With its tiny expat community slowly gaining traction in Tallinn and Tartu, the spotlight for families, young professionals and international students is suddenly on Estonia.
The greatest success story of former Soviet countries, the Baltic nation is among the most advanced in the world for internet and tech industries. And, as a part of the EU and NATO, also houses a great many diplomats and politicians. This is perhaps best evidenced by the nation’s expansive e-residency program, a way for both Estonians and foreigners to enjoy residency and manage many of the administrative aspects of their lives online. If tech isn’t for you, you’re sure to enjoy the medieval old town with cobblestone streets lined with historic architecture, retaining an old world feel. All in all, the country couldn’t seem more distant from its former role as a Baltic Sea backwater just 25 years ago.
While historically expats have been rare in Estonia, the community is continuing to expand as the country offers the infrastructure and affordability many entrepreneurs and businesses seek as they move from more traditional business hubs.
If you’ve decided to move to Estonia, you’ve probably considered your work and where you’ll live, but have you thought about where you’ll bank?
This guide will walk you through how and where to open a bank account in Estonia.
Yes. While many European Union countries bar non-EU citizens from opening bank accounts within the union, Estonia is one of a handful of European countries which allow foreigners to open bank accounts without citizenship.
That being said, you’ll need to prove some tie to Estonia - like owning property or starting a business in the country, or having a job there. It’s also a good idea to look into e-residency, which doesn’t guarantee your ability to open a bank account but could help.
EU citizens, however, will run into significantly fewer roadblocks.
In order to open a bank account, you’ll need to go to the bank in person to talk to a banker and make an application. Often seen as the final standout in the all-online administrative systems Estonia uses, most banking is still very much a face to face ordeal outside of day to day account management. There are a few exceptions, however. Pioneering LHV Bank offers the ability to start the process online and then simply visit partnering local stores Euronics or Selver to finish up.
After you make your initial application including all required documents, the decision to grant or not grant you an account will be made within five days. You’ll designate how you’d like to be notified about your application status at the time you apply. Notification is most often communicated by phone or email.
If you’re granted a bank account, you’ll need to go back to the same branch in order to officially open an account. If you’re not an EU citizen, this will come with a fee at most banks. For example, Swedbank’s fees are listed online.
If you aren’t granted an account, you’re welcome to apply again - you just may want to try a different bank.
If you’re an American citizen and don’t yet have an Estonian ID card, it’s helpful to know there may be additional fees to opening an account before you get one. Check with the bank first to see if it’s true in your case.
When you go in to open your Estonian bank account, you’ll need to bring a few things.
- Proof of your ties to the country - Whether in the form of a title or deed to property, articles of incorporation or organization, or proof of employment. If you don’t have any of these things, but already have your Estonian ID card with residency permit, that should normally suffice.
- Address proof - If you have one, you should bring proof of your address in Estonia. A rental contract normally does the trick. However, if you don’t have your housing sorted out yet, it isn’t a requirement, but it could hurt your chances of being approved.
- Proof of identity - While accepted documents vary from bank to bank, typically you can bring any of the following: passport, EU citizen identity card or Estonian driver’s license.
If you’re hoping to have an account open by the time you arrive in the country, you’ll need to be an e-resident first. If you aren’t an Estonian e-resident, you won’t be able to open a bank account from outside of Estonia, including online.
If you are** an e-resident, however, most Estonian and international banks will allow you to open an Estonian bank account online - no matter where you are in the world.
As is the case all over the world, banking in Estonia comes with a set of fees that you can expect to pay for various services and throughout the year. Some of the most common fee types include:
- ATM fees
- Normal bank fees
- International transfer fees
While ATM fees typically don’t exist if you use your own bank’s ATMs, using a different bank’s ATM, whether in Estonia or abroad, typically comes with a fee. This varies from bank to bank, but as an example Swedbank charges 1 Euro, plus 2.5% of the total transaction. Keep in mind that when using ATMs abroad you should always choose to be charged in the local currency of the country you're in.
Using your foreign debit card will also usually incur a fee, so it’s a good idea to know how much you might be charged and how to avoid paying too much. While some banks allow foreign transactions without fees, those cards aren’t common.
It’s also a good idea to remember that, if you’re not a resident of Estonia, opening your account will cost money. For EU citizens opening an account at SEB for example, the fee is 100€, while non EU citizens like Americans and Australians will pay up to 400€. Each bank has a different fee structure, so you’ll want to check with them first.
You’ll also have a monthly fee associated with your account. At SEB, residents pay 0.30€ per month, as do non-residents.
It’s highly likely that your bank will also charge you a fee for international money transfers, or at least bump up the exchange rate they offer you - but remember there’s only one exchange rate. It’s a good idea to understand what the mid-market exchange rate is in your region so you don’t pay these undisclosed markups through your bank. At Nordea bank for example, each foreign transaction comes with a fee of 6€ on top of any exchange rate markup they give.
If you’re planning to move money between your foreign and Estonian account regularly, it’s a good idea to use TransferWise to get the real rate - the one you find on Google. TransferWise breaks down international payments into a series of local transfers to avoid cross-country border fees and keep everything cheaper for you.
While there are many banks to choose from in Estonia, the best ranked include:
There are many Scandinavian and local banks in the country, however, there are no major international banks currently offering Estonian accounts.
One of the biggest banking chains in Estonia and in Scandinavia, Sweden’s Swedbank offers 30+ bank locations throughout the country and hundreds of ATMs.
Swedbank offers private and business accounts, both of which come without opening fees for Estonian residents. Swedbank also offers debit and credit cards, home loans and private loans.
But just like with SEB bank, if you don’t have an Estonian ID card yet, you’ll need to check if you’ll need to pay extra fees.
SEB Bank is the second largest bank in Estonia, offering clients 22 branches and more than 230 ATMS.
Clients may choose to open current or savings accounts, as well as business accounts. Private banking clients are able to make electronic payments, receive domestic and international transfers, transfer money to their SEB account, withdraw cash from an ATM and utilize online banking.
SEB also offers various banking plans, which come with low monthly fees, a set number of free electronic payments, free standard payment orders or e-invoices and debit cards with no maintenance fees.
Another large Scandinavian bank, Nordea Bank has 12 branch locations in Estonia, as well as 100 ATMs.
Current account holders can manage their accounts online, use ATMs and make quick transfers, both domestically and internationally. Current accounts at Nordea Bank also accrue interest. The bank also offers house, vehicle and personal loans. Aside from personal banking, you can also open your business account with Nordea.
Somewhat smaller but still popular in Estonia, Danske Bank has four locations and 100 ATMs in the Scandinavian country.
Beyond full service, low fee current accounts, Danske Bank offers investing and risk management services, business bank accounts, and investment and working capital loans.
Because Estonia is within the Eurozone, another good option is to use a TransferWise multi-currency borderless account. TransferWise’s service allows you to hold funds in up to fifteen different currencies, with more continually being added. Not only that, but you can get local bank details for pounds, euros and U.S. dollars, making it easy to receive local transfers in any of those regions, and it will still save you a pretty penny.
While it may seem like banking in Estonia comes with a lot of red tape, expats open bank accounts in the country every day, and with the right documentation and choice of bank you’ll be set up with local banking services in no time.
With that, you’re ready to get started. Good luck opening up your Estonian bank account!
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