The Estonian e-Residency program has made it so easy for foreigners to open global businesses online, that more than 96,000 people have already done it!
Most of these people managed to do so without the benefit of this step-by-step guide we have prepared and updated for you, to make it even more clear and straightforward. But if you still have any questions after reading through this guide, then talk to us anyway.
Normally the idea of residency in a country is associated with living and working there physically — which gives the lucky citizen a number of privileges, including the right to open a local business, and use local government infrastructure and services.
Estonia was the first country in the world to digitize this concept, and offer a revolutionary e-Residency program. That meant that entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world could take advantage of Estonia’s uniquely transparent and accessible business environment, without the need to relocate themselves to Estonia.
With very few exceptions due to current embargoes (see below), it doesn’t matter what passport you hold, or rights of residence or movement within the EU. E-Residency is a completely digital residency program.
Since the launch of the scheme in 2014, more than 25,000 e-Resident companies have been established by these new digital residents of Estonia, across a diverse range of business sectors — enjoying the many benefits that this operating framework provides.
But before you can open your new business, you need to become an e-resident in the first place!
So if you want to join the new future-of-work business independence movement, this is exactly how to go about it:
You will first need to do your personal due diligence, regarding the suitability of the Estonian e-Residency programme for your personal situation and business goals.
You may need to combine this research with tax consultation in your local country as well, to clarify the best structure for your intended business activities, because Estonia is not a tax haven!
Though it is a great way to shelter your work from the burden of onerous and antiquated business administration procedures, so you could call it an admin haven…
At the e-Residency website you can find out everything you have to know, about the history of Estonia as a digital nation, and the latest information and statistics about the programme. You can also read some great case studies and articles which demonstrate how and why people have made use of e-Residency in different situations, which may inspire new entrepreneurial ideas for you.
It’s easy to complete your Estonian e-Residency application online, from anywhere in the world (although please note at present, first time applications from Russian and Belarusian citizens are NOT being accepted.)
The Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (who administer the digital ID scheme) estimate that it will take you approximately 30 minutes. It can be done from any device, although in practice you will find the forms easier to handle on a desktop or laptop computer, rather than a mobile.
You can prepare for the application to go smoothly, by gathering the following information in advance, in digitized form:
At the e-Residency application page provided by Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, you will start your application.
To apply you must first create an account using your email, which will be used to send you a ‘magic’ link to activate your account. You have two months in which to do this, before the link expires.
This is a passwordless account secured by your email, so make sure you use an address to which you have enduring access because it will be used for all notifications and queries. So if you’re going to quit your job and be a digital entrepreneur, don’t use your work email address!
You will create a new account every time you apply for an Estonian e-Residency card, which includes renewals, and you must apply for it yourself on your own behalf — you cannot use an intermediary, or apply for anybody else (although payment can be made by another person, if the applicant does not hold a suitable payment card.)
Once you activate the account via the link, you can go straight into the form and complete your application in any common web browser.
During the process you will need to upload your photos, describe your purpose for applying (motivation statement), and pay your €120 e-Residency state fee (this fee is non-refundable if you change your mind or withdraw from the process. However, the fee is presently fully reimbursable to all Ukrainian nationals.)
You’ll also enter your personal details, the scan of your government-issued ID, and your photo.
You navigate through the form by pressing ‘save and proceed’ on each page you complete, and you may also go ‘back’ to revise earlier information. Incomplete pages may not be saved, and it’s easier to sit down with a coffee and work through the form systematically, to ensure you cover everything you need.
Pages 7 to 9 are confirmation pages, which display a summary of all the previously completed information so that you can check it conveniently before submitting your application.
Once the form is submitted, you won’t be able to change any of the data directly (though can always contact the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board via email if you need to, identifying yourself by name and date of birth, and your application reference number if possible.)
You’ll also need to determine your pickup location for your card and equipment.
Ensure your chosen pick-up location is in a country or region you’re entitled to enter, and that you will be able to arrange travel there easily, because a face-to-face meeting is required. Travelling to collect an e-Residency kit is not a valid reason, in itself, to be issued a visa to travel to Estonia or any other country.
