The Successful First Year of Estonian Startup Visa

In January we are celebrating the one year anniversary of Estonian Startup Visa. 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. After running for a year, the programme has received 325 applications from 47 countries.


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. ‘’Startup Visa is a perfect example of the public and private sector working together. These kinds of fast and effective solutions are opening Estonian startup community up to global audiences. Estonia has a unique opportunity to be the gateway to the European and world markets for many startups.’’ says Ragnar Sass, co-founder of Pipedrive and a member of the Startup Committee.

Estonian Startup Visa programme has seen applications from 47 countries


Both for startup founders and for employees to come and work for an Estonian startup

Throughout the first year, Startup Committee has given a positive evaluation on 140 applications, negative on 170 and is processing 15. Most applications for the Startup Visa are made by startup teams from India, Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Turkey. Whereas the average acceptance rate is around 45%, applicants from some countries like Belarus, Ukraine and Russia are performing considerably better than that. One application is submitted by the whole startup team. Within the first year, the Startup Committee has in total seen 325 applications with around 1200 people in the startup teams, which makes the average team size 4 people.

The increase in the number of Startup Visa applicants has been quite stable

After a positive evaluation, the next step is for each person on the team to apply for a visa or a temporary residence permit at an Estonian Embassy or the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, when already in Estonia. In total 317 founders and employees have done it with an 85% success rate, meaning approximately 100 startup founders have been granted a visa or temporary residence permits and 167 talented people have either already come to work for an Estonian startup or are in a process of doing so.


Countries ranked by the number of people come to work for Estonian startups with the Startup Visa programme

These 167 employees originate from altogether from 27 countries, but some countries definitely stick out. Short term employment option (up to 1 year) is most popular among employees from United States, Russia and India followed by Ukraine and Brazil. The possibility for the 5-year temporary residence permit is used mostly by people from Ukraine followed by India, Russia, Brazil and Belarus.

Startup Estonia is happy to see talented people coming to work for Estonian startups from all over the world. For Estonian startups, startup visas and permits provide a great opportunity for enriching and growing their company by employing foreign talent - a process now made easier than ever before.

Competetive worldwide

In attracting global talent, Estonian Startup Visa is successfully competing with similar visa programmes in much bigger countries such as Canada, Netherlands and Italy. After a year, the Estonian Startup Visa has had a similar number of applications as most other visa programmes during multiple years.

‘’With applications from 47 countries, the foreign interest of developing a startup in Estonia clearly exists. We are working on creating a full-service for the countries we’ve seen the most interest from and also expanding to new target markets which can benefit the most from the Estonian business environment.’’ says Rivo Riistop, project manager at Startup Estonia.

‘’I wanted the right ecosystem to develop our startup. From a long-term perspective, Estonia is the only country for now, where startups can hire non-EU passport holders.’’ explains Shaun Deanesh, a startup founder from Malaysia. ‘’Honestly speaking, Estonia wasn’t the only country we applied for a visa, we got offers from other EU countries as well but on average they took months before we were given a green light to apply. In Estonia it took less than 10 days. Also, it is incredible how fresh the air is here. Tallinn has this really charming, medieval feel yet the technology sector is amazing.’’

Industries in which the startup teams applying for Estonian Startup Visa operate in

The next steps for developing the programme is to gain a better understanding of the people arriving with Startup Visa and to build a community from the founders and employees. The focus is on refining the full user experience of the Startup Visa applicant by putting together a smooth startup package along with soft landing services.

Startup Visa Programme is coordinated by Startup Estonia, a program under Fund KredEx dedicated to building and strengthening the startup ecosystem in Estonia and creating a solid ground for our local startups to take off from.

Statistical information for this post has been gathered by Startup Estonia in co-operation with the Estonian Ministry of Interior and Startup Includer. Charts by Rivo Riistop. Cover photo of Shaun Deanesh by Aron Urb (EU2017EE).

Article written by Sander Sillavee. Sander is working as a Social Media Specialist at Startup Estonia.

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