Estonia’s online e-residency platform allows anyone in the world to become
an e-resident by simply submitting a few forms and paying € 50. “We are pioneering
the idea of a country without
borders,” Mr. Kotka says.
Most of the supporting tech infrastructure was
already in place, which made
it relatively easy to get the
portal off the ground, says
Kaspar Korjus, e-residency
program director, Tallinn.
“The Estonian people already
have a fully digitized life,” he
says. They can vote online,
order prescriptions, pay
taxes, sign documents and
conduct virtually any other
online. “The idea was to open
that up to the rest of the
While e-residency status isn’t a path to citizenship,
it does allow the holder to create a location-inde-pendent business online. Businesses chartered in
Estonia can take advantage of the country’s sophisticated digital environment to do e-banking, secure
remote money transfers, digitally sign documents
and contracts, and encrypt and transmit documents
The platform will be especially valuable to entrepreneurs in developing countries without access
to global payment services and other e-commerce
features. The goal of the program is to drive new
customers to Estonian businesses and create new
business opportunities for Estonian banks, accountants and other service providers.
Mr. Kotka and Mr. Korjus tested the project
concept with a pilot in October 2014, just to see if
people would be interested in the idea. The project’s
first iteration was just a subscription page with basic
information about the program. “In 20 hours we
had 4,000 hits from 150 countries,” Mr. Korjus says.
Follow-up emails with those early visitors showed
60 percent were interested in creating international
businesses. “Through Estonia, they saw an opportunity to sell products globally,” he explains.
In January 2015 the government officially formed
a team to run the project, and a beta version of the
e-residency application portal was launched in May.
Every month since then, the team has rolled out
new iterations of the platform and gathered feedback from users about what is working and what
needs to be tweaked.
“It’s like having users sit right next to us when we
are developing, which helps us prioritize what to do
next,” Mr. Korjus says.
Because much of the IT infrastructure already
existed, the project only required a € 1 million budget (which is supplemented by incoming application fees). Indeed, the biggest project challenges
weren’t technical or financial, but political—
specifically, getting government ministers to play their
part, Mr. Kotka says.
“In the private sector, when the CEO says ‘this
needs to be done,’ it gets done. But I don’t have
that power in government,” he says. “I push as hard
as I can, and sometimes it works and sometimes it
doesn’t. When I fail, we just look for another way.”
But by most counts, the project has been a success. The team’s original goal was to garner 2,000
applications by the end of 2015, but by the end of
the year Estonia had already welcomed nearly 8,000
e-residents from 121 countries. The long-term goals
are to attract 60,000 e-residents by the end of 2017
and 10 million e-residents by 2025—nearly 10 times
the country’s current population.
“Every country wants to increase the wealth of
its people,” Mr. Kotka says. “With e-residency,
we are achieving that using technology that was
already here.” PM
wealth of its