TLDR? Skip to the end of the post to see the Timeline.
In 2017, I spent most of the year traveling across Europe. I really liked it. The freedom of travel within Schengen, diverse cultures and the way of living is way better than Malaysia. So I set out a goal to set up a base somewhere in Europe.
Why Estonia? Their E-Resident program provides access to a borderless digital nation. They are like the Silicon Valley of Europe. They are the most digitally advanced society in the world! The government network even runs on blockchain technology so even if the nation comes under attack, the government will still exist and history cannot be rewritten by anybody.
Apart from being apart of an advanced digital nation, being an E-Resident would allow me to run a company remotely (since I now travel the world full-time) and utilize banking services within the EU. This means my business would all the benefits and protection the same with any EU company. Plus, it would be easier to deal with businesses globally with all the fintech solutions available with an EU-based business.
Application for E-Residency
The application process itself was simple and it took me less than 5 minutes to do. Just follow the instructions and upload a copy of your passport (I didn’t have a scanner and took a photo with my phone) and photo (used the same photo for U.S. visa application). There are several locations worldwide (Estonian embassies) you can choose for pickup location and I selected London, UK.
One of the questions asked in the application form is “Describe your main motivations to become an e-resident” and here what I answered:
Main motivation: Location independent international business
I plan to offer Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services internationally. Looking at the growth and demand for SEO services in Europe and North America, I plan to utilize my existing professional connections in the region to acquire clients. I will be traveling between regions offering my SEO consultation services. The eResident digi-ID card will allow me to set up a company and bank account in Estonia as it’s a reputable and respected EU country.
After waiting for about 2 months the Estonian Police & Border Guard notified me via email that my application was approved. I immediately booked my flights to London.
Getting the Card
So I went to the Embassy of Estonia in London to pick up my E-Resident card on Feb 26. Note that the pickup point is in the basement and the nice thing is that you don’t have to go through any type of security checkpoint. Meaning you can bring in your luggage if you’re coming from the airport or whatever.
The entire process took less than 5 minutes as I was the only person there at the time. They took my passport and scanned my fingerprints.
Using the Card
I was really excited to finally get it! I went back to my AirBnB and wanted to immediately connect it to Xolo.io (formerly LeapIn; Use referral code ASAD and receive EUR 100 to your company bank account) but always received errors that my pin was incorrect. Turns out you have to wait for an email saying the card (digi-id) certificates have been activated.
Once activated, you can now install the digital ID card software and use it for Xolo.io (formerly LeapIn; Use referral code ASAD and receive EUR 100) and the Estonian State Portal (retrieve your .ee email address and setup forwarding).
They have software extensions for various browsers. For me, I could only get the software to work with Firefox. And that too has a caveat. You have to insert the digi-id card first and then start Firefox. If the browser is already running (or minimized) before inserting the card, authentication will not work.
Registering a Company
You can technically register a company on your own without a third party. Because I will actually be using it to conduct business, I decided to go with Xolo Leap (formerly LeapIn; Use referral code ASAD and receive EUR 100) as they provide automatic accounting (integration with LHV Bank) and other useful features to manage it remotely.
Once I’ve connected my digi-ID with Xolo, I went through the process of signing all the application documents prepared by Xolo. I really like that Xolo is very responsive in their emails and they guided me throughout the entire process!
After submission (Feb 28), It took less than 24 hours for my company to be registered. Very efficient!
Register . EU .EE domain name for Non-EU Citizens
One of the perks of having an Estonian company is that now you have a registered address in the EU, which you can use to legally purchase a domain name
Opening a Bank Account in Estonia
There are 2 options here. Open remotely vs traveling to Estonia. If you are really serious about running the company long-term and building a financial history in EU, I highly recommend traveling to Estonia so you can open a proper business bank account.
I went with LHV Pank which is an actual bank. The business account. Xolo helped me send the bank application (Mar 01) remotely. LHV informed me 7 days later that my application was approved.
