Globalisation has caused us to talk increasingly about transnationalism these days. Transnationalism (hargmaisus in Estonian) refers to a situation where a person has close ties to or is active in several countries. In economics and business, transnationalism is a well-known phenomenon, but using the term for migrants has become a growing trend in the last decades. For understanding and discussing transnationalism, we have to adopt a new concept of society: many social phenomena and institutions (workplace, residence, family, etc.) are no longer confined within the borders of just one country (Levitt & Schiller 2004). Migration has also changed - research shows that a lot of migration is not undertaken with the aim of changing residence permanently but is, instead, short-term. Neither does transnationalism fit in with the historically-formed concepts of the nation-state, territory or citizenry (Meyer et al. 1997), according to which all permanent residents should be citizens and all citizens should be permanent residents (Kallas 2017). We see the transnational citizenry of states actively operating in other countries as well, their rights and obligations no longer being strictly tied to their citizenship, but instead based on residency, work permits or other similar grounds (Kallas 2017). As transnationalism is a rather new phenomenon, there are no clearly-formed positions or generally-accepted definitions for it as yet.

Estonia too is an active part of the transnationalising world. This is illustrated by the many Estonian workers in Finland, other Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe. The people and businesses of Estonia also have connections in the other Baltic States, Russia and in the regions of the former Soviet Union. The numbers of so-called climate refugees in Southern Europe are also increasing. The number of people working abroad has been estimated on the basis of censuses (Krusell 2013), and the occasional study has also looked at working abroad across certain countries and population segments (Anniste et al. 2014). A proper overview of the compatriots active in other countries, however, is presently lacking in Estonia. Obtaining this data is a great challenge for the official statistics-gathering system, researchers and survey companies.

Transnationalism is hard to measure because, first of all, the transnational lifestyle as a mass phenomenon is quite new, having only recently taken shape. Secondly, there are no statistics suitable for describing transnationalism. Most statistical data concerning population is location-centred, and defines the stay, arrival and/or departure of a person within the context of one country. Data describing dynamic, cross-border movement flows are harder to obtain. Thirdly, transnational people are not easy to catch with a census or a survey, because they are very mobile and often do not even want to participate in studies. Fourth, transnationalism is impacted by the rapid development of information and communication technology (ICT). Rapidly transforming communication methods and a work process adapted to remote working are also changing the behaviour of transnational people.

The aim of this study was to find new information about the transnationalism of the inhabitants of Estonia. Three study questions were posed. How should we measure transnationalism. How many transnational people are there originating from Estonia, how do they travel and who are they? How should this new information on transnationalism be understood from the point of view of nation-state and territoriality?

By transnationalism, we mean operating actively in two or more countries. The study is centred on Estonia: a person who is transnational in the context of this treatment has to stay in Estonia often while also visiting one or several other countries on a regular basis. The study is a starting point for developing a measurement method for transnationalism based on mobile phone usage. Anonymous call detail records (CDR) from the two largest mobile communications operators of Estonia (Telia and Elisa) have been used for the measurements.

The Definition and Measurable Characteristics of Transnationalism

Reasons for transnationalism

There are several reasons for transnationalism. The most widely given is based on the concept of income differentials, based on neoclassical economic theory. Additionally, an important factor today is the desire to move closer to one’s family, friends or similarly-minded people. These factors behind transnationalism also correspond to factors causing traditional (permanent) migration. Unlike with traditional migration, political situations or environmental threats do not constitute significant push factors for transnationalism, because transnational people are generally not refugees but rather seekers after better conditions (Schiller et al. 1995).

Transnationalism has a so-called ‘triple win effect’ comparable to temporary migration: the source country gets work and money for its inhabitants without losing a specialist and his or her family, the destination country gets a specialist and does not have to deal with immigration, while the transnational person gets a better salary and new experience. In a world where opportunities for movement are constantly improving, the ‘triple win effect’ is behind the growing popularity of the transnational lifestyle. The negative dimension of transnationalism includes constant travelling, a sense of homelessness, and being far from loved ones - separated from one’s children and family relations. Transnationalism also has a lot in common with nomadism: changing one’s residence seasonally, according to the weather and more favourable conditions (Bell & Ward 2000). There is also an increasing number of climate refugees originating from Estonia - for instance, there is an Estonian private school with a curriculum from the Rocca al Mare School, for the children of climate refugees in Marbella, Spain.

