How to register for free public transport in Tallinn
After my first failed attempt to use free public transport in Tallinn, I was worried that it would never happen for me. That I’d either be paying for public transport for the rest of my time in this city, or that I’d be forced to catch buses illegally, constantly on edge as I watched for ticket inspectors (cue the smallest violin in the world).
I’d also been told by a colleague at work that I’d need to go to the Police and Border Guard office to officially register for free public transport, which seemed excessive. But I persisted. I had nothing to lose, other than my sanity, right?
So, after registering my address with the population register, I hopped back on to the pilett.ee website and personalised by Ühiskaart with my ID code.
The next morning, I swiped the Ühiskaart when I hopped on the bus…
And it was accepted! The green light flashed, along with a message in Estonian, and the remaining balance of €7 from the last time I’d added money to the card.
Was it free, or had I been charged? Only time would tell…
The next time I caught a bus, I tapped on, and it successfully registered again: green lights, Estonian message, and remaining balance of €7! I tried a third time – green lights, Estonian message, and remaining balance of €7!
My conclusion? I am legally using public transport for free.
Now, because there are no clear guides on how to register for Tallinn’s free public transport system online, here’s what you do.
Step 1. Become an Estonian resident
Because this process will vary depending on your country of origin and your reason for becoming a resident, here are some useful links:
- Applying for a temporary resident permit (for non-EU citizens)
- Applying for a temporary resident permit (EU citizens)
- Applying for a D-visa (required for certain nationalities who need this instead of/as well as a temporary residence permit? Not quite sure on this one, so happy to take feedback!)
Step 2: Register your address with the Estonian population register
Note that this post is about the right to free public transport in Tallinn, so you need to register an address in Tallinn. Just thought I’d make that clear to avoid the inevitable legal battles that would ensue if our 3 subscribers felt like they’d been mislead.
Back to business! Before you start this process, you will need the following:
- A valid Estonian ID card
- The PIN 1 and PIN 2 that were included with your ID card
- A smart card reader (available from electronics stores like Euronics and Kwik, but behind the counter)
- The DigiDoc software downloaded on your computer
- All of your property details (including your landlord’s first name, surname and ID code if you are not the property owner)
- Scanned documentation proving your right to live here, that are less than 1MB (so a lease agreement or property purchase contract)
The steps to do this are:
- Plug your smart card reader and ID card into your computer
- Open DigiDoc and confirm that the program is reading your card details
- Go to the eesti.ee website, using Edge or Firefox (it doesn’t like IE or Chrome)
- Click the ‘Enter’ button (‘Sisine’ in Estonian).
- Click the ‘Login with ID-Card’ option. A popup will appear asking you to confirm your details (from the ID card) – assuming it’s reading your card correctly, just click ‘OK’.
- Another pop up will appear asking for your PIN 1 code. Enter it and click ‘OK’.
- You will be redirected to the ‘My Data’ screen. From here, click the ‘New residence’ link under ‘Home and real estate’.
- Click the ‘Alusta avalduse taitmist’ button to start the process to register your place of residence. Note that the form itself is in Estonian, so Google Translate will likely be helpful.
- Complete the form, and click ‘Salvesta avaldus’.
- Confirm the details you submitted and upload your documentation (e.g. lease agreement) where prompted. Then click ‘Further to the application’.
Now this final step didn’t work for me, so I can only assume that once you submit it, that is the final stage of the application and your address will be added to your data in the portal.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for me, which meant I had to follow this process after getting to Step 10 above, and nothing happened:
- Complete a PDF version of the address registration form on my computer.
- Download the file to your computer.
- Insert your smart card reader and ID card into the computer and open the DigiDoc program.
- Open the completed PDF form via DigiDoc.
- Click ‘Sign with ID card’.
- Email your local council with the signed form (now saved as a .bdoc) and a copy of your lease agreement.
- Regularly check the eesti.ee portal to see if your address has been added. If not, follow up with the council by phone and email.
Step 3: Buy an Ühiskaart
The Ühiskaart is the Estonian public reloadable public transport card – the equivalent of an Oyster card, Navigo, Opal or Myki. You can buy them at any R-Kiosk, however, I had to try three times before I successfully did this.
Because all English content on using public transport in Tallinn calls an Ühiskaart a Smartcard (see here and here as cases in point), and none of the locals seem to be aware of this. When I asked for a Smartcard in English, all I got was blank looks, with one woman holding up some sort of prepaid phone card that was also called a Smartcard.
So, I needed to hop back online, find the local name, and ask for that.
Note for Tallinn government: If none of the locals call it a Smartcard, don’t call it a Smartcard in your literature for tourists and expats! Just call it a Ühiskaart – we can attempt to read foreign words as well as English ones.
Now that you know all of this, you don’t need to make my mistakes. Just go to your closest R-Kiosk and ask for a Ühiskaart – it will set you back all of €3.
Step 4: Personalise your Ühiskaart
Now that you have an Ühiskaart, it’s time to personalise it! I attempted to do this when I purchased it, but because my address wasn’t registered yet, it didn’t work.
Fortunately, you can also register your Ühiskaart online by taking the following steps:
- Go to the pilett.ee and navigate to the Ühiskaart page. (It’s in the menu across the top, otherwise you can just click here.)
- You will be taken to a form. Enter your Ühiskaart number (unsurprisingly, it’s on the Ühiskaart), your ID code, and your ID-card number (this is different to the ID code, and appears on the opposite side of the card).
- Check the Ts&Cs as well as the ‘I am a passenger travelling on a discounted ticket’ boxes.
- Click ‘Card personalization’.
Step 5: Use public transport for free!
After doing all of the above, you should be able to use free public transport in Tallinn!
If you don’t have a balance on your Ühiskaart, it will validate without a problem. If, like me, you do have a balance, it will magically stay at the same level until you lose the right to free public transport. (Or something breaks. Whichever happens sooner.)
Enjoy your free travel!
Photo credit: The Baltic Guide