There has been much buzz among digital nomads and online workers about Estonia lately. Their innovative e-Residency program allows anyone in the world to use its e-government systems and set up a remotely managed company.
Since I’ve been nomadic and have lived in different countries while working online, it made me interested in the program as well.
I went through the whole process of becoming an e-resident, starting an Estonian company, and even traveling to Tallinn to open a bank account. I’ve now been using my Estonian company for almost a year. Based on this, I can share with you some tips and experiences.
In another post, I already explained what e-residency is and isn’t. Give it a read if you’re still new to Estonian e-Residency.
Here, I’ll be giving an overview of Xolo Leap (formerly known as LeapIN), which is one of the most popular Estonian service providers for e-residents.
Xolo Leap or Xolo Go?
This post is about Xolo Leap, but Xolo recently also introduced a second product called Xolo Go.
Xolo Go does not give you your own legal entity/company. It is simply an invoicing platform in which the company Xolo acts on your behalf. This might be nice if you are just starting out and need a quick way to invoice clients. But if you want to have your own location-independent business, and want to have all of the Xolo platform’s features available to you, then you should probably consider Xolo Leap.
This turn-key service is ideal for freelancers, remote workers, independent consultants, educators, and other types of solopreneurs who sell their digital services internationally.
If you run an online or location-independent business, then using Xolo Leap could be a great option for you.
Setting up your company
The process of setting up your company is very straightforward and can be done entirely remotely.
Xolo has created an easy step-by-step onboarding process, which requires you to fill out some forms and digitally sign a few contracts. You sign the agreements using your e-Residency identity card, so you need to be registered as an Estonian e-Resident first.
The whole process took about 5 business days for me. It typically involved filling out some details or just clicking an accept button, then waiting for the next step while Xolo set things up in the background.
If you’ve ever experienced a lot of bureaucracy or physical paperwork before, then you’ll probably be delighted by how easy it is with Estonian e-Residency and Xolo Leap.
By the way, if you’re going to sign up with Xolo Leap, they were kind enough to share a coupon code which I’m happy to pass on to you. Just fill it into the referral code field on the very first page:
Adding bank accounts
Once your company is created, the next step is to associate one or more bank accounts.
Xolo Leap integrates seamlessly with PayPal and TransferWise, both of which can be set up online without ever visiting Estonia. In many cases, PayPal and/or Transferwise may be all you need.
It can also integrate with a business bank account of LHV in Estonia, which is Xolo’s partner bank, though this requires an in-person visit to set up.
TransferWise integration is a real killer app of Xolo for me. I use Euro at home but often receive payments in USD, GBP, AUD or CAD — and traditional banks and PayPal tend to charge truly eye-watering amounts for currency conversion.
Using a TransferWise Borderless account can save you hundreds of Euros in conversion fees and will work seamlessly with Xolo’s dashboard.
With Transferwise (which is also an Estonian company) you can receive money to a European IBAN, a US account number, a British account number, and so on. This works exactly the same as if you had a real bank account in all of those countries. And if you need to convert any of the money you receive, it’s at a very low rate.
I held off on using TransferWise before as it didn’t work well with the accounting platform I used in the past. But Xolo uses the TransferWise API to import transactions automatically, making a Borderless account super easy to use in combination with your Estonian company.
The Xolo dashboard can also import transactions from your PayPal account. While PayPal charges hefty fees, for some of my clients it’s still the only possible payment method, so it’s great to have this integration.
You’ll need to set up a PayPal Business Account on the Estonian PayPal site. The reason is that PayPal makes all its accounts specific to the country, so it’s the only way to link your account with your Estonian company. It’s easy to do though, and from a user perspective an Estonian PayPal account is exactly the same.
When you go to PayPal it will normally redirect you to your local version, but if you just enter www.paypal.com/ee/ in the address bar you can sign up from there. You can then grant Xolo Leap read-only access to PayPal via the dashboard.