Transnationalism and ICT

The dimension of ICT is also important in transnationalism. On the one hand, employment agencies and other internet environments make it possible for people to find work and challenges further away from home, including other countries. There are companies that provide full-service residence moves for clients, and environments dedicated to remote working, for example a site developed in Estonia, Teleport ( The importance of these factors in the development of transnationalism must not be underestimated. On the other hand, ICT significantly facilitates communicating with one’s family and friends – also known as ‘virtual co-presence’. Computers offer a wide variety of ways to stay in touch with loved ones, for example Skype, which is used more and more. Although raising one’s children or living a family life through the ‘blue screen’ is not easy (Nedelcu & Wyss 2016), it is only thanks to ICT-based communications that such a large number of people can live away from their family for so long. Besides keeping up family ties, communication through ICT also helps to keep in touch with friends while abroad, to participate in the local life of one’s home region and to strengthen the national culture.

This paper studies the phenomenon of transnationalism from an ICT-based focus, and therefore the influence of ICT on social networks should also be noted. Research shows that in general, the social networks of people tend to be larger and geographically wider because of ICT and social media. ICT facilitates communications with people who are far away. It has been found, however, that establishing and keeping up good (close) relations through ICT takes more time, and there cannot be many close relationships. Meeting and communicating with people physically will remain an important part of close relationships also in the internet age.

Finding Transnational Migrants by Mobile Phone Usage Data

To define transnationalism, we will first have to define who transnational migrants are, and which parameters characterise their mobility. We have termed a person transnational if he or she stays in the homeland often and is equally active in one or more other countries. In terms of spatial designations, various population groups can have connections with several countries: persons employed abroad, persons working abroad temporarily, cross-border commuters, climate refugees, study travellers, tourists, etc.

This study is a beginning in developing a measurement method for transnationalism based on mobile phone usage. If a person lives and is active in several spaces, his or her phone number(s) will be registered in one or several of these countries. Usually a mobile operator is chosen from the country that the person has the strongest connection to, where they spend more time than elsewhere and where the important people and social networks are located. It may also be important to be available for business, social or state service reasons. If a person’s mobile phone usage is divided between several countries, he or she probably wants to be available in all of them in order to keep in touch, for example, with relatives, friends and colleagues living in the previous as well as the new homeland. If a person decides to commit permanently to a destination and switches off the mobile phone number (SIM-card) of the previous homeland, this is a sign of being estranged from the previous homeland. Therefore, keeping a SIM card active in several countries where the person is active simultaneously is a sign of transnationalism.

To define a transnational person more precisely, we can look at the spatial-temporal distribution of mobile phone usage. Mobile phone usage data lets us know on which days a person has used his or her mobile phone in a country. This way we can infer the duration and the daily distribution of being in different countries. The approach presupposes that the person’s mobile phone number (SIM card) is moving together with the person. There are also SIM cards for technical systems (e.g. gates, heating systems, car monitoring devices, etc.), but the spatial-temporal usage patterns of these are different and can usually be found out and separated with the help of certain algorithms.

Data and Methodology

Passive mobile positioning data or call detail records (CDR) have been used in this study. This data is recorded in the system of the mobile operator in the course of using the mobile phone (outgoing calls, incoming calls, outgoing text messages). The advantage of this data is its automatic (independent) accrual, consistency and relatively low data collection costs. The problems are its dependency on phone usage, the difficulties in obtaining the data from mobile phone operators, and issues related to privacy. Domestic and roaming call detail record data of Telia and Elisa, the two largest mobile communications operators in Estonia, has been used. The market share (percentage of end-users) of Telia was 39% in 2015, for Elisa it was 34% and for Tele 2. 27% (Tehnilise Järelvalve Amet, 2015). The coverage area of all three mobile operators covers most of Estonia; for example, Telia’s mobile communications network covers 99.9% of the territory of Estonia. According to Eurobarometer (2014), approximately 94% of the population of Estonia uses mobile phones. This study presents its statistics as the data of Telia and Elisa summarised. The customer databases of mobile operators differ, therefore it is not possible to draw market-share-based conclusions about specific population segments (e.g. tourists, transnationals, local inhabitants, etc.).

