A lot of digital nomads love Estonia. Here’s why the feeling is mutual.
Digital nomads use technology to work and travel, but having no fixed residency can be a challenge. Estonia is now inviting them to become ‘e-Residents’ so they can use the country’s advanced digital infrastructure to easily run their businesses and finances from anywhere in the world.
Rise of the digital nomads
Soheila Yalpani from Canada never planned to become a ‘digital nomad’.
She quit her job as a project manager last year to spend a few months travelling, but was able to pick up freelance projects she could continue working on from abroad. The more Yalpani travelled, the more she discovered a growing community of people like her who could work with no fixed residency and little more than an internet connection.
Yalpani has been travelling ever since and supports herself as a consultant for governments and startups on the development of technology ecosystems. She also runs Thinkstr.co, a website about business, travel and money.
“One day I might be working in a coffee shop in London, while the next I might be at a conference in Spain,” says Yalpani, being interviewed for this article while waiting for a connecting flight in the US. “There’s a lot of unpredictability so I try to keep a regular routine no matter where I am. That helps me to stay focused and productive, even if my location is always changing.”
This digital nomad lifestyle has been made possible by advances in technology, yet the legal and administrative frameworks they need to operate have mostly failed to catch up. As a result, having no fixed residency can lead to higher costs, added bureaucracy and other complications.
Yalpani jokes that she’s ‘allergic to bureaucracy’ however.
“I did a lot of research to figure out where would be the best place to incorporate my business and do my banking,” she explains. “That’s when I discovered Estonia doesn’t just understand digital nomads, but actively welcomes them with an offer of e-Residency. The fact that it’s inside the EU is also a big advantage.”
“I now use Berlin as my base camp and travel about every two weeks, but Estonia is my digital home.”
It might seem paradoxical for location-independent entrepreneurs to settle — albeit digitally — in one country, but Estonia is no ordinary country. Its digital infrastructure is considered the most advanced in the world and can be used to easily and securely run a business online with minimal bureaucracy.
E-Residency is already being used to lower business costs around the world, but digital nomads and other location-independent entrepreneurs are among the most enthusiastic early adopters.
The latest statistics reveal that more than 15,000 people have applied to be e-Residents of Estonia and the biggest single motivation (accounting for 41% of applications) is to set up and run a location-independent business.
Yalpani was quickly granted e-Residency of Estonia and then used it to set up her company, Oppfinn Consulting. She now encourages other digital nomads and location-independent entrepreneurs to set up Estonian companies through e-Residency.
“Having e-Residency opens a lot of doors,” she says. “You don’t usually expect governments to use technology this well so I was very impressed.”
Yalpani has outlined the ease of the entire process in her latest article for Thinkstr is on why entrepreneurs love Estonia, although e-residents will no longer need to visit the country to open a bank account from early 2017. That means the entire process can be completed from anywhere in the world.
The new normal
Digital nomads can be freelancers, entrepreneurs, remote employees or contractors, although the distinction between them all is becoming increasingly blurred. In addition, many more workers around the world may not define themselves as digital nomads, but have the ability to move with their work whenever they want.
In response, many companies are embracing the rise of digital nomad culture as they believe offering more flexible working arrangements can increase their efficiency and access to talent, as well as the productivity of their staff.
Their employees are scattered across the world, but have a range of digital tools to help them communicate and collaborate as if they were in the same office. Cofounder and CEO Sten Tamkivi explains that they will reap long-term benefits of this arrangement by having a wider pipeline of top talent around the world.
“And we will win from being a team of happier, more dedicated people who get to live in places that fit the needs of them and their families the best,” he adds.
Thomas K. Running is originally from Norway, but has been living as a digital nomad with the help of Teleport’s software. He then began working for the company last year while he was visiting the US for the Burning Man festival.
Since then, Running has continued to travel while working for Teleport, including to Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Estonia and Portugal. His favorite spot is the Galápagos Islands where he loves to go diving.
“My lifestyle might have been considered strange a few years ago, but it’s now perfectly normal to an increasing number of employers,” says Running.
Running works remotely as a contractor so he had already set up his own company in Denmark before embarking on his life as a digital nomad. He’s become an e-resident of Estonia too because it provides added benefits that make his life easier as a remote worker.
After being granted e-Residency, Running set up an Estonian bank account so he can easily get paid in euros and then manage his money from anywhere in the world. He also uses his legally-valid digital signature provided by e-Residency to instantly sign documents.
“As an e-resident, I’ve signed business contracts remotely from three different continents so far,” says Running. “Everything about e-Residency is just so straight forward, which is good because I don’t want to deal with paperwork or other hassle while travelling.
“I love my location-independent lifestyle and I’m really glad Estonia is able to streamline a lot of the practical aspects of it.”
How Estonia became a digital homeland
Many digital nomads become e-residents without ever stepping foot in the country so they can be forgiven for not knowing much about Estonia, let alone why the country is so keen to welcome them digitally.
The Republic of Estonia declared independence in 1918, but its rebirth as a digital nation can be traced back to two revolutions that took place almost simultaneously in August 1991.
The first was Estonia’s own Singing Revolution, a non-violent struggle which ended Soviet occupation and resulted in the restoration of Estonian independence on 20 August 1991. The second was entirely unconnected at the time, but took place a few weeks earlier when British computer scientist Tim Berners Lee switched on the first web servers for the World Wide Web.
Few could imagine then how the internet would revolutionize almost all areas of life and transform the way we work today.
Back in Estonia however, the magnitude of its revolution was more obvious. The country’s infrastructure needed to be rebuilt almost from scratch, its Soviet-style bureaucracy had to be eliminated and new entrepreneurs were needed to develop the economy.
That’s when Estonians looked at the newly emerging internet and decided to explore its potential to help them build a new kind of nation with an e-state and a digital society. That could solve these problems and help Estonia open up to the world after so many years of isolation.
The country’s government, businesses and citizens began working together to make this a reality and a project called Tiger Leap was launched to prioritise investment in IT infrastructure and skills.
The end result is now called e-Estonia.
Citizens and residents now have secure digital identities to authenticate themselves online and access almost all public services from their laptop or phone with minimal bureaucracy. That makes ordinary day-to-day life easier in Estonia, but also enables entrepreneurs to thrive.
As a result, Estonia has been the birthplace of some of the world’s leading digital technology services, collectively nicknamed the #estonianmafia. This explains how a country with poor telecommunications in 1991 gave the world Skype little more than a decade later. Estonia has even now been called the new European startup hub.
Such is the success of Estonia as a digital nation that it now has a digital infrastructure so advanced that it can accommodate far more users than the 1.3 million people who actually reside in Estonia.
That’s why Estonia became the first country to offer e-Residency with the aim of helping unleash the world’s entrepreneurial potential. Now anyone in the world can enjoy the same digital advantages as Estonians, including a government-issued secure digital identity and access to public e-services.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid (pictured front and centre below) recently emphasised this message by issuing a public invitation for anyone around the world to become an e-resident of her nation.
Speaking last month at the technology conference Slush, the President declared that e-Estonia now offers the most transparent business environment in the world before explaining why people should “join this special club of ours”.
“Each one of us has been given up to 100 years to live on this planet,” added President Kaljulaid. “Why not use this time much more efficiently?”
You can accept the President’s invitation and apply for e-Residency of Estonia here. Already using e-Residency as a digital nomad? Let us know how it benefits you in the comments.