You can set up PayPal or TransferWise remotely, but these accounts do have a disadvantage. They’re not real banks in the legal sense, meaning you don’t get a deposit guarantee. If you want to be covered by the 100,000 EUR deposit guarantee that’s standard within the EU, you’ll still need to use a traditional bank.
Unfortunately, you can’t just use any bank. Xolo Leap integrates only with Estonia’s LHV bank.
I eventually decided to open an account with LHV, as I wanted to keep some funds in the company and have a safer spot to keep it. But if you’re happy with PayPal and Transferwise — and you don’t keep too much money in those accounts — then perhaps you might not want to take this step.
Opening an LHV bank account used to be possible remotely via video call, but current rules require you to physically visit LHV’s offices in Tallinn. This may change again in the future, but right now it’s the only way to do this. It’s a bit inconvenient, though it does give you a nice excuse to visit Estonia and see the wonderful city of Tallinn.
As a Xolo Leap customer you can get pre-approved for an LHV account. I went to Tallinn to finalize the account opening where my visit to LHV Bank took about 30 minutes.
The Xolo dashboard will show you a list of all your accounts, separately listing different currencies you hold.
For example, in my dashboard, I can see how much USD, EUR, GBP, and AUD I have on TransferWise or on PayPal. This multi-currency support is wonderful if you’re running an international online business.
My previous bookkeeping platform essentially converted everything to EUR, but with Xolo I can get a more accurate picture of my funds and keep different currencies around if needed.
Invoicing can also be done in a range of commonly used currencies.
If you need to sell digital products directly to customers, then to take their payment you currently have the option of using PayPal, Paddle, or Stripe. There is also direct support for the Apple App Store or Google Play.
I have not tried these out personally as I don’t have a direct sales channel that would need this, but if you’re a SaaS provider, app developer, or indie software developer, you’ll surely be interested in these options.
The selection of payment gateways may seem limited at first glance, though Xolo’s FAQ states these gateways were chosen specifically as they work best with their platform and don’t have a negative attitude towards location-independent businesses.
Xolo added Stripe in September 2019, which is a big deal as Stripe has become the favored payment processor for many online companies. Stripe enables you to accept payments from Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, AmEx, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and numerous local payment methods. It integrates seamlessly with Xolo Leap, so that customer purchases appear in your dashboard automatically.
The Xolo dashboard
Xolo gives you a self-service dashboard from where you can manage your income and expenses. The dashboard is nicely streamlined and easy to use.
You can upload expense documents through the dashboard, after which they will be processed and digitized by Xolo. Documents are usually digitized within a few days.
Invoicing can be done easily from the dashboard. It’s nothing too complicated: you can keep a list of regular clients, choose from several colours for the template and upload a logo, and e-mail the invoice to your client as well as archiving it in the dashboard. The Xolo staff will do the matching of invoices to payments and filing them away.
You can record business trips under a separate tab. When a trip is approved, you can click on it and upload your expense documents. Note that if you’re a full-time digital nomad, you can’t just claim your perpetual travels as one long business trip. It needs to be a return trip with a clear business purpose (which seems to me like a reasonable requirement, or else you could just expense your entire year as a ‘business trip’).
Within the dashboard, your only responsibility is the reporting of expenses and keeping of invoices. The accounting, tax filing, and compliance are all handled by Xolo.
The Xolo app
In September 2019, Xolo also launched its own app. It includes most of the features of the web-based interface.
I like the app as it lets me easily see my bank balances and admin.
The most interesting use of the app for me though is the reporting of expenses. You can simply snap a picture of an invoice or receipt when you make a purchase somewhere for your business, and easily report any out-of-pocket expenses while you’re on the go.
Xolo Leap pros and cons
To conclude, let me point out some of the features as well as potential limitations of the service.
Things to be aware of
No cash withdrawals. While you can technically withdraw cash at any ATM using your Transferwise Borderless or LHV debit card, you are not meant to do this as a Xolo customer. To keep things simple, Xolo wants to keep everything online and trackable.
