Rory Cellan-Jones, a BBC technology writer, recently took advantage of Estonia’s e-Residency program and became an Estonian resident. He now has a plastic card with an embedded chip that confirms his identity.
The e-Residency platform is an electronic identity system that Estonian residents and those with business interests in Estonia use to access government services. The residency program is Estonia’s way to export its digital identity expertise.
The program has attracted 10,000 people globally. The e-residents pay 100 Euros for many of the same benefits enjoyed by Estonia’s 1.3 million citizens.
Cellan-Jones met Kaspar Korjus, who manages the project, at the e-Estonia showroom in Tallinn.
Korjus explained that e-residents can check which data the program holds. The residents’ data – information such as driver’s license, living circumstances, doctor – is linked to the ID card. Korjus explained the card is also used for voting. He was able to vote while out of the country.
The program does not grant full Estonian citizenship rights to e-residents. An e-resident who does not live in Estonia does not have the right to vote there. People living outside the European Union cannot travel to the country without a visa.
But the program does make it easier to establish a business and open a bank account for someone living outside of Estonia. It also allows people to digitally sign documents and contracts.
One painter from the Ukraine was able to sell his pictures globally through the e-residency program. The Ukraine does not have the infrastructure to allow him to accept foreign payments.
The painter established a company in Estonia and is selling his pictures while remaining in Kiev. Korjus said PayPal will work with someone who has a business address in Estonia, but not in Kiev.
The program records every transaction and e-residents are expected to pay taxes on earnings where they are generated, which is in their home countries. The Estonian government will send revenue information to local tax authorities, Korjus explained.
Estonia hopes that the program improves the economy by making it easier for people to start businesses without having to move, according to Korjus. The country also believes the program will benefit Estonian advisory and banking services.
Estonia’s e-Residency platform will facilitate a blockchain-based e-voting service enabling shareholders of companies listed on Nasdaq’s Tallinn Stock Exchange to vote in shareholder meetings, CCN reported in February.
The Nasdaq’s Tallinn Stock Exchange is Estonia’s only regulated securities market. The e-voting program marks the second official Nasdaq blockchain project after delivering the first private securities issuance between a company and an investor via Nasdaq Linq, its blockchain-enabled platform.
The e-Residency program will identify voters, while the blockchain will offer a secure and expedient way to record votes.
Cellan-Jones noted that the program is of limited use to him at present, but that he sees his digital identity as a way to authenticate himself on e-commerce sites and other places where identity is important.
Korjus, for his part, believes nations will compete to provide virtual citizenship. He says Estonia is the first mover, but more will follow. He said the program has set a target of attracting 10 million e-Estonians by 2025.