About Estonia » Society » Citizenship


  • PDF

11 September 2014

The Republic of Estonia, established in 1918, lost its independence when it was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940. After the independence of the Republic of Estonia was restored in 1991 on the basis of legal continuity of statehood, Estonia was able to reinstate the right of its legitimate citizens. In February 1992 the Citizenship Law of 1938, based on the principle of ius sanguinis (blood relationship), was reapplied.

In the course of the Soviet occupation, the demographic situation in Estonia had been dramatically altered as a result of the Soviet Union's sovietisation policies. During the tumultuous years of 1940–1949, about 60 000 Estonians, out of the population of about 1.1 million, were either killed, deported to Siberia and other hinterlands of the Soviet Union, or imprisoned in Stalin's concentration camps, while at least an equal number fled to the West. At the same time a large number of Soviet citizens, including military staff from various parts of the Soviet Union, were sent to Estonia as a result of Soviet forced migration policies. In 1934, there were 992 500 ethnic Estonians living in Estonia, making up 88.1% of the country's population. By 1989, this number had dwindled to 963 281 or 61.5%, less than the pre-war level. At the same time, the number of non-ethnic Estonians living in Estonia, of which the majority were ethnic Russians, grew almost fivefold from 134 000 in 1934 to 602 000 by 1989. From 1990 to 1998, 113 000 people left Estonia, the majority of whom were born abroad.

According to population censuses, Estonian citizens constituted 97.7% of the population in 1922 and 98.8% in 1934. After the restoration of Estonia's independence, persons who held Estonian citizenship before 16 June 1940 and their descendants were automatically considered to be Estonian citizens. Thus, roughly two-thirds of the 1.5 million Estonian inhabitants restored Estonian citizenship in 1992. All other Estonian residents could obtain Estonian citizenship through the naturalisation process. At the same time, all Estonian residents who had been Soviet citizens had the right to register themselves as citizens of Russia, the USSR's successor state, or to choose any other citizenship. As of 1 February 2014, 84,3% of Estonia’s population held Estonian citizenship, 9.2% were citizens of other countries, and 6.5% were of undetermined citizenship.

The Estonian Government actively promotes the acquiring of Estonian citizenship through naturalisation, thus reducing the number of persons with undetermined citizenship. The Government is constantly dealing with this matter and has made the acquisition of Estonian citizenship easier in many ways, especially for children. Consequently, since autumn 2005 the number of naturalised citizens exceeds the number of residents of undetermined citizenship.

Distribution of the Estonian population by citizenship:

As of 1 October 2014 (Source: Ministry of the Interior, Population Register)

  • total number of registered population of Estonia: 1 351 117
  • the number of Estonian citizens: 1 243 169
  • 99 168 Estonian citizens live abroad
  • the number of residents of undetermined citizenship: 86 060
  • the number of residents with the citizenship of another state: 126 329 (of them 92 553 citizens of the Russian Federation, 6 112 Finnish citizens, 6 052 Ukrainian citizens,   3 478 Latvian citizens, 2 204 German citizens, 2 046 Lithuanian citizens, 1 593 Belarusian citizens)


Issuing of Estonian passports and IDs

The citizenship of the Republic of Estonia never ceased to exist. During the years of occupation, the Estonian diplomatic service in exile issued Estonian passports, which were recognised as travel documents by many countries of the world, eventually even by the Russian Federation. In Estonia, the issuing of identity documents to the Estonian population began again immediately after Estonia regained its independence in 1991. The first Estonian passports, after the regaining of independence, were issued in July 1992 and within a three-year period almost all Estonian citizens were provided with passports. In 1996, the Estonian Government began to issue identity documents (the so-called "alien's passport") to persons of undetermined citizenship who had previously held Soviet passports, thus granting those persons time for choosing their citizenship. This document serves as official identification within Estonia and allows its holder to travel abroad. In 2002, Estonia started issuing ID cards to Estonian citizens over 15 years of age and to Estonian permanent residents with other citizenship or of undetermined citizenship as a primary domestic identification document that can also be used to sign documents digitally. As of 28 February  2014, approximately 1 207 493 Estonian residents have ID cards.

Acquisition of Estonian citizenship

Estonian citizenship is acquired by birth if at least one of the parents of the child holds Estonian citizenship at the time of the birth of the child.

It is also possible to acquire Estonian citizenship through naturalisation. The requirements for acquiring citizenship are specified in the Citizenship Act. A person who wishes to acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalisation must have been a permanent resident of Estonia for at least five years, have a basic knowledge of the Estonian language, have knowledge of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia and the Citizenship Act. Citizenship applicants born prior to 1 January 1930 do not have to complete the written part of the language exam.

In 1992, almost one third of the Estonian population had not determined their citizenship. Estonia's position is that citizenship cannot be forced on anyone and that everyone has the right to choose his or her citizenship. The Estonian Government encouraged persons of undetermined citizenship to either apply for Estonian citizenship or choose another citizenship (Russian, Ukrainian, etc.). During the course of this campaign, carried out from 1993 to 1998, a number of these residents received Estonian citizenship, while others acquired the citizenship of some other country. As a result, the share of persons of undetermined citizenship in Estonia has decreased from 32% in 1992 to 6.5% in February 2014.

From 1992 to January 2014, a total of 156 386  persons have acquired Estonian citizenship through the various facets of the naturalisation process. The majority of these people did so in the course of the 1990s (more than 110 000 people between the years 1992 and 2000).

With the accession of Estonia to the European Union in May 2004, Estonian citizens automatically became citizens of the EU. This greatly increased the appeal of Estonian citizenship, especially for younger people. This seems to be the main reason why in 2004, the number of people who acquired Estonian citizenship through naturalisation was almost double that of previous year.

