In one of my previous posts, I described how VAT taxes work for e-Residents owning a company in Estonia. There, I talked about the most common rules for earnings and dividends. However, there are lots of details and nuisances to know about your pay as the owner of your business. In this post, I offer a more in-depth discussion about salaries for e-Residents.

While I do not represent or talk in the name of the Estonian Tax Office, all the information contained in this post comes from the knowledge from my business “Your Company In Estonia”, and has been verified by my accountants and the Estonian Tax Office. If in doubt, ask your accountant.

The Devil Is In The Details

Accountancy and taxes are difficult topics, especially, when it comes to companies. If your home country is anything like mine, there are lots of weird rules -some of them contradicting other rules- and grey areas regarding what you can and can’t do. Salaries are no exception, but also what you can deduct as a business expense, or how to apply taxes to different types of earnings.

Luckily, Estonia is famous for its clear, fair and transparent business system. It’s simply years ahead of the game. Nevertheless, it still has some subtleties to take into account when it comes to e-Residents. Especially, on how the owners of an Estonian company pay salaries to themselves or other employees.

Estonian law is also strongly based on common sense in lots of different areas. Even though it adds a subtle level of subjectivity to the mix, it makes the system very flexible and -in my opinion- quite fair.

One of the areas where this applies is your salary payments. Being such a delicate topic, emoluments are a common subject of questions. Let’s try to shed some light here…

The Basic Stuff

Ok, so first let’s review the basic stuff. As I mentioned on my previous article, as the owner of your company in Estonia, you are supposed to be doing two different kinds of tasks.

On one hand, you are the board member of your company. If you are a sole proprietor, you are the one and only director of your business. You are supposed to take care of appointing shareholder meetings, concluding contracts in the name of the company… yes, all the boring stuff.

On the other hand, you are supposedly performing a “professional” work in your company. It may be design, development, customer support, or managing the accountancy and keeping the books.

You then receive a “Board member salary” for the former and an “Employee salary” for the latter. The board member salary is taxed in Estonia, while the employee salary is not.

The de-facto accepted rule is that you do a distribution of 30%/70% of your salary. That means that if you, say, assign one month 2000€ in salary, you pay yourself 600€ as “Board member salary”, and 1400€ in “Employee salary”.

Your company is supposed to pay, for your board member salary, an income tax of 25%, and a social tax of 33% (applied to both the gross board member salary plus the income tax). You can avoid the social tax if you have proof of contribution to social tax in any other European country (form A1).

So of those 600€ of your board member salary, your company will pay 150€ in income tax, and 247,5€ in social tax, for a total of 397,5. That’s roughly 20% of your total salary. Next, if you are resident in a country with residence-based personal taxation, you will pay taxes for your overall earnings in your annual tax report.

Salaries for e-Residents, Salaries for e-Residents, The Ultimate Guide, Micropreneur Life

The Distribution Between Your Salaries

Note: things have changed from 2019. Please, see next section.

So the brilliant first question we all do when we understand the larger our board member salary gets the more taxes we pay is: “can I set my board member salary percentage to 0%?”

Then the answer is usually: “well, you can, but then someone -the Estonian Tax Office- may wonder who’s performing your board member tasks… And why this person isn’t being paid”. So common advice is you can play a little if, for example, you are a professional whose work mostly fails in the “Employee” category -such as a web developer- you can assign yourself a 20%/80% distribution and that’s ok. But also there’s a remark: “of course, that depends on the gross amount of salary paid”.

Then the next brilliant question is: “ok, so if I do something super-technical and earn a lot of money, can I reduce the percentage to almost zero?”

Here’s when the Estonian “common sense” application of the law kicks in. The idea is that, in the beginning, when your company’s profi is low, you don’t even need to care about assigning a board member salary at all. However, when you are starting to earn good money and you assign yourself a proper salary, you should add “decent” or “common sense” board member salary to the mix.

How much is that? Well, if your emoluments are 1000€ a month, 20%-30% is a good number. If you are on the 5000-10000€ payment range -you lucky bastard- you can probably go for a much lower percentage. 

Here, the amount is the key, not the percentage. 10% of 10.000€ is 1000€ which is absolutely fine for a board member salary, and more than a 30% of 1000€. Make it proportional, and use your common sense. 

2019 Update: You Can Now Pay Yourself Employee Salary Only

It has been determined by the Estonian Tax Office that you can actually pay yourself Employee Salary only. This only applies if your activity is performed outside of Estonia, meaning, you are not a tax resident in Estonia.

This has some implications. First and foremost, you are obviously responsible for reporting and paying your taxes in your country of residence. If you are a digital nomad, and don’t spend more than 183 days a year in any specific country, you can however avoid paying personal taxes.

The second important point to have in mind is that, if you assign yourself only the Employee Salary, you won’t be able to enjoy the Daily Allowance. Obviously, your business trips will still be justifiable expenses that your company can pay, but you won’t be able to benefit from the Daily Allowance.

It’s important to note that this change is mostly applicable to freelancers or sole proprietors. If your company has several shareholders or board members, or any of the members of the board operates from Estonia, this scenario does not really apply to you. 

Does Your Salary Need To Be Constant?

Short answer: No. Long answer: No, but use your common sense (again). So what do I mean by that?

For context, I usually assign myself different salaries throughout the month, and rarely they sum up the same amounts month after month. Plus, I never pay myself on a fixed day of the month. So as far as I know, there’s a lot of flexibility here. That said…

Now imagine this situation: you are a micropreneur with your OÜ company in Estonia. You assign yourself a salary between 800€ and 1100€. Then, one month, your company actually loses money while you decide to sky-rocket your bonus to 10.000€, Standard & Poor’s style.

According to the law, you don’t even need to assign yourself a salary at all. Theoretically, you are totally free to pay yourself the amount of money that you consider appropriate, but situations like the one depicted above will certainly raise some eyebrows.

Obviously, if your activity is perfectly legal, and your books are in order, you have nothing to worry about, but it’s always better to use the proportionality rule when assigning salaries. They don’t need to be the same amount, or be paid regularly, or even on a fixed date, but it’s better not to play the rollercoaster game with your payrolls.

Salaries for e-Residents, Salaries for e-Residents, The Ultimate Guide, Micropreneur Life

What About The Double Taxation?

The e-Residency program’s been specially designed for digital nomads. One of the reasons is obviously because it gives you geographical independence, and allows you to start and manage your business completely online

However, another important reason is avoiding clashes with other tax offices. There are lots of potential problems if you are the sole proprietor of your business and run it from a different European country (like France, or Germany, or Spain). One of them is your company being declared tax resident -and thus having to pay taxes- in that other country.

This problem has yet to be properly addressed by the e-Residency program. Related to that one, double taxation is always mentioned as another concern for non-nomad entrepreneurs considering a company in Estonia. 

Theoretically, there are double taxation treaties between most European countries and Estonia. These agreements prevent precisely the situation where you will pay taxes twice, both in Estonia and in your country of residence. In that sense, you need to understand that you and your company are different entities. Ideally, your company pays taxes in Estonia, while you pay taxes on your personal income (distributed dividends and salaries from all over the globe) in the country where you are tax resident.

Double Taxation On Salaries For Non-Digital Nomads

However, if you are not a digital nomad, you will, unfortunately, be subject to a small percentage of double taxation on your salary.

From your board member salary, you pay two different taxes: income tax and social tax. The former is a tax that is applied to your company. That means that it’s the company, not you, who pays it.

That means that once this salary gets to your personal bank account (alongside the Employee salary), you are liable for paying taxes for it. In my experience, it’s very hard to claim back the income tax that you paid for your board member salary back.

Regarding the latter, unless you can provide proof of paying social security anywhere else (form A1), you will have to pay social tax for your board member salary while you may not benefit from it, meaning, you won’t have access to health insurance or a pension (this is not always the case, more on this below).

Conversely, your Employee salary is not taxed at all in Estonia, so there’s no double taxation here. You will pay personal taxes for it on your annual tax report.

Hiring And Paying Employees

Another very obscure topic, there’s no information whatsoever on the e-Residency website or any official page from the Estonian tax office in English.

The question is: “Can you hire employees for your Estonian company?

And the answer is “Yes“. The details are different depending on where they are tax residents, though. The taxes to be paid, and payroll calculations are completely different from the salary of members of the board.

Salaries for e-Residents, Salaries for e-Residents, The Ultimate Guide, Micropreneur Life

Hiring And Paying Employees Outside Of Estonia

If your employees are outside of Estonia, the good news is: you don’t pay a dime in taxes. Zero, rian, niente, nada.

Why? These employees, regardless of whether they are tax resident in a “foreign” country -to Estonia, anyway- or they are digital nomads, have no obligations with the Estonian government or tax office.

However, there are two important things to consider here.

First, you are not contributing to their social security or pension. That means that, unless they have private health insurance of some kind and a private pension plan, they may not have access to public healthcare of retirement annuity.

Secondly, these employees are responsible for paying their taxes. Most probably your employees will… but just in case, it’s always a good practice to include a clause in your employment contract specifying that the employee is liable for paying his or her taxes in the corresponding residence country, if any.

Hiring And Paying Employees From Estonia

If your employees are tax resident in Estonia -meaning, they spend more than 6 months a year there- their employment situation is completely different. As Estonian employees of an Estonian company, they will get all the benefits of working for a national company, including social security and pension.

Hence, you will need to pay not just income tax, but also social tax, and make sure the latter covers the minimum requested by the authorities (around 155€). Besides, there are some other minor taxes added into the mix.

This is an example of the taxes that you need to pay for a standard salary of 1000€ to an Estonian employee, as of 2019.

Gross Salary/Wage:1000€
Social Tax330.00€
Unemployment insurance (paid by the employer)8.00€
Total Cost for employer(Wage Fund)1338.00€
Funded pension20.00€
Unemployment insurance (paid by the employee)16.00
Income Tax92.80
Net Salary/Wage871.20

So you pay some taxes, but it’s definitely not that much, and it’s worth it if you want to have employees in Estonia.

Can You Or Your Employees Benefit From Social Security?

Yes, believe it or not, employees living and working abroad can benefit from Estonian social security and use Estonian public healthcare in any of these situations:

  •  A working employee, with an employment contract, working for more than a month, as long as the minimum social tax is paid. 
  • Freelancer or employee with a services contract if the minimum social tax is paid for the whole duration of the service contract.
  • Member of the board -i.e: you- if minimum social tax is paid.

Minimum social taxes are 33% of minimum wage, currently 470 x 0,33 = 155,10€.

Why is this important, you may ask, if you are a digital nomad and/or live outside of Estonia? Because it gives you access to the European Health Insurance Card. With this card, you have free public health insurance all over Europe.

Conclusion

One of the most recurring questions for e-Residents owning a company in Estonia is how salaries work. It’s an obscure topic. Taxes, social security, contracts, how to assign them… In this post, “Salaries for e-Residents”, I try to shed some light on the matter. 

However, if in doubt, it’s always wise to ask for professional advice by your accountant.

❤️ Did you enjoy this article?

If you found this content useful, consider showing your appreciation by buying me a coffee using the button below 👇.

Salaries for e-Residents, Salaries for e-Residents, The Ultimate Guide, Micropreneur LifeBuy me a coffee

Let's talk!

Years ago, I quit my 9 to 5 job and became a freelancer first, then a solopreneur, and finally a digital nomad. Managing my company back in Spain was a nightmare until I discovered the e-Residency program and opened my company in Estonia. That changed my life.

After some years managing my business, I know the tricks of the trade. I can offer you advice on how to become location independent, found an European company you can manage online while traveling, and avoid unnecessary costs. If you are ready to take the leap, but have some doubts or don't know where to start, let's get in touch.

Let's do this!

(Visited 1,745 times, 14 visits today)

8 Comments

  1. Bruno December 18, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    First of all thank you very much for the precious information. Hopefully, by March I ‘ll be able to start and run my own company through the e-Residency program. However, some questions arise for me:
    -Being the owner of your own company, do you need to make a contract to yourself as an employee?;
    -What happens if you start your own business, earn money (as a company), but for the first few months you don’t want to make a salary to yourself just to let the company grow? How would the tax authorities of the country you are resident in act about it?

    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    1. nacho December 18, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      Hi Bruno, thanks for your comment.
      Answering your questions:
      – no, you don’t need to make a contract to yourself, but it’s advisable.
      – you don’t need to assign yourself a salary, it’s up to you when to do it and when not to.

      Reply
      1. Bruno December 19, 2018 at 11:01 am

        So, basically, until you receive your first salary you are still considered unemployed, right?Thanks again!

        Reply
        1. nacho December 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm

          Actually not. You can be an employee. In fact, you can be different types of employee (and you may probable want to be). It’s better if you want to know more about that specific subject to ask for a consultancy session. Best regards!

          Reply
  2. Johnny December 19, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Hi Nacho, great article and informative blog.

    I seem to have my head around most things salary-wise, and if living in Spain paying the quota de autonomous I could leverage the A1 from to not pay social security twice by the sounds. Ideally, I will just pay the Spanish one as there seem to be more benefits.

    Although you explained in another post I am still not 100% clear, and it helps that you are Spanish, as that is where I wish to relocate.

    I pretty much fall into this category: https://micropreneur.life/will-my-estonian-company-have-to-pay-taxes-in-my-home-country/, as I travel in Asia a lot, have no intention of having any Spanish clients, websites in English etc.. but will be there over 6 months a year, potentially buy a house one day. I’m a bit paranoid with Spain trying to claim my Estonian companies residency when I set one up, as I only plan to take out around 1,200 euros a month and leave the rest in the company. Do you have any Spain/Estonia permanent establishment experience.

    Reply
    1. nacho December 19, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Johnny, I think it would be better to have the chance of speaking in a consultancy session. Please, don’t hesitate to contact me using the link at the top!

      Reply
  3. Servin Loefstop June 9, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Yes awesome article! Love your work. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. nacho June 11, 2019 at 4:46 am

      Thanks Servin! 🙂

      Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *