99% of government services
are available 365 days a year
At present, 99% of public services have been digitized, and they are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Consequently, there is no need for government service counters. Changing your residence certificate can be done simply by accessing it via your PC or smartphone. Even the hassle of filing tax returns is over in just a few minutes to around 15 at most. All dealings for the year are digitized, so all you need to do is verify them as you go along.
Voting is also done online, enabling it to be done easily from anywhere in the world, and the minutes of Cabinet meetings are made public as well. If you commit a traffic violation, you can pay the fine on the spot with your smartphone. With restaurants and shops being digitized too, a society with no need for cash is being made a reality.
Ultimately, the hospitals, police, schools, taxes, and everything else are all linked through a single ID. What made this possible is a technology called “X-road,” a platform which enables data from differing government agencies to be exchanged safely and smoothly.
Estonia was under the control of the former Soviet Union, until it regained independence in 1991. For this reason, they have had cyber security research establishments since the 1960s, staffed by personnel well versed in encryption technology.
After independence, the high ranking officials from the Soviet Union flocked home, making it necessary to rebuild the government. They took this opportunity to build a digital state.
I am told that the lingering threat of neighboring Russia is behind the push for digitization. The populace senses a risk that their territory might be occupied by Russia, so just in case, they are working to create a world in which “the citizens and the state will exist online,” even if they lose their territory.
Further, they are moving forward with an initiative called “e-Residency.” This system allows even those who have never been to Estonia to become an e-resident by paying about €100, registering their photo and fingerprints, etc., and passing a screening.
If you become an e-resident, you can establish a company or open a bank account in Estonia. This also means that you can do business inside the EU by establishing a company in Estonia.
A bilateral tax agreement was signed with Japan last summer, and the taxation system is in the process of being arranged. According to their website, there have been 33,000 applications from 154 countries as of March this year, and this system has been used to create more than 5,000 companies.