I’ve always wanted to live in Europe but was born with the wrong passport. If you’re non-EU and looking at applying for a D Visa / TRP or you’re curious about about Estonia’s eResidency this post is for you.
These days I travel between Australia and Europe every year. It’s been like this since 2006. My first trip to Estonia was a day-trip out of Finland. The second time I met a girl and opened a bank account. Fast forward a few years and suddenly I’m married to an Estonian, I own property and have established a small business in Estonia. Most importantly I’ve built a circle of family and friends in Estonia. Estonia’s become “my second home”.
What came next? I toke a sabbatical and moved to Estonia. Potential deathbed regret avoided. I already covered the “European Sabbatical” post. This story is about how I got residency in Estonia and what the process felt like. Spoiler alert, it has a happy ending (no, not that kind!).
Those of you who’ve been down this path before or are thinking of applying for residency abroad can relate to the uncertainty. Once your mind’s made up, the weight of your sacrifices leading up to this point shifts to that of uncertainty.
The uncertainty doesn’t last forever so don’t waste too much energy worrying about it. Eventually you’ll receive a decision and if it’s the one you’re after, great! If not, find another way. Be persistent. Long lasting unhappiness is far worse than temporary uncertainty.
Embassy of Estonia, Canberra
Navigating their website expecting a “apply for a visa” button, I left with more questions than answers. A lot of embassies are like this. They’re usually concerned with international business relations and advocating their own country’s affairs than printing visas. That’s not a critique, just something to keep in mind next time you think of embassies as an international outpost for unsupervised public servants. Be patient.
Confused about which visa to apply for, I completed all 3 application forms, the Schengen visa application, the D Visa (long-stay) and the temporary residence permit application. I attached as much evidence as I could, ID, bank statements, marriage certificate – everything and then some. I booked an appointment and emailed the Embassy to ask if what I’ve provided is sufficient.
My wife & I have an appointment next week on the 12th of July. We understand we are applying for a long stay visa for 1 year, can you please take a look at the paperwork and advise if this is sufficient to get this started?”
Good morning Jai,
You are not applying for a Schengen visa at all as an Australian citizen you have the right to enter Estonia without a Schengen visa – I noticed a filled Schengen visa application in the Folder, but you are applying for a Estonian Long-Stay Visa (type D). If you want to apply for a Temporary Residence Permit too, there is a separate list of documents required for this (please see below the list & link to the list).
[and] here is a list of documents for Temporary Residence Permit:
A helpful response but with no assurances my documents were sufficient. The Embassy confirms the Long-Stay Visa (type D) is the way to go. TRP gets a mention too and the requirements of each are reiterated.
Ready, Steady Go?
The paperwork’s ready but needs to be submitted to the Embassy in person.
We were both working full-time so we tokeleave from work to attend to Canberra for a few days. We booked flights and accommodation. As it’s Australia everything’s expensive.
Spanner in the Works
After booking flights and accommodation and arranging leave the Embassy cancelled our appointment via email.
“Unfortunately it’s not possible to apply for a visa in the entire month of July because the Consul is out of the country for half the month. Given the estimated timeframes it takes to approve applications [we] thought best to cancel appointments.“
My wife’s quick thinking saved the day. She proposed a solution. As we’re not in a rush to get the visa, we will attend the Embassy to submit all the necessary paperwork in person. When the Consul returns – he can process the application and advise if approved. We’ll return at a later date to collect it or it could be posted back to us.
The Embassy cooperates and things are moving forward.
At the Embassy | Eesti Vabariigi Suursaatkond
It was a cold winter’s morning in Canberra the day we arrived. A little taste of Estonia, where where winters can be as cold as -30 degrees.
From the street I can see the coat of arms of Finland and Estonia side-by-side. The words “Eesti Vabariigi Suursaatkond” are clearly visible on a stone wall. Across the street we spotted a kangaroo. The building itself very impressive, in Scandinavian style. Lots of glass and wood. It houses the Estonia’s Embassy alongside Finland’s. A symbolic reminder of how inseparable these nations are from each other I thought.
The Consul’s actually in. He greets us and gets to work right away. He’s due to fly out later that day. He handles our paperwork. It’s quick and painless. I arrange the required AXA-Schengen insurance policy, leave my passport in the Embassy and head out for the day to enjoy Canberra. I remember feeling satisfied being able to at least submit all the required documents.
