Estonia picks Singapore for e-residency scheme

Start-ups in Singapore eyeing the European Union (EU) market will become the first in the world to benefit from a scheme enabling them to open a bank account in the Baltic nation Estonia without needing to travel there.

This benefit comes with enrolment in Estonia's e-residency scheme, which allows non-citizens to perform e-government and e-business transactions in the country. These include setting up a company and a bank account.

Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million people, is near Russia and Scandinavia. It is part of the EU. Under the scheme, set up in early 2014, some 8,000 e-resident cards have been issued, mostly in Europe. The scheme is now being rolled out in South-east Asia via Singapore.

Estonian government and bank officials will travel to Singapore every quarter starting from April to issue e-resident cards and bank cards to those whose e-applications have been approved.

Previously, applicants had to go to the nearest Estonian consulates and embassies - in Shanghai or New Delhi - to get their e-resident cards. Bank accounts could be set up only by travelling to Estonia.

Singapore has been chosen as the nation is tech-savvy. "Singapore is already the financial and technology hub for South-east Asia. It will support our activities for e-residency," said Mr Ott Vater, product manager of Estonia's e-residency programme. Each application will cost 100 euros (S$156). The approval process will take about one month, owing to stringent background checks against international criminal databases.

The programme aims to have 10 million e-residents in the world by 2025. Mr Vater recognises the need to increase the uses of the e-resident card beyond e-government and e-business transactions. "We are trying to build a global ecosystem of services but we are still at the early stages," he said.

One service is being piloted by United States stock exchange Nasdaq in the Baltic market. Estonian e-resident card-holders are able to attend annual general meetings of Nasdaq-listed companies without being physically there.

"We are creating the world's first digital society. It does not matter where you are. It is who you are that matters in the digital world," said Mr Vater.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Estonia picks S'pore for e-residency scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe