Montenegro is becoming one of the most interesting countries for foreigners looking to relocate to Europe as well as digital nomads looking to establish a base in a convenient location and timezone.
Why, you ask?
Because this stunning country offers a very cheap and low-tax way of living and because it is so easy to obtain a residency permit which you can turn into a permanent residency permit after 5 years.
Not only is the immigration process significantly more complicated in most other European countries, the tax burden is also so much lower in Montenegro – both on a business and personal level. With some minor details to consider, generally there is a flat tax of only 9%.
Once you have the status of a permanent resident in Montenegro, you have almost equal rights to Montenegrin citizens – except for the right to vote. After 10 years, you even have the opportunity to get Montenegrin citizenship.
Even without a Montenegrin passport, the residency permit already allows for hassle-free traveling into the Schengen-Area.
Side note: Montenegro is expected to become a member of the European Union in 2025. While that may be one of the easiest and cheapest ways for people with very weak passports to get a EU-passport (even now you already get visa-free access to 120+ countries), it can have negative consequences for those of us with strong passports only looking to have a low-tax home base and be free of overly bureaucratic EU-regulations. It all depends on what your motivation and goal is. Nevertheless, this is still future talk and nothing to be concerned about too much at this moment.
The tiny country is the rising star in the Balkans and not as “behind” as people (who have never been) might think. Quite the opposite, actually.
Besides low taxes, you can look forward to:
- political stability
- warm and welcoming locals with a relatively high level of English
- incredibly beautiful nature, great climate and low distances (in some months, you can go skiing in the mountains and swimming in the sea on the same day!)
- visa-free entry for visitors from most countries
- great flight connections thanks to several airports close-by, not only in the capital Podgorica
- delicious local wine 😉
Obtaining residency through starting a company vs. real estate investment: Why you shouldn’t obtain residency through real estate investment, even though it sounds easier
You can find quite a lot of information online that advertizes the option to obtain Montenegro residency through real estate investment.
It sounds extremely tempting at first, and in fact it’s the reason why I started looking into Montenegro in the first place. The unbelievably low requirements intrigued me, and they really are true, it’s not false information.
Basically, absolutely anyone, no matter their citizenship, can become a Montenegrin resident by buying any habitable property (not just land). There is NO MINIMUM investment, the only requirement is that for each person you need 12 square meters of space.
This means that you can simply buy an apartment anywhere and voila, you’re a resident in Europe. While prices for places along the coast are rising fast, in the countryside, this means you can get away with spending just 10.000€ or so for a small apartment that needs to be renovated. Obviously, a nice place will cost you quite a bit more (and renovating here will be a hassle), but for people with extremely low budgets this is actually possible.
Once everything is in your name and processed legally, you can apply for the residency and renew it every year for 5 years to get your permanent residency.
Now, what they don’t tell you is that
- residency through real estate investment can never lead to citizenship (which is bad news for those looking to get a stronger passport) and
- you are not allowed to leave the country for more than 1 month per year (which is REALLY bad news for those digital nomads and perpetual travelers looking for a base)
When you get your temporary residency through your company on the other hand, you are free to travel as much as you want and you have the chance to get a passport.
Therefore, I think whatever your motivation is for relocating to Montenegro, a cheap real estate investment isn’t the way to go as it limits your freedom of travel and option to obtain citizenship.
While starting a company comes with some monthly costs, they are still quite low and the much better option for Montenegrin residency.
Individual & Business Taxes in Montenegro
Officially, as a resident, you are subject to tax in Montenegro on your worldwide income. While that is the official law, in reality, nobody really cares about the rest of your income as long as you pay the taxes on your Montenegro business.
Obviously, I don’t recommend doing anything illegal – I’m just reporting from what’s happening in practice as opposed to theory.
There is a flat tax of 9% in Montenegro.
This applies to your business, but also to your personal income tax (your salary), though the 9% tax rate on individual income only applies up to the average salary, which is around 750€ a month (subject to changes). Anything higher than that will be taxed at 11%.