Trips abroad have been analysed. For the purposes of this study, a trip is a stay abroad that starts and ends in Estonia. The period analysed is the year 2015, including trips that took place at least partly within 2015 (the beginning could have been earlier and the end later). For trips that lasted more than a year (365 days), the duration is calculated as 365 days. For every trip, different countries are differentiated and within one trip, each country is marked once, i.e. commuting between several foreign countries is not treated separately. Only the destination countries are included, leaving out the transit countries. Besides the trips, the Telia dataset also contains aggregated information on the phone user’s gender, language and birth year across visit types, and a special algorithm has been used to determine the residency anchor points distribution in Estonia for 2015 on the basis of the timing of the call detail recordings (Ahas et al. 2010).

The visit type has been determined on the basis of the days spent in the destination country and the number of trips (see Figure 2.2.1). Visit types are state-based: in case of several states, a person can belong to different visit types. For example, an Estonian transnational in Finland can be a tourist in Italy. In the analysis comparing visit types, each person has been noted once within a visit type, although the person may have visited several countries, e.g. been a tourist in Italy as well as Poland.

Determination of visit type has been the focus of finding transnational migrants. According to the definition of transnationalism, a person is connected to several countries simultaneously, and therefore the number of days spent in a foreign country per year has been used as a parameter for determining transnationalism. People have been considered transnational if they spend more than 25% of their time (at least 92 days), but not more than 75% of their time (up to 273 days) in a foreign country (see Figure 2.2.1). People who spend less than 25% of their time in a foreign country are more connected to Estonia and have been termed tourists, while those that stay in a foreign country for more than 75% of their time are more connected to the foreign country and are termed as foreign workers (see Figure 2.2.1).

A second parameter used for determining transnationals is the number (frequency) of trips to distinguish those that stay in a foreign country seldom but for long periods, from those who visit a foreign country very often, i.e. who are cross-border commuters. People have been considered transnational if they have taken at least five trips to a foreign country, but not more than 52 trips (once a week), see Figure 2.2.1. People who have taken a trip to a foreign country more often than once a week have been termed cross-border commuters, while people who have taken up to four trips are seen as tourists.

The people who took up to four trips to a foreign country are divided into tourists and foreign workers on the basis of Eurostat’s definition for determining permanent residence, which is also used by the Eesti Pank (Bank of Estonia) for calculating the state’s balance of payments. Accordingly, permanent residents are visitors to a foreign country who spend most of the year in the other country (‘the place where a person spends the majority of the year shall be taken as his/her place of usual residence’ – Eurostat 2013, p 22). A period of 183 or more days is understood as the majority of year. The same threshold of 183 or more days is used in Europe for determining permanent residence and it is also used by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board as stipulated in the Income Tax Act. For transnationals, the parameters of transnationalism have been shown separately for the 20 countries with the largest number of transnationals per country.

Figure 2.2.1. Types of visits to foreign countries according to the number of days spent and the number of trips

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

Transnationalism Originating From Estonia According to Mobile Phone Roaming Data

Transnational trips

The method developed for the study lets us show on the basis of summarised data from the two largest mobile operators that there are approximately 30,000 inhabitants of Estonia staying abroad long-term and finding it necessary to keep their mobile phone number active while abroad. On the basis of the number of trips (5-52 trips per year) and the number of days spent (92-273 days in the destination country), 23,587 of them are considered transnational (see Table 2.2.1). People who visit a destination country more often than transnationals (over 52 trips per year) are cross-border commuters, and there is 1,518 of them. The distinction between cross-border commuters and transnationals is hard to make, and it is further complicated by the lack of a definition of transnationalism. Distinguishing between cross-border commuters and transnationals has been considered important because people who visit a destination country at least once a week (53 or more trips per year) are likely to have a permanent place of residence in Estonia. There are also people who spend more than 273 days per year abroad (4,366), who are classified as foreign workers in the study. They can also be considered transnational to a certain extent.

Transnationals are mostly active in countries that are close to Estonia. Their geographical distribution is probably also influenced by the living standard and size of the country (see Figure 2.2.2). The number of active transnationals originating from Estonia is highest in Finland (12,698), Sweden (2,136), Norway (1,884), Russia (1,721), Belarus (1,097) and Germany (1,018). Of all transnationals originating from Estonia, 54% are active in Finland, and therefore it must be taken into consideration that this large percentage will influence the average indicators of transnational travel. The transnational lifestyle also reaches into Western and Southern Europe and even outside Europe. The share of transnationals out of all people who visited a specific country is highest with Belarus, Norway and Finland (see Appendix 1). The high percentage of transnationals in Belarus is somewhat surprising, since there is no good explanation for it.

Trip parameters show that the 603,000 persons who went abroad made an average of 4.4 trips abroad per year with an average duration of 6.0 days, and spent an average of 25.3 days per year abroad. Transnationals, however, travel significantly more than the average. They took an average of 15.7 trips to the country that is associated with their transnational status, with an average duration of 13.3 days, and spent 158.1 days per year in that country (see Table 2.2.1). Analysis shows that there is a statistically significant relation between the character of the trip and the distance of the country: the average number of transnational trips is highest in countries that are close by, and they tend to last longer in countries that are further away. The average number of days per year spent in the destination country by transnationals is from 126 days (Poland) to 168 days (Finland). There is no statistically-significant connection between the number of days spent in a country and the distance to the country.

Table 2.2.1. Distribution of people who went abroad across visit types and the corresponding trip parameters

  Annual average
Type of visit Number of visitors Percentage of visits to foreign countries Number of countries No. of visits No. of days Duration
Tourist2 592335 98,2% 200 3,6 16,7 5,0
Transnational1 23587 3,9% 101 15,7 158,1 13,3
Cross-border commuter1 1518 0,3% 14 85,3 144,7 1,9
Worker1 4366 0,7% 61 9,6 306,7 89,4
Total2 603355   200 4,4 25,3 6,0

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

1. The destination-country-based averages of the specific visit type.

2. Trip-based averages. Tourist trips include all the trip types to the destination countries that have originated from countries related to transnationalism, cross-border commuting or being employed abroad.

Figure 2.2.2. Geographic distribution of transnationals in 2015

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

Figure 2.2.3. Number of transnational trips, trip duration and number of days spent abroad by country

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

Mobile phone data can also be used for gathering information about people who are active in several countries and fit into the definition of transnationalism in several countries. Of the data set used here, 2.7% of the transnationals are connected with several countries (2.5% with two, 0.2% with three countries). Most often, the transnationals connected to two countries are active in Russia and Belarus (37% of all the people who are transnational in several countries), Norway and Sweden (12.5%) and Finland and Sweden (11.6%). Among the people who are transnational in three countries, Germany, France and Holland dominate (5.4% of all people who are transnational in several countries).

Timing of transnational trips

The start and end times of trips vary according to the visit type and this makes it possible to view the trips as related to either work or vacation. In case of trips related to transnationalism and foreign work, a clear working-week pattern is discernible, the trips start most often on a Sunday or a Monday and end on a Thursday or a Friday (see Figure 2.2.4). The weekdays when tourist trips start vary a lot less and the timing of the trips is also different than with transnationals and those employed abroad (see Figure 2.2.4). Tourist trips start most often on a Friday, while the weekday when they end is almost equally either a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday. It must be emphasised that the average starting and ending times of trips by transnationals is significantly influenced by trips to Finland and other neighbouring countries, because a large portion of transnationals are connected to these countries. In the case of countries farther away, the start and end days are distributed over the weekdays much more evenly.

Figure 2.2.4. Distribution of start and end weekdays for trips by transnationals and tourists

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

The distribution of transnational trips across months also differs from that of tourist trips (see Figure 2.2.5) and the yearly variation of transnational trips is smaller. There are the most transnational trips in May, June and September. In July and August, when it’s high season for tourist trips, the transnational trips fall slightly. The number of transnational trips is smallest in December and January, which is also a low time for tourist trips.

