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Living and Working in Estonia as an Expat

Dec 21, 2021 by Fredrik Carlsen Häggrot

If you want to trade bustling city life for some of the most beautiful nature in Europe, Estonia may be the next country you call home. The country, which lies in Northern Europe, is known for its vast range of different terrains; from forests and lakes, all the way to beautiful rocky beaches.

Since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it’s continued to thrive in terms of education and economics to become an upcoming commercial leader in Europe - making it a great location for any professional looking to get a leg-up in their career.

The often overlooked destination has plenty of stunning architecture, castles and churches to keep you occupied in your free time--you can also take some time exploring some of the larger of the nation’s 1,500 islands. There’s also a thriving startup community, making it a go-to destination for anyone who’s ever thought of running their own business.

Table of contents:

Tartu, Estonia
City center of Tartu

Living in Estonia

Do you have your heart set on moving to Estonia? Or maybe you want to move abroad and can’t decide on a location.

No matter what position you’re in, here’s some of the key information that you should know about Estonia before making the decision to pack your bags and make a move:

Basic information about Estonia:

  • Weather: Despite being fairly northern, the climate of Estonia remains quite mild all year round. The coldest month is February, which can see lows of -5 degrees, and in the hottest month of July it can get as high as 20 degrees.
  • Population: The population of Estonia is only around 1.4 million people.
  • History: Estonians were first mentioned in the 1st century but throughout much of the country’s modern history, Estonia has been dominated by foreign powers, mainly the U.S.S.R (until 1991) where the country experienced a turning point and transformed into a parliamentary democracy, then joining the EU in 2004.

Did you know?

  1. The main language in Estonia is Estonian, but many people also speak Russian and English
  2. Over 50% of the country is completely covered in forest
  3. Estonians love their spas, especially in the town of Kuressaare where there’s over 1,200 spa beds for the 15,000 inhabitants
  4. Estonia has the highest number of international supermodels per capita
  5. Estonia is the 132nd-smallest country in the world by land mass
  6. Surprisingly to everyone, Estonia won the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest
  7. There are 1,500 islands, 1,000 lakes and 7,000 rivers across the country
  8. An oak tree in Orissaare won the 2015 award for European Tree of the Year with over 60,000 votes
  9. Estonia has two UNESCO World Heritage sites; Tallinn’s Old Town and Struve Geodetic Arc
  10. In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world to let their citizens vote online

Accommodation in Estonia

The housing market in Estonia is currently doing well thanks to economic growth in the country, so finding an apartment should not be impossible for any expat.

Here are some of the main cities that expats choose to move to:

Tallinn

Tallinn is Estonia's capital city, but in comparison to other major European cities, it’s relatively small; with a population of just over 430,000 people, equivalent to 30% of the country’s inhabitants.

The best way to describe this city is small but mighty. It’s a compact city, but is packed full of some of the best startups, restaurants and medieval architecture, making it one of the most popular destinations for any expat--plus you’re only a quick, 30-minute drive from the sea.

In it’s streets, you’ll find modern restaurants and cosy cafes alongside impressive museums and event venues that make for a buzzing nightlife.

Tartu

Tartu is best-known for being one of Estonia’s student towns, so expect lots of fun events and attractions to spend your evenings attending. Unlike the capital city, Tartu has a lot less Russian speakers and has a more international feel.

For those who want a slower pace of life, Tartu is an excellent option and there's a lot more families and elderly people that make up the population.

Pärnu

Did you know that you can find beautiful sandy beaches in Estonia? If this is what you hope for in your next home, the town of Pärnu may be a great option for you.

The small resort city, nestled in the southwestern part of the country has a fun, lively atmosphere in the warmer summer months, and a relaxed, chilled-out vibe in the autumn and winter, allowing its residents to really have the best of both worlds.

There’s always plenty of live events, DJs, and theatre performances throughout the year which has cemented the city as being one of the most popular in the country for expats.

Pärnu Beach, Estonia
Pärnu Beach

Narva

The final popular destination is Narva, a predominantly Russian-speaking city in the northern part of the country. It’s the third-largest city in Estonia, with a rich and vibrant past that you can see glimpses of in the world-famous castle and old fortifications, plus the views of Russia and the Baltic Sea.

This city is very relaxed, so it is much better for families or older people who are looking for a slower and easier pace of life, or people who no longer crave the hustle and bustle of city life.

Housing in Estonia

The housing market in Estonia can be very fast-paced, which can be hard for any house hunting expats, especially when they start their house search from their home country. It’s common that houses will go to the person who signs and pays first, regardless of if the house has been reserved or promised to another buyer--for this reason, as soon as you find a house or apartment you like, you should make a decision within 24 hours of your first viewing to risk the property being snapped up by someone else.

