We asked Michelle, a digital nomad from Germany, why e-Residency and Estonia was the best solution to manage her location independent lifestyle.
The world is my office
I'm from Northern Germany and have a background in computer science and software development. For two and a half years I've been travelling all over the world as a digital nomad, and running my business from anywhere.
Originally I studied computer science in Berlin and Sweden. After my final semester abroad, I returned to Berlin and started a corporate job as a software developer. I soon discovered the idea of starting my own business while travelling the world and experiencing places like a local, but it took me about two years to muster the courage to actually do it. Looking back now, I realise that I've always had itchy feet and an undiscovered urge to travel and challenge myself.
As a freelance software developer and a WordPress support service provider with clients in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, all my communication is via online channels. I never meet them or my team members.
Thus I can work from any location, as long as the projects are delivered in a timely manner and to a professional standard. I was an 'Einzelunternehmer' in Germany — meaning my business profit was also my gross income and I was personally liable for any potential consequences. Yet as my revenue grew, so did the complexity of managing my taxes and dealing with location-bound, traditional German bureaucracy. It was obvious to me that I needed another solution.
Living the Digital Nomad life
What does your Estonian business do?
I use my Estonian company for three businesses. One, being a WordPress support service — helping companies who run their websites on WordPress with bug fixes, customisations and general assistance for their website. Secondly, as a freelance software developer, I've been building a boarding school management system for teachers and students. Lastly, I'm developing a new client sign-up and payment processing software as a service (SaaS) called Freigeist.
How did you hear about e-Residency and why the need if you had a German company?
I follow and read a lot of digital nomad blogs and one in particular from Sebastian Kühn opened my world to the e-Residency programme, and how it enabled solopreneurs to manage their business online from any location.
In Germany it was easy to set up my business, but became very complicated and risky as I progressed. Moving from a self-employed Einzelunternehmer to a Limited Company (GmbH) would require €25,000 in share capital which I didn't have, as well as an uncomfortable amount of bureaucracy. Whilst I don't mind being a tax resident or paying taxes per se, the complexity and paperwork required quickly became a problem.
Plus, I needed a physical address in Germany to operate a company, and was legally required to receive and send physical mail.
Did you consider options other than Germany or Estonia to incorporate your company?
I did briefly consider Cyprus and Malta, but if I'm honest, I never put much thought into it. I soon discovered that the financial investment involved with setting up a company was too much, and again there were residency requirements.
Setting up a company in Estonia was so much easier and cheaper — with everything in English I could find the information I required and understand what was needed to apply.
The way e-Residency is marketed — designed for location independent entrepreneurs like myself — was exactly what I needed.
Living the Digital Nomad life in Australia
Did you have to go to Estonia to set up your company? How was it?
I had to go once to set up my bank account — sadly I was only in Tallinn for a couple of days. Tallinn reminded me of my home town, Lübeck — with its medieval architecture and old town (in fact both Tallinn and Lübeck were trading towns as part of the Hanseatic League).
I received my e-Residency in June 2017, collecting my ID card and security codes in Berlin. Through LeapIN I immediately then set up my company. But as I was travelling in the USA and Canada at the time, I was unable to get to Estonia.
Thanks to a gentle reminder from LeapIN I soon planned my trip to open my bank account. After arrival I signed a contract with LHV and was given my debit card. It only took 30 minutes to complete!
Since your visit to Estonia and getting set up, are you still living the life of a digital nomad?
Yes, I'm still location-independent, although I'll base myself in Portugal for most of this year. I've been in Chiang Mai, then Hong Kong, and I've now been living in Melbourne for about a month.
What's the most interesting place you've logged in from?
That would have to be a lakeside cabin in the middle of nowhere in Vancouver Island, Canada. I'd just attended a conference for location-independent entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas, and taken the week off for a roadtrip in British Columbia.
I was just getting started using my e-Residency and setting up my new Estonian company through LeapIN, still not sure if and how it would work out. Then in that moment someone from their onboarding team encouraged me to make an appointment with the bank to open my account - and minutes later I'd booked the appointment and flights to Tallinn and was finally certain I'd go through with moving my business to Estonia.
And how has your experience been overall as a LeapIN customer?
It's been great - I still can't believe how much easier and more convenient the everyday business administration is with e-Estonia in general and LeapIN specifically. I love how easy my monthly paperwork has become - I basically just upload my invoices and receipts in my self-service dashboard, confirm any payments (like VAT or salary taxes) they've prepared, and that's it. When I have questions, an answer is always just an email away - and the team's responses are always quick, friendly, and informal. I really appreciate it.
Have you ever encountered any problems with LeapIN or had to contact our support team? How was the experience?
I haven't had any LeapIN related technical issues so far. Sometimes I contact the LeapIN support team to ask about special cases with invoices and expenses, and their response always comes quick and clear.
What is the most important feature/service/functionality that we're missing in our self-service?
I'm not missing anything so far. Detailed financial analytics would be awesome in the future though.
Why should others consider e-Residency, Estonia and LeapIN?
All three are ideal and optimised for online businesses and solo founders, where location really doesn't matter. Other countries require you to live in the country where you wish to operate your business. As long as you have an Estonian business address, you don't have to live there or be an individual tax resident.
Having LeapIN take care of my legal compliance and accounting is really a huge weight off my shoulders — and the main reason why I decided to leave Germany with my business. I wrote more on this experience here.
Have you met any other e-residents or LeapIN customers on your travels? Heard any interesting stories from them?
Yes, quite a few of my friends are e-residents and some also customers of LeapIN. It's certainly interesting to see how people with different nationalities, business models, and business sizes strategically use e-Residency for a more optimal setup.
Do you feel e-Residency will grow?
Absolutely, for entrepreneurs who wish to be location independent there is no better option. Plus the clear, transparent, yet flexible tax structure is ideal for those living and working away from their countries of origin.
I also believe that concepts like e-Residency present an opportunity for nation states to become more entrepreneurial and competitive themselves. With entrepreneurs having new options to choose from outside of their country of origin, governments need to come up with innovative and attractive solutions. Estonia is certainly an impressive example of that.