Figure 2.2.5. Distribution of trips by transnationals and tourists across months. 100% is the number of trips by transnationals and by tourists. The whole duration of the trip is taken into account, not just the duration of stay in the transnational destination country

Source: data from Telia and Elisa for 2015.

Who are the transnationals?

According to the Population and Housing Census (PHC 2011), transnationals differ significantly from the average of the Estonian population according to the evaluated criteria. The number of working-age persons (30-59) is higher among the transnationals than in Estonia on the average. This group accounts for 87% of the transnationals, while it comprises only 52% of all the inhabitants of Estonia. Among transnationals, children and young people (under 30) are under-represented compared to the data of the 2011 census, and so are the elderly (60 and above). There are no large differences in the distribution of age groups among transnationals across destination countries.

Figure 2.2.6. Age group distribution in visit types compared to data from the Population and Housing Census 2011 (PHC 2011)

Source: data from the Population and Housing Census 2011 and Telia for 2015.

Across other social attributes, men dominate among the transnationals (72%), although PHC 2011 shows that men account for 46% in Estonia on average. Among the tourists originating from Estonia, there are also significantly fewer men (51%) than among the transnationals. The percentage of men among transnationals is highest in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Women dominate among transnationals in Belgium and Great Britain. Most of the transnationals are Estonian-speaking (85%). The share of speakers of Estonian is almost the same among tourists, while according to PHC 2011, 69% of the population of Estonia is Estonian-speaking. The share of speakers of Estonian is highest, over 90%, in Belgium, Finland and Poland. Russians dominate only in transnationalism concerning Russia (65%). Comparing the origin of transnationals with the distribution of the population of Estonia, it can be seen that proportionally, there are more transnationals coming from Pärnumaa, Saaremaa and Lääne-Virumaa. The largest cities Tallinn and Tartu are under-represented among transnationals (see Figure 2.2.7).

Figure 2.2.7. Difference between the relative importance of counties of residence of transnationals compared to the distribution from the Population and Housing Census 2011 (PHC 2011) (difference in percentage points).

Source: Data from the Population and Housing Census 2011 and Telia for 2015.


What do these numbers say?

According to the data from the two largest mobile phone operators, there are approximately 30,000 people staying abroad long-term who use Estonian mobile phone numbers. By the definition used in this study, 23,587 of them are transnational (staying abroad often and for long periods). These results contain new and interesting information, but there are no big surprises. For example, there are 25,000 persons working abroad according to PHC 2011 (Krusell 2013), while a study by the European Union in 2009 showed that there were 20,500 cross-border commuters in Estonia (Nerb et al. 2009). However, these three studies concern different phenomena and used different methods and cannot therefore be compared meaningfully.

The distribution of people working abroad across destination countries as shown in PHC 2011 and the estimated number of transnationals proposed in this study on the basis of data from the two largest mobile phone operators is quite similar. The domination of Finland, Sweden and Norway is no big surprise. The small share of Russia in transnationalism according to the data obtained by mobile positioning is, however, a surprising result, as only 7.1% of all transnationals are connected to Russia. According to the census, the percentage of people working in Russia is in the same order of magnitude. Considering the relative significance of the Russian community in the population of Estonia and the importance of functioning business and family relations with Russia, a much larger number of transnationals could have been expected.

The study Mina. Maailm. Meedia (Vihalemm 2017) showed that the relatively large Russian community living in Estonia is tightly connected to the media space of Russia, with 92% of Russian-speakers regularly watching Russian media channels. Why transnationalism does not coincide with the media space is a very interesting question. Reasons may include the lower salary level in Russia, political peculiarities, a language barrier, organisation of work, etc. The reason may also be related to the evaluation method - for instance price differences in roaming services. However, PHC 2011 also shows that Russia is not a popular place for working.

Another interesting topic is related to the large relative importance of Belarus among transnationals. Almost 1,100 transnationals are active there, accounting for 7.6% of the people who visited the country, which is the largest proportion for any country among the transnationals originating from Estonia. There are probably a lot of people in Estonia who have family and business relations with Belarus from the times of the Soviet Union. It is known that there are several companies owned and run by Estonians operating there in forestry, textiles, foodstuffs and other business areas. There are Estonian managers and specialists involved in these companies, but there is no data on employees moving between the countries in large numbers.

