E-residency update #2 on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

The latest information for e-residents on pickup locations, travel to Estonia, and upcoming webinars

Key points

  • e-Residency and Estonian e-services continue to operate despite the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, there may be delays so please be patient.
  • Estonia shut its borders to non-citizens and non-residents this week. As a consequence, e-residents are not able to currently travel to Estonia to open a business banking account with a local bank. We recommend considering other options instead.
  • If you are in financial difficulty or require support for your Estonian company, contact your service provider immediately for counselling and to mutually find a solution.
  • Next week, join us for two webinars on (1) how to work well remotely; and (2) strategies to support your business through the current economic uncertainty.
  • Stay healthy: wash your hands regularly, don’t touch your face, sneeze hygienically, keep social distance, and if unwell stay home. Follow the instructions of your local health board and the World Health Organisation.
  • Look after the most vulnerable in society.

Introduction

Last week we provided an update on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and how the e-Residency team is responding. A lot has happened since then in Estonia, the EU, and beyond, from travel limitations and border closures to declarations of national emergencies and social restrictions. This post aims to update you on the latest relevant information we have available to us on the situation in Estonia as well as practical information and useful resources for e-residents.

On 12 March 2020, the Prime Minister declared an Emergency Situation in Estonia to contain the spread of the virus, which is currently due to run until 1 May 2020. Across the country, schools and cultural institutions are closed, public gatherings banned, and the majority of the workforce are working from home, including all members of the e-Residency team.

The country’s borders are closed to all but Estonian citizens, residents, transporters of goods, and a few other exceptions. Many airlines have ceased flying into Tallinn and ferry operations are severely restricted. Given these restrictions, please postpone any plans to travel here in the foreseeable future. You can find updated information on travel to Estonia here.

E-Residency continues to operate and Estonia’s digital services are not affected by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19). E-residents can continue accessing all digital services in the country, including the company registration portal, tax board website (EMTA), online banking, and more. Applications are still being processed and background checks conducted.

The e-Residency team is following the situation closely and will be updating the community regularly with all relevant information we have to hand as often as is needed. If you require urgent assistance, please contact our support team here and we will respond as soon as we can.

e-Residency and Estonian digital services continue to operate

We really want to emphasise that e-Residency is still operating and e-residents and their companies remain an important part of Estonia’s business environment. All e-services remain accessible to e-residents, including registering a company online, digitally signing and encrypting documents, and declaring company taxes.

Applications to become an e-resident or to renew your e-Residency digital identity card are still open at e-resident.gov.ee. The application/renewal process is the same as usual. The Estonian Police and Border Guard will continue to conduct background checks prior to an individual being notified that their application has been accepted and their digital ID card is ready to be picked up.

Pickup locations remain open for now but expect disruptions and delays

Estonian Embassies and other pickup locations remain open for e-residents to pick up their documents. If this changes, we will communicate updates to you as soon as possible.

Given the numerous travel restrictions and border closures around the world, we understand it might be difficult or even impossible for you to travel to an Embassy or other pickup location to collect your e-Residency digital identity card right now.

As reported last week, if you are unable to collect the e-Residency kit from the Estonian Embassy or other pickup location specified in your application within the usual 6 month period, please directly contact the Embassy or pickup location to make a request to extend this period. The extension will not be done automatically. The contact information for all pickup locations can be found here.

While the application and pickup processes continue as usual, the time taken for both the background checks and digital IDs to be available for pickup may take longer than the usual 6–8 weeks. If this is the case for you, please be patient and know that we are doing all we can to get your documents to you as soon as we can.

For more information or if you would like to see if you can change your chosen pickup location, please contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at konsul@mfa.ee.

Card renewals

For those e-residents whose digital identity card is expiring soon, we recommend downloading and using Smart-ID in case of disruptions or delays to picking up your new card. Smart-ID does not depend upon the expiration date of your card. You will therefore be able to continue using some Estonian e-services with the help of Smart-ID at least until the situation becomes safe enough to pick up your new card. This way you can continue to manage your business even if you can’t pick up your card for now.

