For a small fee, you can become a digital Estonian. Non-citizens can apply to the country for an identity card allowing them to base businesses digitally in the Baltic state, access banking facilities and sign contracts online.
Since launching in December 2014, the e-Residency scheme has attracted over 54,000 foreign entrepreneurs from more than 160 countries, many of whom have never set foot in Estonia. It’s contributed over 17m euros in revenues to the local economy via taxes, fees and business links with Estonian companies. E-residents are taxed in Estonia or in their home countries depending on individual circumstances.
Estonia was already a digital society, with 99% of government services available online; e-Residency leverages this to export the Estonian brand and provide a service that benefits digital nomads and location-independent businesses.
Not everyone’s a fan, however. Questions have been asked about the benefits for Estonian citizens, as well as possible security risks and fraud. The programme says it exchanges tax-related information with over 100 global jurisdictions and received a clean bill of health from the OECD on anti-money laundering and tax regulations. Improvements, called e-Residency 2.0, are currently under way.
Other nations are following suit: Azerbaijan has launched its own programme offering m-Residence cards that have Asan Imza mobile ID SIM cards, which act as both card reader and secure smart card for digital signatures. As technology enables more of us to work flexibly, might nations compete to attract e-residents? Watch this space.