Long considered one of the world’s most digitised nations, Estonia became the first country on Earth to offer a digital nomad visa in the summer of 2020, just ahead of Barbados. The tiny Baltic nation has reinvented itself over the past decade and has been ahead of most when it comes to the growing trend of remote work. In this post we’ll look at the Estonia digital nomad visa, how it works and the main requirements for it.
How does the Estonia Digital Nomad visa work?
The Estonia digital nomad visa is refreshingly simple and if you’re familiar with the concept of being a digital nomad, it does basically everything you would expect.
Those in possession of the visa, can live and travel in Estonia for up to one year, whilst legally working remotely for an overseas company or as a freelancer/self-employed person whose business interests are abroad or based around clients in many different countries.
The Key Advantages for Remote Workers
The main advantage is that it basically legitimises being a digital nomad and mostly removes the ambiguity of travelling on a tourist visa from place to place while also working remotely as you go. This has been the common practice of digital nomads since it has become practical and possible to make a living online. While it has been quite easy to do in most cases, it does put you in a bit of a grey area when it comes to the legal question of working on a tourist visa.
The other significant advantage for digital nomads from countries outside of the EU, is that it is now possible to come and spend a whole year within Europe’s Schengen Area. Previously nomads would have to go to a non-Schengen nation once they hit 90 days within any 180 day period. Now you can use Estonia, which is in both the EU and the Schengen Area, as your base and travel in other parts of Europe when you wish. However you will still need to ensure you don’t go over the 90 in 180 day limit when it comes to travelling in the rest of the Schengen Area (i.e. in countries other than Estonia).
Even if you’ve no interest in going to Estonia, this is still a very significant milestone in the growth of the digital nomad lifestyle. Finally a country has made a move to formally accept it as a way of making a living, offering a completely legal avenue for digital nomads and remote workers to do their thing. It seems certain that more countries will in time follow Estonia’s lead.
Estonia Digital Nomad Visa Requirements
To get the Estonia digital nomad visa, you can be from any country but you must first ensure you fulfil the following requirements:
- You are able to work remotely, independent of your location.
- Your work must involve ‘telecommunications technology’.
- You must EITHER have an active employment contract with a company that is registered and operates outside of Estonia, have your own company which is registered abroad or work as a freelancer for clients mostly outside of Estonia.
- Your pre-tax income must average out to over €3504 per month and you must be able to provide evidence to show that has been the case in the six months prior to your application.
Points 1 to 3 are pretty much a given for digital nomads, so the major stumbling block to being accepted for an Estonia digital nomad visa is point 4. €3504 (we’re not sure why it’s not just €3500), equates to roughly $4200 or £3100 at the time of writing. Unfortunately that’s a relatively high threshold and will make it impossible for many digital nomads to be accepted.
It’s very easy to live on considerably less than €3500 per month in affordable Estonia though, so hopefully we will see these restrictions eased with time. You can subscribe to an official newsletter with updates on Estonia’s e-residency and digital nomad visas which ought to inform you if there are any changes.
How to get the Visa
If you are confident that you meet the requirements outlined above, you can apply for the Estonia digital nomad visa. You should:
- Fill in the application form online where you can choose between the Schengen C-visa (180 days) or Long Stay D-visa (365 days).
- Make an appointment at your nearest Estonian Embassy or Consulate, bringing any necessary documents.
- Wait for 30 days while your application is reviewed.
Due to the relatively limited number of Estonian embassies in the world, it may be simpler to first head to Estonia as a tourist and apply at a Police and Border Guard Board office (which also handles visa renewals). You will still most likely need to wait for 30 days for your application to be processed though so allow for this.
Given this is a digital nomad visa for such a digitally focused country, you’d imagine they may at some point introduce a system enabling you to fully apply for the visa online without the need for an in-person appointment.
Note, that at the time of writing (January 2021) Estonia currently has some strict restrictions on who can enter with 10 days self-isolation mandatory for anyone arriving from a country with a high rate of infection. If you’re not from a country whose residents are currently permitted to enter, you will need to wait until things improve before being able to move to Estonia on a digital nomad visa.
Visa Costs, Taxes & Other Expenses
The Estonia digital nomad visa costs €80 for the 180 day option or €100 for the full year.
In addition, you may need to get health insurance, which can be expensive during these times to ensure you have cover should you need any medical treatment in the country. Europeans may be able to benefit from an EHIC card which will give you access to local healthcare but isn’t a full substitute for travel insurance.
When it comes to the issue of taxes, the grey areas and ambiguities that digital nomads will be familiar with, do unfortunately return a little despite the ambitions of this scheme.
Many will be know about the famous 183 day rule, which means if you spend over half the year in one country, you meet the quota required to become a tax resident there. Digital nomads are not exempt from this and may therefore have to pay taxes in Estonia if they spend 183 days or more there within a 365 day period.
Given the scheme is less than half a year old, and hasn’t really got going yet in any case due to the pandemic, this remains the biggest question-mark surrounding the Estonian digital nomad visa. Hopefully some clarity will be provided on the matter soon, although it will also depend on the tax laws in your own country.
Estonia E-Residency vs Digital Nomad Visa
Estonia already has a completely separate e-residency program (launched in 2014) which should not be confused with the new digital nomad visa.
In practice, they are for almost opposite purposes. The e-residency is for people based abroad who want to have an Estonia based company and access their renowned e-services without actually moving to live or travel there.
By contrast, with the digital nomad visa, you continue to be registered as working and operating in your home country or place of permanent residence, but get the rights to live in Estonia while you work.
Neither program is a path to getting full resident or citizenship status in Estonia or the EU.