Since achieving independence in 1991, Estonia has become the proven standard bearer for digitisation and e-governance. With 99% of its governmental services – with the exception of marriages and divorces – being offered online in a transparent and secure ecosystem.
Currently, the Estonian government has pioneered an e-Residency programme as the world’s first digital residency initiative. Launched in 2014, it saw its latest expansion in May this year with the launch of 4 new international pick-up points.
Siim Sikkut, CIO of Estonia shared that this initiative is an opportunity that they would like to present to ambitious local entrepreneurs and location-independent foreign business people living in Southeast Asia looking to expand into the EU market and globally.
“We are excited to welcome globally-minded entrepreneurs in SE Asia into our digital nation, who provide services or digital products, like consulting, marketing, SaaS, programming, etc. and can therefore easily live and work anywhere, independent of location,” said Sikkut.
“And we are interested in discovering new possibilities and use cases for entrepreneurs wanting to expand their customer base and trade goods from SE Asia into the EU customs union. As Estonia has the most vibrant start up ecosystem in the EU, it also offers great opportunities for local start up founders to exchange ideas with founders, accelerators and incubators here.”
The e-Residency programme is a digital identity offered by the Estonian government to all foreign nationals. Upon signing up, e-Residents will receive a starter kit containing a digital identity card and card reader.
One digital identity for everything
The digital identity card is not a permit for residence or a visa, but will give access to a wide range of e-services in Estonia that is a 99% digital society. With an e-Residency digital identification card, one can digitally sign documents, access business banking, and register and operate their company fully online including filling their e-tax forms.
This allows foreign nationals to establish a European company based in Estonia that they can run remotely from anywhere in the world. Thanks to well developed and secure e-services with a governmental overview, all the necessary paperwork for starting and running a business is reduced to minimal bureaucracy – documents are paperless and everything can be signed online.
“Having a business entity in European Economic Area (EEA) means that there is free movement of goods, employees and services within the European Union and relatively harmonised regulations across the union,” added Sikkut.
“European Union (in this case Estonian) companies and entrepreneurs have access to European partners and clients. For freelancers and entrepreneurs, it means more freedom to offer their services to a wider range of customers no matter where they are based.
“For startup founders it means going global from the start and having support of European startup hubs. Simply speaking, Europe is another market that becomes available and European Union-based companies have the advantage of being trusted across member states.”
The programme has garnered more than 80 000 e-Residents worldwide, and the e-Residency has a virtual community that opens up new possibilities for international collaboration and access to different business-, startup- or other industry-based networks globally.
By opening pick up points in new regions, the Estonian government made the programme more accessible to more entrepreneurs, startup founders and creatives. These pick up points have been opened in Singapore and Bangkok, given their recognised status as important business centres in the region.
Moreover, it would reduce the need for e-Residents to travel long distances before being able to collect their card, making it more convenient for them. Another reason that Sikkut revealed was that these locations are very attractive for visitors such as digital nomads, and that they see a lot of entrepreneurial mindset there.
“Empowering entrepreneurs all over the world allows us to learn about the challenges that these people are facing in creating their businesses and running it globally. This offers Estonia a much wider understanding of the global economy today and where it is heading,” said Sikkut.
“Leading a digital residency programme allows us to grow with the changes that the world is facing and be part of the digitalisation of industries in SE Asia as well.”