Estonia’s innovative and ambitious e-residency project takes an important step

Last year the small European country of Estonia did something unique: It has started to offer a virtual residency to people from all around the world at no costs (other than an administration fee during registration) – no matter whether they have any actual connection to the country. The e-residency gives access to a broad selection of e-government services – the same which actual Estonians use as well. The only major differences are that an e-resident cannot vote, does not receive the right to physically live in Estonia and does not get an Estonian passport.

I have been planning to become an e-resident since the launch of the initiative. However, until today, the application process involved a visit to a Police and Border Guard Office in Estonia. While this would be a great opportunity to visit the Baltic country in the Northeast of Europe, it has not really fitted into my travel schedule.

As of tomorrow, the requirement of showing up in Estonia to obtain an e-residency disappears. Today I received an email announcing that a visit to most Estonian embassies and consular offices around the world is now sufficient for the application. The date April 1 might not be the perfect choice for a news like that, but I am pretty sure this is no April Fool’s joke.

Here is a list of all the embassies and consular offices that will process the application.


Where one can become an Estonian e-resident

As noted on the site, until May two visits will be necessary. One to apply and one to pick up the card. But the team of e-Estonia is working on an online application site which is scheduled to go live in May and which will make the first visit obsolete. The application fee is 80 Euro (compared to 50 Euro if you apply in Estonia).

I have no idea if I ever will be in need of Estonia’s e-gov service. As a permanent resident in Sweden I have the privilege of already being able to enjoy solid e-gov services. However, as a native German, I experienced a lot government bureaucracy and I know how limiting this can be for individuals (and businesses). So I’m sure there will be some demand.

According to the e-Residency Program Director Kaspar Korjus, 1.274 people have visited a Police and Border Guard office in Estonia to apply for e-Residency since December. With today’s news, this number most likely will increase significantly.

I am excited about what Estonia is doing here for two reasons. First, I personally might benefit from it one day. Second, and more importantly, I find the whole philosophy behind this move to be noteworthy. As a tiny country without a lot of natural resources (but with a “noisy” neighbor called Russia), Estonia chose to turn its well-known e-government experience into an export good. There is no guarantee that this works. But its great that somebody tries.

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