Tallinn is one of Europe’s quintessential, classic capital cities with plenty of attractions and picturesque sights for wandering visitors. It is also one of the best digital nomad spots in Europe, offering a relatively low cost of living for EU standards, many cafes and co-working spaces and great visa opportunities. The summer season is the best time to visit the city, and maybe even to relocate. If the latter is on your mind, here’s what you can expect:
Foreigners have a very comfortable life in Tallinn–locals speak fluent English, costs are low, and the country has attractive business and visa opportunities. Moreover, this Estonian capital city has great connectivity and everything remote workers might need.
Want to move to Tallinn? While this place is certainly great to visit, you might find it a bit provincial if you’re coming from a big city. On the other hand, small cities have their benefits, including less crime, no traffic jams and excellent accessibility. So if that works for you, here’s all of what you can anticipate should you relocate to Tallinn.
Living in Tallinn as a foreigner
So, some basics about Estonia… Well, Estonia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the European Union and the richest of the Baltic states. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, its progress hasn’t stopped.
The most remarkable thing about Estonia is that most everyday tasks are carried out digitally. From online banking to e-school and digital prescriptions, the public services run efficiently and smoothly.
The expat community in Tallinn
You might notice rather quickly that the expat community in Tallinn, and Estonia in general, is small. However, in recent years, more and more people have moved to Tallinn for work, business or out of personal reasons.
Estonian visas and residence permits
Non-EU citizens need a residence permit to live in Tallinn. E-Residency based on registering a company doesn’t count as such.
However, obtaining a visa so that you can work in Estonia as a non-EU citizen is actually quite easy. Estonia introduced a digital nomad visa in 2020 that allows location-independent professionals to stay in the country for up to one year. At the same time, nationals of EU countries don’t need any permits to live in Estonia.
Estonian digital nomad visa
A digital nomad visa is intended for location-independent freelancers and remote workers. So, if you work online for a foreign company for example, and you want to live in Estonia while you continue to work in another country, a digital nomad visa is a perfect solution for you.
However, you won’t be entitled to long-term residency or any travel rights across the rest of Europe, therefore it’s a great option if you’ve already got a stable position.
With a digital nomad visa, you will receive:
- A dedicated visa for remote workers to temporarily stay in Estonia for up to one year
What constitutes working online and being independent of location:
- An employee registered abroad
- Having a company registered abroad, or
- A freelancer who has clients that are mostly based abroad
One can apply for a visa at their nearest Estonian embassy. The process takes up to 30 days. The visa costs 80 euros for a short stay nomad visa, and 100 euros for a long stay. There is no right of citizenship or permanent residence in Estonia, nor in the EU with this visa.
Requirements for an Estonian digital nomad visa:
- You must either have an active work contract with a foreign company, conduct business through your own company registered abroad or work as a freelancer for clients that are mostly outside of Estonia.
- You can provide evidence that you grossed a monthly income of at least 3,504 euros in the last six months.
Estonian D visa and temporary work permit
If you’re planning to work for a company in Tallinn for up to a year, you can apply for a D-visa. The process is straightforward and can take up to 30 days.
Estonia’s e-Residency program was launched by the Estonian government in order to make the process of opening a company smooth, efficient and 100% online. It’s particularly suitable for those running online businesses who want to work with European markers.
The Estonian e-Residency gives you:
- A secure, government-issued, digital identity for personal, online authentication.
- Digital access to Estonia’s e-services for remote entrepreneurs, allowing you to:
- Establish and run a company online
- Declare taxes, access banking and payments
- Experience low-costs and minimal bureaucracy
The process takes 3-8 weeks, and you can receive your e-Residency kit at pickup points worldwide after verifying your identity.
Working in Tallinn as a foreigner
Although Estonia suffered during the 2008 financial crisis, there are enough jobs in areas of business and technology for people to move here. Surprisingly, plenty of expats work in Tallinn, particularly in the tech sector. The country simply can’t find enough people to fill jobs in all IT areas.
