■ 17:35 (UTC+03:00), 03 JUN 2019 | ESTONIA BY E-RESIDENCY
Or rather, e-resident ID card.
Like its Hong Kong equivalent, it has a chip. (Sometimes I have a hard time not putting it with all my other payment cards!)
Unlike its HK equivalent, this one is pretty big.
Like I tweeted, the Estonian e-residency “thing” ended up being something I stumbled across after a bit of Googling (which is increasingly rare-ish, since I’ve increasingly switched over to DuckDuckGo, who claims to be more privacy-aware).
Was Estonia my first choice?
In summer 2014, my wife Tracy and I moved to Britain intending on becoming permanent residents and probably, just probably, eventual British citizens. China’s abysmal smog scared the bejeezus out of us — skies as alienesque as on Venus, Pluto, Uranus, or worse got us more than a little bit worried…
The decision taken to renege on that pledge was not taken lightly. By late 2015, China had done enough to convince me that it was more than ready to throw open the welcome mat. Previously untouchable corrupt bureaucrats were rounded, the air was notably cleaner, and China as in its currency and economic prowess increasingly convinced me it was the Country of the Future. After almost five weeks of back-to-back convos with those around Beijing, we had started making plans to come back for good.
However, almost immediately after we came back, the walls started closing in. New debit cards would be rid of the Visa/MasterCard co-branding and credit cards were all but denied to new alien national arrivals. And while after the shock election in the US in autumn 2016 and the Brexit nobody thought would happen started taking shape, China seemed to be a sane alternative in 2017, the developments in 2018, culminating in unreported protests around Beijing’s Finance Street, increasingly convinced me that it was more than time to call it quits in China.
Starting from late 2018, I had started making more commitments, financial and otherwise, to countries and territories outside of Mainland China. Somewhere in spring 2019, Estonia’s e-residency programme emerged on my screen. For a long time, I had known virtually nothing about Estonia short of its existence as a former part of Communist Soviet Russia, and the rather interesting Saatse Boot, which allowed you access to the former Leninist “motherland” — provided you didn’t stop on Russian soil.
A very different kind of “immigration”
Neither my wife nor I were aliens to foreign authorities. The annual visa renewal was hitherto a regular, if not feared, part of existing in China whilst being legally allowed to make money from the country, and my wife has quite a collection of Schengen, UK, and Irish stamps — and a US visa. (That was so much easier to come by during the much more sane Obama years!) But applying for Estonian e-residency was so very much different — as it might’ve been the only nation to do something close to it!
First off, I didn’t even need to do this to legally exist in Estonia, as I am Swiss. I could literally land on a Lufthansa flight (dammit! No direct connections to Tallinn from Zürich — or am I wrong here?) without a moment’s notice and I would be in, no questions asked. And Tracy could easily join me there as she has plenty of OKs from Schengen in terms of a perfect travel record and a valid visa — and could derive the right to stay there (for life maybe, even) on account of my nationality. So basically we didn’t have to do this to go to Estonia (and even being a “mere” e-resident didn’t get you mileage if your nationality/passport didn’t permit free access to Estonia).
But I think the form I filled in was probably the easiest ever. Tracy and I sifted through her applications for visas for European and North American countries, and some of these were extremely invasive (imagine Penny attempting The Big Talk with Sheldon, but slightly less so). Of course, no nation we had ever visited were as so (un-)Sheldonesque/ShAmyesque to request details on any amicable activity (the obligatory mention of “coitus” was inevitable due to the Big Bang Theory factor, probably due to the trains link) on the visa application form, but we did see some very invasive questions for other countries.
The Estonian application form was the exact opposite. Of course it talked about your past (“were you ever a criminal?”), but much more about the future. I mentioned (on more than one occasion) I was a sort of a “refugee from Brexit” and thus wanted to re-establish myself within the Single Market. I was also about digital content and translations, and knowing over 10 languages across Europe and Asia was certainly quite a plus.
Within around a month, not only did I get my application approved, but my e-residency card was also very much on the way. Then it was just a quick briefing, ID verification, last questions (easy ones), and getting the card in.
It’s still early days my end as a new member of the Estonian e-residency community — and I was rather pleased to learn that fellow Mac Advocates were there. Like say Guy Kawasaki and the rest. Foreign heads of states, too, were interestingly part of the community.
Just after 24 hours from when I got my card, the whole thing was active. I was slightly less enthusiastic about the “typing in the password is the same as signing a form which has legal implications” bit, since that was always the case online (for example, when getting my ETA + ESTA), but the one thing I found awesome was the fact that I had my own Estonian e-mail address. This was more to be used by the Estonian government to talk to me (for which an email redirection was needed), and I liked it that way — the fact you were always informed.
I used to have a natural aversion to the Euro. It seemed to be a too-futuristic invention I wasn’t quite ready for, and it appeared “too artificial”. Increasingly, however, I am moving away from the US dollar and Chinese Yuan Renminbi and more towards the Euro (the pound hasn’t been doing great since Brexit), and even more so toward my home currency, the Swiss franc. Eventually I’d get a company started and get banked, making me a closer part of EU Europe.
And that’s the funny thing here.
A Swiss Citizen in Berlaymont Territory
The Swiss have a big problem with Brussels. They have a problem with the “EU dictatorship” as some less-than-sapient political opportunists might call it, but some also have a huge problem of breaking up with the EU. Bern-Brussels politics were shaken on 09 February 2014, when the electorate voted to potentially dent the Free Movement Agreement. The result that was implemented was administrative window-dressing in the legalese mods whilst keeping Free Movement largely untouched.
So to some ultraconservative (maybe) circles, a Swiss shouldn’t poke his or her head too deep into EU territory. Others contend that Cosmopolitan Switzerland is more the answer — where what we have today, tandem acceptance of the Euro, participation in the Free Market, and more — should be kept. Increasingly I am moving towards this end of the spectrum, whilst not going to extremes.
For example, I would politically puke if Switzerland became a member of the European Union (as fully linked-in, so to speak, as Estonia: Schengen, Eurozone, full EU membership). I would also refuse to push down hard on the push button that would admit Switzerland to the European Economic Area. My hands would linger over the button, skirt around the top, tap and touch, but never push down for real on the button, as it (EEA accession) was rejected in a bitterly divided vote on 06 December 1992.
But I would certainly vote to keep the Swiss-EU bilateral agreements the way it was. Again, my hand hovers close to the new Framework Agreement push button, but again, a la EEA, I am hesitant to whack down on the button. This new Framework Agreement has gotten most Swiss political parties a lot of headaches — on many fronts. EU law applicability, in particular, has gotten some mainstream (and also fringe parties) more than a little worried.
So the one button I felt happy pushing the most was Estonian e-residency. It is not un-Swiss to have something with Europe (something constructive maybe). Maybe Switzerland will never be part of the EU (certainly not any time soon), but maybe Swiss citizens can choose on their own personal initiative whether to have “a tango with the EU”.
My wife and I did exactly that in 2014, by entering Britain, then still very much part of the EU. My hope is for the softest of all Brexits: departure from the Union, thus honouring to the letter of the law the result of the referendum, but continued membership in the European Economic Area, and of course the Customs Union. Until that’s guaranteed, though, I’m happy being part of the EU in Tallinn rather than Harrow. With an “Estxit” (!?) still very much not on the cards at all, I’m happy to “re-establish in the EU” at UTC+2… ■ ■ ■