E-stonia: a digital nation
Estonia, or e-Estonia, is one of Europe's most exciting countries for digital natives, tech-savvy entrepreneurs, and ambitious startups. This small nation is regarded by the United Nations, Google, and Forbes among others as a global-leader in human-centric tech and digital innovation. Wired magazine goes even further, describing Estonia as the world's most advanced digital society.
Almost any administrative or bureaucratic task can be done online. That includes starting a new business, which takes less than five minutes. It's one of the main reasons Estonia's startup space is thriving. There are currently 1,200 startups and nine unicorns (startups with a $1 billion valuation) operating in Estonia; that's around seven times more than the European average. Some of Estonia's biggest startup success stories include Skype and Wise, formerly known as TransferWise.
It's easier than ever to join Estonia's digital revolution. Back in August 2020, Estonia launched its digital nomad visa scheme. It allows remote workers to live in Estonia and legally work for an employer or their own company registered abroad. Then there's Estonia's e-Residency initiative. It’s a government-issued digital identity and status that provides entrepreneurs access to Estonia's digital markets. With an e-resident identity, entrepreneurs can start and manage a company in Estonia from anywhere in the world, entirely online.
Tuition fees at Estonian universities are extremely affordable, especially compared to what you could pay in some of the more popular international student destinations. Students at the University of Tallinn, one of Estonia's highest-rated schools and a top 300 globally ranked institution, pay between $1,000 to $2,500 per semester. Tuition fees for international students range from $1,800 to $2,200 per semester for bachelor's degrees and $1,000 to $2,500 per semester for master's. Doctoral degrees are free for all students. Scholarships and additional funding are also available for international students struggling to afford their fees or cost of living.
Some of Estonia's universities are a little more expensive. Fees for medical students at the University of Tartu, Estonia's oldest and highest-ranking school, go up to $13,500 a year. Still, this is markedly cheaper than the fees aspiring doctors pay in the USA, the UK, and Australia.
A student friendly cost of living
Tuition fees aren't the only thing that's affordable about living in Estonia. Business Insider ranked Estonia’s capital Tallinn, as one of the nine cheapest cities to live in Europe. The average cost of student accommodation is around $300 a month. Small single rooms in shared student dorms can cost as little as $100 a month.
You should budget around $200 per month for food, although you can get by on less if you're willing to shop around and make your own lunches and evening meals. If you're eating out, take advantage of the daily student specials. The majority of bars, cafes, and restaurants offer student discounts at certain times. You can usually enjoy a decent meal and drink for $6
Public transport is free in Tallinn for all students. You can also join one of Estonia's bike share schemes. For less than $15 a month, you can use any of the 750 bikes (510 electrical, 240 regular) in 69 stations across the cities. And don't worry if you run out of mobile data and can't afford an instant top-up; there are free Wi-Fi hotspots all around Estonia's major student cities.
"Estonia is an astonishing country to live in," says Kristina, an International Business Administration student at the Estonian Business School in Tallinn. "The summers are stunning. There are seasides, cozy beaches, and charming forests to explore. And there are so many things to do during the day in the city."
Tallinn's stand-out cultural attractions include St. Nicholas Church, a stunning 13th-century landmark exhibiting ecclesiastical art. Students can also visit the Kiek in de Kok, a 15th-century defensive tower, and Tallinn's Gothic Town Hall. The Town Hall was built in the 13th century and has a 64m-high tower offering epic views of the city.
Tallinn's cobblestoned Old Town is the perfect place to grab a coffee or a lunch with your new friends. There are also loads of great bohemian style fashion stores. independent art galleries, and theaters. The nightlife is awesome, too. The city has a wide range of bars, jazz clubs, live music venues, and techno clubs for end-of-term blowouts.
Learn in English
The majority of Estonians can speak English at a conversational level, so you won't have any trouble asking for directions or making friends with the locals. All of Estonia's universities offer degrees taught in English. There are over 150 English-taught degree options at graduate, postgraduate, and doctoral levels.
International students can live and study in Estonia without learning the language. However, picking up a few greetings and phrases will be helpful. Don't worry if you struggle at first. Even bilingual students or experienced language learners can have a difficult time understanding the basics. Estonian has 14 noun cases, along with short and long consonants and vowels. There's also no future tense.
"Estonian is not very easy to learn," says Anastasia. "But at the same time, it’s not impossible. I enrolled on a free A1 level Estonian language course from Settle in Estonia. It was a three-hour course, twice every week. It was probably the most fun I’ve had over here! I improved my Estonian and there were people from almost all walks of life on the course. I got to meet and befriend so many people from so many different countries."
Explore Estonia and beyond
Estonia can be a travel hub for exploring many other exciting countries, as it borders Latvia and is close to Lithuania too. It's also a short flight or boat trip (with an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet!) from Helsinki, Finland, and you can catch a ferry to Stockholm, Sweden, too. Enjoy weekend days trips or book a well-deserved city break during the summer holidays. If you’ve got time and the funds to travel further afield, you could explore Poland, Lithuania, Norway, or Denmark, for example.
Estonia's digital transformation is creating a new type of society based on the free movement of data, capital, and people. Estonia is a nation built for the future, and you're welcome to be a part of it!