Ninety-four percent of its citizens access a host of service online and the country could well become the world's first paperless economy. Now a unique e-residency scheme allows one to sit anywhere in the world and set up a company with zero percent corporate tax (on re-invested profits) in Estonia, a small country in north-eastern Europe. The response from India, like around the world, has been pretty encouraging.
The credit card-sized e-residency permit allows the holder to do everything from submitting taxes online, accessing your bank account to digitally signing your contracts and documents. However, it should not be mistaken for unrestricted access to Estonia or, for that matter, the European Union.
"The services of the e-residency card are restricted to the virtual world, so residency or citizen services are not included and this cannot be used as an identification card or replace the mandatory visa or passport for entry into the EU," Siret Schutting, managing director of the e-Estonia showroom, said.
Launched just six months ago, Estonia already has 2,000 e-residents and plans to ramp this up to 10,000 by the end of the year.
Estonian Ambassador to India Viljar Lubi said in New Delhi: "Interest in India has been very keen, even without us actively promoting it. In India it has been proved time and again that good ideas spread the fastest by word of mouth."
The Enterprise Estonia website highlights two provisions of the card - secure digital authentication and digital signing of documentation. As of now the main focus is on attracting businesspersons who already work with or intend to deal with the European Union.
Given that the project is yet at a nascent stage, a lot of work is still going into improving the services offered to make it more effective and attractive to potential e-residents to put it at par with e-services already enjoyed by Estonian citizens.
Initially, new e-residents had to be securely identified with mandatory access to basic biometric data requiring that every applicant be physically present in Estonia at least once. Now traveling there is no longer necessary, as it is possible to complete the formalities at Estonian embassies worldwide.
"E-governance and e-society is never a ready made concept; it is a dynamic, ever-changing definition. You need to develop and adapt in order to be on the top of the game," Lubi added.
So, the question arises: Why Estonia?
"This is a simple and accessible gateway to the European Union. One can set up a company within 10 minutes. And from there on, the EU becomes your market," Indian businessman Bashyam Krishnan, who has been living in Estonia for just under two years, said.
The engineer from Tamil Nadu, who holds a permanent resident card which offers most of the services that the e-residency card does, said it is such e-services that make Estonia one of the most digitalised countries globally and a great option for established companies as well as start-ups.
"The services offered as a part of this are varied and nearly everything can be done with the touch of a button. The system is that easy and user friendly. Additionally, multiple security measures are there from secure passwords to a log system to check illegal access. I believe that it is extremely secure," Krishnan, the CEO of Horizon Pulp and Paper, said.
Estonia can pride itself on its headway in e-governance for everything from e-banking to e-commerce to e-voting, making it virtually paperless. Given that half the country's land is under forest cover, access to paper might not really be an issue.
"Our forests remain as they were 10,000 years ago, except now, with free Wi-Fi." Schutting quipped before logging out of a system that could well become the norm for the rest of the world in the not so distant future.