If you’re after a Montenegro bank account, or you’re wondering what the benefits are, then you’re in the right place.
But before embarking on an account opening adventure in this tiny Balkan nation… you need to know the pros and cons of banking here.
Opening accounts is not as easy (or as beneficial) as others will have you believe. But there are some very unique and interesting opportunities for the right sort of people.
In this article, we’ll breakdown banking in Montenegro, why certain people (and companies) are opening bank accounts here, and what’s attracting foreigners here in the first place.
We’ll also pull back the curtain on a few lesser-known (and rarely talked about) banking opportunities as well as a few blind spots you need to be aware of.
Let’s dive in…
This tiny, former Yugoslav nation with 650,000 people is jammed between four Balkan states in Southeastern Europe. It’s only a two and a half hour flight from most European capitals and has 300 kilometers of sunny Adriatic coastline.
It’s also the youngest country in Europe, gaining independence in 2006.
While most articles focus on flamingos, beaches, and the “World Championships for Laziness” – there’s a much more interesting mix of catalysts at play in Montenegro.
But before jumping into Montenegro bank accounts, there are a few things you should know…
In the 1990s, Montenegro (aka former Yugoslavia) was ripped apart by war and chaos. Its economy was left broken with sky-high inflation.
NATO was still doing targeted bombings here as recently as 1999. Ironically, the same year, Montenegro declared the German Deutschmark its national currency to ward off inflation. It worked. Then they switched to the euro in 2002 (more on this below).
So, like many former-communist nations transitioning to capitalism, it became the wild west. Montenegro became a haven for Russian money laundering, cigarette smuggling, casinos, and other unflattering side-hustles.
And, money flooded in…
In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for Russians (and others from the Unlucky Passport Club) to buy seaside luxury properties with suitcases full of cash.
Montenegro even dabbled in offshore banking in the 1990s. Literally, over 500 offshore banks were operating here. And there was even a government department called the “Montenegrin Offshore Business Center.”
Had Montenegro continued down that path, they’d have zero chance at EU accession, so that was quickly stopped…
But, just because Montenegro’s offshore banks were crushed, doesn’t mean that the rest of the banking sector was all sunshine and rainbows.
Since the 1990s, bribery and corruption were baked in and still have deep roots in many aspects of society. And, for many years, that included banking.
For example, in pre-2008, corruption was a “normal” part of the lending process. According to one banker, bribes for loans ranged from five to 25 percent on total loan value. Other times, bankers were given envelopes full of cash after closing a deal.
One Montenegrin bank even had a tagline, “come to us to make a deal.” And, not surprisingly, within 24 months (from 2006 to 2008), that bank’s assets skyrocketed 1,882%. Not normal.
Cheap credit, lax lending policies, and corruption fueled property mania in Montenegro after independence in 2006.
But then, in 2008, it all came crashing down. Lehman collapsed and the financial crisis happened, and the party was over.
And, there was a run on the Montenegro banks. To calm the chaos and reassure depositors, the Montenegrin government guaranteed all bank deposits without limits (the normal deposit guarantee was 50,000 EUR). It worked.
Yes, corruption, poor rule of law, and a weak judiciary still plague the nation and scare investors.
And, money laundering is still big business, with property investments and construction being the preferred channels.
Over the past few centuries, Montenegro has been ruled by princes, been through communism and socialism, absorbed by Yugoslavia, federated with Serbia, and more.
But today, Montenegro is a top contender for EU membership. And, no one wants to screw that up.
Many experts estimate 2025-2027, assuming nothing absurd or unfortunate happens.
They’re already on the euro. Banks are slowly rolling out EU compliance standards. They’re already a part of NATO, recognized by the UN, and signed up with the OECD to exchange information. AEOI is starting in 2023.
Plus, compared to other non-EU countries in the region, Montenegro is a unicorn. Not only do they have the strongest chance of EU accession, but they’re also the only country that can realistically qualify.
And, joining the EU isn’t some haphazard pipe dream. This was the plan since they adopted the euro in 2002. Back then, the government even plastered billboards around the city proclaiming, “Closer to Europe with the euro.”
Before diving in further, if you’re interested in opening non-resident bank accounts that meet your specific needs, we encourage you to download a FREE copy of the Non-Resident Banking Starter Guide.
It used to be super easy to open bank accounts in Montenegro for non-residents and foreign companies. Even offshore companies were accepted.
Before 2018, anyone with zero ties to the country could stroll into any bank with a passport and open an account in five minutes. Remote opening was also possible.
