Crypto license in Estonia
Estonia has been a popular location for crypto businesses due to two licenses which were introduced back in 2017:
The two licenses are called:
1. Providers of a service of exchanging a virtual currency against a fiat currency
This license allows you to exchange fiat to crypto and crypto to fiat. Usually, crypto to crypto transactions do not require a license.
2. Providers of a virtual currency wallet service
This Estonian crypto license allows you to provide e-wallet services for virtual currencies. You can generate and keep encrypted keys on the behalf of the client, i.e providing custodial services of the required credentials to access the virtual currencies. You shouldn’t mix it with the traditional custodian licenses which enable to safe keep financial assets, as these are two different things.
General information (refusal, requirements)
Two licenses are issued by the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU, or Rahapesu Andmebüroo in Estonian). The FIU may refuse to issue the license in case the provided documentation is insufficient, the related persons have a criminal history record, or the provided criminal history check does not comply with the requirements of the Estonian FIU.
For example, it’s difficult, not to say almost impossible, for American citizens to obtain the license. The problem is with the wording on the FBI check – while completely legit and valid document everywhere in the world, the Estonian FIU interprets it in a way that they don’t have full confidence whether the person has no criminal record on the local State level. It doesn’t help that you can also obtain the local police check in any of the US States as a supplementary document.
Additional complexity may be created if the Estonian company applying for the license is owned by another legal entity. If this legal entity can’t provide a criminal record paper, as such paper does not exist in the jurisdiction of the company, then the FIU will refuse to issue the license. If the criminal record can’t be obtained for a company, it may be sufficient if the official of the relevant authority of the registration country provides a statement that they do not issue such documents for companies. All in all, we always recommend going for the simplest possible company structure to have a smooth application process.
Though the company holding the cryptocurrency licenses is considered to be a financial institution under Estonian regulations, there are no special tax or reporting requirements, nor are there any special capital requirements.
The FIU can withdraw the license if the licensed company won’t start an economic activity within six months from the date of receiving the license.
To this date, we’ve obtained over 50 licenses, and only one rejection (American citizen).
Process of obtaining crypto licence s
To obtain the crypto licenses you’ll need to have an Estonian company and apply for the crypto licenses. It is possible in theory to obtain the crypto license for the foreign company as well, but we do not recommend that, as the FIU is not very keen on issuing licenses to foreign entities, and it’s a lot smoother process with the Estonian entity. Also, the new AML regulation proposes that all foreign entities have to register a local branch to be able to apply.
Together with the company registration, the client should already start the process of obtaining the criminal record documents for all the shareholders, board members, the compliance officer (responsible person) and UBOs (ultimate beneficiary owners). The criminal record should be in English and certified with an apostille. The documents can’t be older than 3 months. In some countries the legalisation processes/ apostille takes time, hence, it’s smart to work on that from the very beginning.
We also ask the client’s compliance officer (responsible person) to provide an university diploma (recommended is diploma either in finance, economics, computer science or law) and a resume, as we need to add these documents to the application.
Together with an application to the FIU you will need to present the KYC/AML procedural rules and internal auditing rules documentation. This documentation is usually prepared by us (Comistar) as these documents have to be submitted in Estonian language. Moreover, we can help our clients to create AML matrixes and actionable documents for the internal use, so companies can implement required AML procedures.
Once all the documents are collected and ready, we’ll make the application and pay the state fees (345€ per license) on behalf of the client.
There’s a chance that the FIU will request the compliance officer to travel to Estonia and go through an interview process with the FIU. We help our clients to prepare for these interviews by going through the Estonian AML requirements, and doing Skype consultations.
How long does it take to get the Estonian crypto license s?
The speed of process depends whether you already have the Estonian e-Residency card or not. If you do have it, the process can be very quick: 1-2 days to register the company, 1- 1,5 weeks to put together the documentation, and submit the documentation. The speed of this licensing process depends on the third parties: how quickly can you get your criminal history document certified and mailed to us, and how quickly we can get all documents translated etc.
If you don’t have the e-Residency card, then you have two options:
- Apply for the e-Residency card and wait 4-5 weeks to get it. After which the process goes very quickly.
- Register the company via notary by using the power of attorneys or by traveling to Estonia.
If you choose to use the power of attorneys to register the Estonian company, be ready for a 2-3 week process, as we have to get apostilled/legalised documents, translate them, and get the notary time. Every step takes some time. If you choose to travel to Estonia, we recommend to have at least 5 days buffer to get the notary time.
The downside with this method is that once the company is registered, we need the PoA to represent you at the Estonian notary. This PoA needs to be apostilled/legalised as well, and this can take time dependent on your jurisdiction. In China, it takes about 3 weeks + sending time.
Once the documents are submitted to the FIU, they have up to 30 days to process the application and license.
Banking is definitely the most complex part of the whole process, as there aren’t many banks that work with cryptocurrency companies. However, through spending countless hours of xlooking through the banking options, we have found 8-9 different banks that we introduce to our crypto clients. The bank account application process is usually done by the clients, as the banks want to communicate to the entrepreneurs directly, but we can assist with this as well.
Potential changes to the law
There are some potential changes coming to the AML regulations in the next six months, sometimes during 2020.
The new AML draft proposes:
The state fee will rise to 3300€ per license. Currently it is 345€. Hence, it makes sense to act fast, if you want to proceed.
The licensing period will be extended to three months instead of 30 days.
You need to have an office with an actual activity in Estonia by the end of 2019.
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