Apply for e-Residency online, plus news about mobileID and bank accounts

You’re back! Still reading? You must be bored. First, the news…

USandEstonianPresident

I got a lot of questions about this, so hopefully the added info helps: Starting May 1, you can apply for e-Residency online via Estonian Embassies and Consular Offices all over the world:

  1. Fill in the online form from home (in your pajamas – I LOVE THE INTERNET)
  2. Wait for the Embassy/Consulate to contact you (STILL in pajamas)
  3. Go into the Embassy/Consulate and pick up your e-Residency. (if you’re shameless like me, you can still wear pajamas)

To apply this way, see #2 here. Over 1200 people have signed up in Estonia so far, and I’m sure the numbers will climb now that people can apply from their home countries. So even if you don’t have your passport, and thus aren’t able to travel anywhere, you can apply for your e-Residency and conduct your European business totally from home.

Also, the word in the street is that MobileID will be available “soon” to e-Residents. My (wild) guess is this is in some months from now. MobileID let’s you use the same e-Services from your mobile device as your e-Residency card + card reader would allow. This is accomplished via a secure SIM card in your phone, and the same PIN security system. Estonians have already had this system for many years, and I’ve seen it work (very smooth). This way you can have the e-Residency services from your mobile, instead of needing to plug your card into a computer, which is useful while you’re on the go. You should read more about MobileID here. Again, for anyone as lazy as I am, it’s nice to hear things are progressing.

Light Bulb with sprout inside

I almost forgot something! While in Estonia this past February, I applied for a LHV Bank account for personal use in Estonia. The process for applying for an account was simple: show up to the bank, show a passport, sign some documents, and … oh you’re from the United States of America? You’ll have to wait…and wait…and wait. This is due various compliance requirements when dealing with the US. I get that, though I caught myself wishing the US had a few less regulations in this space, and a few more regarding lending practices. Mis iganes. Anyway you’ll probably have a turnaround time of 1-5 business days.

Getting a Business Bank account using e-Residency is considerably easier than the process above. First, register a business here. Then you can contact a bank (such as LHV) on behalf of that business and initiate the process of creating a bank account for the business. I haven’t had a chance to try this part yet, but I hope to finally get the chance later this summer. First, I’ll need a viable business plan! So I need to give up a hobby or two. If anyone out there tries this before me, I would LOVE to hear how it went for you. In fact, you’re welcome to publish your blog post here (send me the text and images, I’ll get your post online with your name)!

taxes

For my fellow Americans reading this, I hope your taxes are done! Mine took ~6 hours of prep/file time total. In E-stonia, it’s three clicks – slightly jealous…

jealousy

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The World is Paying Attention to e-Residency

tldr

Brevity is a skill I have yet to master. If you look at my past posts, this becomes abundantly clear. Speaking of past posts, wow it’s been too long! What’s kept me busy!? Well, no need for excuses. I failed to carve out enough time for myself to do some writing here. I got to partake in some cool e-Residency related activities which I wanted to share. Heads up, you’re gonna see a bit more of “me” in this post.

In January an interview with a German TV show was published. They discuss e-Residency! Myself and a colleague (Merle is awesome) at Skype were interviewed as part of this. Sprechen sie Deutsch? Click here and find the “Estland erfindet den E-Bürger” video. Merle and I demonstrated document signing, between a HR staff member and a Manager, in Skype Tallinn office’s completely paperless setup. That was fun, thanks to Maris Hellrand and her professional crew.

In February, I had a chance to speak with the kind Karin Wickström from Swedish Radio, which also plays in other Baltic countries like Finland. Karin was professional and patient enough to work around my ridiculous schedule at the time (hey, work is kind of important to me after all). Here’s a link to the recording. If you don’t speak Swedish, there are some English snippets scattered through including at 2:28, 2:48, and 5:00 (yup, that’s me, I’m shameless).

Later that same month, the Dutch program “Tegenlicht” came to Estonia and did quite a bit of filming about e-Residency. This one has plenty of English for those who don’t speak Dutch and dives deep in the matter – worth the watch! Here’s the link. Special thanks to Schuchen Tan and her awesome crew! Also, shout out to Estonia’s President, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, whom I had the honor of appearing on the same program as. The man is impressively well informed in any subject I’ve heard him speak about.

seattlesun

It was another great trip to Estonia for me. Tons of exciting things happening at Skype and Microsoft, of course. But I must admit, the sunny US West Coast weather (even in Seattle!) is a wonderful thing to come home to year round (feel free to write to me describe your jealous – I’ll just invite you to come visit). You survived reading through this entire post. See you next time…

same_bat-time_same_bat-channel

Signing Digital Documents with DigiDoc and taking a Peek at Ervinal

security

Today I found out some pretty cool news. https://digidoc.sk.ee works for me. This is a free portal for doing online digital signing, provided by a company called SK. This private firm is Estonia’s only Certification Authority (in plain terms, it means they are trusted to help ensure digital keys are valid) and it is privately owned by some banks and telecoms. It’s not well advertised enough, imho, so hopefully this helps get the word out. Here’s the gist of how you do it:

digidoc

  • Go to https://digidoc.sk.ee
  • You can Click on a document from the list, or upload your own
  • You can sign documents, just by clicking “Sign” next to any documents that you’ve haven’t signed yet (using PIN2)
  • You can download the Signed docs, and even a Confirmation page (with signatures / hash values)

publictransportation

One a personal note, I use public transportation when in Tallinn (don’t worry, it’s not as bad as above at all). During the summer I bike of course, but on my lazy days I walk to the bus/tramm/trolley to get my perse to work (Google translate works for ‘perse’, hah). Like most modern major cities, the public transportation system has a card (called Ühiskaart) you can load up with cash to pay for these journeys. If you’re a citizen of Estonia (and registered resident of Tallinn), you can get free unlimited rides on your Ühiskaart. As you can tell by my dark hair, I’m not Estonian. Right now this means I have to top-up by going to R-Kiosk’s. But as e-Residency progresses (and mobile ID’s become available in Spring hopefully) then problems like this diminish. Eventually this number on the eResidency ID Card will be evaluated like a regular Residency number is, across a broad set of services, so I’ll be able to top-up my Ühiskaart online.

kidswhisper

One more Estonian State secret I want to give away. Everyone talks about how many cool e-Services Estonia has (vote online, taxes online in 3 clicks, and so on). If you have e-Residency, you get to see this all-up view that Estonians get – it’s called Ervinal. This portal pretty much gives Estonians an overview of the important things in their lives (personal details, health, assets, etc) all in one view. Very bad asshttps://ervinal.eesti.ee/

ervinal_screenshot

That’s definitely the kind of thing I hope gets picked up in the rest of the world, as we move toward more e-Services. Ervinal does sounds like the name of an old man though, perhaps our US version of this would be called Reginald or Herbert 😀

More Document Signing with e-Residency

internetmeme

The internet has terabytes of things which can waste your time, thanks for continuing to incorporate my blog into your list. One of the most talked-about features of e-Residency has been signing documents. I’ve already looked at doing this offline via ID-kaardi software and emailing/sharing. Also, the e-Estonia site doesn’t have a feature for this today. So, in this post I’ll discuss two other ways I’ve looked at. I’ll also make terrible jokes and rant on until you’ve stopped reading! But let’s start.

statesecret

I’m giving away State secrets:
Turns out there’s a portal which Estonians use with their digital ID cards as citizens. This portal isn’t being advertised for us e-Residents yet, because some of the services are only for citizens. Also, there’s a big update coming to it sometime in 2015 – well that’s the word on the street, but you didn’t hear it from me. So I wouldn’t recommend using it yet. But for the brave folks of the internet, the url is very shockingly original: eesti.ee . For the record, the domain http://www.america.com is parked / for sale by GoDaddy.

eesti.ee.logo

My First Login to eesti.ee:
I went to eesti.ee and switched the site to English, since my Estonian language skills haven’t changed much since last week. Then I clicked “Enter” and a small popup appeared with my certificate info (looks like it read it from the ID card, since this was still plugged in). I entered my PIN1 and clicked ok. I was prompted with the “Order Notifications at the State Portal!” box, saying that email must be forwarded from my eesti.ee email address to my real email. So it wanted me to setup this mail forwarding thing again.

mail forward twice

Very shortly after I got an email in my inbox from “State Portal eesti.ee” saying that the forwarding was working successfully. In my particular case, there’s a bug with the setup of my email, and some nice people are working on it. But for now, that became a dead end for signing and sending docs around through this portal.

signwise_logo

I went to Signwise.ee – it automatically showed everything in English for me! I clicked “Register” and selected the “ID-card” option from the popup dialog box. I had to enable plugins for this site in Chrome (I have that disabled by default, because I’m a security freak). Anyway after I clicked register, the site said they didn’t have an account associated with my ID yet, so I clicked “Create new account”. Filling in the brief form was easy (and pretty). The only downside of this form was a dropdown menu which just had bunch of country codes – having the actual names of the countries listed in the dropdown would be easier to read. Still the account creation process was a snap, and I was already logged in. Uploading, signing, and sharing documents (notifies recepient via email) was also super easy. All operations, such as signing a document, were pretty much single-click. No complaints there!

Minor downside: Signwise is a paid service, so you’ll have to pay after a few signatures (which is fair, they need to make money too). Also, my first document must have had some problem. I couldn’t re-sign that document (which I’d already signed using ID-kaardi software), and old signatures from my friends (done outside of Signwise) did not appear. But documents after my first one were all ok. So, the moral of the story is, doublecheck your files when you upload them. Otherwise you’ll have to keep multiple copies of the document around to show proof of signatures.

Otherwise, Signwise works well and makes the signing and sharing of documents easier than anything else I’ve seen available so far. We’ll see if (after the remake of eesti.ee, or update of the e-estonia portal) signing documents online becomes available for e-Residents for free. Again, for now, the way to do it free is through ID-kaardi software + emailing. Next time, I’ll associate my Ühiskaart and talk about another State secret called “ernival”!

Digitally Sign Documents with e-Residency

During the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten some pretty cool mentions in the digital world. Reblogs, posts on Facebook (Sten Tamkivi’s was the most re-shared and commented on), tweets, article mentions, etc. There’s too many supporters to list here so I won’t even try – but seriously thanks to everyone who’s been reading. That’s humbling. One very cool shoutout which I just can’t resist: The President of Estonia called me “The Occasional Estonian”. So awesome, I’m definitely keeping that name.

Now that I setup my Digital Identity, there are some features I have been trying. But before we get into the first feature, I’ll make my obligatory rant for this post. Why do passwords today have such ridiculous requirements? They want more than 6 characters, but less than 8. At least one upper case, one lower case, one number, and one symbol. Basically they want to be sure that there’s no fucking chance I’ll remember the password. In doing this they’re ignoring simple math. Sites should let us use sentences as passwords (25+ characters). Rather than butcher the explanation, I’ll share this:

password_strengthCourtesy of XKCD

Here’s a good password: “It’s a good idea, I think, to be SUPER secure!!” Good luck breaking that with your super computer. 47 characters (including strange symbols and cases) and you’ll need more than a dictionary attack to crack a sha256-hashed stored version of it in a websites database. Sprinkle some salt in there and you’re really good to go. Rant over 🙂

Of all the cool Estonians I’ve met, one of them really stands out: Andrus Järg. He was my first boss at Skype, and I’m lucky enough to still work closely with him. He was kind enough to send me my first document to sign. But pause right there. I’ve something about important people in Estonia – they’re completely normal humans like the rest of us. Very down to earth. For example, a former Site Leader of Skype in Tallinn, Tiit Paananen, makes my absolute favorite beer now (Põhjala). He also skydives and does all kinds of other wild fun. Anyway Andrus’ document was signed and sent to me through https://digidoc.sk.ee. You can also sign and send docs through eesti.ee, and there’s a third party service called SignWise I’ve heard of. I’ll review/compare these another time since they haven’t been advertised as the way for e-Residents just yet.

Instead, for now I created a document on my computer, signed it with the ID-kaardi software locally, and have begun asking people to sign it. As promised, the contents of the document are “Hamid Reza Tahsildoost is Batman.”

Signing this document locally was easy: First I installed the ID-kaardi software (see my previous post). Then I created the Word .doc document, right-clicked on it, Selected “Allkirjasta Digitaalselt” (means “Sign Digitally) and followed simple on screen instructions to sign it! The result was a .ddoc, with a very important truth in it.

batman_logo

Now it’s your turn. Send me your email (@eesti.ee if you have one) and I will send you the latest version of my document to sign!! Easiest way to reach me is hamidreza.sb@gmail.com (security note: this email forwards to my real email, that helps me do some filtering tricks with spam). I’ll try to keep my online version of this doc updated, feel free to download and share.
Stay tuned til next time. Meanwhile this news report does a good job explaining e-Residency http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s4136006.htm

Setup your Digital Identity with e-Residency

Christmas came early for “The Occasional Estonian”
In the past week I’ve had the chance to use my e-Residency card (aka my newest tech gadget) to do some interesting things. The box they gave me contained: my e-Residency card, a USB card-reader, and my PINs. The PINs are in a secured envelope, meaning you can’t see through it and it’s sealed, nice touch! Have you ever signed up for a service where they mailed you your password or your “PIN” on paper? It’s done often in the US with just a folded piece of paper in a regular envelop, and it’s a great way for fraudsters to stay in business. By contrast, my e-Residency PINs were securely tapered on all sides, and had camouflaged paper on the inside. Freaking awesome, now it’s time to get started with my new toy.

Cyber

Getting started
Instructions for setting up the e-Residency ID card were on the box. I went to e-estonia.com/welcome, like the box says. The only thing I needed to do before using this ID card was install the ID-kaardi software – which they gave a convenient link to on that page. The ease of this reminded me of one of my favorite sites, lmgtfy. For example, if someone asks you “Hey, what is e-Residency?” you can either point them to my blog (yay) or you can troll them by sending this link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=what+is+e-residency (try it for yourself)

Install ID-kaardi Software
Installation of ID-kaardi software was in Estonian only (I’m sure they’ll address this soon). Luckily that “Continue” button is always in the same place with these kinds of programs, and it’s in *bold* text. Plus, ma räägin natuke Eesti keelt (or Google Translate). Anyway everything after this installation is in English. Installation completed, then a quick reboot, and I was ready to play! Speaking of reboot…it’s almost 2015 and lots of cool technological innovations exist (e-Residency, drones, etc). But why does my computer still insist on rebooting every time I sneeze?!

restart

First run
I ran the ID-kaardi program (yay, it’s in English!) and said that it couldn’t find my card. First I panicked, of course. Then I looked at my computer, which was on my lap with nothing plugged into it (duh, needed to plug the card in). I hadn’t even been drinking – this was just me being too excited. So first I plugged card reader they gave me in my USB slot, let Windows find the device, then inserted my ID card into the card reader. Then, like magic, Windows detected the ID card, and so did the ID-kaardi program!

Change PINs
I pulled out my PIN codes from secured envelope. You can easily change the PIN1, PIN2, and PUK from inside the ID-kaardi software. You should always change any credentials (passwords, PINs, etc) that you are are *given*. You wouldn’t use a password for your bank account that someone else *told* you to use, right? If you don’t think it’s important, then I have some waterfront property in the Sahara desert that I’d like to sell you, please contact me. I’ve also got a friend in Nigeria with a business proposition for you.

fraud

Next post, I’ll sign my first document!

I got my e-Residency!

I got an email this morning telling me my e-Residency card was ready for pickup! It was written in Estonian on top and English below. I had a tip from an insider that this would be happening, so I’d already made plans to pick it up at lunch. My good friend and former Skyper (he’s now at Teleport) Karim Heredia offered me a lift and brought his fancy camera to snap some pics.

I walked in to the building, but this time it was lunch, so there was no woman standing by the machine. I pushed some buttons (English -> Documents / Pin Codes). A ticket was printed, and again I just had to wait. In less than 5 miutes, my number was on the display. Seriously, I don’t get why any Estonian would complain about this office. It’s heaven. Anyone who thinks this place has lines should drive in San Francisco traffic (statistically only slightly worse than Los Angeles – but man it feels 10 times worse when you’re in the city).