In other words: Assuming your salary is 2.000€, you will pay 9% on the first 750€ and 11% on the remaining 1.250€.
Additionally, municipalities are allowed to charge a surtax which varies from about 13% to 15%. This percentage only applies to what you paid in taxes to the federal government, not your entire salary.
The 9% flat tax rate also applies to investment income – interests, dividends and capital gains.
The VAT (Value Added Tax) in Montenegro has just been raised from 19% to 21%. The reduced rate for basic supplies such as food is 7%.
How to get a (permanent) residency permit in Montenegro through starting a company
So, how does the concept of founding a company and obtaining a residency permit in Montenegro work?
Basically, you establish a company and hire yourself as the director. That way, you will get a work permit which is the ground for your residency permit.
The good news is that this company does not have to actually operate. You may use it as sort of a shell company without really conducting any business.
Now, you do have to pay yourself a salary of which a portion goes to health insurance and into your pension fund. The absolute minimum to which this can be reduced is a (part-time) salary of 100 Euros per month, of which 45€ goes towards taxes, health insurance and pension. The remaining 55 Euros are your salary as a director.
45€ of 100€ sounds like a big portion, but keep in mind that these are the costs for the company as well as the employer, which in this case is basically both the same person – you.
Keep in mind that this gives you full health insurance in Montenegro and they have a pretty good healthcare system (dentists have an especially good reputation though I haven’t used any myself yet).
Obviously, you can also use this company to actually conduct a real business. This works for people who work online just as well as for offline businesses.
In fact, there’s a bazillion business opportunities in Montenegro. The start-up scene and general development is still many years behind Western Europe and even more behind Northern America. After all, the country is still pretty new and has been through a war not too long ago, which followed a long era of communism.
You can simply copy concepts that have been proven successful in the “West”, maybe tweak them a little, and be wildly successful here. Especially when you’re a hard worker, because the work ethics in Montenegro, to be completely honest, are not the greatest – thanks, communism. Don’t worry, they say that about themselves, too – not just my two cents 😉
The Montenegrin government is also investing heavily into the economy, developing the country in general and giving tax incentives to attract investors and businesses. In the end of this article, I will show you some plans for the IT-sector e.g. that make MNE extremely interesting for tech startups.
Step 1: Company Formation in Montenegro
Starting a company in Montenegro is relatively fast and easy – IF you have a local partner. Navigating the Montenegrin bureaucracy and language barriers without a local expert is probably possible, but results in a lot of stress and headache.
Luckily, the costs for having this done for you are pretty low, thanks to the overall low salaries and low cost of living in this beautiful Balkan country. The headache of doing it yourself is simply not worth it.
In terms of the different legal forms, founding an LLC (Limited Liability Company) is most common and I would definitely recommend choosing this structure, because of (well, you guessed it) the limited liability that protects your private assets. Also, the required capital for an LLC is only 1 Euro.
If you want to go all-in in Montenegro, you do have the option to form a joint stock company, the minimum capital for this is 25.000 Euro. My local partner Ivana is certainly able to set this up for you (just send me a request), but in this article I want to focus on LLC’s and the possibility of easily acquiring a residency permit in this European country through that.
What are the costs of starting a company in Montenegro?
My local partner Ivana and her company can take over the entire process of the company registration for you for 1.000€. This includes all government fees, notary fees and service fees.
There are quite a few formalities that need to be done, which I list for you below together with the residency requirements.
Monthly and yearly costs:
As mentioned before, you have to pay yourself a minimum salary of 100 Euros of which 45 Euros go into health insurance, taxes and retirement fund.
Of course, there are bookkeeping requirements which should be done by a professional. If you conduct no or minimal business (use the company only for your residency permit), my local accountant will do this for you for only 110€ per month. As your business activities grow, so do the costs, of course.
There is an annual report required which is already included in this price, my accountant chooses to do this without any extra charges for his clients.
Regarding the business address, you may either use your private address in Montenegro or choose to use the business address of my local partner firm for no extra charge.