Another interesting fact is the number of transnationals connected to the countries of Southern Europe. There are 251 persons connected to Spain, 172 to Italy, 89 to Macedonia, etc. The numbers are not large, but the question arises whether these people are climate refugees and real estate owners originating from Estonia or do they have work tasks there. We don’t know the correct answer. The number of climate refugees is likely to grow over time, as illustrated by the opening of an Estonian-language school in Marbella.

Transnationalism will not fit into the borders of a nation-state

According to the concept of a nation-state, all permanent residents of a state should be citizens and all citizens should be permanent residents (Kallas 2017). But how should the millions of transnationals active all over the world today, with everyday activities far away from their home and homeland, fit into the borders of a nation-state? The tens of thousands of transnationals originating from Estonia that have been found in this study raise the same question. How much time must one spend in one’s homeland, winter home or employment country, and how much property must one own or how much must one pay in taxes to be eligible to vote? What are the conditions for obtaining a travel document or for being a candidate in a representative body? Defining the basic rights of citizens has been quite a popular subject internationally and there are various solutions. Taxation of transnational people, issues related to pensions, health funds, child supports, etc. have also been solved or tackled in many countries (Jakobson 2017). For solving simpler problems related to taxation or residency, one has to prove the number of days spent in each country and the income or expenses have to be divided accordingly. There are problems, however, that require a more nuanced and complex approach, for instance the decision by the British Government to limit payments of child support to immigrants from the European Union without residency, or to pay it according to the rates applicable in their country of origin.

And even more complex than these legal and economic treatments of transnationalism is the transfer of the social rights and freedoms of a nation-state into the transnational sphere. These values added to the concept of the nation-state after the Second World War by Thomas Humphrey Marshall are fundamental values of Western society. An example of the interpretation of freedoms in a transnational world is the discussion focusing on public space and the wearing of religious clothing (e.g. the burqa) or symbols (e.g. the Ribbon of Saint George) in several European countries.

The claim presented in the theoretical section that the motivation for transnationalism is similar to that of short-term migration (Bell & Ward 2000) is doubtlessly not the final truth either, as people tend to move freely towards better conditions and opportunities. These better conditions may be a salary level, a better quality of education, social services or climate conditions. Transnational people do not like political instability and low security. The transnationals defined in this study are an eloquent proof that the direction is towards Scandinavia and countries of the European Union, while the expected movement towards Russia is rather scant. Despite the predictions about a continuous spread of transnationalism, it is unlikely to become mainstream, because the setbacks on a person’s significant relationships, family, health, self-definition, etc. are quite serious (Telve 2016). The transnational lifestyle cannot be endured for long, because it is tiring for the person himself or herself as well as their loved ones.

Defining transnationalism on the basis of phone usage

The dataset used in this study poses the question of whether active usage of a SIM card (phone number) registered in one’s home country or country of permanent residence when staying abroad for a longer time could be a characteristic or even a defining trait of transnationalism. Actively using a SIM card registered in the home country (in this case Estonia) is probably related to a wish to be available to the loved ones, acquaintances, business partners, state institutions, etc. located in the home country. If the SIM card is kept active, the person obviously feels a need to be connected to his or her home country. From the moment when the Estonian SIM card is switched off while abroad, we can infer that the person no longer feels a need to be tightly connected to his or her home country, its social networks and institutions.

Is this transnationalism?

From the point of view of methodology, there needs to be a discussion concerning whether what is being measured is transnationalism. In this study, transnationalism has been defined as a situation where a person spends at least 25% of the days in a year (92 days) in Estonia as well as in a foreign country and makes 5-52 trips a year to that country. The analysis of transnational people in 2015 based on these two parameters shows that the method is suitable to a certain extent, because transnational people can be distinguished by these parameters from tourists, cross-border commuters and foreign workers. For example the gender and age structure, areas of residence and timing of travel of transnationals is distinguishable from those of tourists. It is clear, however, that the people defined as transnational here on the basis of simple parameters are actually active abroad for a huge variety of reasons, activities and also lifestyles.