We headed out to enjoy Canberra, which, despite not being a backpacker destination is actually a great place to visit.
Why AXA? I purchased a 300€~ Schengen insurance policy without any research to support my D Visa. I’d seen their name somewhere, the policy was immediately available so I just went with it. I’ve not had any trouble with AXA but I’ve not made a claim either. I can’t recommend them, but cannot advise against them either. If I were to do it again I’d probably just go with the cheapest Schengen insurance policy out there, providing it would be accepted by Estonia.
The following morning I received a phone call before I even got out of bed.
The visa’s approved!
I jump in the air and then into an über to collect my passport with the visa embedded in it. I couldn’t believe my luck. The country which had given me so much had extended its generosity even further once more. I must have looked at my passport for 2 days straight checking the visa was still inside. I felt pretty pumped that whole day.
Arriving to Estonia
Over the following 6 months or so I focused on work, savings, planning and packing before the time came for us to leave Australia for Estonia.
The arrival was unremarkable. Customs nor Politsei interrogated me. I easily entered on my D Visa without any hassle. Well, Finnair as per usual delayed my bike baggage but that’s another story… I’m not sure if this was because I technically entered the Schengen zone via Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia but regardless everything went smoothly.
Being an Alien
As I got settled in Estonia I quickly realised I could see myself living in Estonia far longer than the D visa’s duration (365 days). Don’t get me wrong, I felt on top of the world getting the D visa, but it had several limitations.
One of the first limitations appeared when I bought a car. It needed to be registered to a person registered in Estonia’s population database. For whatever reason, a D visa holder isn’t registered in Estonia’s population database or at least that’s how I understood it. Attempting to get the car registered in my name was a Kafkaesque experience. Each time I’d end up surrounded by several public servants in the Department of Transport office gawking at my documents (passport and D visa) as if I’d fallen from outer space. Many were surprised to learn Australians speak English. At times, it felt as though their line of questioning had nothing to do with administration but their own curiosity… The D visa, though very useful in terms of getting me into Estonia, didn’t allow me to integrate in a day-to-day administrative sense. I was getting tired of people staring at the kangaroo holograms in my passport, asking a bunch of personal questions and then declining service for insufficient ID. In the end the car had to be registered to my wife’s name.
In Estonian legal speak, foreigners are “aliens”.
eResidency in Real Life
Trying to fit into Estonia’s centralised, uniform digital-everything is pretty difficult with a D visa and a foreign passport. I tried on several times to use my eResidency card to compliment the documents I had on me with little success.
While of course, eResidency isn’t designed to be used in person, in real life, but it does at least have the all important isikukood. A sort of citizen’s number. Everyone has one. Except for D visa holders. The isikukood is used everywhere and without it you’re an odd ball who can’t be easily part of “the system”. On more occasions that I’m proud to admit, public servants would merely glance at the eResidency card, smile and put it off to the side from my other documents. This was the default immediate reaction I almost always received when attempting to use an eResidency card to compliment my ID. I think once the local town library accepted it and let me use a computer.
One night the only place open in town was a tiny “casino” the size of a toilet block. I had my Australian driver’s licence and my eResidency card on me. The driver’s licence was refused because it was foreign and the eResidency card was refused because it didn’t have a photo.
Dealings with the Police
In Estonia hardened criminals and foreign exchange students must all face their destiny or fate in the place: the cop shop. While some countries have a dedicated immigration Department, Estonia’s a little different. There is no immigration Department as such, matters of visas and residency are instead administered by the Police.
At the Police station I was pleased to see the language options “Estonian, English and Russian” available. I pressed “English” and the machine printed my ticket, in English. I was chuffed but pretty näive about what was to come. I made my way to the police officer’s desk and asked if she spoke English. “Eiiiiiiiiii”. That ticket machine literally just prints your ticket in English, it doesn’t queue you to an English speaking Police Officer.
Frustrated and annoyed I tossed my bit of paper – “pilet” so helpfully translated to “ticket” in the bin and walked out. What a waste of time!
Expecting the worst…
Later at the pub I learned of some other stories. An employed American had his visa declined by the Politsei because the immigration quota was full. A helpful Estonian told him Americans aren’t subject to the immigration quota. He able to challenge the decision on these grounds and so his visa was later reinstated. If it weren’t for that local assistance, he could have ended up on the next flight back to America. Another friend, a Mexican, was told he needn’t apply at all because Mexico is part of the European Union. Later I’d hear of a Nepali exchange student who was wrongfully detained and then deported by the police. Eventually she won a legal battle, was allowed back but the Politsei estimate damages of just 147€. It’s easy to feel vulnerable as a foreigner…
It became pretty clear that the best way to interact with the Politsei is via another Estonian. I returned a while later with my wife. This time she spoke in Estonian and I remained mostly silent with the exception of a few Estonian words and phrases.
We were handed a blank application form, told to fill it in and return later.
With our documents and the completed TRP application, we greeted the police officer who bluntly replied “have you got the documents?”. We’d been training some time for this little test of customer service endurance. The process from here was straight forward, we sat quietly, responding to questions when asked as the police officer typed up the information we’d provided on the paper form into the computer. I dared not ask why this couldn’t be done online in “e-Stonia”. Where I could, I answered in Estonian. The police officer got to know us little by little. I recall we even had a little laugh by the end of the appointment. I left feeling human again.
Even More Insurance
I received an email from the Politsei requesting my insurance details. I provided the AXA policy I’d purchased for the D Visa but was then told it was insufficient. TRP requires a specific contract – health insurance, not travel insurance.
This is how I understood the rules to be:
- D Visa: insurance policy valid for Estonia or for the Schengen area with a coverage of at least 30.000 EUR for the entire duration of stay;
- TRP: specific insurance for an alien residing in Estonia pursuant to compulsory health insurance inline with the Health Insurance Act.
I’ve heard of people using SwissCare for TRP as it’s cheap. To be on the safe side I went with the Estonian provider Ergo. I don’t recommend either of them. I also learnt if I weren’t self employed my employer would have paid this compulsory health insurance on my behalf. Insurance with Ergo cost me 104,26€ per quater (417.04€ per year). This was the cheapest, most basic policy which doesn’t include any dental cover. On their website, a discounted price is available for “residents” but I was ineligible for that discount because for Ergo’s pricing purposes “temporary residents” (residing in Estonia, for up to 5 years) are not considered “residents”. Nice one Ergo!
Approval via Email
My TRP was eventually approved without any further hassle. To be honest, looking back the whole ordeal wasn’t actually that bad. The Embassy helped and approval was easier than I imagined. Entering the country was seamless and the Police were pretty helpful. I had to return to the Politsei one last time it in person. I remember feeling extremely happy as though I’d gained a second passport. I couldn’t wait to show off my club membership to the other expats at the pub.
But what about that eResidency card? As soon as the TRP card was issued – the eResidency card had to be surrendered to the Politsei. It’s destroyed. Gone.
I remain eternally grateful to Estonia. ✌️Suur aitäh Eesti!
Curious about the Money?
- Read my blog post: How much money I spent in Estonia.
- Get a free transfer with TransferWise: http://www.transferwise.com/u/jaim2
- Compare Estonian banks here: Estonian Banks, Alternatives and e-Residency
⚠️ Petition: Support ongoing opportunities for foreign students and employees to study and work in Estonia!
Please take a minute to sign this important petition before 13.07.2020 on rahvaalgatus.ee which advocates for ongoing opportunities for foreign students and employees to study and work in Estonia. This should be of interest to not only us foreigners who love this country dearly but many Estonians too. We all want what’s best for Estonia but some times its decisions need to be challenged and joint interests between Foreigners and Estonians need to be advocated. An English translation of the petition is provided (click and scroll down). Many of us hold Estonia close to our heart and we wish to see Estonia prosper well into the future – economically and culturally. The story of economic success through foreign investment and exchange has already been proven in other countries like Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada and Finland which welcomed countless Estonians in times of trouble (WWII) and in recent times of prosperity and peace. Culturally Estonia is celebrated every year by an audience of eager to learn foreigners and it would be the world’s loss to see Estonia become isolated by overzealous nationalism and xenophobic policies. Of course, during COVID-19 some common sense precautions need to be taken, but there’s no need for extremes. Please get behind this cause: