e-Residency of Estonia

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Estonia's first e-resident, British journalist Edward Lucas
e-Residency identity card

e-Residency of Estonia (also called virtual residency or E-residency) is a program launched by Estonia on 1 December 2014. The program allows non-Estonians access to Estonian services such as company formation, banking, payment processing, and taxation. The program gives the e-resident a smart card which they can use to sign documents. The program is aimed towards location-independent entrepreneurs such as software developers and writers. The first e-resident of Estonia was British journalist Edward Lucas; the first person to apply for and be granted e-residency through the standard process was Hamid Tahsildoost from the United States.[1][2][3][4]

Application[edit]

An application for e-residency can be made online by filling in a form, supplying a scan of a national passport and a photograph, and giving the reason for applying (which does not strongly affect the outcome of the application). Kaspar Korjus, former managing director of the e-residency program, said that applicants who had been involved in financial misbehaviour such as money laundering would be rejected. Successful applicants would be invited to an interview in Tallinn or an Estonian embassy about three months after applying, and would then, if successful, be issued with their card.[5] The certificates of the document are valid for five years, up from three years when the program was first announced.[6] After that period, if a person wishes to continue using e-services, they have to apply for a new document. The application process will be the same as when they first applied. A state fee needs to be paid again when they submit a new application.

Benefits and limitations of e-residency[edit]

E-residents will have their financial footprint monitored digitally, in a manner stated to be transparent; the reaction to the widespread financial misbehaviour at high level revealed by the Panama Papers leak was suggested to be a factor helping the more transparent Estonian initiative according to Korjus. E-residency itself does not have an effect on income taxation — neither does it establish an income tax liability in Estonia nor does it relieve from income taxation in the resident's home country.[5]

E-residency allows company registration, document signing, encrypted-document exchange, online banking, tax declaration, and fulfilment of medical prescriptions. Other services become available as the scheme is expanded.[7] A digital ID smart card issued by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board in Estonia or at an embassy is used for access to services.[8]

Korjus said that registering an Estonian business was "useful for internet entrepreneurs in emerging markets who don’t have access to an online payment provider", and for startups from countries such as Ukraine or Belarus which suffer financial limitations from their governments.[5]

E-residency is not related to citizenship and does not give the right to physically enter or reside in Estonia.[8]

Background[edit]

E-residency was led by Taavi Kotka, the vice chancellor of communications and state information systems in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.[9] Although the idea of issuing ID cards to non-residents had been discussed at least from about 2007,[10][11] and proposed again in 2012 by Estonian cybersecurity expert Anto Veldre,[12] the concrete proposal ("10 million e-residents by 2025") was presented by Taavi Kotka, Ruth Annus, and Siim Sikkut on an idea contest by Estonian Development Foundation in 2014. The project was initiated with the prize money from the contest. It is developed by a state-owned foundation, Enterprise Estonia.[13][14]

Kotka stated that, while the further goal of the project would be to gain millions of e-residents, its purpose was to increase the number of active enterprises in Estonia. The private sector must be able to develop concrete services on the legal and technical platform provided by e-residency, while the state would continue developing the legal framework according to the needs of the enterprises.[10][15] It has also been discussed in Estonian media that e-residency could be used to spread knowledge about Estonian culture online to develop cultural export.[16] By 18 January 2015, there had been applications from 225 countries, most of them from Finland (224), Russia (109), Latvia (38), the United States (34) and Great Britain (22).[17][failed verification]

A comparison can be drawn between Estonia’s e-Residency program and micronations which accept online citizenship applications.[18] The Estonian virtual residency program shows how established nations may also adopt similar strategies to micronations, providing an example of what citizenship might look like in a post-national world.[19]

Reception[edit]

In general the e-residency project was positively reviewed in the news media, being recognized for its innovativeness and potential.[20][21] Estonia's former Minister of Finance Jürgen Ligi noted in 2014 that it was as yet unclear how e-residency would bring capital to Estonia.[22] Some legal experts warn that using e-residency to incorporate a letterbox company in Estonia might under certain circumstances make that company's profits subject to double taxation, as this is a completely new legal status that has not been considered in the framework of existing international agreements to avoid double taxation.[23]

There has been international interest in different countries, with the issue being covered by media in the United States (The Atlantic [24]; The Wall Street Journal [25]; Ars Technica [26][27]), United Kingdom (The Guardian [28][29]; Wired UK [30]), Finland (Helsinki Times [31]), Australia (ABC [32]), Italia (Wired-it [33]), and others. In neighbouring Finland, it elicited some fear that e-residency might give Finnish enterprises an urge to move to Estonia.[31]

There was an increase in interest after the Panama Papers leak pointed out the need for greater transparency in offshore business. After Britain voted to leave the European Union, companies were seeking options to continue to be able to trade in euros, and others had other reasons: in the two weeks following the referendum, applications from Britain (with 616 e-residents hitherto) increased tenfold.[5]

Security concerns[edit]

In 2017, the Estonian government froze[34] the digital ID cards of the e-residency program, two months after discovering a major security flaw that could enable identity theft. ID cards that were issued between 16 October 2014, and 25 November 2017, were suspended until owners updated to a new security certificate by March 2018.

The Estonian government first revealed the original flaw in September,[35] but gave no details until much later.

Partner services[edit]

The e-residency program offers a marketplace of trusted services of potential use to businesses run using the program.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "President Ilves annab täna üle esimese e-residendi kaardi" (in Estonian). Estonian Development Foundation. 1 December 2014. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  2. ^ Eesti avab 2014. aasta lõpus oma e-teenused ülejäänud maailmale Majandus- ja kommunikatsiooniministeerium (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  3. ^ Milliste hüvede osaliseks saab Eesti esimene e-resident Edward Lucas? Eesti Päevaleht, 29 November 2014 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  4. ^ "E-residency – up against great expectations". E-Estonia.com. 13 January 2015. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Maeve Shearlaw (15 September 2016). "A Brexit bolthole? For €100 you can become an e-resident of an EU country you've never visited". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Saue, Victoria (4 May 2018). "Estonia is extending the validity period of its digital ID cards". Medium. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Estonian e-Residency - Which services can I use as an e-Resident?". e-estonia.com. Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  8. ^ a b "About e-Residency". Government of the Republic of Estonia. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Eesti infoühiskonna arengukava 2020", pp. 2, 15, 22 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  10. ^ a b Hans Lõugas Taavi Kotka: e-residentsus on üksnes vahend, vaja on paremat majanduskeskkonda Eesti Päevaleht, 14 October 2014 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  11. ^ Kallemets, Kalev (18 September 2014). "E-residentsus aitab välisinvestoreid Eestisse" (in Estonian). Läänlane. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  12. ^ Anto Veldre Infoühiskonnast hereetiliselt Postimees, 9 November 2012 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  13. ^ Indrek Kald Arengufondi ideekonkursil kolm võitjat" Äripäev, 12 June 2014 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  14. ^ "10 miljoni eestlase" idee pääses Arengufondi konkursi kolme võitja sekka ERR, 12 June 2014 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  15. ^ Taavi Kotka Kui seda ei tee Eesti, siis teeb seda keegi teine Memokraat, 13 October 2014 (in Estonian)(Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  16. ^ Ülo Pikkov E-residentsus ja Eesti virtuaalne kultuuriruum Sirp, 16 January 2015 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  17. ^ Kas e-residentsus toob rohkem venelasi Eestisse kinnisvara ostma? Äripäev (in Estonian), 6 February 2015 (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  18. ^ Bicudo de Castro, Vicente; Kober, Ralph (15 April 2019). "The Royal Republic of Ladonia: A Micronation built of Driftwood, Concrete and Bytes" (PDF). Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures. doi:10.21463/shima.13.1.10.
  19. ^ Keating, Joshua (26 June 2018). Invisible countries : journeys to the edge of nationhood. Nelson, Bill (Cartographer). New Haven. ISBN 9780300235050. OCLC 1041140240.
  20. ^ Kaupo Kask Mida kujutab endast e-residentsus? Advokaadibüroo Biin & Biin (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  21. ^ Üks küsimus Äripäev, 15 December 2014 (in Estonian) (Accessed on 6 February 2015)
  22. ^ Ligi: on ebaselge, kuidas e-residentsus raha sisse toob Postimees, 6 December 2014 (in Estonian)
  23. ^ Kärt Anna Maire Kelder E-residentsuse varjatud karid ehk mis juhtub teisest riigist juhitud äriühinguga Eesti Päevaleht, 29 November 2014 (in Estonian)
  24. ^ Uri Friedman The World Now Has Its First E-Resident The Atlantic, 1 December 2014
  25. ^ Liis Kängsepp Estonia to Offer ‘E-Residency’ to Foreigners The Wall Street Journal, 21 October 2014
  26. ^ Cyrus Farivar Estonia wants to give us all digital ID cards, make us “e-residents” Ars Technica, 8 December 2014
  27. ^ Cyrus Farivar I’m now an Estonian e-resident, but I still don’t know what to do with it Ars Technica, 22 August 2015
  28. ^ Nabeelah Shabbir Estonia offers e-residency to foreigners The Guardian, 26 December 2014
  29. ^ Anthony Cuthbertson Estonia First Country to Offer E-Residency Digital Citizenship International Business Times, 7 October 2014)
  30. ^ Ben Hammersley Why you should be an e-resident of Estonia Jul 2015)
  31. ^ a b Merle Must Estonian e-residency attracts Finnish businessmen Helsinki Times, 12 December 2014
  32. ^ Kirsten Drysdale Estonia offers e-residency to allow non-citizens access to government services and business online ABC, 25 November 2014
  33. ^ Mila Ligugnana e-residency: residenza virtuale e digitale, in Estonia è già realtà Wired-it, 17 October 2014
  34. ^ "Estonia has frozen its popular e-residency ID cards because of a massive security flaw". Business Insider. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  35. ^ Korjus, Kaspar (5 September 2017). "Here's what e-residents need to know about the potential security vulnerability". Medium. Retrieved 1 March 2018.

External links[edit]