Anyway I went to the desk which was indicated on the display, handed the lady my ticket + passport, and waited. About 10 minutes later, and with only one person coming to visit her, I was given my shiny new toy!!

Getting my card!

That’s Mikk, he joined us as well today. There’s no photo on the card, which is intentional. e-Residency isn’t way to authenticate in person, but only digitally. The box included a smart card reader for free, which is great because I’m not likely to buy personal computers which come with this type of reader.

Once I got the card, I took some photos in the building (pretty sure we broke some laws here – I’ll know if my card stops authenticating) and more photos outside the building. This card is very secure. All the information displayed on it is public, and the only “secret” part is the security chip and PIN. Since you can’t access those over a photograph, I’m going to do something which will seem crazy. I’m going to post a photo of it right here. I dare you to post your California State ID, or any country Passport. There’s too much personal information on such things – like home address. The only way I’d be in danger is if someone stole this card, and brute-forced my password against eesti.ee servers before I changed it myself. This system is really secure, and here’s my proof:

My e-Residency card

This is the first card they’ve handed out as part of the official/public process (again, firsties for me!). So this coming week I’ll play around with the signing feature first, and figure the rest out as I go. Some things I expect to do include: sign documents, get a mobile ID (sounds like it’s coming in Spring), get a legit phone number instead of a prepaid one, associate my public transportation card with my identity (so I can add money to it online, instead of at kiosks), and the list goes on. Don’t worry, you’ll read about it here – or at least I and /dev/null will.

Applying for e-Residency

Today is the first day that anyone in the world can apply for e-Residency in Europe. I met up with Kaspar and Mikk in front of a brown, bland, large box of a government looking building. This one is at Sõle 61A in Tallinn, Estonia. The thing gets made fun of by so many people, you’d think some official would at least insist on give it a different color – anything but brown. You’re in a country where the summer sun and winter snow are gorgeous, but everyone laments the – often extended – muddy periods in the middle. This brown seems to evoke this same lamentation.

Official Building

The doors to the building opened sharply at 9am. In Estonia, things are very punctual compared to the standards I’m used to. Then again you’re reading this from a Persian man (we’re notorious for being late – a 7pm dinner starts at 9pm) who was born and raised in Los Angeles (where everything is a “20 minute” drive away and freeways are more like parking lots).

I was the first person through the door, excited like a child to try this process out. I walked up to a nice woman greeting everyone, told her I wanted to get my e-Residency, and she pointed me to the photo booth. Believe it or not, that’s where I thought the first problem would be. Like, what if she had said “Mis kuradi e-Residency!?” (What the heck is e-Residency!?). But nope, that went totally smooth. +1 for internal trainings.

But back to the photo booth. It was -10 C that morning and I’d arrived by public transport. I was wearing a beanie on my way over, and my hair is much longer than I usually keep it. Point is, I looked like a crazy man who’s hair was standing up after playing with one of those static electricity balls. Don’t lie, you’ve all sported that look. The wide-eyed smile on my face didn’t help me take a serious photo either.

Static Electric Hair

Once I was done taking selfies with the machine (it makes you take three, no clue why), I went back to the same woman and she pushed some buttons on another digital screen. The result was a number on a ticket which was quickly printed and handed to me. After 5 minutes, this number was shown on an overhead LCD display and I went to the desk indicated. I sat across from a sweet woman who took care of the process for me. Now, there was some fun involved.

In Estonia, there’s enough English speakers around that nearly any environment can shuffle people to help translate. But, I speak a tiny bit of Estonian, plus Kaspar and Mikk were watching what was going on, so I didn’t need English help. It took 5 officers huddled around a screen to walk through this e-Residency application process for the first time. Nobody had gone through this process before on their side (firsties!) so I witnessed plenty of faces squinting at the screen. Kaspar quipped that he wanted to take a picture of this for memory sake (it was a pretty funny scene), but he had mercy. Still, that was painless for me, all I had to do was watch and wait – easy.

About 20 mins later this process was done. I was told to wait for another number to be called on the screen (no ticket this time, just had to remember the number) and I’d go to another person to pay.

Now for credit card payment in America we primarily use these terribly insecure magnetic-stripe credit cards which aren’t used in Europe any more. These cards are only convenient for conducting fraud on. Anybody remember the Target hacks? Yea, so in America we are soon getting with the 21st century where everyone will receive credit cards with smart chip in them…over the next 18 months or something. But I digress.

Magnetic Strip Credit Card

Instead of torturing the kind lady with my credit card, I used cash. Kaspar checked, and it turns out this office didn’t have magnetic-strip credit card readers anyway. But if you ever want to annoy an entire line of people in a European country, go to a grocery store and pull out your magnetic strip credit card. On the plus side, I’ve single handedly helped many Europeans learn about this ancient technology, and shown them my forge-able signature. Perhaps I should try showing folks how an abacus works next.

Anyway, after I paid the cash, I dashed back to the office (got there before 10am, nice!). I’ll wait for my email (or insider information, heh) and come pick up my card. They say this could happen as early as tomorrow. We’ll see! Once I have it, I should be able to start using it right away. First order of business, get my lawyer brother to sign a document agreeing that I’m Batman.

Old Town Tallinn

What is e-Residency?

I’m writing this first entry from a small Baltic country named Estonia. It has a population of ~1.3 million, is along the Batlic Sea, sits across from Finland, next to Russia (and I guess I should include Latvia too), and is about the land size of Maryland+Connecticut combined. This gem European nation of practical people also brought you: Skype, Kazaa, TransferWise, Fortumo, and most recently Teleport! In fact, I work at Skype, which is why I get to say “I travel to Europe for work.”

Old Town Tallinn

There are a lot of digital services available in Europe. Estonia is particularly good at providing such services for it’s citizens. For example, you can literally file your taxes online with three clicks. Let that sink in. If that doesn’t blow your mind, Estonia is starting a new program for Digital Identity Cards (also called e-Residency) for non-citizens like myself. My good friend and travel buddy, Märten Ester, put it best “In a nutshell, this program is a way of saying ‘Estonia authenticates Hamid.'” So if I get this e-Residency card, I can conduct business electronically in Europe. Everything from signing documents, to having a mobile ID, to starting a company. If you’re curious, check it out https://e-estonia.com/e-residents/about/

In a nutshell, this program is a way of saying ‘Estonia authenticates Hamid.’

But e-Residency is not about living in Estonia, it’s about conducting business there only. No citizen or voting rights are given out. The first day to officially apply was Dec 1, 2014. Anyone can apply at one of the various government offices / police stations. The equivalent offices in the US are the DMV and the Post Office. You get a number, wait a while, and someone at a counter tells you: “fill out this paperwork, then go to another counter”. Every American I know desperately avoids visiting these dreadful places – as do I. In Estonia, this was a ffaaaarrrr less painful experience for me (though for my Estonian friends their offices still evoke the same emotional cringe as we American’s feel at ours).

…this e-Residency card, I can conduct business electronically in Europe. Everything from signing documents, to having a mobile ID, to starting a company

As part of PR it sounds like a famous journalist and some other influential folks are being given the first e-Residency cards. But for the rest of us, the steps to apply are:

  1. Go to a government office
  2. Provide your passport and 50Euro to a police officer / official
  3. The police will run a background check
  4. Wait up to 2 weeks for an email telling you the card is ready (unless they find something naughty in the background checks)
  5. Go back to a government building and pick up the card
  6. Profit

It seems interesting, so I’m giving it a try. The reason is, I already spend a considerable amount of time in Estonia and Europe in general. So I feel the difference in convenience between what citizens can do and what a visitor cannot. Luckily for me, a nice woman from our Skype HR office put me in touch with Kaspar Korjus (Project Manager for the e-Residency program) and Mikk Lellsaar (Executive Officer). We chatted over Skype and they offered me the chance to be the first person to go through the official/public process. We made arrangement to meet up so they can watch me go through this in person. We’ll see how it goes!

Passports