E-Residency of Estonia – An Exclusive Interview With Arnaud Castaignet, Head of PR, Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency Programme

The Estonian E-Residency Program & Remote Business Management - An Exclusive Interview With Arnaud Castaignet, Head of Public Relations

Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency programme was launched in December 2014 and it has so far attracted more than 50,000 people from 157 countries around the world. We are publishing an interview of Mr. Arnaud Castaignet, Head of Public Relations, Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency programme.

Arnaud Castaignet - Head of Public Relations - Republic of Estonia's e-Residency programme
Arnaud Castaignet – Head of Public Relations – Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency programme

About Arnaud Castaignet
Arnaud Castaignet is the Head of Public Relations of the Republic of Estonia’s e-Residency programme. Previously, he worked for the French President François Hollande as a member of his communications team. Prior to his time at the French Presidency, he has worked as an international PR consultant in Paris, advising governments, politicians and corporations on their public relations and influence strategy, and as a business journalist in Istanbul (Turkey) and Mumbai (India). He has started his career at the United Nations Environment Programme office in Brussels.

He graduated from Sciences Po Bordeaux (Institute of Political Studies) in 2009 with a Master in Governance & International Affairs and a BA in Political Science. As part of his university studies, he has studied at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Bucharest (Romania) and interned in Belgrade (Serbia), researching about European integration in the Balkans and transitional justice. He is also a Board Member of Open Diplomacy, a Paris-based think tank established in 2010, and a member of the Young Transatlantic Network of Future Leaders, a flagship initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States specifically geared toward young professionals 35 years old and younger.

Responses for Startup Success Stories by Arnaud Castaignet (Head of Public Relations, e-Residency, Republic of Estonia):

Q. What do you mean e-Residency? What is an e-Residency program?
E-Residency is a status provided to people who are neither citizens nor residents of Estonia, but are granted an Estonian digital ID and access to Estonia’s e-services.

Estonia's e-Residency Kit
Estonia’s e-Residency Kit

In practical terms, it connects you with Estonia and Estonian business environment, including the freedom to run a global, EU-company online from anywhere in the world.

e-Residency Identity Card - Estonia's e-Residency Programme
e-Residency Identity Card

What are the Benefits of e-Residency for Indians? Why one should be an e-resident of Estonia?
The first wave of e-Residency included many micro-entreprises and small businesses. For e-residents, Estonia offers increasingly convenient ways to successfully pursue activities independently of their location. Indeed, digital nomads – professionals who live and work in more than one country and offer cross-border IT and consultation services – are one focus of the programme. E-Residency gives them a way to establish trusted company in Europe and remotely manage them with low overheads.

  • India has the world’s largest freelance workforce. Europe is one of the key markets for them owing to its huge demand. By bringing the freelancers under the e-Residency umbrella, we aim to provide them with a platform whereby they can further flourish their businesses.
  • India is an entrepreneurial country. Companies, especially those in software development & technology can leverage from Estonia since we pioneer in ICT technologies, especially in e-governance. e-Residency can provide Indian entrepreneurs with the opportunity to open and run a global EU company fully online while being in India and gain access to the European market of 500 million people.

Q. Does this program give the right to reside in Estonia?
e-Residency does not bestow Estonian citizenship or the right to enter or reside in Estonia. Neither does it allow the right to enter the European Union.

Q. What are the latest e-Residency statistics?
We have 50,000 e-Residents from 157 countries around the world. E-residents have so far established 6,200 new companies. In India we have 2,174 e-residents and they have created 275 companies. 201 of these companies have been established in 2018.

