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