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Estonia’s Startup Visa is a ticket to Europe’s liveliest startup community

Estonian Startup Visa is successfully competing with similar visa programmes in much bigger countries such as Canada, the Netherlands and Italy in attracting global talent.

After only a year, Estonian Startup Visa has had a similar number of applications to most other visa programmes in multiple years.

So what exactly are the requirements for this programme and what is behind its success?

Initiated by the local startup community and the Estonian Ministry of Interior together with Startup Estonia, Estonian Startup Visa allows non-EU nationals to come and work for Estonian startups, relocate their existing startups or found new ones in Estonia. This visa may be issued for up to 365 days and extended for up to 183 days, altogether for 18 months. After that, for a longer stay, it is possible to apply for a temporary residence permit for entrepreneurship which may be issued for up to five years. And the Startup Estonia team also sees that people want to extend their stay. ‘Many are interested to stay longer than the year-and-a-half visa period and many have applied for residence permits,’ says Merilin Lukk, project manager at Startup Visa. ‘We see that a bulk of startup visa alumni have received such a positive experience with Estonia that they have already applied for the residency permit,’ Merilin continues.

Before the Startup Visa programme was established, the legislation for foreigners set various requirements that startups generally were not able to fulfil. For example, in order to have a residence permit, a normal company should have at least 65 000 EUR in capital, in order to invest this in business activity in Estonia. Due to the nature of startups, it is not easy to fulfil such requirements in the first few years of business, it is more or less impossible.

To qualify for the Startup Visa, startups must first fill out an application detailing their business and team, which are then evaluated by a Startup Committee, consisting of members of the Estonian startup community. So far, the Committee has given a positive evaluation to 177 applicants that are then given the opportunity to come and develop their scalable business model in Estonia.

But beware, the Committee is really insightful and doesn’t fall for the plain visionaries. That’s why more than 200 applicant requests have been denied. ‘The long application form on the Startup Estonia webpage requires a thorough introduction of your business model − the main thing, as is normal for startups, is scalability. The Committee also evaluates the existence of a team, always preferring teams that are already operating. After that, the company must answer questions about near goals, how much money they have raised, if the company has achieved broader attention. It can be said that if the company has done proper preparatory work, assessed their suitability for the application, and filled in the form thoroughly, they are likely to qualify,’ says Merilin Lukk.

As a sort of a bonus, entrepreneurs may also bring their families to Estonia. If you are issued a startup visa, a visa may also be issued to your spouse and children under the same conditions. It is possible for the spouse to also work temporarily on the basis of the visa.

What is a startup?
*Definition by Estonian Aliens Act

A startup is a business unit owned by a company registered in Estonia that is commencing operations and whose goal is to develop and launch an innovative and repeatable business model with great global growth potential and which contributes significantly to the development of the business environment in Estonia.

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