The English level proficiency is high in Estonia, so foreigners have a chance to get a job with no need to learn the local language. Yet, the Estonian job market is tiny, as is its population. IT professionals and experts in innovative industries have the best chances of getting a job in Estonia.
The number of tech companies in Estonia has exploded over the past few years, and they more or less pay western European salaries. Furthermore, you will get an annual vacation of 28 days.
So, if you’re a tech professional, you can get a job in Tallinn as a product manager, developer, content manager, customer support agent or something in a similar niche. Jobs in the tech sector pay the most in Estonia.
Overall, it’s advised to work as a freelancer, remote employee or self-employed person for foreign companies while living in Tallinn. That way, you don’t need to think about finding a job, getting all the necessary papers, learning the language, etc. Plus, you can easily get an Estonian digital nomad visa when working remotely.
If you are a freelancer living in Estonia, there’s wifi and high-speed cellular data all over the country, and cafes are always reliable. Local chains like Reval and Caffeine are good options.
Start a business in Tallinn
Estonia actively encourages foreigners to start a business, hence why they created the e-Residency to facilitate that. With its offer of 20% flat corporation tax rate, simple electronic filing, 100% online management, and invoicing, it’s no wonder that there has been a considerable rise in expats and start-ups over the past few years in the country.
In fact, Estonia is now home to more start-ups per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
Salaries in Tallinn
What salary should you expect when getting a job in Tallinn? Well, wages in Estonia are moreso on the lower side, if we go by European standards. Wages typically range from 851 euros to 2,329 euros.
Top paying Estonian industries include:
- Construction & real estate
- Technology & Development
The current minimum salary in Tallinn and Estonia as of 2022 is 584 euros per month or approximately $650 USD. This is also the highest among the Baltic States. The average salary in Estonia is 2,000 euros per month, or roughly 1,150 euros net per month. Qualified IT professionals can expect to earn way above this average.
Here are some typical salaries in Tallinn in relation to common positions:
- Software Developer: 2,000 EUR
- Project Manager: 1,200 EUR
- Counter cashier and cleaner: average between 500 – 650 EUR
- Waiter-cashier in cafes and restaurants: 700 EUR – 1,000 EUR
Taxes in Estonia
Taxes aren’t very high in Estonia, and employees pay a flat rate of 20% of their salary.
If you are a resident of Estonia, you will be liable for taxes on worldwide income. Non-residents are taxed on their Estonian-source income.
Additionally, employers are also obliged to pay the social tax of 33% from an employee’s gross salary. From this social tax, an employee automatically has social and health insurance coverage in Estonia. Keep in mind that you have to pay that amount when employing people in Estonia as a business.
Total taxes in Estonia for an employee:
- 20% income taxes
- 1.6% unemployment insurance
- 2% pension
Taxes for company owners however are more beneficial. In fact, they only pay when taking out dividends. Moreover, paying taxes is painless and can be done online in less than three minutes.
The Quality of life in Tallinn
Compared to prominent western countries in Europe, Estonia still has some ways to go, but it’s on the up-and-up.
Infrastructure and services need some improvement, but other areas, like public transportation are efficient and free. Services such as schools and hospitals are owned by the government, and they’re free as well, although they might have a waiting list.
The Language barrier
Generally speaking, there isn’t much of a language barrier when living in Tallinn. English or Russian-speaking expats will find their way around easily. Almost every Estonian speaks a second language, if not several. On the other hand, Estonian is considered one of the top 10 most challenging languages to learn.
Due to its past Soviet occupation, the second most common language in the country is Russian. So, one can live comfortably in the country relying on only English or Russian. But the vast majority of younger adults speak an excellent standard of English too.
What are people in Estonia like?