The rental market in the country is good for expats, with rental prices being a lot lower than what you would expect from other European cities--even in the capital of Tallinn. If you were looking at a one-bedroom apartment in the capital city, you would be looking at a rent of 400-450 euros a month. Prices could also go up to 1,200 euros a month if you have your heart set on a higher-end apartment.

Because the rental market can be so quick, we would recommend finding accommodation before you move to the country so that you can be sure you have somewhere to live. You can find apartments on the internet, Facebook groups, or local newspapers to see if any landlords are posting ads.

You can also contact a real estate agent in a city you’re thinking of moving to who will be able to find you potential rental properties, but it will normally be much more expensive to house hunt using a professional real estate agent.

Here are some Estonian agencies to help you find properties:

  • Pindi
  • Uusmaa
  • Domus

These are some of the most popular Facebook groups that are used by landlords to post new apartments for rent:

Unlike most countries, rental agreements can be for a fixed or unspecified term which can be freely negotiated with your landlord. There’s no minimum rental period either, so you could even get an apartment where you pay your rent daily. Your lease will be in Estonian, but make sure that you ask for a translated version so that you can see exactly what you’re signing for.

Utility costs are normally not included in your monthly rent, and can sometimes be quite costly. In the summer you could expect to pay around 80 euros, and in the winter prices could go up to as much as 180 a month. To get a good idea of how much you’ll have to pay, we recommend asking your landlord to show past utility bills.

When signing a lease in Estonia, you’ll usually be asked to pay a deposit upfront, which can be equivalent to 1-3 months' rent. Depending on your landlord, you may also have to pay your first month’s rent upfront. 

Tallinn, Estonia
Colorful Streets of Tallinn

Tallinn

What to do in your spare time

Estonia is known for being a country that is very forward-thinking when it comes to digitalization and technology, so many of its residents take winding down and unplugging very seriously. Thanks to the range of terrain that covers the small country, there are plenty of ways that you can spend your free time enjoying nature. Even if you’re not one to enjoy the outdoors, vibrant city life will always stop you from getting bored.

Around three-quarters of the land in Estonia is untouched nature, there are plenty of forests, lakes and cliffs that you’re free to explore on a hike or road trip when you’re not working--some of the biggest natural attractions include the Kärdla crater, which was formed by a meteor hitting the earth 455 million years ago, and the Blue Springs of Saula. We also suggest checking out one of the many natural springs spotted across the country which are thought to be holy places of healing.

One of the reasons so many expats are choosing to move to Estonia is because of the country’s rich and vibrant culture, which can be experienced wherever you find yourself in the country. Estonians especially love their music, in fact, the country has the largest collection of folk songs in the world! You can also find plenty of music festivals, food festivals and cultural festivals that are not-to-be-missed throughout the year.

If you’re a fashion-lover, you will quickly become enamored with Estonia as the streets in the main cities are lined with boutiques, workshops and pop-up markets where you’ll find unique, handmade pieces that will help you to stand out from the crowd.

There’s also something for everyone at the country’s regular events and festivals that take place throughout the year. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Haapsalu Tchaikovsky Festival
  • Into The Valley Festival
  • Viljandi Music Festival
  • Weekend Festival Baltic
  • Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
  • Hiiu Folk Festival
  • Kalana Saund Winter Wonder
  • Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend
  • Walking Lights Festival

Cost of living in Estonia 

The living costs in Estonia are thought to be generally low when compared to other major European cities, but are slightly more expensive than some of the other countries in Eastern Europe. The cost of living will vary greatly depending on the area you live in, the type of apartment you choose, and your lifestyle. 

Prices in Estonia are almost half the price of things in Stockholm, and rent prices are a massive 140% lower than Stockholm--making it an extremely desirable option for any Swedes out there.

Eating out, in particular, can be very cheap in Estonia, a meal in an average restaurant will typically cost around €9 per person, with beer or a coffee in a cafe costing around €3.

On average, a single person can expect to pay around €540 a month to live in Estonia, which doesn’t include the cost of rent. 

Traffic and public transport

Getting around Estonia is very affordable, simple and quick thanks to the organized and compact nature of the country. No matter where you’re living in the country, you won’t find it too difficult to get around.

When it comes to transport, there are lots of ways to get around like taxis, buses, streetcars, trolleybus, trains, airports and ports that can take you around your city, to other cities, and on international trips in no time.

