Estonia to Offer “E-Residency” to Foreigners
Rahvusvahelised uudised 22 Oct 2014  EWR
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$64 Electronic ID Would Allow a Digital Life in Estonia Without a Physical Presence

Liis Kängsepp, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2014
Estonia will become the first country in the world to offer “e-residency” for people interested in using state digital services such as banking and registering a company.

With 80 votes in favor, the 101-member Estonian Parliament on Tuesday passed a law that will allow issuing of electronic identification cards to foreigners living abroad, starting at the end of this year. For €50 ($64), applicants can obtain a digital ID that will let them sign documents online and essentially have a digital life in Estonia, including running a domestic business without physically being there.

Estonia hopes the move will cement its reputation as a world tech leader. The country already has pioneered online voting in general elections and is home to tech innovators such as video-chat provider Skype and peer-to-peer money-transfer facilitator Transferwise.

The digital signatures will come with a state-sanctioned guarantee that the user is who he or she claims to be, said Taavi Kotka, deputy secretary-general for communication and state information systems at the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Communications.

“The Estonian state is going to offer a strong digital identity for foreigners,” Mr. Kotka said. “The card is an opportunity for people whose country of residence does not offer them a strong digital identity to come and get it from Estonia.”

E-residents won’t have the same rights as Estonian citizens, though. For example, users won’t be able to use their electronic ID as a travel document or enter the country with it.

To become an e-resident, an applicant has to visit a Police and Border Guard office to submit a request and leave biometric data such as finger prints. By the end of next year, though, the state plans to start accepting applications in embassies around the world, meaning that applicants would be able to become electronic residents without ever setting foot in the country.

Corrections & Amplifications

Estonia’s $64 electronic ID will allow a digital life in Estonia without a physical presence there. A headline that appeared on a previous version of this article misstated the amount as $50.

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