Basically, this amounts to costs of 155 Euro per month – 110 Euro for accounting and 45 Euro for health insurance etc. – for which you will actually get the insurance and retirement fund, so this is not just “wasted”.
Talk about a good deal!
How long does it take to start a company in Montenegro?
The entire filing process for the (LLC) company takes about 7 days in Montenegro. Ivana and her team will accompany you to all necessary appointments.
Step 2: Residency Permit for Montenegro
What are the costs for a residency permit in Montenegro?
My local partner Ivana and her company can take over the entire process of the residency permit for you for 1.000€. This includes all government fees, translation fees, notary fees and service fees that I list below.
Please note that you need a high school or university diploma. This is the only cost that is not included yet because there are two different prices. High school diploma nostrification is 150 Euro, for a university diploma it’s 300 Euro.
You do not have to use your highest/latest diploma, the high school degree is just enough, even if you do have a university degree. So you can keep these costs down to 150 Euro.
How long does it take to obtain a residency permit in Montenegro?
The entire filing process for the residency permit takes about 15-20 days in Montenegro. Ivana and her team will accompany you to all necessary appointments.
There are quite a few formalities, translations and certifications that need to be done, which I list for you below together with the company requirements.
What are the required documents and services for the company formation and residency permit?
In the before mentioned investment, all of the following services are included, except where marked separately.
Please be aware that other agencies you may find online do not even list all of these required documents and services, which means they are not included in their prices and you will have to pay them extra – but you will only find out later.
They may also not include a required tax of 67€ in their prices or the 30€ tourist tax that is legally required. That’s the difficulty of doing business in foreign countries, you just don’t know before.
We don’t do that.
- Passport with visa (your job)
- Translation of passport (included)
- Passport certification with a notary (included)
- Certification of special power of attorney (included)
- Original high school or university diploma (certificate and document with marks) (your job)
- Translation and Nostrification of diploma (EXTRA: high school 150€, university 300€)
- Police/criminal records from your country of citizenship, no older than 6 months
- Translation of criminal records (included)
- Either rental contract or house title in your name (if you don’t have this, some landlords refuse to give you a contract, Ivana can do this for you for 200€ extra)
- Montenegrin Bank account + confirmation that you have 3.650€ in it: 10€ for every day of the year as proof you can support yourself. (If you don’t have this, we can figure it out for you but only through private conversation)
- Insurance (included)
- Medical (included, they will go with you to conduct exam that you are fit to work)
- Police tax (included)
- White Touristic Card (Proof you paid tourist tax for 30 days as legally required – included)
- Formal job application to hire yourself as a director (included)
Also, no other company offers a solution if you can’t afford to put 3.650€ in a Montenegrin bank account.
Getting residency permits for family members (and friends)
Do your spouse and your children get a residency permit if you have one?
Yes, they can get residency through you as a director. You need to show a Marriage Certificate and/or a Birth Certificate though.
Is it possible to hire relatives (not just spouse – other family) and/or friends in order for them to get a residency permit as well or does everyone have to start their own company?
Family members can work in your company and get residency through that, but only after a year of your stay. Friends can get a job in your company, but their stay is terminated after 3 years so they won’t be able to get permanent residency.
Step 3: Permanent Residency & Citizenship
Obtaining a permanent residency permit
For the first five years of your stay in Montenegro, you will have to renew your residency permit every year.
All of your documents, like the school diplomas, police records etc. will be kept in a file and do not have to be renewed. What you do need to do every year is the medical check that proves you’re physically able to work (very basic test).
In addition to that, you need to pay your taxes, social contributions etc. on time so that you get a confirmation from the tax administration. That’s it.
Sometimes you will read that you are not allowed to leave Montenegro for more than 6 months in this 5-year period. That’s not true – it’s only the case for the residency through real estate investment.
Again: There are no requirements in regards to physically being in Montenegro for a certain amount of time in order to get the permanent residency.
The only thing you really do need to do is to renew your residency permit every year without exception for 5 years in a row. If you miss one year, the clock will be set back and you need to do another 5 years continuously.