For taxis, there’s no standard or regulated meter rate and you have to go to specific taxi ranks, rather than hailing them from the street like you’re able to do in many other countries--luckily there are plenty of apps, like Taxify that will help you find a cab near you.

In the major cities, there’s a bus, trolleybus, and streetcar network that’s very reliable and operates from 5.00 am until midnight. You can either buy a single fare ticket for around 1,50 €, or you can get a prepaid travel card. Also, if you live in Tallinn, you may be entitled to free public transport if you meet certain requirements (you can double-check on the Tallinn city website).

The train services in Estonia are great for expats and are very affordable, with an express train from Tallinn to Tartu costing around 10€ for a 2-hour trip--a lot of the trains also have free wifi.

The main airport in Estonia, the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport was recently voted one of the best in Europe and is only a short 4-kilometer trip from the city center (less than a 30-minute trip). There are great low cost travel links to the rest of Europe, plus international links too.

Finally, because Estonia is on the coast, you can also get a boat. The port of Tallinn is the biggest port, serving eight million travelers a year. From the port, you can quickly travel to cities like Stockholm, Helsinki and Petersburg.

Narva Castle

Find other expats

For a country with just over a million people, there are still a lot of expats that you can meet when you move to Estonia--there’s over 190,000 internationals that are mainly based in the capital city, Tallinn.

A lot of Estonians speak English, but if you want to find other expats like you, they can be easily found online in expat groups. You can find these groups by simply googling the name of the city you’re moving to, and “expat groups” or “international groups”.

Although everyone wants to find people who speak the same language, or come from their home country, it’s also important to get to know the locals. Estonians are very warm, friendly and welcoming people so they make great friends to have while living in their country. Meeting the locals will also help your experience living in the country as they will be able to help you immerse yourself in Estonian culture.

Learning the language

In Estonia, they speak a mixture of Estonian, English and Russian. If you speak English, you should be able to get by in most of the major cities, but in some of the northern areas, Russian may be the primary language.

Even though the majority of people will be able to understand you if you speak English, it’s always best to try and learn a few local phrases to get by with in Estonia. 

Here are some common phrases you should learn:

  • Hello - Tere
  • Good morning - Tere hommikust
  • Good night - Head ööd
  • Yes / No - Jah / Ei
  • How are you? - Kuidas läheb?
  • Thank You - Tänan
  • Please - Palun
  • Sorry - Vabandust

Working in Estonia

Choosing to work in Estonia will give you the opportunity to work in many different industries, which is extremely useful, even if you decide to move home, or to another country, in the future.

There are plenty of professional opportunities in Estonia for expats, whether you want to work remotely and enjoy the area you live in, or want to work in the professional offices in the major cities. 

Estonia is very well-known for being a digitized country that has a thriving startup community--the World Economic Forum even put Estonia as Europe’s #1 entrepreneurial country.

Some of the main industries in Estonia that could be of interest to expats include:

  • IT: Estonia is best known for its impressive approach to all things digital, so it’s no wonder why their IT field is one of the most attractive to expats from across the world. Over 3,700 Estonian companies are currently hiring for IT roles, so there are plenty of roles available. These companies also rely on international people and English-speakers to help deal with international clients and customers. 
  • Start up businesses: The Estonians are very entrepreneurial so there’s a large number of startups that are looking for employees. Whether you want to work for a startup, or start your own business, there will be plenty of career opportunities for you.

Estonia also recently introduced the Digital Nomad Visa, which means that if you’re a remote worker, you can apply to live in the country for up to 12 months, without having to get a job at an Estonian company.

Viru Bog Study Trail

Work environment and culture

In Estonia, the typical working week is 38 hours long for 5 days a week, and you’re eligible to receive a generous 28 days of annual leave.. 

The average wage in Estonia is around €1,500 a month, which is a fairly good rate compared to other European countries, especially considering how affordable the cost of living can also be.

Work culture in Estonia is quite formal, with Estonians being very focussed and hard-working--they’re ready to work longer hours, including overtime if needed. Estonians are very private people, and try to keep work and private life very separate, so don’t expect them to start talking about their families while at the office--or at least, not until they know you better. 

Estonia has strong ties with the Nordic countries, so the work culture is very similar to what it’s like in Sweden or Norway. They are said to be reserved, direct and unemotional when it comes to business. They don’t buy into exaggerations, or marketing hype, they are much more straight to the point, which may be quite different to the working culture you’re used to in your country.

Don’t be alarmed if there are long periods of silence in Estonian business meetings, this isn’t an awkward thing, but is instead considered a time to think and collect thoughts when having serious discussions. Also make sure to give a good firm handshake and eye contact when you attend a meeting.

Estonia still follows a traditional work culture in the sense that men are expected to address women first, and younger people are expected to initiate the greetings with older people first.

Taxes and salary

If you choose to live in Estonia, you can enjoy the country’s famously proportional income tax where everyone is expected to pay 20%.

These taxes will be withheld from your salary on a monthly basis, so you don’t have to worry about having to fill out your own tax forms or make additional payments.

In Estonia, your employer is also expected to pay the social tax of 33% which is not subtracted from your salary, but is based on your gross income.

Once you’re on the Estonian employment register and your employer pays your social tax, you’ll automatically be entitled to social and health insurance coverage in the country.

Aerial View of Tallinn

Networking

When moving to a new country as a professional, where you don’t have anyone from your existing network of contacts, it’s important to meet new people who may work in your industry and help you in your career.

In Estonia, the startup community is thriving so there’s plenty of ways that you can meet up with business professionals--especially in the capital city.

No matter what industry you work in, it’s easy to network as there are always lots of meet-ups and events throughout the year to connect people. If you want to find a networking event that’s near where you live, you could go on Google and search for something like “Networking events in Tallinn” or “Meet business professionals in Estonia”.

Arriving in Estonia

Estonia is part of the EU, this means that if you’re also from an EU country, you’ll find it pretty easy to move to the country.

You’ll just need to apply for a long-term residence permit which will allow you to stay in the country for more than 90 days and will be valid for 5 years. 

To apply for the permit, go to the local Migrations office in the area of Estonia you’re living in and submit the following documents:

  • Copy of your passport
  • Work contract from your employer
  • Proof of address
  • Payment receipt
  • An application form (to be filled in at the office)

The authorities will then assess your application but don’t worry if it takes a while to hear back as there can always be delays.

Health insurance in Estonia

Something you should prioritize when moving from your home country to Estonia is to become part of the Estonian health insurance system. 

If you’re working for an Estonian company, they’ll be able to register you into the system. They’ll also pay the social security contributions to the tax authorities which will make you eligible for the insurance.

Once you’re in the system, you can order a health insurance card from the Estonian insurance fund - European Health Insurance Card. This will cover you for any kind of medical attention that you may need while living in Estonia.

You may have to wait around three months before you are allowed to order the health card, so you might want to think about taking out a short private health insurance policy for this time period so that you’re protected in case something happens.

If you do choose to take out private healthcare insurance, here are some of the most popular providers:

  • AS
  • ERGO
  • Inges
  • KindlustusEst
  • Salva Kindlustuse
  • Swisscare

Open a Estonian bank account

If you want to keep your home bank account after moving to Estonia, it is possible. But for a lot of payments in the country, you may be required to have an Estonian bank account--for example, most landlords will require your rent to be transferred from an Estonian bank account.

Opening up a bank account in Estonia is very easy and can be set up very quickly, you just need to make sure that you bring all of the correct documents with you to your local bank branch in order to sign up.

Some of the most popular banks in Estonia are:

  • Bigbank.
  • Coop Pank.
  • Holm Bank.
  • Inbank.
  • LHV Pank
  • Luminor Bank

To open the bank account, visit one of the local branches in your area and bring all of the following documents:

  • A valid passport or national ID card
  • Address and contact details
  • A recent bank statement
  • Rental contract or bill to prove you live in the country

The main reasons for moving to Estonia 

If you’re thinking about making the move over to Estonia, we think that you’re going to be extremely pleased with your choice. Not only is Estonia a friendly and welcoming country for internationals, but it’s also an advanced and technologically-minded culture which makes it perfect for anyone who’s excited by innovation.

With lakes, forests, cliffs and healing spas, there are plenty of ways that you can unwind after a long day in the office, which has made the country a go-to destination for anyone that is hoping for a more outdoor-focussed way of life. Combined with an excellent transport system, it’s always easy to explore new parts of the country and appreciate it’s natural beauty.

Another main benefit of living in Estonia is that a lot of people speak English, but you also have the chance of learning Estonian and Russian. 

So, what are you waiting for? There really is no better place to go than this affordable, digital paradise.

Here are our top 10 reasons why you should consider the move over to Estonia: 

  1. Welcoming locals
  2. Lower cost of living
  3. Rich and vibrant culture
  4. Beautiful nature and outdoor lifestyle
  5. Very technologically-minded
  6. Strong start-up culture
  7. Impressive transport system
  8. English is widely spoken
  9. Great work-life balance
  10. Opportunity to learn new languages

So if the thought of living and working in Estonia attracts you, why not check out some of the job vacancies that we offer in the country here at Lingocruit!

Kaberneeme, Harju County