I visited the LHV bank branch in Tallinn a few weeks later (Mar 19) to open the account. They only needed my Passport and E-Residency Card. The process itself is incredibly easy. No need to fill out any forms since all the data is already online. They asked a couple of security questions and signed a couple of documents. For the mobile contact number, I used my Google Voice number.
If you’re using Xolo or any other business provider, double check that you’ve signed the “Connect Contract” so they can receive statements automatically for accounting. Also and make sure the “Internet bank agreement” has their name on it. They almost forgot about this for my account and called me 2 mins after I walked out of the bank.
No need to deposit any money into the account. They don’t have a minimum balance requirement and no monthly fees. Although if you apply for the business debit card (which I did), there will be
Xolo can send the card to you via registered mail for free. Or if you wish to use courier services like DHL/UPS/FedEx, you can order the pick-up from Xolo and delivery to your location yourself. You can pay for it using your personal credit card and later reimburse it as a business expense.
A week later, Xolo informed me that my bank card has arrived. I opted to pick it up in person at their Tallinn office since I’m only a 2-hour ferry away from Helsinki.
There were 2 separate
I also finally met with Kadi (Customer Onboarding Officer) who helped me set up my business from A-Z! We also chatted about the recent hype on E-Residents business bank accounts being canceled. The truth is that as long as you comply with all the existing laws, you’ll be fine. And this is also why working with a business service provider is essential. They can be your local representative. They are also definitely way more in touch with the laws of the land. With both Xolo and LHV vetting your business model, once approved it is unlikely you’ll face any troubles if you’re a legitimate business.
There are 2 types of taxable salary
- Board Member (Personal Income Tax 20% + Social Tax 33%)
- Employee (Not taxable since all my work is done outside of Estonia)
My business is a one-man show right now, so I’m both a board member and an employee. To minimize tax, you can have a lower board member salary and then keep the Employee salary higher. Also, a nice thing about Estonia is that any profit that is not distributed (kept the bank) is not taxable as well!
Since the company has no revenue yet, I’m not paying taxes. I’ll post an update once
Xolo has a very comprehensive FAQ on receiving funds and tax rate. Go check them out for more info!
This is the best part of having Xolo on your side. Everything is mostly automated and online. No paper needed. Any business expenses done online are automatically tagged. If there are any physical receipts or email invoices, you can just upload them to their online portal. So far I’ve manually uploaded a couple of business expenses (AirBnB and public transportation) and they’re pretty quick on tagging them.
I’ll provide an update once my business runs on full steam!
The entire process may seem daunting but I promise you it’s not. I’m grateful that I had Kadi handling my onboarding. All the instructions and guidance was straightforward and very clear. It was also very refreshing to deal with a ‘traditional bank’ that is efficient and has some awesome tech to allow everything to be managed remotely.
Hopefully, this post will shed some light on the process of becoming an E-Resident and business owner in Estonia. So what are you waiting for? Come join this digital revolution and be part of the most advanced digital nation in the world!
- Nov 8: Submitted application
- Nov 20: Estonian Police and Border Guard Board confirms receiving the application and is reviewing it
- Dec 11: E-Residency granted
- Dec 19: Embassy of Estonia in London informs my digital identity card is ready to be collected
- Feb 26: Collected card at the Embassy of Estonia in London.
- Feb 27: Digital certificates activated.
- Feb 28: Xolo registered my business.
- Mar 01: Applied for LHV business bank account via Xolo Leap.
- Mar 04: Registered asadzulfahri.eu via Name.com and asadzulfahri.ee via Zone.ee.
- Mar 08: LHV bank informs my application is approved
- Mar 19: Visited the bank branch in Tallinn for identification and document signing.
- Mar 27: Xolo notified my bank card has arrived.
- Mar 29: Visited Xolo office (met with Kadi & Gustav) in Tallinn to pick-up the bank card.