Obtaining citizenship in Montenegro
After you’ve been in the country for 10 years with valid residency permits, you are able to apply for citizenship. I haven’t been through the process myself and it’s a fairly new country (Montenegro regained its independence in 2006) so in general, not many people have.
Some sources say you have to do sort of an exam on the country in Montenegrin language, but you are allowed to bring a translator. Some say you have to prove basic language skills.
I can’t say anything for sure right now, but since that’s at least 10 years in the future for you, it’s not really important right now.
The big downside of Montenegrin citizenship is that dual citizenship is, under most circumstances, not recognized. Therefore, it may currently not be as interesting for residents who already have an EU passport. Although, once Montenegro joins the EU, the passport rank will increase a lot so there won’t be a big difference then.
If you’re currently a citizen of a country with a weaker passport though, it may be very interesting for you, even if you do have to give up your current passport.
Once Montenegro joins the EU, you will naturally have the right to live and work anywhere in the European Union. IF the EU still exists then – after all, since 2020, nothing is certain anymore and we have absolutely no idea how the world will look like in a few years 😉
Anyway. As of now, with a Montenegrin passport, you have visa-free access to 120+ countries, including all of Europe’s Schengen Area, Russia, UAE, North Macedonia and Turkey. You are also eligible for the E-2 Investor Visa treaty with the United States, which means you can live and work in the USA.
Phew, that was a lot of information – I know.
To sum it all up, Montenegro is a very, very interesting country for expats who want to move to Europe as well as Digital Nomads and Perpetual Travelers to establish a base in a European country.
Apart from the incredible landscapes, warm weather and friendly nature of the people, it is a tax haven compared to the neighboring EU-countries.
Though there is quite a bit of bureaucracy involved, thanks to the relatively low income level, it’s very affordable to simply have everything done for you.
The entire process of starting a company and obtaining a residency permit will only take about 20-25 days total.
With the ability to easily turn your residency permit into a permanent residency permit and even citizenship without any travel restrictions, it becomes even more interesting.
Internet is fast, cheap (Sim card with 500GB mobile data per month for 10€) and reliable. Most of the locals speak English quite well and are very happy about foreigners moving to their country – unlike Western countries where there’s generally a completely different vibe.
Me personally, I’ve completely fallen in love with this beautiful country where you have everything at your fingertips: dramatic coastlines, warm and beautiful seas and beaches, charming architecture, impressive canyons and mountains and picturesque lakes.
Montenegro is like a whole content in one tiny country – an amazing combination that is hard to find anywhere else.
The government is working hard at supporting the economy and incentivizes start-ups. Since this isn’t important for everyone, I’m gonna add the following support plans in the end here and conclude my guide about probably my new favorite European country at this point.
IT & Innovation: Tax Support Program
The following information is rather new and will have to be discussed with our lawyers on ground. Basically, this is the idea (translated from Montenegrin):
“The Montenegro government finally turned to the IT community and adopted a new strategy for the IT sector development in the country for 2020-2024. IT and innovations sphere is recognized as one of the priority areas of the economy.
Funds in the amount of 30 million Euros are provided for its development in the framework of a direct partnership between the Montenegrin government and the national economy.
The main points of the strategy are as follows:
- Creation of the Montenegrin strategic IT cluster – 300,000 euros
- Establishment of the Center for e-commerce support – 150,000 euros
- Introduction of global online payment systems in Montenegro
- Creation of a center for innovations with virtual and augmented reality technologies – 25.5 million Euro
- Innovations in the public sector – 339,000 euros
- Constant support for innovative startups – 500,000 euros
There are also significant benefits for investors, namely:
- Startups are exempt from paying taxes for the first 5 years
- Significant reduction of tax & fees on salary – up to 50%
- Exemption from payment of taxes and fees when participating in innovative projects
- Income tax exemption of up to 100% when reinvesting in innovative projects
- Exemption from income tax up to 100% when investing in startups and funds for investment projects
- Exemption from income tax when donating funds to research institutes
- Reduction of real estate and construction tax for innovative activities infrastructure
- Establishment of the Fund for innovations