Payroll taxation in Estonia: A comprehensive guide

7 months ago   •   .7 min read

.By İlayda Birol
.Table of contents

In our recent blog posts we’ve gone into depth about how to navigate Estonia’s corporate tax landscape in general, we’ve explored corporate income tax in the business-friendly country of Estonia and have also updated you on VAT and all recent tax developments in the country. On the agenda for today’s article is payroll taxation in Estonia. We’ll share everything you need to know about this, which is crucial for both employers and employees operating in the country. We’ll walk you through the intricacies of payroll tax calculations, helping you understand all the parts that contribute to the deductions from an employee's gross salary and the costs the employer needs to pay. In Estonia, the process involves various taxes, exemptions and contributions.

A Guide to Starting a Company in Estonia from Scratch
If you want to set up a new company in Estonia, check out the starting a company in Estonia guide on the wamo blog and open your business.

Tax advantages for businesses in Estonia

As we’ve shared previously, Estonia has become known globally for offering significant tax benefits to businesses, meaning it's an appealing place for entrepreneurs, startups and already existing companies. Below we share a bit more about why Estonia stands out as a tax-friendly environment, particularly for businesses:

  1. Flat corporate income tax rate (0% on retained earnings): One of the main advantages is Estonia's corporate income tax policy. Businesses in Estonia are subject to a flat corporate income tax rate of 20%, but what sets Estonia apart is that it does not tax profits retained within the company. This means that businesses can reinvest their earnings without immediate taxation, fostering growth and innovation.
  2. Taxation upon distribution: In Estonia, corporate income tax is only levied when profits are distributed to shareholders as dividends. This means companies can accumulate wealth, invest in their future and expand operations without being burdened by high corporate tax rates until they decide to distribute profits.
  3. Ease of doing business: Estonia is known for its business-friendly environment. It consistently ranks high in global ease of doing business indices because of its efficient administrative procedures, minimal bureaucracy and a transparent legal system, which further simplifies the process of starting and operating a business.
  4. Digital innovation: Estonia is at the forefront of digital innovation. The country's advanced e-governance infrastructure allows businesses to manage all their taxes easily online. The digital society and e-Residency program have made it simple for foreign entrepreneurs to establish and manage companies in Estonia remotely.
  5. Tax treaties and EU membership: Estonia is a member of the European Union (EU) and has an extensive network of tax treaties with other countries. This membership provides businesses with access to the EU market, while the tax treaties help prevent double taxation and promote cross-border trade.
  6. Competitive labour costs: Estonia offers a highly skilled workforce at competitive labour costs compared to many Western European countries. This makes it an attractive location for companies looking to benefit from skilled professionals affordably.
  7. Investment-friendly policies: Estonia has implemented various policies to attract foreign investment and nurture a thriving business ecosystem. These policies include investment incentives and support for research and development activities.
  8. Stable economic and political environment: Estonia is renowned for its political stability and strong economic performance. A predictable and reliable environment allows businesses to thrive and expand.
Pros and Cons of E-residency in Estonia
For detailed information about e-residency in Estonia and to benefit from the advantages of opening a business with e-residency, check the wamo blog.

Employee's payroll calculation

In Estonia, payroll calculations for employees involve several key components that collectively determine the net income received by the employee. Let’s take a look at all these components to better understand how to get the right calculations. 

Gross salary

The first thing to look at with regards to payroll taxation in Estonia is the gross salary. This is the total amount of money an employee will get before any deductions. This includes the base salary and might also include other things like bonuses, overtime pay and any benefits. The gross salary is the foundation of all other calculations so it is important to understand it. For example, if an employee earns a gross salary of 1,000 EUR, this represents the amount before any taxes or deductions are applied.

Tax-exempt income

Not all income is subject to taxation in Estonia. Some types of income are considered tax-exempt, meaning they are not included in the calculation of taxable income. Examples of these include child support, scholarships and certain social benefits. These exemptions reduce the amount of income subject to taxation, thereby reducing the overall tax burden on employees.

Unemployment tax paid by the employer (1.6%)

Employers in Estonia are responsible for contributing to the unemployment insurance system by paying an unemployment tax of 1.6% of the employee's gross salary. This tax is paid entirely by the employer and is designed to fund unemployment benefits for people when they lose their jobs or are unable to work. It's important to recognize that this is an employer's obligation and does not affect the employee's net income directly. For instance, if an employee's gross salary is 1,000 EUR, the employer's contribution to the unemployment tax would be 16 EUR (1,000 EUR x 1.6%).

Taxable income

Taxable income is the amount of an employee's earnings on which taxes are calculated. It's calculated by subtracting tax-exempt income and the employer-paid unemployment tax from the gross salary. This figure is important for working out the employee's tax liability.

In the example provided earlier, if the gross salary is 1,000 EUR, and there is no tax-exempt income, the taxable income would be 1,000 EUR - 16 EUR (unemployment tax) = 984 EUR.

Understanding taxable income is essential, as it forms the basis for calculating both income tax and social security tax, as discussed in the following subsections.

By understanding these key components of employee payroll calculation, you can better comprehend how payroll taxation in Estonia is worked out. In the next sections, we'll explore the specific taxes, deductions and their implications for both employees and employers in more detail.

Total taxes and costs

Understanding the total taxes and costs associated with payroll taxation in Estonia is useful for both employees and employers. It provides a comprehensive view of the financial implications of employment. Next we’ll look at the specifics of how taxes and costs are calculated and distributed.

Total taxes

Total taxes represent the cumulative amount deducted from an employee's gross salary. In Estonia, two primary taxes are deducted from an employee's earnings:

  1. Income tax (20%): Estonia imposes a flat income tax rate of 20% on an individual's taxable income. To calculate the income tax, simply multiply the taxable income by the tax rate. In our previous example, with a taxable income of 984 EUR, the income tax would amount to 196.80 EUR (984 EUR x 20%).
  2. Social security tax (33%): Social security tax is another significant deduction, amounting to 33% of the employee's taxable income. This tax funds social welfare programs and healthcare services in Estonia. For a taxable income of 984 EUR, the social security tax would be 324.72 EUR (984 EUR x 33%).

The total taxes paid by the employee are the sum of income tax and social security tax. In this case, it would be 521.52 EUR (196.80 EUR + 324.72 EUR). 

Total cost for the employer

The total cost for the employer represents the overall financial obligation incurred by the employer in addition to the employee's gross salary. It includes not only the gross salary but also the employer's contribution to the unemployment tax.

Using the example mentioned earlier, with a gross salary of 1,000 EUR and an unemployment tax of 16 EUR (1.6% of the gross salary), the total cost for the employer would be 1,016 EUR (1,000 EUR + 16 EUR).

It's important to note that while the employer bears the responsibility of contributing to the unemployment tax, this cost is considered when determining the overall expense associated with employing an individual. Understanding the total cost for the employer is important for businesses and organisations to be able to accurately budget and plan for labour expenses.

Now that we’ve explored the intricacies of payroll taxation in Estonia, let’s summarise some of the key takeaways and emphasis the importance of understanding this:

  • Gross salary: The gross salary, the starting point for payroll calculations, is the employee's total earnings before deductions. It can include different elements like base salary, bonuses and benefits.
  • Tax-exempt income: Understanding what income is tax-exempt is essential, as it reduces an employee's taxable income and, consequently, the overall tax burden.
  • Unemployment tax paid by the employer: Employers are responsible for contributing 1.6% of an employee's gross salary to the unemployment insurance system, ensuring financial support for those who become unemployed.
  • Taxable income: Taxable income is the amount left after subtracting tax-exempt income and employer-paid unemployment tax from the gross salary. It forms the basis for calculating income tax and social security tax.
  • Income tax (20%): Estonia levies a flat income tax rate of 20% on an individual's taxable income.
  • Social security tax (33%): Social security tax at 33% funds important social welfare programs and healthcare services.
  • Total taxes: The sum of income tax and social security tax represents the total taxes paid by the employee. This is a significant portion of an employee's gross salary.
  • Total cost for the employer: The total cost for the employer includes the gross salary and the employer's contribution to the unemployment tax. It provides an overview of the financial obligation associated with hiring an employee.

Whether you’re running a business with employees or if you’re an employee yourself, it’s important to understand how payroll taxation works in Estonia. This will help you financially plan everything for your business or your personal account. Employees can have a clear picture of their take-home pay and tax obligations, while employers can budget accurately for labour costs. It's also worth noting that the balance between the two—what the employee receives and what the employer contributes—reflects the social contract in place in Estonia, emphasising the importance of social welfare and support systems.

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