Anyone who knows Estonia knows the Baltic state is at the forefront of embracing technology. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the country should be first to offer an “e-residency” program, opening up its e-government services to non-citizens.
For €50 anyone from any country in the world will be able to access exactly the same services as an Estonian national — everything from health records to signing documents to setting up companies, says Siim Sikkut, ICT Policy Adviser, Government Office of Estonia, Strategy Unit. The move would be particularly appealing to non-Europeans looking to establish a company inside the EU.
“E-residents will get a digital ID: a smart card with a microchip with security certificates, but no photo on it,” says Sikkut. Along with the card, e-residents will get a smart card reader.
“Once they have a digital identity just like Estonian residents do, they can get all their everyday and business matters done easily and conveniently. They will have secure access to online services and ability to digitally sign in legally binding manner just like Estonians do.”
“These signatures are legally valid [and] fully equal to face-to-face identification and handwritten signatures in the whole European Union.”
The move has proved to be popular. “When we came out with a simple landing page and offered the possibility to sign up to a notification list where we’d announce the further news and go-live info, we had 6,000+ sign-ups in first 24 hours,” he says. “We already have 10,000+ people signed up to be the first to know when we go live and eager to hear further news. These are great initial results that make us excited — but also mean that we are preparing to scale and introduce our services quicker than initially planned.”
Some figures have suggested that as many as 10 million people might become e-residents. Sikkut would not be drawn, but such a figure would dramatically outnumber the country’s small, and declining, population.
Citizenship Is Not The Most Defining Feature Of Us Anymore
“We’d be happy if in three years’ time we’d have 10,000 new companies by e-residents operating [digitally] from or through Estonia.” Since Estonia has roughly 80,000 companies today that would represent a significant increase.
Sikkut was keen to make it clear that the card conveyed no additional rights. “An e-resident will be a physical person who has received the e-resident’s digital identity [smart ID card] from the Republic of Estonia. This will not entail full legal residency or citizenship or right of entry to Estonia. They can choose to become an actual resident or citizen afterwards, following the regular overall procedures.”
With Estonia’s history littered with occupation, most recently and infamously being effectively removed from the map by the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, this has inevitably shaped the country’s outlook, meaning the country has to consider how it would survive if history repeated itself. “Our thinking is that digitally we can make our nation and country last perhaps even at darkest times of history, should they come again.”
While Sikkut says it was not part of the thinking behind the e-resident program, initiatives like this question the concept of what it is to be a nation-state, and what it is to be a citizen.
“I think that citizenship will be tied to older territorial notions for quite some time. However, I also think that citizenship is not the most defining feature of us anymore — rather, community feeling is. What we are keen to explore is to see how we can expand the community of Estonia really to be global through being digital — to make us larger in the world than we otherwise would be.”