The most advanced digital society in the world is a former Soviet Republic on the edge of the Baltic Sea.
And by handing over €50 [since this story was published, this price has increased to €100] and a photograph, allowing my fingerprints to be taken and waiting a few weeks while my credentials were verified, I have been issued with an identity card, a cryptographic key and a PIN code to access its national systems. I am now an official e-resident of the Republic of Estonia, as is the Japanese prime minister, and you will want to be one, too. And what’s more, by doing so, you’ll be part of a system that could not only reinvent public services for the internet age, but fundamentally redefine what it means to be a country.
But first, let’s back up. When Estonia gained independence from Russia in 1991, it quickly realised that it needed to find something to set itself apart from its neighbours. Norway had oil, Finland mobile phones, Sweden design. But as Taavi Kotka, the Estonian government’s chief information officer, asks, what do you think of when you think of places like Lithuania or Slovenia? Nothing, he says, and so to become distinct, Estonia has embarked on massive technological innovation.