As a student from Nigeria who has only spent a little over a year in Estonia, I was initially wowed by the advanced digital state of Estonian public and private sector services. My heart probably skipped a beat the first time I signed a document digitally. But like everyone else, the services soon became a regular part of my life.
Once my friend mentioned how habituated to the e-services she had gotten without realisation, I started reflecting on how embedded Estonia’s digital public infrastructure is into my life. So here’s what e-Estonia has looked like for me since last year.
It’s like a second name
Having just arrived in Estonia, I thought I couldn’t get my personal ID code until my temporary residence permit (TRP) was approved. As soon as I learnt I could get it immediately after submitting my data at a Population Register office, I went to the nearest one. I filled out a form, submitted my documents and waited.
Shortly after, I was called in, and a paper with my ID code and some other information was handed to me. “Wow! That was fast,” I thought as I exited the office. Since I got the code, it has been like my second name. When I need to carry out financial transactions, it’s all I need. Signing whatever document, it’s this code. Logging into state service portals like the e-Tax and e-Population Register, it’s still this same code.
I had to update my residential information in the Population Register a couple of weeks ago because I changed apartments. This time, I did not need to visit the office. All I did was access my e-Population Register dashboard, update my information, upload my new housing contract, and submit the change of residence application. That was done on a Friday, and it had been approved by Monday morning.
When the system works…
Upon arriving at the government office for my TRP application on my scheduled date, I realised it was different from my experiences at government offices back home. First, I input my appointment number into the validator and was assigned a number. Then I headed to the self-service photo booth to have my biometric data captured. Given the visual explanation of the process, it was easy to do without assistance.
Shortly after, my number appeared on the waiting screen, and I moved to my assigned official. I submitted my documents and paid the fee. Oh, I made a terrible mistake with one of the submitted forms, and the lady pointed it out. Mortified, I started apologising profusely. “It’s fine. You can fill it all over again right here,” she said with a smile, so I did.
On my way out, I reflected on my experience there and concluded that when public services are efficient, everyone enjoys the benefits. I didn’t have to waste time at the office. Neither did the government employees have to waste their time and energy, leading to improved internal productivity and happier workers. I imagine my experience might have been different if all the processes I went through, like the biometrics capturing, had to be done by the staff.
My first ever national ID card
About a month after I applied for my TRP, I was notified that my application was approved and my card was ready for collection. So, I booked an appointment, and on the scheduled day, in no time, I was handed my card, my first national ID card ever, and an envelope containing the PIN and PUK codes. And so, I became someone that could fully access Estonia’s abundant e-services.
Having had my card for as long as I have, I am glad it is more than a photo card for identification. It has been an active part of my life as I carry out numerous transactions and use diverse e-services in the public and private sectors. It’s secure, reliable, and convenient.
Since I got my TRP pretty fast, I felt I had enough time to go to a physical bank and open a bank account before heading for my next lecture. LHV had come highly recommended, so I went there. I knew most people favoured e-banking, but I still looked around in disbelief seeing just a few customers there.
Immediately after I got there, I filled out a form and the bank teller set to work. Being that I was yet to set up the Smart ID and needed it there, I also had to do that quickly; the teller was happy to help. In no time, I signed the client agreement, got my account number, and had my bank app set up.
Less than 30 minutes after arriving at the bank, I left with a folder containing my bank info, complimentary LHV chocolate, and the expectation to receive my new bank card in the mail in a few days. Since then, I have not needed to visit the bank. It’s been e-Banking all the way. Meanwhile, since the regulatory changes in 2017, anyone with an ID or e-Residency card can open a bank account online, so you do not even have to go to the bank as I did.
I love the e-Tax portal
Of all Estonian e-services, the e-Tax is one of my favourites. I love visiting my dashboard to check what’s going on; employment registrations and statuses, income declaration, tax payments, the usage of the tax-free minimum, and all. For example, in February, I filed the 2021 income tax return in the e-Tax system, and the process took less than 5 minutes. Then, about two weeks later, I received my income tax refund.
Since one is not automatically registered as a tax resident, I emailed the Tax and Customs Boards to file for tax residency in Estonia as soon as I got my TRP, including my eID and digitally signed Form R in the email. That same day, I received an email that it was approved. Back when I submitted my application, it could only be filed in person and by email, but since 1 June 2022, it has become possible via the e-Tax portal.
The digital signature is everything
I have been signing digitally with my ID code and DigiDoc since I got my TRP; its convenience is everything. According to the Information System Authority (RIA), 3 million digital signatures are appended to documents monthly in Estonia.
To me, what makes the digital signature the digital signature is not just the fact that it is legally recognised in Estonia and throughout the EU but also the fact that people actually use it. For instance, the last time I signed any document by hand was the week before I got my ID card.
That shiny green card
Upon receiving my TRP, one of the first things I did was personalise my bus card so I could start using public transport for free. I did it online in less than a minute using my ID code. My regular go-tos are within trekking distance of my home, so I don’t get to use the transport services much. But once in a while, when I do use the transport system, I still feel so cool bringing out the shiny green card to validate my trip.
If you’ve watched the classic 1965 movie The Sound of Music, which stars Julie Andrews, you probably know and still hum one of its best soundtracks, “My Favourite Things.” The above are a few of my favourite things about Estonia as a digital society. How about yours?