In June 2018 while reading articles on Blockchain technology, I came across an article detailing Estonia's e-Residency programme. I was fascinated to discover the programme is specifically tailored for online entrepreneurs and digital nomads running solo businesses.
Having the intention of starting an online business but not wanting to be geographically limited to one country, with the freedom to travel whilst running the business, this programme demanded further research. I havent been disappointed.
I discovered you could apply for a Government issued digital ID card, and once received incorporate a fully registered and financially transparent EU solo company within Estonia. Company formation also included access to European banking services.
Although never becoming an actual citizen, with e-Residency a digital business owner could become a virtual resident of Estonia with all of the benefits the digital ID card and business incorporation provides. Here was the freedom to start and run a global EU company entirely online from anywhere of your choosing.
Now before reading further please understand I am not an international taxation specialist nor an expert on international business incorporation. This is my experience of becoming an Estonian e-Resident. Furthermore, e-Residency does not enable citizenship, residence or right of entry to Estonia or the European Union.
So why would you want to become an Estonian e-Resident?
I must admit prior to reading that article I'm embarrased to say I had zero knowledge of Estonia. Which is pretty shocking as I generally think my worldwide geographic knowledge is quite good! Without consulting a map I only had a vague idea the country was in Northern Europe somewhere.
I soon found out that this nation bordering the Baltic Sea is a progressive technological powerhouse.
I didnt know for example Skype is an Estonian success story and Transferwise has significant Estonian connections.
In the early 90s Estonia decided to embrace the new possibilities of emerging internet technology and build a digital nation from scratch. Today the country is the worlds first digital nation using blockchain technology to maintain the integrity of its networks, ensuring they are free from compromise. A few years ago the Government e-Residency programme was created. An international e-Resident can;
- Start a EU based digital business completely remotely without the need to travel.
- Use the Digital ID card to sign and encrypt documents.
- Utilize an e-Residency approved business partnership company for a turn key solution to business administation and accountancy.
The e-Residency application is a one page document completed entirely online (of course). The application is sent directly to the Estonian Police and Border Control who conduct the background check on applicants.
so in late June thinking this would be beneficial down the road when I started an online business, I applied.
The application was pretty seamless, secure online application, together with a copy of Government issued ID, passport style photograph, and the state fee of 100 Euro paid by credit card. The application also contains a motivation statement as reason for wanting to become an e-Resident. This can be the intention to start an EU online business accessing the benefits of e-Residency, or simply being a fan of the programme. Selecting the Estonian Embassy in the country where you're currently residing is required in order to collect the Digital ID card once application is processed and approved.
Once the confirmation of application is received, the Estonian Police and Border Control conducts the background check and confirms the completion of this via email. Processing and background check usually takes 6-8 weeks but my confirmation was received in less than 2 weeks. All very professional and hassle free.
In July 2018 I made an appointment with the Estonian embassy and after showing my passport and having fingerprints taken was in possession of my Digital ID card pack.
The card pack contained the actual card, pin codes for certain functionality; digital signature signing or encryption. As well as a usb port holder for use of the card in a laptop/computer.
Having become an e-Resident of Estonia it was just a case of downloading the programme software onto my laptop and confirming the Digital ID was active.
What e-Residency is not
- An entity for tax avoidance.
Corporate taxes and personal taxes for your EU registered company will need to be paid. All corporate taxes and accountancy can be handled by your chosen business service provider approved by the e-Residency programme (there are many good ones to choose from.) Personal taxes such as a drawing of a salary or company dividends will have to be paid by yourself in your country of residency. Or current country of travel in the case of digital nomads. It's wise to research and seek the advice of a qualified tax advisor in your own country in regards to this. The good news is Estonia currently ranks first in the International Tax Competitiveness Index. Entrepreneurs can pay business taxes entirely online.
- A system for money laundering or anything remotely criminal.
Anyone with criminal intentions should immediately stop considering this programme as an option. The Estonian Police and Border Control conduct background checks on applicants and are applicants first online port of call. The e-Residency programme is an EU trusted and financially transparent Government programme making it easier for law abiding entrepreneurs to establish and run solo online businesses or start ups. It most definitely does not provide a system to create a money laundering or shady offshore tax avoidance type structure.
With e-Residency your business will be established in Estonia (legal requirement) as a trusted EU entity with access to EU banking services, but can be run remotely from wherever your location may be.
See if it works for you
In all consideration if you are a digital entrepreneur, digital nomad or freelancer and the idea of establishing an EU based business which can be run remotely from anywhere in the world seems appealing, then consider becoming an e-Resident. There may be many advantages to this depending on your particular situation, future plans or travel destinations.
As an e-Resident I havent yet established an Estonian EU business, but it is a strong consideration for 2019. There is appeal and ease in operation when the business administration is conducted remotely and soley online. I dont have any affiliation to the e-Residency programme or their approved business service providers, but I have found the set up to be impressively tailored toward the digital entrepreneur.
At the moment and depending on which business service provider is used, in order to open an EU IBAN bank account, travel to the capital Talinn is required. For face to face account creation and signatures. However according to developments within the e-Residency programme this may be conducted remotely in the future. There are also regulated Fintech firms operating as approved programme partners which offer remote IBAN account opening.
As a digital entrepreneur or location independent digital nomad this may be the solution to your business set up. If travelling and working or considering emigrating in the future, establishing an EU company online which can be remotely run worldwide does remove the complication of a financial emigration from one country to the next.
It all depends on your needs and preferences.