The Estonian government, which has an e-Residency program which allows foreign citizens to establish, own and run European Union based companies online, has 200 Indian citizens (India is among the top 10 countries whose residents applied) on the program, reports Niti Central. The program was launched in December last year, has 6,500 applicants for the e-residency so far, and expects at least 1,000 e-residency applications from India by the end of 2016.
The residency also allows citizens to set up a company with 0% corporate tax on reinvested profits in the country. Previously requiring access to biometric data and physical presence in Estonia at least once, the country discarded this practice by allowing users to complete these formalities at the Estonian embassies worldwide.
Features of e-Residency: It provides foreign citizens with a government issued digital identity (a Smart ID with 2048 bit public key encryption), to administer a location independent business online. e-Residents can sign documents and contracts digitally, verify the authenticity of signed goods, encrypt and transfer documents, establish an Estonian company online within a day (requires an Estonian physical address but can be sourced from an external service provider), e-banking, remote money transfer, access online payment providers and declare Estonian taxes online among other things.
No entry in the EU, only digital identity: e-Residency does not let a foreign citizen become a citizen of Estonia, neither does it allow tax residency, or entry into the EU or Estonia. The ID also cannot be used as an identification card, or replace the compulsory visa and passport entry in the EU. Estonia comes under a Schengen visa and users wanting to visit the country can avail one before they visit the country.
“If people can’t trust e-services, they will never use them.”
The residents of Estonia use their national identity card (issued to them at age 15), which is embedded with a microchip, to access 4,000 services like banking, business registration, education, law, voting (which it introduced in 2005) and fishing licenses, as indicated by this New York Times report from last October. It cites former Estonian PM Andrus Ansip as saying that, “We have to protect everyone’s privacy… trust is a basic principle. If people can’t trust e-services, they will never use them.” Estonia relies on a government run technology infrastructure called X-Road which links public and private databases into its digital services. According to the report, all personal information is kept on separate servers behind distinct security walls of government agencies. “Everything is separated but connected,” said Taavi Kotka, the chief information officer of the country, talking about its decentralised systems.
MediaNama’s take: Estonia is awesome.