On June 3rd 2014, the Estonian Parliament passed an amendment proposed by the Chancellor of Justice making applying for citizenship easier for young people who despite not having a residence permit, have resided in Estonia permanently.

The amendment makes applying for citizenship easier for those young people, whose legal guardian has not applied for a residence permit for them before they reached the age of 15, but who have been factually living in Estonia for at least eight years. These people are granted citizenship, if they have not become the permanent residents of another country and they have a valid residence permit or right of residence at the time they are granted citizenship.

The number of persons who have acquired Estonian citizenship through naturalisation

* as of 1 January 2014

Facilitation of the naturalisation process

One of Estonia's priorities is to reduce the number of persons with undetermined citizenship and to promote the acquisition of Estonian citizenship. Accordingly, the Estonian Government has facilitated the naturalisation process for all legal residents who wish to acquire Estonian citizenship. The most essential amendment to the Citizenship Act was passed by the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) in December 1998 – that children born in Estonia after 26 February 1992 whose parents of undetermined citizenship have lived in Estonia for at least five years are eligible, at their parents' request, to gain Estonian citizenship through naturalisation without the precondition of passing the citizenship examinations. As of 1 January  2014, 13 246 children have acquired citizenship on the basis of this amendment.

The Riigikogu has also passed several other amendments to the Citizenship Act. For example:

  • the naturalisation process has been significantly simplified for disabled persons and persons with a restricted active legal capacity;
  • graduates of basic school, secondary school or vocational school can complete the exams on the Estonian Constitution and citizenship law, both required for gaining citizenship, as a part of their final exams in school. In basic school it is part of the social studies exam and in secondary school and vocational school it is part of the state exam for citizenship studies. The policy described above also applies to the Estonian language exam;
  • the time required for obtaining Estonian citizenship has been considerably shortened;
  • the costs of the language courses are reimbursed to those who pass the citizenship language exam and the exam on the Constitution and the Citizenship Act. There is no charge for taking either examination.

The Estonian Government's action plan of the integration programme for the years 2004–2007 contained the aim of naturalising at least 5 000 people a year. The State Integration Programme for 2008–2013 also states as an important aim decreasing the ratio of people among Estonia's population with undetermined citizenship.

According to the “Monitoring of Integration in the Estonian Society in 2011” requested by the Ministry of Culture and carried out by PRAXIS Center for Policy Studies, University of Tartu and polling company EMOR, 64% of residents with undetermined citizenship in Estonia wish to become Estonian citizens.

Voting rights of non-citizens

Estonia is one of the few countries in the world where all legal residents, regardless of their citizenship, have the right to vote in local government elections.

According to the Local Government Council Election Act of May 1996, citizens of other states and residents who have not yet chosen their citizenship have the right to vote in local administration elections. They must be over 18 years of age and have been permanent residents for at least five years in the territory of the respective local government as of 1 January of the local government election year.

Persons who acquired Estonian citizenship by naturalisation

(as of 01.01.2014)

Basis Period Total number In 2012 In 2013
Ethnic Estonians* 1992–1999 25 293    
Aliens who supported the independence of Estonia** 1992–2001 24 102    
On general conditions 1992–... 68 417
702 835
Minors under 15 years of age*** 1992–... 36 711
427 389
For special services**** 1992–... 741 1  0
Persons without active legal capacity and disabled persons 1992–... 907 27 33
Total   156 386
1 156
1 257

* Ethnic Estonians – mostly those individuals whose ancestors migrated from Estonia prior to 1918 before the Republic of Estonia was founded and Estonian citizenry was formed. Those people should apply for Estonian citizenship through naturalisation.

** During the period that followed the restoration of independence, those aliens who had supported the efforts of Estonia in regaining independence and who had registered themselves as applicants for Estonian citizenship before 1 March 1990 were granted Estonian citizenship without the precondition of passing the citizenship examinations. Registration of Estonian citizens was initiated and organised both in Estonia and in Estonian communities in exile by the grassroots movement of Estonian Citizens Committees. As a result the Congress of Estonia, a representative body of citizens of the Republic of Estonia, was elected in February 1990 by nearly 600 000 Estonian citizens. The first session of the Congress of Estonia took place in Tallinn from 11 to 12 March 1990. The activities of the Congress of Estonia from 1990-1992, created conditions for the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991 on the basis of the legal continuity of Estonian statehood. The Congress was dissolved when the legal Estonian Parliament, the Riigikogu, convened in 1992.

*** On the basis of Chapter 3 of the Citizenship Act. This section also includes those minors who have acquired Estonian citizenship through simplified naturalization according to the amendment made by the Riigikogu in December 1998.

§ 13. Acquisition of Estonian citizenship by naturalisation by minor
(4) A minor under 15 years of age who was born in Estonia after 26 February 1992 shall acquire Estonian citizenship by naturalisation if: 1) his or her parents apply for Estonian citizenship for him or her and if the parents have legally resided in Estonia for at least five years at the time of submission of the application and are not deemed by any other state to be citizens of that state on the basis of any Act in force;

2) single or adoptive parent applies for Estonian citizenship for the minor and if the single or adoptive parent has legally resided in Estonia for at least five years at the time of submission of the application and is not deemed by any other state to be a citizen of that state on the basis of any Act in force.
(08.12.98 entered into force 12.07.99 - RT I 1998, 111, 1827) ..."

**** Services that are deemed to be achievements, which contribute to the international reputation of Estonia in the areas of culture or sports or in other areas.


Further Information

Ministry of the Interior
Police- and Border Guard Board
Ministry of Culture
The Integration Foundation
Language Immersion Centre


This fact sheet was composed with the assistance of the Police- and Border Guard Board.