of the cool things about being a little nomad, though, is you can strategically pick your tax residency, so just give us an overview of a couple of countries that would be really interesting from a tax perspective for people who are location independent to base their tax residency out of.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so there's actually a lot of options out there. It's a very interesting question and it's and that's the reason why I love what I do because there's just so many options out there and, depending on what you're looking for, different countries will make sense. So, for example, a lot of people go to Dubai. You know, until you hit a certain threshold corporations, corporations tax being 9% everything else is basically at zero. So that makes sense for a lot of people who effectively are looking for a tax haven. But you know, in a place that has a good infrastructure, you know market is vibrant, there's a lot of opportunities, community is there. But obviously Dubai doesn't make sense, for it makes sense for a lot of people, but it also doesn't make sense for a lot of them. You know, with cost of living being what it is, you know it is a good option and a lot of people do go there, but you know it's just one of many.

Speaker 3:

Georgia is a very good option as well. The territorial system, a tax system. You can effectively safeguard everything else that doesn't come into from within Georgia. So that could be a good option to to safeguard internet outside of the country, incomes, incomes or assets, and you know, on the sudden comes the conditions. You could also end up paying just one cent of tax, which is pretty advantageous.

Speaker 3:

Now other countries, their countries in Europe. They are also pretty good for people that are looking for a slightly lower tax bill. For example, bulgaria has become very, very popular because taxes flat at 10%. Dividend is at 5% flat again, which is, you know, it's a residential tax system there, but at least the tax is at a pretty good low rate that a lot of people say, okay, this makes sense and cost of living is pretty low. Community is really active, so that's also a good option. There's also, of course, malta and Cyprus that are becoming good options for some people, especially those looking to set up companies. They're also working as freelancers and you know, across South America you've got Panama, which which is a very popular choice as well.

Speaker 3:

But again, like there's, there's a lot of options and what makes best sense really depends on what kind of like business you do, how you extract your money, how you, how comfortable you are with the tax goes and what you're actually looking for. Are you looking for a 0% or are you comfortable with 10%, but you know, having access to good healthcare? Do you even care about the? You know the lifestyle in the country, or are you just trying to, you know, set up a base but not live your life there?

Speaker 3:

So there's a lot of things that matter and actually was becoming more and more important is actually the, this requirement of physical presence. A lot of us want to just hope from place to place and not really commit to spending a lot of time in a place. So for a lot of my clients, this idea of having a base but also not spending, you know, half of the year anywhere is becoming very important and, you know, quite attractive to look at places where they could get tax residency, but, you know, without spending too much time, or, you know, buying properties and stuff like that. So lots of options, lots of lots of options, which is which gives us a lot of opportunities to be creative in all the legal ways.

Speaker 2:

Yeah well, thanks for sharing that list. I think that will give people a really good place, like a launchpad, for them to start looking up those countries and seeing if that's a good fit for them.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. I like your point. The tax system is one thing to take into consideration when you're figuring out where to live. On top of several other things, like, you got to find out what's best for you, and the tax thing is just one of them. It's not the end all be all, but it's nice to have that list, you know, as a launchpad, a starting point, and then people can go do their own research and or, even better yet, reach out to you and have you help them figure it out for them.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely Sure. That's the beauty of this lifestyle that it suddenly opens up so many opportunities to make, you know, not only lifestyle decisions, but also financial decisions, which can obviously, like, lower the tax bills but, you know, make our businesses grow so much faster. So, yeah, it's an amazing time to be able to live this lifestyle and have all these opportunities across the world really to base ourselves and our companies from.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, definitely. So I know, when it comes to making money online, there's a couple different formats to do it and I guess you can have like a legit set up established business. Again, I don't really know what it looks like outside the states and the states we have like an LLC or an S court, or you can just be a sole proprietor or you can just be like an independent contractor and you don't have like a formal established business. So, looking at these different types of ways to be running your business, like how does that change your tax situation?

Speaker 3:

Again, it would very much depend on the country, but the one thing that's clear is that tax rates will be very different. So normally the personal income tax rates that are payable, for example, by freelancers would be significant, again depending on the country, but generally they will be significantly higher than corporate tax rates. So obviously there's a consideration there as to whether it just makes sense for a freelancer to continue to be a freelancer once a certain threshold of income has passed. So, yeah, tax rates are a very big one From there on, I mean depending on the country. Again, there's more and more incentives for companies, especially for small companies, when they incorporate, in terms of you know how some countries would have tax breaks for small businesses. Or, you know, for the first X amount of years they would offer preferential rates. Or, you know, ability to expense certain expenses which otherwise you wouldn't be able to expenses allow both such. So a very ever so slightly.

