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“Once You Have E-Residency, Borders Become Meaningless” As Estonia Drives Its Digital Expansion

Estonia’s e-Residency program today announced its push for more applicants from the farther reaches of the world by adding extra ID pickup locations in Singapore, Bangkok, São Paulo and Johannesburg.

The extra locations reflects the need to serve the growing number of applicants in the various major cities in the region, and their closest digital nomad hubs, most notably Medellín, Colombia; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Chiang Mai in Thailand and the island of Bali in Indonesia.

Established Processes, even through a pandemic

The e-Residency program broke new grounds in 2014 as Estonia was one of the first EU countries to allow non-resident, non-citizens to apply for official government ID. Being an EU Member State, this effectively allowed for non-EU residents to establish trade links in the largest economic bloc with a few mouse clicks and low startup costs.

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Then came Covid-19, and suddenly several nations around the world are hurriedly following suit by implementing digital governmental services. Estonia remains a powerhouse in this sector though, with digital provision being a core necessity for all government communications.

In their e-Residency 2.0 White Paper released in December 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid presented their 49 recommendations to further improve infrastructure and services to facilitate the growth of e-Residency, and to help serve the estimated 5-10 million Digital Nomads out there, even those remote workers who may not yet realize they are Digital Nomads.

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In today’s announcement though, President Kaljulaid said: “Although the global pandemic has limited our ability to travel, work and do business across borders, it has also accelerated digital transformation among governments, businesses and freelancers alike. As more people choose to live and work without remaining tied to one place, there is increasing need for a location-free digital toolbox to support them. As worlds’ first digitally transformed state, Estonia is pleased to be welcoming even more freelancers, entrepreneurs, business owners and location-independent workers from around the world to join our e-Residency program.”

Lauri Haav, Managing Director at e-Residency is straight to the point: “Once you have e-Residency, borders become meaningless” was the key message.

He added: “We’re really excited about the announcement of our new pick-up points across Africa, South America and Asia. Expanding our digital and physical network and empowering businesses is always top of mind for us, and this launch has been in the works for some time. Entrepreneurs, business owners and freelancers from all over the world have so much to offer, and we hope that making the process easier for joining e-Residency will encourage more of them to choose us to help grow their companies.”

The Statistics

According to its public dashboard last week saw the scheme cross its 80,000th e-Resident. Interestingly though, I had pressupposed there would be one or two countries which dominate the applications, though I was pleasantly surprised to see otherwise. The top 10 countries of nationality among e-Residents being quite evenly spread, are: Finland; Russia; Ukraine; Germany; China; United Kingdom; United States; India; France; and Italy.

By far and away men in the 26-45 demographic appear to dominate the listings, with women only accounting for about 13% of all e-Residents.

The e-Landscape with other countries

While Estonia retains its first mover advantage, it is certainly not alone as many countries, including other EU Member States follow suit in permitting digital signatures for official purposes.

The European Commission’s eIDAS Regulation, the core workings for digital infrastructures for EU Member States, show that at the time of writing, a total of 17 EU countries have programs that have been notified or pre-notified to be compliant with cross-border recognition.

In practice though, from my own experiences dealing with at least 5 other EU countries as a non-citizen, much remains to be done to ensure smooth user experience. Though the e-Landscape certainly appears to be rapidly changing for the better.

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