“How do you attract foreign investment? … You get more customers! We only have 1.3m Estonians … we need more people … even if there’s an immigrant that wants to come to this shitty weather place called Estonia, they’ll most likely go to Sweden … but why should that mean you can’t be Estonian?”
– Taavi Kotka, Estonia Government CIO 
Welcome to Estonia – a country where internet access has legally been a human right since 2000 . A small country in the Baltics twice the size of New Jersey, “e-Estonia” has for over a decade moved the country towards full digitization of its government services. Today, Estonians can file their tax returns online in three minutes, select daycare, and even vote for their next president online . In 2014, Estonia sought to share these services by opening its borders to all citizens of the world to apply for an “e-Residency”.
Source: Digital Nomads Documentary “One Way Ticket” 
How it works
Every Estonian is offered a physical personal digital ID-card with a chip and a mobile app ID. When logging onto a government service online, the user registers with the card or app, and is then asked two distinct pin-codes to verify his/her identity. As an example, see how the 36-year-old tech-savvy Estonian prime minister logged into the system to place his vote in the election:
Source: Eesti Reformierakond “Prime Minister of Estonia explains how fast, simple and safe is e-voting” 
The Estonians have found a clever way of integrating all citizen databases, so that they connect to each person’s ID. This enables the prime minister’s “Only ask me once” principle: “if the government has already asked me once that I have a daughter that information should link to all my tax returns, everything” . When the tax return needs to be filed online, it is already pre-filled with your salary, deductible bank loan interest, etc. To ensure data security, both state authorities and agencies connect data through a decentralized system dubbed the “X-Road” wherein there’s no single owner or controller .
e-Estonians: Making the three minute tax return possible
The move towards an e-State has resulted in plenty of material benefits for the Estonian. Here are a few of my favorites :
- e-Tax: After having logged onto the system, the user reviews their pre-filled forms, makes any necessary changes, and approves the document with a digital signature. The process typically takes three to five minutes.
- i-Voting: Allows voters to cast their ballots from any internet-connected device, anywhere in the world.
- Electronic Health Record and e-Prescription: Each patient has one single common record integrated and accessible across all hospitals, including image files such as X-rays. Prescriptions are done with a click. At the pharmacy the patient presents the ID card; any insurance subsidies are applied automatically. For routine fills, no doctor visits are needed – the patient can contact the doctor by e-mail or phone.
- e-Police: A mobile workstation in every patrol car gives officers instantaneous access to check on a driver – their motor vehicle registration, insurance, population register on demographics, and weapons register. Before, this process took 20 minutes over radio and is now done in 2 seconds.
The e-Residency: Become an Estonian in just a few minutes
If you want to start a company, Estonia should be on your shortlist. While the “e-Residency” doesn’t grant you rights to live in Estonia, to travel, or gain citizen benefits, it allows you to access several of the services provided to Estonians. Applicants can obtain a digital ID that will let them register their business in Estonia, open a bank account, use the e-tax service, and digitally sign contracts anywhere in the world.
While the jury is still out on the succes of the e-Residency, Estonians themselves have benefitted hugely from the digital transformation of their country: dramatically reduced bureaucracy, more citizens to file correct/higher taxes (increasing tax revenues), and improved efficiency in notoriously cost heavy sectors such as health care.
While the new digital world has been able to cut a lot of red tape, two concerns remain. First, anyone with an internet connection could hack the system and affect Estonia’s elections, access personal health information, and police records. How will Estonia ensure a 110% secure data environment? Second, the administrative work replaced by the digital world was providing jobs to the economy. For a country seeking to imitate Estonia’s success, how should it think about the replacement of this work force?
Picture credit: http://www.borderlessblog.com/estonian-e-residency/
 Digital Nomads Documentary: One Way Ticket (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4zEFYzhVfI)
 e-Estonia website (https://e-estonia.com/)
 Eesti Reformierakond: “Prime Minister of Estonia explains how fast, simple and safe is e-voting” (https://youtu.be/yZ4s95lFkk4)
 e-Estonia website, X-Road page (https://e-estonia.com/component/x-road/)
 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – Exclusive Taavi Roivas interview pt. 1 March 22, 2016 (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/bz2f5k/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-exclusive—taavi-roivas-extended-interview-pt–1)