If you have any difficulties getting the form to submit, these are frequently related to the attached file uploads — so make sure you are complying with the file sizes and formats given. There may also be an additional step to validate your payment through your bank app, so look out for any pop-ups which require action (which might be on your phone, or blocked by your browser…)
Once your application has been submitted, you'll receive a confirmation email from 'Politsei- ja Piirivalveamet'.
All the communication will be via email from the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, so check your emails regularly (and also check folders or filters, because these are system-generated message which may get inappropriately labeled by your email client.)
The processing of your application can take up to 30 days from the date when the application is accepted — you can log back into the application environment to check on its status at any time using your email, but you will be contacted directly as soon as everything is ready.
You might be asked for additional information or documents to ensure the security of, and trust in, the e-Residency program. Obviously if you provide this information promptly, it will help to speed up the processing and acceptance of your application!
Once your application is approved, you’ll be notified by email.
Assuming you are granted e-Residency, you’ll be invited to make an appointment to pick up your digital identity kit from your chosen location as specified in Step 3.
You will have arranged to pick up your ID card at an Estonian embassy or consulate, or inside Estonia. A list of pickup locations by country can be found here, and there are more being made available all the time, as well as temporary pop-up pickup points from time to time.
If there were no selected locations in your own country, you’ll need to collect from another country, which you stated in your application.
It can take 2-5 weeks for your e-Residency kit to arrive at your pickup location after your application has been approved. Once it has arrived, your pickup location will send instructions related to scheduling your pickup. It is obviously advisable not to book and pay for travel to the pickup point, until you have confirmed a definite appointment to collect it.
You’ll need to make the appointment to pick up your kit within 6 months of issue, and you will have to collect your document in person, as your fingerprints are required. These are scanned electronically — so you won't get ink on your fingers! You also have to bring the same ID document you submitted in the online application form.
Once this process is complete, in just a few minutes, you’ll be given your e-Residency kit - which includes your digital ID card and card reader, along with two PIN codes. This is all you need to go ahead and make use of your Estonian e-resident identity, and proceed to register your own Estonian private limited company!
The digital ID card and e-services are built on state-of-the-art technological solutions, including 384-bit ECC public key encryption. The digital ID card contains a microchip with two security certificates: PIN1 for authentication (to confirm that it’s you accessing the technology) and PIN2 for digital signing.
Never reveal these two PIN codes to anyone!
To begin using your Digital ID, you’ll first need to download the ID software, called DigiDoc4, to your desktop, following the right installation instructions for your operating system. If you run into any issues, their support is responsive and helpful (in English), and they will get you there. Do bear in mind that you only need to do this once, after which automatic updates will take care of things.
Once the software has been installed, simply insert the card reader with your e-Residency card into your computer’s USB port. If your device only has USBC, you may need to use an adaptor. Ensure everything is tightly coupled and connected! Your card is inserted with the gold-coloured chip facing upwards.
In fact, you might end up hardly using the original ID card, once everything is set up, because lots of international e-Residents enjoy the advantages of SmartID — a third-party authentication service, which enables you to log in to Xolo and other elements of the Estonian business infrastructure via codes sent to your mobile phone.
For a lot of e-residents, the next step is to set up your Estonian limited company!
This is where Xolo Leap can help you, quickly and easily, and there are no waiting periods of many weeks at this stage. The usual lead time is less than one day, once you have your digital ID in hand.
Then you can join the thousands of location-independent entrepreneurs worldwide who enjoy the advantages of EU trading status, the e-Residency marketplace, the transparent and accessible Estonian government business environment, and of course, the incredible user experience and intuitive automation of the Xolo Leap dashboard and technology stack.
So all you have to focus on is what you do best.
Maya Middlemiss is a freelance journalist and author, excited about the future of work, business, money, and technology. She operates her e-resident business through Xolo Leap, so that she can work frictionlessly with brands and publications all over the world, and she is the host of the Future is Freelance podcast. Exploring the social impact of technology on our changing world, and bringing those stories to life in an accessible and inclusive way, is her passion — because all of this is far too exciting to leave it to the geeks. Maya is a 'digital slowmad', originally from London, presently living with her family in Eastern Spain.
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