Estonia Approves E-Residence to Lure Foreign Investments

Estonia will issue identity cards allowing access to its digital services to people residing outside the Baltic nation as it seeks to boost foreign investment.

Lawmakers in the capital Tallinn voted unanimously with no abstentions to let foreigners seek e-residence status to be able to set up a company in Estonia or sign legal documents from anywhere in the world, according to a live broadcast. The law goes into effect on Dec. 1.

The birthplace of Skype, the country of 1.3 million people has traditionally been open to technological innovations such as paperless government and nationwide Internet voting. Citizens are at home with online services, with 95 percent of 2013 tax declarations filed electronically. Some 85 percent use online banking, compared with the European Union average of 48 percent, according to a Eurobarometer study in 2012.

“The digital identity card of an e-resident can be issued to a person who has a connection with the Estonian state or a legitimate interest to use e-services of Estonia or provide digital signatures,” according to an explanatory letter accompanying the bill on parliament’s website. The country aims to have 5,000 e-residents by 2020, it said.

While Estonian residents have been able to digitally sign documents since 2000, projects involving non-residents require “costly paper-based and time-consuming parallel processes,” according to the letter.

Expanding the system to involve foreigners is also justified as cross-border use of digital services in EU has been “modest,” even after several other member states introduced similar digital identity cards, it said.

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