What is E-Residency? How to Obtain E-Residency in Estonia?

Estonia (Eesti) is a small country in Northern Europe that sits south of Finland, across the Baltic Sea from Sweden, just north of Latvia, and just west of Russia. It’s estimated that 1.3 million people call this country home, which makes it one of the least-populous member states of the European Union, Eurozone, NATO, OECD, and the Schengen Area. The official language is Estonian, and the capital, which doubles as the country’s largest city, is Tallinn.

More importantly, though, Estonia is the world leader in digital governance and a founding member of Digital 5 (D5), a global network of leading digital governments. In fact, in December 2014, Estonia became the first country in the world to introduce the concept of e-Residency.

What does that mean?

As the name suggests, e-Residency gives foreigners the ability to apply for a secure digital residency in Estonia, even though they don’t actually live there.

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How does it work?

e-Residents are given a digital ID card that contains a special chip. This card enables them to use Estonian public and private sector services and resources, sign documents remotely, and encrypt files.

The security and simplicity of Estonia’s e-Residency program has become a success story all over the world. Media outlets swarmed as soon as the program started, allowing people to sign up to be notified of an official launch. Within 24 hours, people in 168 different countries signed up for an official notification. Then, when the formal application process actually began, more than 6,000 people applied.

So far, some of the world’s biggest names are among the list of Estonian e-Residents – including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki, and Timothy Draper from the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

While e-Residency is a new concept, the idea of a government-issued digital ID card is not. In fact, Estonians have been using these cards for more than a decade. Since Estonia is often called “e-Estonia” because of its technological advances, it made perfect sense to expand this digital ID service to the rest of the world. By extending virtually every public and private sector transaction to people in other countries, Estonia has created long-term value in the idea of secure digital identities, especially when it comes to commercialized Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

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The motivation behind e-Residency is simple – to create a country without borders.

“What we aim to do is to create a worldwide virtual business environment, where people from both the developed and developing countries can easily become entrepreneurs and start doing business anywhere in the world. Physical national borders and restrictions will no longer present an obstacle. You can start a business, open bank accounts, make transactions, sign contracts and even declare taxes, all on your computer,” said Kaspar Korjus, Estonian e-Residency Program Director.

The main goal of the e-Residency program is to make life and business significantly easier for freelancers, digital nomads, business owners, international partners, and any other non-resident who has a relation to Estonia. Whether you want to start a business, expand your business, make investments, or study in the European Union, Estonian e-Residency makes it both possible and simple.

As an e-Resident, you’ll be able to:

  • Establish and run a company online
  • Conduct your banking online e.g. make electronic bank transfers
  • Have access to international payment service providers
  • Digitally sign documents (annual reports, contracts) within the company as well as with external partners
  • Verify the authenticity of signed documents
  • Encrypt and transmit documents securely
  • Declare taxes online
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How can you apply for Estonian e-Residency?

All you have to do is fill out the online application form. Once you do, the Estonian Police and Border Guard will do a background check. Once your application is approved, you’ll choose where you want to pick up your digital ID card. You can select one of the 38 Estonian embassies and consulates around the world, or you can go to an Estonian Police and Border Guard Station.

Once your digital ID card arrives at your chosen pickup location, you’ll need to personally collect it. In order to do this, you’ll need to show valid travel documents for your country of nationality and submit your fingerprints for verification.

Ready to start the process?

  1. Read more from the official e-Residency website.
  2. Fill out the online application form. You’ll need to upload your photos, describe your purpose for applying, and pay the €100 e-Residency state fee.
  3. Once your application has been submitted, you’ll need to wait about 10 business days for the background check to be completed.
  4. After you verify your identity at the pickup location, you’ll get a starter kit which contains your digital ID card and a smart card reader.

The whole process should take two to four weeks, depending on the pickup location you choose and the number of waiting applicants.

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What happens once you receive your digital ID card?

You’ll be able to digitally identify yourself – meaning that you can digitally sign documents, authenticate documents, and encrypt documents for three years. You’ll be able to enjoy all of the convenience and ease that Estonian residents have been taking advantage of for a decade!

Just remember, your Estonian e-Residency card is not a physical ID card, and it can’t be used as a travel document. It also doesn’t grant you citizenship, tax residency, residence permit of rights, or entry into Estonia or the rest of the European Union.

But why would you want to run your business in Estonia in the first place?

Just as you might switch your traditional bank to one with a modern and easy-to-use mobile app like Monese or N26, we here at LeapIN (together with the the Estonian public sector) share the vision that you’ll benefit greatly from switching your business to a country with minimal bureaucracy, fewer administrative hassles, and an infrastructure that is easy to use remotely.

Specifically, you’ll get:

  • A presence in the EU single market, as a trusted member of the European Union business community
  • Access to international payments providers like Google, PayPal etc
  • A trusted and transparent business entity that’s been incorporated through a simplified setup process
  • Access to a simple and fair tax system – 0% corporate income tax as long as you keep your profit earned in the company or reinvest it into growing your business.
  • Full remote control – secure access to your bank and company data via e-Residency, regardless of your location
  • Paperless administration
  • Digital signature and encryption tools that come with a guaranteed high level of security
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