Q. How e-residents can open bank accounts without going to Estonia? Which other third party services are available for e-residents?
Estonian banks tend to serve e-residents who have a business connection to Estonia and can provide a clear understanding of their business, among other considerations, and always require to have a physical meeting in Estonia. However, Estonian banks are not the only banking options for e-residents. In fact, more than half of e-resident companies have obtained online business banking from the fintech industry. This is why we have built several partnerships with payment institutions such as Holvi, InstaRem or Payoneer in order to widen the choice of financial services available to e-residents. The overall trend worldwide shows that more and more global entrepreneurs chose fintech companies to access an IBAN, credit card and other financial services. Many of them actually use one of Estonia’s best success stories to access these services: Transferwise Borderless.

Also, since January 1st, the Estonian Parliament has eliminated the requirement to use an Estonian bank when registering share capital. So, e-residents are enable to conduct all business activity using any credit or payment institution across the European Economic Area.

Q. Is it possible to run a company in Estonia completely online through this program?
Yes, e-Residency allows you to run a global, EU-company fully online from anywhere in the world. You can create your business registered in Estonia without coming to Estonia, although we of course strongly encourage you to visit our beautiful country.

Q. Which types of businesses are not allowed through e-Residency program?
Any company involved in activities which are not in contradiction with Estonian law can be created.

Q. How do you ensure the security of the digital identities?
By definition, when you launch any initiative, and in our case any governmental initiative, you know it might bring both risks and opportunities. When Estonia launched the X-Road and the digital ID card in 2001, or the i-voting system in 2005, the zero risk didn’t exist either, as it never does. Building a digital society involves risks but paper-based administration doesn’t reduce these risks, it’s even the opposite. In the case of e-Residency, we assessed that it didn’t bring any new risk to the country as there was no technological innovation, we only give access to an infrastructure that already exists.

We derive our legitimacy from the fact our programme involves several stakeholders: background checks of e-residents are done by the Police and Border Guard Administration, which has sovereign power of decision, companies are registered under the Company Registration Portal with the same obligations as any other company, including submitting an annual report, the country exchanges tax-related information with more than one hundred jurisdictions in the world on the basis of the relevant OECD convention, which also means such information exchange is also available to those with whom we have no valid tax treaty. The great thing for the growth of our programme is that the fact we take security very seriously has no negative influence on the number of submitted e-Residency applications, it’s even the opposite.

Our digital nation depends on the trust of all its people — citizens, residents and e-residents. You cannot expect trust if the State is not transparent and accountable. If there is no citizen control of the use of personal data, citizens would be legitimately worried about their privacy. In Estonia, to ensure transparency and accountability, citizens are allowed to monitor their own privacy. They can trace anyone who has tried to access their data by logging on to the state portal, eesti.ee. Protecting the integrity of our digital identity is always a top priority. But being pioneers in these fields also means we will sometimes be among the first to encounter new challenges. Ten years ago, Estonia was the first in the world to experience a nationwide cyber-attack, for example, although no data was compromised.

The attack served as a wake-up call for how the country’s digital infrastructure could be secured through radical new technology. Of course, no system can be fully secured but we still believe paper-based administrations are less secured than digital ones.

Increased cybercrime and politically motivated attacks on electronic services mean cyber security is more important than ever for both the private and the public sector. Estonia’s preparedness to handle cyber crises has significantly increased over the past decade. The country has created intrusion detection and protection systems, practised cooperation with both public and private institutions, significantly contributed to the awareness of users, and is participating in intensive international cooperation. After its experience with the 2007 cyber attacks, Estonia has implemented blockchain technology to ensure data and systems integrity and combat insider risk, and became one of the most recognized and valued cyber security experts internationally. Since then Estonia became the home of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (NATO CCD COE) and European IT agency. CCD COE is organizing the world’s largest and most complex international technical live-fire cyber.

