The tiny Baltic nation of Estonia recently hogged international limelight for its electronic voting during the country’s parliamentary elections. With as many as 44% voters voting online, Estonia is irrefutably the most digitally advanced country in the world.
Estonia’s sojourn for a digitally advanced society started soon after it gained independence in 1991 and gradually over the years, the country has built a massive digital infrastructure and has set an example in e-governance and ICT technology. So much so that it offers 99% of all government services online. What Estonia with its population of just 1.3 million people has achieved in the last 28 years, is definitely remarkable.
However it is not just for its e-votes why Estonia is popular across the global landscape. The country has also become a favourite place among remote entrepreneurs or freelancers. Freelancers are location independent professionals who are largely dependent upon the internet for their jobs. They form one of the largest workforces in the world and their numbers are all set to go further north in the years to come. However there are not many countries which have come out with policies which favor these digital nomads.
Why is Estonia such a favored place for these freelancers?
Owing to Estonia’s advancement in the digital space, in 2014, the country came up with a program called ‘e-Residency’. e-Residency offers government backed digital identities to individuals thereby offering them the freedom to open and run a global European Union (EU) company fully online from anywhere in the world. e-Residents have access to the European Union business environment and can use public e-services through their digital identity. This has been a game changer. Within such a short span, e-Residency has attracted more than 50,000 people from 157 countries around the world.
e-Residency, to the best of my knowledge, is the only program in the world which facilitates freelancers. Using e-Residency, freelancers can operate in a completely hassle free and cost efficient environment. It offers them a wonderful platform to expand their business to the huge EU market. And the best part is one doesn’t need a physical presence in Estonia as everything can be done online. No wonder why so many individuals across the globe who became e-Residents, are now successfully running their own companies.
The facilities that this country has in offer for freelancers don’t stop here. Estonia, which tops the chart of Europe’s most entrepreneurial countries as per World Economic Forum, is also home to multiple startups that provide an array of services in the aid of freelancers. Starting from connecting to a client to cross border payments to accounting and taxation, Estonian startup companies have come up with solutions which makes the life of a freelancer much easier. For example, Estonian companies – Jobbatical helps in bringing clients and gig workers together, Monese facilitates cross border payments, and companies such as 1Office and Rimuut helps freelancers with accounting, tax consultation, VAT registration, etc.
A country which any aspiring entrepreneur should take inspiration from is unequivocally Estonia. A country of 1.3 million people and they have already established four unicorns i.e., companies valued over $ 1 bn. All the Estonian unicorns be it Skype or Taxify (now called Bolt) or Transferwise have grown from scratch and now provide services to a customer base spread all over the world. One interesting link between these companies is that all of them have a massive online presence besides having a big offline base. This is yet another clear indicator of the emphasis the country lays on the digital business. Estonia understands online business like no other country does and therefore can easily mentor and handhold remote entrepreneurs on how to conduct their business online and grow.
During my research on Estonia, I came across an interesting quote from Ignacio Nieto Carvajal, a Spanish software developer and entrepreneur – “Estonians run their country like a tech startup.” Ignacio further states that the country “encourages businesses to grow first before making them pay.” This I believe is yet another strong reason why more and more remote entrepreneurs are opting for Estonia as the government does not tax profits that are reinvested.
All in all, be it through its e-Residency program or the services platter which Estonia offers to freelancers, the country definitely has a unique proposition which pulls such large number of freelancers from across the globe towards it.