Study results indicate that the mobile positioning dataset used is one of the possible sources for describing transnationalism. Based on a Eurostat study concerning the usability of mobile phone data (Positium LBS 2014), the strengths and weaknesses of using mobile positioning data for gathering statistics about travelling have been brought out in this study. Evaluating the accuracy of parameters based on mobile positioning data is problematic, as there is no “correct” data about cross-border commuting or transnationalism available for comparison.

One must also evaluate the spread and representability of mobile phones, as the CDR data used depend on using a mobile phone. This problem is alleviated in today’s society by the wide spread and active use of mobile phones. The harmonisation of roaming fees in Europe, however, will bring along new developments in the usage of mobile phones abroad as well as raise questions about the representability of the data.

The method based on mobile positioning also has its positive sides: it allows gathering of statistical data about a large number of people from an independent source. The data is in digital format, easy to process and usually also repetitive. The data gathering cycle is short, i.e. statistical analyses and surveys can be performed quickly. The CDR dataset makes it possible to evaluate the mobility of people on a local scale as well as in relation to other countries.


The aim of the study was to describe transnationalism originating from Estonia and to discuss the reasons and geography of the phenomenon. In terms of methodology, the stated aim was to develop a method for measuring transnationalism with the help of roaming data from mobile operators. Transnationalism was defined as ‘staying abroad for long periods and often’ - the measuring criteria being that the person spends at least 25% of the days in a year (92 days) in Estonia and at least 25% of the days in a foreign country or in specific foreign countries, and takes 5-52 trips a year to that country. One of the methodological challenges was the harmonisation of data from two major mobile communications operators; this has not been done before in published scientific studies by our information.

The empirical results of the work show that the attempt to create a concept and a method was successful, at least to a certain extent. Summarising the roaming services data of two larger mobile communications operators, it can be said that more than 30,000 people originating from Estonia are actively operating outside of Estonia, while keeping their Estonian mobile phone numbers active. Of these, 23,587 are assessed as transnationals because the number of trips they took abroad and the number of days they spent there imply an equal level of activity in Estonia and abroad. Among the 30,000, there is also 1,500 cross-border commuters who visit the destination country more than once a week (52 or more trips per year) and over 4,000 people employed abroad, who spend a large part of the year in a foreign country and travel to Estonia less than five times per year. The number of transnationals originating from Estonia is highest in Finland (12,698), Sweden (2,136), Norway (1,884) and other countries of the European Union. There are surprisingly few transnationals connected to Russia: 1,721 persons, even though the Russian community makes up approximately 30% of the population and in terms of foreign media, Russian media dominates all others by far.

All of these 30,000 persons keep their mobile phones with Estonian SIM-cards active while abroad, and use them. Consequently, these are people who are connected to Estonia or want to be connected to Estonia. The opinion of the authors of the study is that parameters obtained from call detail records of mobile phones are one of the possible ways of determining transnationals and studying transnationalism, as there is no good statistical overview with a consistent method for detailing transnationalism in different countries available at present. The idea of determining transnationalism on the basis of SIM cards also presents interesting opportunities, as is shown here, for detecting which society a person wants to be connected with. Countries must definitely pay more attention to developing policies related to the transnational lifestyle because neither the rather widespread trend of being active in a country other than one’s homeland nor the transnational lifestyle will fit into the concept or the borders of a nation-state. However, the laws, obligations and rights that apply to people who ‘stay abroad for long periods and often’ is an interesting topic for discussion.

Researching communities that have spread all over the world as well as the developments in ICT lead to the idea that one of the solutions could be a more thorough application of ICT in developing the concepts of state and governance. Transnationalism could fit in well with a digital or virtual state, which is the direction in which Estonia’s e-residency is developing. But whether a nation-state can be digitised, and whether we would like to live in a virtual state - these are topics for another important discussion.

The authors would like to thank the mobile operators Telia and Elisa for the cooperation and opportunity to carry out this study, which is so unique on the international level. We also thank Erki Saluveer from Positium LBS and our colleagues from the Geography Department of the University of Tartu. The study was financed by the IUT2-17 grant of the Estonian Research Agency, the ‘Infotechnological Mobility Observatory’ (IMO) project of the Estonian Research Infrastructure Roadmap and the URMI project of the Academy of Finland.


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