Q. Can you share success stories/case study of any 1 or 2 startups with e-Residency program?
It is difficult to highlight key successes because our programme impacts both at micro and macro levels and both are very important. I could mention Gabriel Stürmer, who has created Cupcakese, a Brazilian/Estonian fast growing mobile and Facebook games developer and publisher. , Konstantin Klyagin, an e-resident from Ukraine, who registered his company (REDWERK OÜ) in Estonia. It is an offshore custom software development company, they even developed a software for the European Parliament. Christoph Huebner, a German serial entrepreneur, founder of several companies including Kinder Privat Versichern and Exmedio. Kinder Privat Versichern is specialized in the brokerage of baby’s and children’s private health insurance plans in Germany and Exmedio.com offers digital precaution services for one’s own passing. He started his first business at just 16 years old making websites and never stopped building companies after that. A company founded by a Finnish e-resident Miki Kuusi employs now 700 delivery drivers in Estonia: Food delivery app Wolt, which has its Baltic HQ in Tallinn.

In India, Deepak Solanki, Founder of Velmenni, is one of the most successful Indian e-Residents. The company develops LiFi technology — an innovative alternative to WiFi . Velmenni started in India, but had difficulty in raising funds. He later re-established his company in the European Union, through Estonia and now runs it remotely through our e-Residency program with investors from the UK. It has offices in Tartu, Estonia as well as New Delhi and has 50% client base across Europe. e-Residency not only helped Deepak to raise funds but also allowed access to the vast European markets and thereby helped the company to prosper.

Q. What is the future direction of e-Residency?
Since the inception of the programme, e-residents have not just benefited from our digital nation but also made a significant contribution towards its further development. They’ve conducted business with other Estonian companies, invested in Estonia, travelled to Estonia, and some have paid taxes to Estonia. Perhaps most interestingly, they’ve also raised greater awareness of Estonia globally — including our culture and our values. E-residents are now an important community of Estonia that extends to every corner of the world. This is the new normal for how our country functions and other countries are already following in our steps: Azerbaijan and Dubai have announced they wanted to launch their own e-Residency programme.

In December, we revealed the e-Residency 2.0 White Paper, with 49 recommendations for how the programme can evolve. It has been unveiled by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, supported by many of those who were directly involved in creating it, such as Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Rene Tammist and TransferWise CEO Taavet Hinrikus who is moderating the event. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has also had a key role in driving this process forward and his Cabinet of Ministers has accepted all 49 recommendations. The e-Residency programme has already had a proven beneficial effect on a modest scale for citizens, residents and e-residents, as well as Estonia itself. It has paid for itself by bringing more direct income to the Estonian state than has been invested by Estonian taxpayers. It’s helped people around the world access entrepreneurship and conduct business globally in ways that weren’t previously possible for them. In doing so, it has provided more business, jobs and investment for companies in Estonia. The recommendations for improvement cover technology, business, security and — perhaps most surprisingly — culture. It will help create more mutually beneficial connections between everyone in our digital nation. One of the clearest re-occurring themes throughout this process is that e-Residency should be about much more than business. Many e-residents know little about Estonia when they first hear about e-Residency (and sometimes nothing at all), but have then developed a special connection in which they want to learn more about our culture and values. Some even learn Estonian! This is fortunate because, as Estonians have learnt throughout history, if more people can find our country on a map then we are more likely to remain on that map.

Q. Do you allow partnering with e-Residency program? If yes, please provide details.
As the e-Residency community grows, so too grows the need for business services to support that community. We build partnerships with companies that improve the lives of e-residents and help e-residents build successful companies. We are interested in business services for location-independent entrepreneurs, but we also welcome new and creative ideas from coworking spaces, accelerators and more.

Thank you Arnaud and best wishes from our team!

Useful videos:

  • What is e-Residency?
  • How to apply for e-Residency in Estonia?
  • How to manage a global business with e-Residency in Estonia?

Other Useful links:
e-Residency programme:
Become an e-resident: https://e-resident.gov.ee/become-an-e-resident/
Apply: https://apply.gov.ee/
Start a company: https://e-resident.gov.ee/start-a-company/
Marketplace: https://e-resident.gov.ee/run-a-company/
Support: https://e-resident.gov.ee/support/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/e_Residents
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eResidents/