Speaker 3:

But I would say that those are kind of the two main aspects, that that would differentiate quite a bit, the two things I mean. Obviously, with a company you'd have, you know, a bit more admin, but there you'd have the, you know, an accountant who looks after all of that for you generally. So you know when you have. When it comes to, you know, filing your VAT returns or you know annual corporate returns, someone can just, you know, pick that up full easy. You don't have to do it yourself. But, generally speaking, admin can be a little bit more hefty for companies but again, generally speaking, the tax bill being that much lower actually makes sense. You know, for countries like Bulgaria, for example, where flats, where taxes flat, the 10%, you know there is a little bit more of a discussion. Okay, this makes sense to incorporate.

Speaker 3:

But a lot of people do go for the for the corporation, the company, because because of the limited liability that was the whole idea because you know having companies in that you don't become liable. You know if some, if someone wants to raise a claim, you don't. You're not liable yourself with everything that you own, but you know, if you was through a company, the company can only be liable to whatever it's got. So it gives you that cushion that whatever happens, you're secure, you're personally secure, that's you know. Nothing can, you can't be whole, you can't be held reliable with. You know to the extent of everything that you've got which is pretty important, you know, depending on what business you're running, how material. That is Gotcha Okay.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so one of my main takeaways from this conversation is that taxes are super, super nuanced, depending on each person's individual setup, I guess, and the way they want to live their life and the business and all the all the things. Right, there's so many factors that go into it, but I'd be really curious to hear, like, if someone's coming to you, what are the first three things that you look at when determining what would be the best tax situation for that person.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so the first thing that we talk about is what are their tax goals? So what are they actually trying to achieve? Like a lot of people would come to me, especially from the high tax countries like the UK, spain and Germany, and they're paying, you know, 50% of tax. The first thing that we, that we kind of discuss, is okay. So what are you actually trying to achieve tax wise? Like, are you looking to reduce that to 30%, 20%, 10%, zero, like, what is your personal target there? Because that is very personal and you know some people are completely against paying any tax and that's totally cool. Others are happy with, you know, even 10%, or even you know, 10% of the of the sentences that they pay is already pretty substantial. So we'll talk about you know what that personal tax goal is for them. We didn't look at the quality of lifestyle that they want to have around that new tax setup. So, like I said before, without tax, without, without digital nomad life, a lot of people just have a different idea of what kind of you know tax base they're looking for. You know, some people are looking for a place where they can just, you know, optimize their tax situation and, you know, have a tax residence, somewhere, to just have a tax residence, somewhere where you know, without having to start just to spend as much time there physically. Others are literally looking for a place to go home, you know, for six months of the year because they're tired of, you know, traveling and hoping from place to place all the time. They want somewhere where they can say, okay, this is my home base, I'm here for the majority, or like at least half of the year, and the rest of the time I travel and, you know, do my digital nomad thing. So we go through that conversation to see, yeah, what it means for them to move, like, are we looking for, are we looking for, a place where they will be living their life for a little bit? Or just you know, you know just a tax strategy that is optimizing things for them in a way that doesn't constrain them physically as much.

Speaker 3:

And then we look at the things that. So if they were to actually base themselves out of a country X, we'd look at the things that matter for them. So, for example, we look at insurance, like, do they want to be insured in the? Do they want to be part of the system? And do they care about pension? Do they care about social security? Do they care about all of these things that they would normally come if you are based from a country X, we also look at, for example, if they were to come from a country like the UK, spain or Germany. We also look at the connection with that home country, like, do they want to completely cut off ties with that country? Do they have some, you know, financial portfolios or whatever in that country they might want to keep? So really, those three things are the benchmark about conversations, because that really sets the tone as to what are we even looking for. And once we have those three points nailed down, we have a much clear picture of what they're looking for, both tax-wise but also quality of life-wise.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that totally makes sense. Thanks for laying that out for us.

Speaker 2:

Sure, I wish that everybody could have a little pocket. Marchella, have you helped them figure out their taxes and answer other questions? But unfortunately not everybody does or can. So for those digital nomads who are trying to tackle their tax situation on their own, what are some common mistakes that you've seen people make and then how can they avoid those?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So that's a very good question and I think we touched upon one of those earlier when we talked about this myth around the 183-day rule. So a lot of people unfortunately made that mistake of thinking oh, the 183-day is universal, it applies wherever I go and as long as I don't stay up on the 183-day, it's anywhere I'm happy. Unfortunately, sometimes that could lead to quite a lot of risk of countries potentially making inquiries into people's tax residency. Accident of tax residences do happen quite a lot and if you end up having this tax accident in a place that has, for example, the residential tax system, it could be quite financially impactful in a way that you could potentially become liable to tax on your worldwide income and gains and the tax bill obviously around that could be quite substantial. So I think this assumption and this myth, if you will, around the 183-day rule is the one thing that I strongly encourage people to not take for granted but to always consult the local tax rules, because it really isn't, unfortunately, as clear as it is and mistakes do happen and if they do happen they can be quite painful financially. So I strongly encourage people to look at those local tax rules just to be sure that they're safe. Otherwise, other mistakes I see a lot of people do is they just don't do anything. A lot of times you just put it somewhere very low on your to-do list and you just don't look at it because it's scary, it's overwhelming and it's just so confusing that a lot of people just decide to do nothing and a lot of the times those are people. I mean, there are people that do that from all sorts of backgrounds and countries of residency. But it's particularly painful to see when the country is concerned is a high tax country like France, australia, germany, whatever Because those people really suffer so much tax and especially if they live the lifestyle that we do where they don't even spend much of the year in that country. It is just a little bit like money down the drain because you can never really make the most of those services that you pay for and you effectively pay for a bill that doesn't serve you in any way. So I get that people don't want to deal with it because it's complicated and whatever. But sometimes doing nothing just costs so much money, and if it's for a year that's fine, but I have some. Sometimes I talk to people who have just done nothing for years and years and when they look back and see how much they could have saved, they're not happy for not making a decision to do something about it and change their tax residency. So that is actually very, very, very common and completely avoidable, especially if you don't live in the country anymore. So that's something that I strongly encourage people to look at.

