Estonia is a small Baltic country on its way to become a major business hub thanks to e-Residency. What is e-Residency though? The short answer is that it is a secure government-issued digital ID card. The long answer? Read the article to find out.
How e-Residency came to be
To understand how the e-Residency program came to be, you have to understand the country behind it. Estonia is a country that has a distinct and proud culture. It is a country that values democracy more than most because it has known oppression. It is a country that is working hard to unite its people because it knows the price of division. It is a country that has chosen to move forward and be a force for optimism and progress when others in the region are still struggling to let go of their past. It is this positive attitude, forward thinking culture and a desire to be a more inclusive society that laid the government to introduce the e-ID card in 2002. The goal of the e-ID program was to make life easier for citizens and increase participation in the democratic process by allowing all cardholders to securely authenticate themselves online. Services taking advantage of the card soon appeared letting cardholders not only vote online but also check into hospitals, form companies, pay their taxes, use public transportation, open bank accounts etc. The program became a massive success and this led the government to asked itself: what if we issued those cards to everyone, not just citizens? What would be the benefits/risks for Estonia and for the cardholders? The debate took years but they eventually came to the conclusion that the benefits outweighed the risks and in 2014 the e-Residency program was unveiled and launched. In my opinion, e-Residency is the biggest thing to happen to the internet since social media. It has the potential to not only create new opportunities and make our life easier but also to bring trust back into the equation.
What it can do for you
Currently you can register a company online within a day, pay taxes, sign documents and conduct banking operations. In the future, you may also be able to open a business bank account remotely for your Estonian company. While this list is rather short, it is important to understand that e-Residency is a platform that is still in its infancy. What it can do for you today is not really the point, what it can do for you tomorrow is.
What it cannot do
Becoming an e-Resident will not grant you tax residency in Estonia, it will not give you the right to live or travel there and it certainly is not a path to citizenship. There is no photo on the card so it cannot be used as a photo ID either.
Who is it for
While in the future it will probably become a “must-have” for everyone (I hope so), right now digital nomads and online entrepreneurs are those who stand to benefit most from the program. Estonia has a decent IT talent pool, competitive wages, is part of the EU and most importantly it has no company income tax. Think about the advantages for your business! People from developing countries also stand to benefit as they can now own and operate a business and a bank account in a safe, law abiding EU country.
How to get started
It is very easy, simply apply here and follow the instructions on screen. It cost 100€ and you should get an answer within a month. You will need to visit an Estonia embassy or consulate to pick-up your card if you are approved.
My own experience with Estonia
As you have probably noticed from my narrative, I am quite a fan of Estonia. I have been ever since I first visited in 2010 and the e-Residency program has just reinforced this. I will be honest with you, I did not know anything about Estonia before I went. At the time I was backpacking around Europe and had just visited Lithuania and Latvia. I ended up spending almost a month in the country and had an absolute blast. I couchsurfed for the whole time and visited Tallinn, Tartu, Parnu and the countryside. The locals were all incredibly friendly, most spoke English and the place just had this vibe that is hard to describe. Before visiting the country I though, what can such a small country offer? Well the answer is a lot! Between the sauna parties, the visits to multiple bogs (you read that right!), the evenings drinking beer around camp fires, swimming in the sea, the festivals, the dares (I crossed the damn bridge in Tartu!), the history lessons, the architecture and the delicious home cooked food I was not bored for a second. My advice? Visit Estonia. It will blow your mind and those who know me know that I do not say that often.