This will only work for e-residents with a valid card, not one that is already expired. It will also not work if you have lost your PIN codes. In these circumstances, you will still need to go through the regular process.

Please note that Smart-ID is a product provided by SK ID Solutions, which is an organisation independent from the Estonian Government. E-Residency has no responsibility if some government services are not available or do not work with Smart-ID. Please direct any support queries directly to Smart-ID in this instance.

The e-Residency team is working remotely

Like many people around the world, all members of the e-Residency team are now working remotely. We are adjusting to this new state of affairs gradually and experimentally. On the technical side, it has been fairly seamless thanks to the well-developed digital infrastructure here in e-Estonia and the fact that remote work and remote entrepreneurship are in the very DNA of e-Residency.

On the personal side though, we’re having to adapt. Some of us have children, partners, and pets at home to distract us, while others are alone in quarantine. Some
are with their families, while others are far away from home. We are taking each day as it comes and making sure that we are communicating with each other regularly. It will take time, but I am confident that together we will adapt to this new way of working.

Stay tuned for more on the blog on this topic and how our team and other e-residents are coping in the coming weeks. And check out our Instagram profile for my colleagues’ tips for dealing with little distractions when working from home…

Business banking

Given that Estonia’s borders are closed to all but citizens, residents, and a few other limited groups of people, it is not currently possible for e-residents to travel to Estonia. This means that any e-residents who were planning a trip to Estonia for any reason, including to open a business banking account with an Estonian bank such as LHV cannot do so for now.

LHV has advised us that it is still possible to fill the online application for pre-approval for a business banking account and receive a decision from LHV. However, even if you are accepted as a business banking customer, you will not be able to finalise setting up the account until you can travel to Estonia and physically attend an LHV office here.

If this affects your business currently, we recommend looking at alternative business banking options in the e-Residency Marketplace, including fintechs or, if you are a freelancer or sole proprietor of your e-resident company, check out Xolo’s new integrated business banking solution.

Service providers

E-Residency service providers are also affected by the crisis. Many are already working remotely or planning to in the coming weeks. But they are here to help you during this time of crisis.

Some e-residents may anticipate financial difficulty and that you might therefore be unable to pay for services provided to you by a service provider. We strongly recommend that you contact your service provider immediately to discuss possible solutions such as postponing payment or entering into a special payment plan over time.

In the meantime, we’re pleased to announce two new service providers in our Marketplace: Setgo and Quaderno. Setgo is an Estonian/Japanese company that provides a full virtual office service to e-residents, including company creation, provision of legal address and contact person, bookkeeping and VAT registration. Quaderno provides simplified, automated sales tax management for e-resident businesses, including for VAT, sales tax, GST, and invoicing. Find out more at the e-Residency Marketplace.

In other news, e-residents can now create a company using SmartID through the e-Residency Marketplace service provider, Unicount. Read more here.

Webinars

As we mentioned in our update last week, e-Residency has decided to more fully embrace the switch to online interactions and is therefore planning a number of webinars and live Q&As via digital platforms such as Zoom and on our social media platforms. We are happy to announce the first two:

  1. On 24 March 2020 at midday GMT / 2pm Tallinn time: join us for a webinar on ‘Rethink your business — How to cope with changes in the economy due to COVID-19’, with Lars-Erik Hion, Founder & Managing Partner of Rethink. Register here.
  2. On 26 March 2020 at midday GMT / 2pm Tallinn time: join us for a webinar on ‘Remote Work Tips for Small Businesses’ with Evelin Andrespok, Estonian remote work and leadership consultant. Register here.

Update on Coronavirus situation in Estonia

Like the rest of the world, the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a major nationwide challenge for Estonia.

As at 19 March 2020, there are 267 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Estonia and thankfully so far no deaths. Over 2,200 tests have been carried out and health authorities are prioritising the most vulnerable groups of society, including the elderly and people with health conditions that affect their immune systems, as well as frontline health workers.

