Smart-ID: A smarter way to use your Estonian e-Residency

Maya Middlemiss
Written by Maya Middlemiss
on October 17, 2022 8 minute read

Compared to the old-fashioned paper contracts and signatures still in use around the world for business administration, the Estonian digital ID card seems like the height of technological sophistication — enabling you to securely digitally access and interact with your company and personal data on the centralized X-Road Estonian government database, from anywhere in the world.

Enter Smart-ID — a smarter way, to use your Estonian digital identity

What is Smart-ID?

Smart-ID is a mobile phone app created by SK ID Solutions, as an alternative route to log in and sign things with your Estonian digital identity, using your iOS or Android smartphone. SK ID Solutions were originally involved with the development of the original Estonian digital ID card system and the secure chip integrated within it — they’re a private company, but long-term partners of the Estonian government in the digital credentials space.

How does Smart-ID work?

The app uses push notifications and a two pin system (like the ID card itself), to log into Estonian e-services, and also to digitally sign documents and payments. Not only can you log into the e-financials portal, you can use it to log into Xolo, and banks like LHV, Swedbank, and SEB. It’s also in use across the neighboring countries of Latvia and Lithuania.

All you need to do is download the free app from your app store, and set it up. You’ll need your Estonian ID card for this, and a little bit of time to securely identify and authenticate yourself to the app the first time you use it, but after that you can put the physical card and reader away in a safe place — because you’ll be able to do just about everything simply using your phone and the Smart-ID app. 

Since November 2018, Smart-ID has been recognized as a QSCD (Qualified Signature Creation Device), which means that electronic signatures given with Smart-ID have the same legal standing as signatures given by hand —  that is, QES level. This is accepted throughout the European Union. Just like with your EID card, the second PIN (the long one) acts as the signature itself. 

What is Smart-ID for and how do I use it?

Smart-ID can be used as a means of authentication, payment authorisation, and a means of signing, all within the same lightweight application. Since February 2020, you can even digitally sign documents using your Smart-ID in the DigiDoc4 software application (most useful for organizations requiring bulk batches of document signing.) Remember though that you are digitally signing every time you enter your second PIN (exactly as with the ID card) — for example if your bank asks you to sign a loan agreement or confirm a payment, you simply do it online via their portal (which has Smart-ID fully integrated), so you don’t have to download anything to your device. 

It doesn’t matter whether the document you are signing is being accessed via your phone or your computer or tablet. When you select to log into a service, or sign a document, using Smart-ID, a push alert will pop up on your phone, and a code will pop up on the browser or app you are using. If you’re using the e-services in question via your computer, it triggers the app on your phone. Then you simply check that these codes are the same (or pick the matching one out of three which the app generates), then enter your Smart-ID PIN 1 in the Smart-ID app — at which point the screen will refresh in a few seconds, and you will magically be signed in to the app or document you are accessing.

Why do e-residents need Smart-ID?

Compared to the old-fashioned paper contracts and signatures still in use around the world for business administration, the Estonian digital ID card seems like the height of technological sophistication — enabling you to securely digitally access and interact with your company and personal data on the centralized X-Road Estonian government database, from anywhere in the world.Why do e-residents need Smart-ID?

But the physical act of connecting your card to a card reader, then plugging it in to a working USB slot, that can sometimes feel a little clunky, right? And sometimes, despite the flickering lights on the card reader, the card can’t be read — so you waggle it around in the slot, close your browser, get back to the login page, cross your fingers, and try again... Maybe you need to download an update? If it’s a critical security update being pushed to all users, you may have to wait awhile! And if you no longer have USB-A ports on your device, you’ll need a new cable, or another tiny adapter to lose or break… 

I am informed that non-mac users find the whole process less buggy and frustrating on balance, but a lot of e-residents are creative professionals — and thus likely enthralled to the Apple ecosystem, and a laptop which probably has only a couple of USB-C ports if you’re lucky. We have chosen this lifestyle so we can do everything we need to from that laptop, but if you want to travel for any length of time you have to pack your card reader, card, cable, adapter, etc etc…and be certain you don’t leave any of them behind on your way.

Your Estonian ID card, but smarter:

Of course, it’s better than paper, and physical signatures. But the Estonian e-Residency scheme was created in 2014, which is a geological era past, in technology terms. It was robustly built reflecting the latest available protocols of its time, and has remained solidly secure, it still works reliably and fine. But let’s be honest, if you were designing it from scratch today, you’d use something different, like a mobile app, right?

The user experience of most consumer technology is unrecognizable from eight years ago, so if you’re still slotting your card into a reader every time you want to log into Xolo, you’ll be glad to hear there is an even better way — easy, frictionless, and completely free of cables, cards, and adapters.

Further advantages of Smart-ID for Estonian e-residents

Apart from the simplicity of using Smart-ID, there are some distinct advantages you may not even have considered, making it particularly attractive to e-residents:

  • If your EID card is lost, stolen, or damaged, you need to obtain a replacement — but that can take time, and may involve you in travelling to sign for your card at a distant collection point. Your Smart-ID app will keep working meanwhile, so you can still operate your business.
  • If your EID card expires, (or if we ever experience anything resembling the travel disruptions the Covid pandemic brought to the world recently, ) you can continue to use the Smart-ID app to operate your business
  • Smart ID is improving all the time, thanks to SK ID’s close partnership with the e-Residency program — extending functionality and improving the user experience, as well as the latest security patches and enhancements you never see. And all these updates are pushed seamlessly to your device without you having to do anything.
  • Smart-ID works with the native security on your smartphone — so if you sign in to apps using your fingerprint or face recognition, that’s how you will open Smart-ID too, before entering your PINs (creating multiple layers of security, with minimal layers of hassle.)
  • It’s perfect for a lean location-independent lifestyle, as a solopreneur or digital nomad. Smart-ID makes it possible to operate your Estonian digital ID for practically every purpose, using simply your laptop and your mobile phone, the two things you are never without!


Smart-ID for Xolo customers: Frequently asked questions

The sheer frictionlessness of Smart-ID can occasionally be confusing, especially if you haven't experienced it yourself. So here are some questions and answers which might help you to understand everything you need to know to get started with it:

I have never heard of Smart-ID, is it well-known and trusted?

At the time of writing, Smart ID has over 3 million users, and has been used to sign over 84 million transactions in the past 30 days. 

At over 3 million transactions per day, you will be in good company among large numbers of e-resident and Baltic States users, who trust this app for their day-to-day secure services.

Is Smart-ID the same as Mobile-ID?

No, these are two different apps — so make sure you download and set up the correct one. Mobile-ID is similar, but not available to e-residents, so you won’t get anywhere trying to use that.

Is a digital signature as ‘good’ as a handwritten one?

Electronic signing means signing documents (like transactions, confirmations, or contracts) in paperless form, using a digital identification. If the signature meets the highest level of standards set by eIDAS, it is called a ‘digital signature’ and it legally has equal status with a handwritten one.

Smart-ID app was certified as a Qualified Signature Creation Device (QSCD) in November 2018, meaning that signatures made with Smart-ID are accepted throughout the European Union —  so they have the same legal validity as handwritten signatures.

What is PIN1 and PIN2 for Smart-ID?

Although the numbers are different, your Personal Identification Number (PIN) codes work in the same way as for your Estonian ID card:

  • PIN1 is used to authenticate you – to give you access to your online bank account or e-service.
  • PIN2 is used for electronic signatures and completing transactions, like finishing a bank transfer.

What happens if I forget my PINs, or they don’t work…?

PINs are not stored anywhere within Smart-ID, so remembering them is essential, and down to you. You need to choose memorable numbers, as they should not be written down anywhere identifiable. And never share your PINs, even with family or trusted friends.

There are no PIN reminders or resets available, because they are not stored in your app or phone — so if you forget them, you need to open a new Smart-ID account (going through the process described below.)

How easy is it to set up Smart-ID on my phone?

Even if you are unfamiliar with using digital signatures, Smart-ID is very straightforward to set up. You will need your computer as well as your phone, and of course, your digital ID card and reader.

Simply download the app to your phone, then follow the illustrated guidance here, moving between the phone and computer as instructed. You will need to enter and confirm your two new PINs during this process, so you might want to decide about those in advance.

The whole process will only take a few minutes.

What if I change my phone, after setting up Smart-ID?

No problem, you will just need to reauthenticate it with your new device, and this will soon be ready to use. 

If you are going to sell or recycle your old phone, don’t forget to remove Smart-ID from it, and ideally factory reset the entire device to ensure all data is deleted from all apps and services you use.

Can I use Smart-ID to file my annual report?

During the COVID crisis when many e-residents were unable to collect new and renewed ID cards, the functionality of Smart-ID was extended to support logging into various direct government services, including the Company Registration Portal. (The dates for filing were also relaxed during this time, to support compliance and make things easier for users)

You cannot presently sign the completed annual report using Smart-ID, but if your card is unavailable you can still get the job done — by downloading a paper copy, hand signing, scanning, then uploading. 

Or you can of course dig your EID card out of the drawer at this point to complete the filing, after logging into the portal with Smart-ID.

If you do this, remember that your PIN1 and PIN2 for your card are different from the Smart-ID PINS you are used to using all the time (Your author nearly locked her ID card by repeatedly entering the wrong ones at this point last year…!)

Can I add Smart-ID as a signing solution for my own app or portal?

Smart-ID is a universal flexible app, but it is a private company and service, and you would need to contact SK ID Solutions to find out more.

You can see more questions and information related to Smart-ID or any other digital cards for your e-residency in our FAQs

Get started with Smart-ID as an e-resident with Xolo leap

Xolo works continually behind the scenes to help you get your business admin done in ways which are faster and more frictionless, but without compromising security and compliance. 

We have partnered with Smart-ID to integrate their login, to provide quick and easy access to your Xolo Leap dashboards — so we believe that Xolo Leap and Smart-ID are a great fit, and work very well together.

We encourage all customers to explore the benefits Smart-ID could offer to you in your business back end, to help you get things done faster and smarter, and spend more time doing the things you love instead.

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About Maya

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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