Estonians are more shy and reserved than most European nations, but they are also very straightforward by nature. For example, people in Estonia might look at you strangely if you do any of the following things below:
- Use small talk in a conversation
- Say good morning when coming to the office or goodbye when leaving
- Smile for no reason
- Be noisy
However, it’s totally fine to start a conversation in English, especially with young people. At the same time, it’s normal to be in a group of people and be silent. For example, you can have lunch or share a cab with Estonians where no one is speaking. It isn’t considered to be awkward. Estonians might be shy at first, but they are quite talkative people. If you casually ask them how they are, be prepared for them to tell you in detail.
Like other Baltic states, you also need to be aware of Estonia’s past, especially regarding their Soviet Union relations. Estonian society is divided into a Russian-speaking and an Estonian-speaking population.
Those who don’t have Estonian ancestors before the Soviet occupation carry gray “Alien passports.” They aren’t considered 100% citizens, and they can’t vote or visit other parts of Europe without a visa.
Estonian introversion doesn’t make it easy to make friends with them. Expats noticed that integration into Estonian society can be challenging as a foreigner.
Public transport, walkability, and connectivity
Public transportation is free for all Tallinn residents, and the moment you arrive in the city, you can get a free transport card. It includes various bus and tram lines. If you aren’t a resident, public transportation is still very affordable. A one-month ticket for just 23 euros will give you access to all intercity buses and trams.
The connectivity is great in the capital and Estonia overall. Airport, bus and train terminals are all located within a 10km radius. Furthermore, you can cross the country in three hours by car.
Generally, Tallinn is a very walkable, pedestrian-friendly city. You can get from one end to the other in one hour on foot. Particularly, if you live close enough to the old town, you have everything within walking distance.
Food is good in Estonia but not very diverse. In some ways, it will remind you of Russia, and Germany in others.
Estonian cuisine is generally based on meat (pork), potatoes and fish. Estonians eat plenty of soups, dishes with meat, vegetables, mashed potatoes, oats, wheat-like grains and fish dishes–mostly salmon. Pork meat and fish are often eaten here, but beef isn’t very common. Vegetables and fruits tend to be expensive.
Estonian black rye bread is loved by locals and tourists alike. Fish is often eaten fresh, marinated or smoked. And don’t forget about various Estonian beers! The craft beer industry has become huge in recent years. You will find all sorts of beer in Tallinn.
Weather is by far the biggest concern of foreigners who are moving to Estonia. And rightly so, the weather in Tallinn isn’t that great.
Tallinn enjoys soft summers but suffers from harsh winters. Some people love the Estonian winter, but it can be too cold for others. In the summer, the temperature gets to around 25 ºC and can stay that way.
In winter, the sun might rise at 9:30 am in the morning and set at 3 pm in the afternoon. That’s just about six hours of sunlight. If you add to that the cloudiness, then you realize how dark it might be. You have the total opposite in summer, which is up to 20 hours of sunlight and clear skies.
Moreover, Estonian winters are pretty long. It gets cold around the end of October until around April. Sometimes the temperature drops to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 F).
Despite the small size of the country and its capital, Estonia has plenty of activities you can enjoy in your free time! Nature lovers will especially feel at home as there are many natural areas in the country, just a short drive away from Tallinn.
You can find plenty of seashores, forests, rivers and lakes. In the summer, people go hiking, running, cycling, camping, canoeing, and cross country skiing in the winter. Estonians love nature in general.
In fact, nature is an essential part of life in Estonia. In the summer, Estonians often go to the countryside to enjoy the forests — picking berries and mushrooms is a popular national pastime.
The most exciting activities in Tallinn can be found in the center. It has plenty of good restaurants. For “city people” who are into the arts, unfortunately there are a few theaters, cinemas and galleries.
Tallinn is Estonia’s party central, and you can find bars and clubs all around the city, but music festivals are scarce.
Generally, Estonians value their work-life balance, so they know how to rest. You can join them for a sauna visit or a weekend trip to an outdoorsy destination, where they often have a holiday home.
Is Tallinn good for expats?