Of course, this is not a big deal if you run an online business. Common expenses like buying software/hardware or accommodation and flights for a business trip can all be done via debit card. You can also register certain expenses as paid out-of-pocket (with your own cash), which you can reimburse through your company later.
No USD at LHV. You can’t receive USD on an LHV bank account at the moment. Fortunately, this is not an issue if you also use PayPal or TransferWise.
One shareholder only. Xolo is intended for creating a limited liability company with one shareholder. Other providers (like this one) may allow multiple shareholders. While it supports only one shareholder, you can still of course hire freelancers or even employ people directly.
Not all business types accepted. You can use the registration form to check if your type of business qualifies. One thing that’s explicitly excluded at the moment is selling physical goods (e.g. dropshipping or selling via Amazon FSB is not supported).
Not a tax haven. Just to be clear, Estonia is not a tax haven. It has a regular 20% corporate tax rate. e-Residency in Estonia can be convenient in many ways, but it won’t (in itself) lower your taxes.
Avoiding bureaucracy. Company registration and management are super smooth. You can enjoy Estonia’s excellent digital services for your company while still remaining income tax resident in your home country or elsewhere.
Designed for online companies. The service is ideal for freelancer, bloggers, remote workers, independent consultants, etc. who sell their digital services internationally. Everything is remote and the Xolo team is accustomed to dealing with nomads and online workers. (This is really nice! Some of my previous bookkeepers never understood my international situation, never heard of things like affiliate income, etc.)
Postal mail digitization & forwarding. Any mail sent to your physical address at Xolo will be scanned and forwarded to you. So far I’ve had to use this only once (to get a confirmation code from Google Adsense) but it’s definitely a great service to have.
No taxes until distribution. Estonia’s tax law is such that you don’t pay tax until the money is distributed as dividends or salary. This gives you some advantage if you plan to invest company funds (e.g. in stocks or cryptocurrency).
Integrated bank accounts. No manual uploading of CSV files; you can get a real-time view of your accounts via the dashboard.
Cost savings. Fees are pretty low thanks to Estonia being a cost-effective country (packages range from €59 to €99 per month). Speaking for my personal situation, it has already halved my admin costs. TransferWise integration can give you further savings on currency conversion fees.
Excellent service. The team is highly responsive and very helpful. In most cases, their excellent FAQ already has the answers to everything you need to know. When something is still unclear, the team usually responds quickly.
When you have an international online business and you realize your company doesn’t have to necessarily be in your home country, you can start looking around globally for a service that best matches your needs. For me, Estonia’s e-Residency with LeapIN ticked a number of boxes.
There are other options around though, so it’s always good to speak to an advisor or do some research on your own. I’ve heard of many different solutions being used by digital nomads or online workers. US-based Stripe Atlas is another one, for example.
A key benefit is that you can keep your company in one place while moving around internationally. I’ve lived in different countries and have been fully nomadic as well. Having one place for my business — one that is accustomed to dealing with nomads and remote workers — can be a real advantage.
Another advantage is that setting up in Estonia with Xolo is totally turn-key and easy to manage. It can be a great way to avoid the bureaucracy that exists in some other places around the world. I know some German online workers using e-Residency for this reason, and avoiding bureaucracy was also a key motivation for myself. I’ve personally been very satisfied with Xolo’s dashboard, their level of service and the hassle-free experience with e-Residency.
If you’re still wondering if it could be right for you, I recommend checking out the unofficial e-Residency Facebook group, reading the Xolo FAQ, or starting the free sign-up at LeapIN that will let you evaluate if it’s the right service for you.
P.S. Don’t forget that you can use the referral code INDIETRAVELLER at sign-up to get €100 off, which is enough to cover two months for free. The referral code also gives an affiliate reward to me, so if you decide to use it, thank you! All opinions in this post are of course my own, but I wanted to share this referral offer with you.