Estonia is the first country to offer an e-Residency Program. After the pandemic, the government launched several initiatives to provide equal and inclusive opportunities benefiting from digital infrastructures and distributed work.
Known as the ‘startup country’ – we highly recommend you the movie ‘Chasing Unicorns’ – Estonia promotes a transparent business environment to build a digital identity for all.
Here is an interview with program founders and organizers Katrin Vega and Meliissa Palopea about the e-Residency to learn more about the program and how to start a career as a location-independent entrepreneur in the country!
In conversation with Katrin Vega and Meliisa Palipea about the Estonian e–Residency Program:
1. To start, could you introduce yourself and your role within the organization?
Our startup started as a crazy idea eight years ago – actually, it did start in a car!
Estonia has a vibrant and established startup scene – I think we are one of the top six countries for the fastest-growing startup scene. This time, however, we also had government support. One very entrepreneurial former Estonia Chief of Information Officer, and his successor, supported the project.
Initially, we were only four or five people working on the program. But we could use existing digital infrastructures – they were already in place for 20 years. And by making a few tweaks, we were able to launch and run the program.
In addition, we had to adjust the legal and administrative framework for the E-Residency program. For example, we worked to make accessible our digital systems. Unlike a travel document, a digital identification document gives you access to any Estonian service from abroad. We can guarantee one of the highest security systems because it is built on blockchains. The system can pull data together and create an easy way to manage financial administration for everyone.
2. What is the Estonian e-Residency about? What’s the main goal of the program?
The Estonian e-Residency Program is a part of our mission to attract more talent and professionals to Estonia. Our country has a dynamic startup scene, and we wanted to expand the Estonian economy with more diversity and variety. So, we decided to make the system accessible also for non-residents.
Our government has been improving digital infrastructures since here to build a digital society. In Estonia, a citizen or resident can do everything online, from declaring taxes to prescriptions and health insurance. This system is particularly convenient for remote workers or location-independent entrepreneurs because they can manage everything online.
Our system’s digital identity (ID) is more important than the address. So, we thought to benefit from our digital infrastructures to welcome foreign entrepreneurs. They can start a company or launch a startup remotely without moving to the country or the need to open a headquarter. Our security systems in one of the safest in the world, and the program creates the opportunity to launch a professional business containing budgets from everywhere in the world.
3. When did the program start and how did it go so far?
The program started a few years ago. Since then, we have seen applications increasing over the years, primarily from Italy and Spain.
The idea started creating a channel for those doing business in Estonia but traveling a lot and maybe didn’t have an address. So, we want to open new ways for them to contribute to the country and keep their freedom to move.
Initially, most applications were from people already dealing with Estonian companies or startups. After the pandemic, remote workers, medium enterprise founders, freelancers, and digital nomads joined the list. And now, the E-residency is very popular among different groups.
Over the years, our community has grown, and people are often very attached to Estonia. The local environment is very supportive, and people can see the opportunities the future brings. Entrepreneurship is way more convenient in Estonia than in most countries. There is an established culture for startups and digital businesses. Also, paper works here are fully digitalized and easy to manage from abroad, unlike most other places!
4. Estonia is one of the most active countries when it comes to tech projects and startups. What’s unique about the country for a new location-independent entrepreneur?
Thanks to our digital system, the Tax office space has everything you need, and you can manage your taxes and bank accounts from the same app.
You don’t need any letter or physical proof that you live in Estonia to launch a start-up and start the whole process. Especially for tech businesses and digital marketing agencies, the program is very convenient because they don’t need to include additional licenses.
You can start a company, hire board members, register with the tax office, and run the company from your laptop. For example, crypto or financial businesses, or touristic services, need a license. But the process is still easier and faster than in many other countries.
5. Why would you recommend applying for your program?
One of the things that make us proud is our system. The Estonian business environment is transparent, and we invite entrepreneurs to participate in a healthy and dynamic ecosystem.
For example, if you have doubts about a company, you can check any detail on the Estonian business registry, checking debts, investments, and everything you need to know. We want to promote a different example for businesses, based on cooperation and transparency, to be open to know opportunities. For this reason, most of our documents are in English.
6. Looking at your residents so far, do you think opening more channels for digital entrepreneurs and startups can support local and international businesses?
We like to think about how the E-residency program can empower entrepreneurs worldwide and create new opportunities. We have E-residents from 176 countries and citizens from different places everywhere. Initially, we believed that our main target would have been in Europe. But over time, we received applications everywhere, especially over the last 3-4 years, showing how much the interest for this type of adoption is shared worldwide. So, yes, we believe that launching more projects like this is a strategy to support international and local businesses.
7. Remote work and long restrictions changed how people see the workplace. Do you think promoting digital businesses can be an effective strategy to achieve more equality and inclusion?
The citizens are for the government. But it’s also the opposite way around right?
Attracting foreign founders and non-resident entrepreneurs isn’t new. Every country is doing it, especially with visa arrangements. But it’s true we offer one of the most accessible systems for businesses worldwide. For example, costs include a fixed amount for E-residency digital ID around €130, also depending on the original taxation system, and a fixed fee of €265. If you don’t need specific licenses like freelancers or digital companies, you need a very low budget to open a company.
Thanks to the program, E-residents have found it or are among the founders of 30% of the Estonian start-up ecosystem, contributing to our economy. And businesses can open a market channel in Europe. So, yes, promoting channels for digital business is a strategy to create more inclusive opportunities.
8. What are your future plans for the e-Residency?
For the future, we will continue promoting E-residency to open new opportunities for residents. For example, we are receiving a lot of applications from Ukraine. And we want to support people in finding stability even if they had to escape from their own country or keep moving around. Also, we know that is important to promote remote work opportunities to support a better work-life balance. So, that’s our mission!