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“Digital signature is a wonder” – an expatriate shares her experience in Estonia

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“I have to confess, I did not know about Estonia whatsoever before I met an Estonian in Brazil during my student exchange,” says Dalisa, born in Mexico City, but living in Estonia for already 7 years. “But now I am absolutely enchanted, and I call Estonia my home.”

From that encounter with an Estonian, Dalisa was curious to learn more about this distant country, so in the summer of 2015, she landed in Tallinn, equipped with a backpack full of clothes for only a week’s stay. Since then, she hasn’t left.

“As we were getting ready to land, I could get a glimpse of the landscape and thought to myself how different this country is, nothing I had seen before, with all these woods, bogs and water all around – so many lakes and rivers.” A few weeks of summer in Saaremaa convinced Dalisa to stay in Estonia.

When asked about her visa and permanent residency applications, she admits it “being a bit of a hassle in the beginning. As I was about to marry the Estonian I met in Brazil, then the most curious justification I had to present from Mexico was the proof of me being unmarried. But thanks to having already judge’s appointments registered in Estonia, my visa was extended so I could follow through with all legalities. I took it quite natural that my birth certificate and other documentation had to be sent to me from Mexico, translated into English and apostilled.”

From the moment Dalisa got married and presented all the required documentation until she received the residence permit, approximately a month had passed. “I was impressed how smooth the process itself was, including the possibility to book all the appointments online beforehand,” remembers Dalisa.

Mandatory National Identity Card and eID

Estonian ID card is a mandatory document issued by the Police and Boarder Guard Board (PBGB) for all Estonian citizens. An ID card is issued also to the citizen of the European Union who holds right of residence in Estonia. Additionally, a residence permit is also issued to foreigners who are not citizens of EU member states and who are in Estonia based on a residence permit or right of residence. Due to the digital component of the cards mentioned, it is convenient, easy, and secure to use electronic services.

99% of public services are available digitally in Estonia via valid eID carriers and can be accessed by the citizens and residents alike. From safe authentication and legally binding digital signing to the consumption of convenient e-services – all these are at your fingertips thanks to the government-issued electronic ID.

“In all fairness, back in the day when I had just gotten the eID, my partner then was a great help in introducing me the procedures. But I experimented a lot on my own, and all the transactions seemed so intuitive to me that I had no problems with getting used to the e-services,” recalls Dalisa.

 

However, learning to use eID or e-services does not have to be a journey you need to figure it out yourself. Free public courses have been provided for many years to all interested in acquiring ICT skills or curious to understand how Estonia’s e-state functions. Over 10% of the population received ICT training in just a few years. Governance tools based on electronic ID are also available to enhance inclusion and democracy, such as the petitions portal rahvaalgatus.ee where, to this day, a virtual environment to practice your digital signature is available. So, you will know what to do when the real signing will take place.

How accessible is (digital) Estonia?

“I experienced a language barrier in the beginning, as I discovered that many digital services were described in detail in Estonian but when I switched over to English, a mere summary was provided. I believe this barrier has reduced significantly, not only because I speak Estonian, but because I have also seen the quality of the translation of services increase over the past years. There is still much work to be done, but I love this step towards inclusiveness and solidarity.”

Estonia is a small but sparsely populated country. “Having lived in Tallinn and Tartu, I have always had access to additional training programmes and also to fellow expat-community groups that function as a wonderful peer-to-peer support network. But I imagine people, especially foreigners, might feel cut off in more remote areas. Yes, the e-services are available regardless of location, but the support might not be.

I appreciate that even in the most remote locations, you can always pay by card. I have drastically reduced the use of cash since I moved to Estonia, and I enjoy the comfort it gives me. Village shops, festivals, not to mention restaurants, supermarkets, or public offices, all have a card terminal at my disposal to make fast cashless payments,” says Dalisa.

Any favourites among e-services?

“The standard for all countries should be Estonia’s e-Health system. I truly appreciate all my medical data being made available in one portal. Both public and private medical service providers contribute to creating a wholesome dataset of my health. This is the essence of the citizen-centric approach as my freedom to have an appointment with any medical specialist I choose is fully respected. I still benefit from the government’s Patient Portal and trust it to have wholesome data available to me. Moreover, the legal rights that come with my data and my possibilities to execute them are outstanding.”


Dalisa

In Estonia, the ownership of personal data lies with the respective citizen, the data does not belong to the authority storing it. Deriving from this principle, the Patient Portal offers the possibility to, temporarily or definitively, lock any data corresponding to the individual from the medical specialists. This gives people the liberty to display medical data as they please. Additionally, the Patient Portal enables people to submit statements of intention (organ donorship, blood transfusion, or body donation).

“Gone are the days when I spend the first minutes of my doctor’s appointment retelling my medical history. The Patient Portal is an evidence-based updated data source, so my doctor could spend their time treating me and not waste time on duplication. Also, e-Prescription is extremely convenient – I will never lose another medical prescription again, and in case I need a refill, a quick call to my doctor will be needed, and fairly fast I can buy the medicine from the pharmacy using the ID card,” Dalisa shares her experience.

Is it worth learning to use eID and digital services?

“I believe the COVID pandemic was a big wake-up call to many governments around the world realising they might not meet the needs in changed conditions. Even though I was familiar with Estonia’s digital capabilities, I was still amazed to see how life carried on, as usual, just a little more remote.

I established an NGO recently while being physically in Germany. Even though I am not a native Estonian, I went through a culture shock similar to what Estonians might feel living abroad – now exposed to endless bureaucracy, loads of paperwork and hours wasted trying to sort through all the documents. I couldn’t handle the tiresome procedures after being completely spoiled by fast, hassle-free, and convenient services in Estonia.”

Compared to Estonia, other countries are lagging far behind was the thought that went through Dalisa’s mind while she was digitally signing her founder’s agreement from across Europe with a co-founder based in Estonia.

Dalisa works as a Project Assistant at International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a UN agency, and is a founder of International Women’s Network in Estonia.

 

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