Speaker 3:

Otherwise, a very common other mistake that a lot of us well, digital nomads do is they kind of copy each other. So you've got your. I hear this over and over again of clients coming to me and just say, oh yeah, my best buddy did this, moved to Cyprus. So I just followed the crowd and it works, but not for a long time, because it's like we mentioned so many times already tax is such a personal thing and it is fine to copy.

Speaker 3:

But unfortunately it's very unlikely that the situations are so identical that it makes perfect sense for two people to move to the same country.

Speaker 3:

Sometimes it is true, and a lot of people, of course, move to the same country. That's why we have those hotspots of places that make sense for a lot of us to move our tax residency, but unfortunately, a lot of people just kind of go after what the people that they know around them have done and kind of disregard all other options out there because that's the best, the closest they could get to trustworthy sort of inside of where to go and they just go with it and, like I said, it works. But there's so many options out there that it's very possible that if you just copy you're not making the best decision for yourself, because taxes are different, like we said, everywhere, and depending on the situation, some country might work better, some country may not be as optimal. So yeah, I really hope that people would kind of break away from that pattern of just going after what their immediate close circle of friends are doing. Be full consulting with someone who can help them decide to go to that particular country makes the best sense for them.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I love that lesson because I think that applies not just to your taxes, but Monica and I talk about that in business in general, we see a lot of people and we did this a lot too, when we were just getting started copying other businesses how they do their website, their branding, or how they do their marketing or how they set up their offers and you try and mimic other people. But taxes and business are both very individualized and maybe there's something better for you out there, and figuring out the best personalized solution is a better way to go. So I think that's it Very good. Applicable lesson.

Speaker 1:

So let's say, some of our listeners are now really convinced that they need to hire you and they need to talk to somebody about the best tax situation for them. How can, how can people work with you? How can they get in touch with you?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, sure, instagram is definitely my go-to place. It's where I post my content, it's where all my clients essentially find me, it's the place to get in touch if people have questions or they want to jump on a call. So, definitely Instagram. I mean you probably have it linked somewhere in the notes to the podcast by Marcella Lower dash underscore, that's right. Yeah, underscore your Giva underscore and then you see quite a lot of content out there on different tax systems around the world. If they have a question, they can message me. I'm pretty responsive and we can jump on a free call if they have any questions that they want to talk through. But yeah, that's definitely the main point of contact.

Speaker 1:

Awesome and I definitely encourage all of the listeners to reach out to Marcella. She's obviously a wealth of knowledge and taxes are so stressful they just strike fear in the hearts of most people. So if you are like most people, definitely reach out to her. She can help you so much and just take that off your plate for you, which is incredible.

Speaker 2:

Well, thank you so much, Marcella, for helping us answer some of these tax questions and for sharing all this with us, and we definitely will have those links provided in the show notes for people to click on and get easy access to you.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely I'd love to. I always love chatting with people that are in any stage of this journey. You know, sometimes I talk to people who are just beginning their journey, sometimes people that are already a few steps ahead and have their own business already set up. So, yeah, I'm pretty open to having conversations with anyone who is like a little bit I'm not sure what to do with my national taxes. I just need some guidance and some help, and I can definitely help people with questions but also figuring out what is the best country to find a tax home effectively, in a way that people feel supported, in a way that doesn't feel overwhelming and confusing, in a way that you don't have to deal with, you know, five different people at a time. It's quite a personalized kind of service that I aim to provide. So, yeah, very happy to chat to anyone who's got questions and thank you so much, you guys, for having me and for having this fun tax conversation.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, of course. Thank you so much.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it was pleasure, thank you.

Speaker 2:

Thanks so much for joining us here on the profitable Nomad Couple podcast. We appreciate you listening to us today.

Speaker 1:

If you enjoyed this episode, share it on Instagram and be sure to tag us. At Austin and Monica, together, we can inspire others to embrace a location independent lifestyle.

Speaker 2:

And while you're there, we'd love to connect with you, so make sure you follow us for more tips and inspiration on living your dream location independent lifestyle.

Speaker 1:

Until next week. Remember that you have the power to shape your own path. So stay curious, stay adventures and stay connected.

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