The Estonian Government has acted quickly. Measures that have been put in place already include:

  • On 12 March 2020, the Prime Minister declared an Emergency Situation in Estonia to contain the spread of the virus. The Emergency Situation is currently due to run until 1 May 2020.
  • Across Estonia, schools, universities, and cultural institutions have closed until 1 May. Schools and universities have transitioned to virtual learning approaches.
  • Public gatherings (including cinema, theatre, museum, sporting events) are banned until 1 May.
  • The country is also affected by border crossing closures and limitations on who can enter the country.
  • Since 17 March 2020, the Government has restricted travel into Estonia to only Estonian citizens or individuals holding a residence permit or right of residence. Several other countries have imposed restrictions on entry, and several flight operators are also restricting operations. The Prime Minister advised that travel is becoming difficult in and out of Estonia. Detailed information is available at the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  • Since 17 March 2020, any person arriving in Estonia must self isolate at home for 14 days
  • Businesses and government employees have been advised to work remotely where possible.
  • The Estonian Government today announced a €2 billion package of measures to boost the economy and mitigate the effects of the crisis caused by the coronavirus.

If you’re interested in staying up to date with the situation in Estonia, then in addition to the links to Government websites above, we recommend following either the Estonian World blog or ERR News in English.

Even the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid is working remotely. Photo: Twitter @KerstiKaljulaid

Out of darkness, comes light

Amongst all the doom and gloom however, there have been many positive things that have emerged around the world as a result of the pandemic. We have truly seen the best sides of humanity shining even in the darkness. Like the many Samaritans helping vulnerable neighbours with their shopping and chores, whole streets of people singing in their homes in Italy, neighbourhoods clapping for health care workers around the world, and businesses supporting communities by waiving fees, providing funding or technical solutions, and even switching their manufacturing warehouses from luxury perfumes to much
-needed hygiene products.

We are also seeing a truly remarkable effect on social media — where people in physical isolation can maintain a sense of sociability and community — and of course share the best of all medicines — laughter and humour! Many individuals are learning a new language, skill, or musical instrument; some are even starting a business for the first time. Surely this pandemic will result in a renaissance in research, literature and the arts and a shift in the way people organise their professional lives.

In Estonia, there have been numerous rays of sunshine. On Monday, 17 March in the evening people all over Tallinn waved torches into the street to thank health care workers and other frontline workers who are helping to overcome the crisis. Friends, neighbours, and Facebook community members are offering to buy groceries, walk dogs, and support with bills.

The Estonian Government and private sector are also playing their parts. In addition to the formal economic measures discussed above, some other initiatives include the following:

  1. Estonia has released its digital education tools and resources to the world for free.
  2. e-Estonia has been sharing resources about how the digital nation can help other states and people adapt to the changing times.
  3. Accelerate Estonia and Garage 48 co-hosted a hackathon last weekend (which they impressively organised in less than a day!) to respond to the coronavirus crisis. Called Hack the Crisis, over 1000 people participated to hack 30 solutions. Read more here.
  4. The Estonian startup community has announced a 100-hour online accelerator to address the COVID-19 crisis. There are thousands of innovators globally with products that could have a huge impact on solving today’s crisis. The Salto Growth Camp — EMERGEncy — from 6 to 10 April, will help such startups grow and scale globally. Mistletoe is supporting and will provide a team of their choice an investment up to €200,000. More information here.
  5. Estonian telecommunications companies are offering customers unlimited data on their normally capped data plans during the crisis to ensure they can stay up-to-date with important information and news.

Concluding with an important health reminder

We would like to conclude this article with a friendly reminder of tips to stay healthy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Firstly, maintain good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.

Secondly, keep social distance of at least one metre from people who are sick. Avoid physical contact when greeting other people.

Thirdly, if you feel unwell, stay home. If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.

And most importantly, look after the most vulnerable in society — the elderly, people with underlying conditions that compromise their immune systems, and people who may need extra support when self-isolating.

Follow the directions of your local health authority. And keep up-to-date with the latest information on the pandemic from the World Health Organisation.

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