Tallinn is logistically a good place for remote-working expats, however there aren’t many of them. Thanks to Estonia’s digital nomad visa, Tallinn has become increasingly popular with foreigners.
Digital nomads and tech-savvy people like Tallinn for its progressiveness in terms of digitalization and technology.
You can have high-speed wi-fi from almost anywhere in the country because Estonians consider internet access as a fundamental human right. The bureaucracy and visa processes are digitized like nowhere in Europe.
Estonia is a paperless country
As a consequence of the previous point, we need to admit that Estonia is a truly paperless country. Estonian bureaucracy is very efficient and will impress you in a good way.
Even taxes are paid online in less than five minutes. If you decide to set up a business in Estonia, you can accomplish everything online in less than 20 minutes, which is another big advantage of this country.
So how does the paperless system work in Estonia? In a nutshell, you will get an electronic identity, in addition to an Estonian ID, even as a foreigner. With that, you can file taxes online, access information about property, bank accounts, mobile accounts… pretty much any services you will need. With that digital ID, you can also sign documents electronically anywhere in the world.
The Estonian government successfully created a digitized state and built online communities with a clear focus on efficiency, security and transparency. Furthermore, Estonia is the first country to use the internet for political voting.
The cost of living in Tallinn
What should your budget be when moving to Tallinn? Estonia is one of the most affordable countries in Europe.
Facts about the cost of living in Tallinn in 2022:
- Estimated monthly costs for a family of four are 2,610 USD (2,338 EUR) without rent.
- A single person’s estimated monthly costs are 764 USD (684 EUR) without rent.
- Tallinn is 44.74% less expensive than New York (without rent).
- Rent in Tallinn is, on average, 81.30% lower than in New York.
- Tallinn is 45% less expensive than New York (without rent).
- 1 bedroom apartment: 415 and 560 EUR
- 2-3 bedroom apartment: 944 and 1,651 EUR
- Utilities: 100-190 EUR
- Internet: 18 EUR
Prices are significantly higher in Tallinn’s old town. Apartments can go up to 2,000-3,000 euros per month easily. The further away from the city center one is, the better and cheaper the accommodation. Overall, the cost of living in Tallinn, and neighboring Tartu, is rising pretty rapidly.
Nonetheless, rent in Tallinn is three times cheaper than in Amsterdam and eight times more affordable than in San Francisco. Keep in mind that Europe remains to be Europe, and Tallinn doesn’t cost anything close to budget destinations like Chiang Mai or Medellin in Colombia.
Yet, for a European capital, Tallinn is undoubtedly affordable. It’s more expensive than places like Riga, Vilnius or Sofia, but cheaper than Madrid, Berlin or Amsterdam.
Generally, 2,000 euros in disposable income will give you a great living standard in Tallinn, and Estonia in general. For comparison, the current median average salary in Tallinn is about 900 euros net.
For a young single person, a monthly budget of 1,700 euros is enough to live very comfortably in Tallinn. The lowest amount you might need to get by in Tallinn is 700 euros per month. Sharing an apartment is a necessity in that case.
Other expenses you will encounter in Tallinn:
- Daily shopping for food and essentials – around 15 euros per day
- Lunch out in a nice place – 10-15 EUR
- Dinner – 15-20 EUR
- Pint of beer – 3-4 EUR
- Latte – 2,5 EUR
- 10 eggs – 1,29 EUR
- 130g of ham – 1,89 EUR
- 250g butter – 2,69 EUR
- Local lager beer – 1,39 EUR
- Bread roll – 0,68 EUR
- A kebab – 3,50 EUR
More on the cost of living in Estonia
The cost of living in the rest of Estonia is lower than in the capital, which is by far the most expensive place. If you are coming from the US, expect to spend around 50% less than what you are used to.
For example, you can find the cheapest prices in cities like Narva, Viljandi or Sillamae, where average monthly living expenses are under 800 USD.
Estonia is developing fast, and so are its prices. Currently, the cost of living is the highest in the Baltic region. Yet, they are still very reasonable.