Last December Estonia became the first country in the world to offer “e–residency” for people interested in using its advanced digital services. Although the initiative is still in its pilot phase, figures show that it is generating strong interest worldwide.
In December 2014, the government of the Republic of Estonia launched a novel initiative called e-residency. Anybody and everybody from all over the world (EU included) can apply to become Estonia’s e-resident.
They can now get a digital identity (based on a smart ID-card) issued by the state in order to use the digital services that both public and private sector have on offer.
Although e-residency entails neither residency in traditional sense nor citizenship or not even any right to travel to Estonia/EU, more than 17,000 people have signed up to the interest list.
They are drawn by the possibility to get everything done digitally, like it has been the case for Estonian regular residents for quite some time already.
Indeed, Estonia has become known as e-Estonia because of the extent to which digital solutions have penetrated everyday life of people and companies, also public servants and ministers even.
Due to a strong digital identity and the fully legally valid digital signing it allows, Estonians literally do nearly everything digitally: sign any documents, set up a company online (and really fast – Estonia holds the world record for company registration with 18 minutes), do all banking transactions or send reports and applications to government.
Estonian citizens can even vote online for the parliament, which 31% of voters just did these past 2 weeks in latest elections.
Now such opportunities will be open for e-residents as well (except online voting perhaps). This is appealing for the rising number of digital nomads and companies out there.
60% of people interested in e-residency have signed up for business reasons. They want to be able to launch and run their company digitally, with no middlemen and little hassle on the way.
Truth be told, e-residency is still in its beta or pilot phase. Currently you can apply only in Estonia itself, plus have to visit the police and border guard service station twice (once to apply, the other to get the card). At first, only core services are open like signing, banking, business registry.
Still, close to 1,000 people have already come to apply for the e-resident ID-card and large majority already carry one in their pockets.
The reason for quick and preliminary beta launch was greater-than-expected interest by potential e-residents, once the initiative was announced. Also, Estonia is a strong start-up country (check out #Estonianmafia) and our government tries to act the same way.
We try to act and develop fast, build the services with the first users that we now have, iteratively improve and scale the offering all the time.
By end of April 2015 we will extend the application opportunities to our embassies and representations abroad, while also requiring only one visit to our offices from there-on. Applying for e-residency will become much more convenient rather soon.
Second, we are working with a variety of private sector companies and also public agencies to improve the services available to e-residents. We are improving the existing ones but more importantly launching complete new services that are useful for e-residents, in particular.
2/3 of the first 1,000 applicants hail from EU member states. 37% of first e-residents come from Finland alone. This reflects well the scope of the beta phase (you have to physically come to Estonia), plus the initial target group.
E-residency first and foremost is useful to anyone already having business or other relations with Estonia. They can now manage their investments or trade with Estonian partners or temporarily reside here more easily, handling all necessary matters online and from a distance.
At the same time, 17% of first e-residents come from Russia, 5% from Ukraine, another 4% from US and so on. Altogether some 55 countries are represented in the applicant pool, reaching well beyond EU.
This reflects the further objective and benefit of e-residency – it brings new users and companies here, at least in digital service space.
Besides making business and life more efficient and easier for our existing partners, this aim of increasing the market has been the target of Estonian government behind e-residency.
If we do not make enough babies ourselves, we can at least make Estonia bigger in digital realm! The companies from banks to digital content providers and anybody able to move part of business value creation online have now more and new users for their services, which should bring more revenue, work and tax income for the whole country.
The companies that have new opportunities do not have to born-and-bred Estonian ones only. In the Digital Single Market, these new users from outside EU can have access to the whole European digital service space as the Estonian digital identity is a trusted and accepted one.
So, we welcome partnerships with start-ups and already big players from all corners of Europe to join us in innovating services to these new e-residents.
We already see increasing interest for e-residency from entrepreneurs and other individuals in Asia, US and beyond. These are people who want to enter EU market, but are looking for a suitable gateway and highly like the ability to run their business hassle-free from a distance. Any services that benefit them in this way is more than welcome.
All the Europeans can also apply to e-residency, especially if you do not have proper digital ID on offer in your home country and if you want to make use of efficient and exciting Estonian digital services.
In the years to come, such a need should decrease though as digital IDs hopefully will be offered more in all EU member states. But you do not have to wait all this time, feel free to use the Estonian ID in the mean-time.
Our government will be happy if we reach 17,000 e-residents by beginning of 2018 when we take over EU presidency. Same time, we work under a slogan of 10 million e-Estonians, to set the ambition high and think outside-the-box.
We aim to figure out how to create services and environment that would be useful for a truly wide range of people. Then we will have truly made both Estonia and the EU Digital Single Market bigger.
You can check out more information on e-residency and sign-up to mailing list at www.e-estonia.com