Now, you have to physically show up to open a bank account. And you usually need a tie to Montenegro. But it depends on the bank.
Foreign companies with no ties to Montenegro also have trouble opening accounts. In years past, Montenegrin banks accepted both foreign and offshore companies. Requirements were light and barebones, but this loophole is now closing too.
In fact, as time goes on, the closer Montenegro gets to EU accession, the more difficult account opening will become. Why? Montenegrin banks will be forced to streamline compliance, CRS reporting, and stricter controls ahead of joining the EU (and to stay in the running).
So, as time goes on, the tougher it will most likely be to open bank accounts in Montenegro for non-residents and foreign companies.
But, why open a Montenegro bank account at all? Or ever?
Well, it depends on who you are and what you’re looking for.
Montenegro is the forgotten Balkan. Most people don’t know where Montenegro is or that it’s even part of Europe.
It doesn’t make headlines in English (anymore). It’s not an offshore financial center. And, it’s not a banking hub. In fact, in 2019, two Montenegrin banks went bankrupt…
A few reasons…
Non-resident banking is hard and only getting more difficult everywhere. But, in Montenegro, it’s still possible.
Foreign companies and non-resident individuals often struggle to open bank accounts outside of their home countries. Especially in Europe. And, finding a bank that allows non-residents and has deposit insurance, euro banking, and is affordable is increasingly difficult. So, some see Montenegro as a last resort or backup option.
EMIs and fintech solutions are nice for small purchases. But sometimes, you need a real bank account at a traditional, brick and mortar bank in Europe. For those having trouble opening bank accounts elsewhere, Montenegro could be a backup banking option.
Montenegro is in a rare club. It’s one of the few countries in the world that isn’t a member of the EU or in the eurozone, but it has the euro as its national currency. Just like Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Vatican, and St. Bart’s.
For those who need to transact and settle in euros, having a bank account in a country where the euro is the national currency can help to simplify things.
Montenegro has 50,000 EUR in deposit insurance. Outside of first world countries, 50,000 EUR is a decent amount of deposit insurance. Especially when you consider that many countries don’t offer anything at all.
And, while it’s never great to hear about banks going under, it has happened in Montenegro before. In fact, two banks recently went bankrupt and the government repaid depositors.
For a young country with corruption issues, a Central Bank with limited power can be a good thing. For example, a handful of government officials can’t print money and drive the currency into the ground. So, like all countries in the EU, the Central Bank of Montenegro has limited power and focuses mostly on regulating the banking system and monetary policy… even though Montenegro isn’t in the EU, yet.
If you don’t plan on visiting Montenegro in person, don’t do any business here (or in the region), don’t need to bank in euros, and are able to bank elsewhere then Montenegro probably isn’t a good fit for you.
But, for people who are struggling to open bank accounts elsewhere and desperately need a European bank account for themselves or their business, Montenegro can be a useful banking option.
In other words, a Montenegro bank account could be an option for non-residents and foreign companies who meet the following criteria:
Montenegro is currently on the radar of a few key groups.
And these people tend to be after one of the specific advantages Montenegro has to offer. While two of them are very real, the other is misunderstood and isn’t actually a benefit at all. Let’s explore these now…
Anyone running a location independent business or looking for a European country with a low tax rate, might find Montenegro interesting.
Montenegro has a very simple tax code. And, stunningly low tax rates (for Europe). For example, a 9% personal income tax and 9% corporate tax, gives Montenegro one of the lowest tax regimes in Europe.
Of course, there are jurisdictions with lower tax rates than Montenegro – but they’re expensive, not always in Europe, and not everyone can afford them.
Plus, if you absolutely need to stay in Europe (and are short on cash), Montenegro could be an easy and affordable option.
Russians (and others from the Unlucky Passport Club) are coming to Montenegro.
Why? It’s easier, faster, and a lot cheaper to acquire citizenship in countries on track for EU accession as opposed to countries that are already EU members (e.g. Cyprus, Malta, Portugal, etc.).
The opportunity is simple: Montenegro is in Europe. Buying citizenship in Malta and Cyprus is expensive ($1m and $2.2m, respectively). And if Montenegro joins the EU, its citizens absorb EU privileges and will get the right to live, work, study, and reside anywhere in the European Union.
And, you can get citizenship in Montenegro in less than six months by investing just $250,000+ in real estate. Talk about a bargain…
So why wouldn’t you buy a passport in a country that’s headed for EU accession? It’s a backdoor to an EU passport. And, as Montenegro gears up for EU membership, its Golden Passport program will go away, immigration will get tougher, and acquiring citizenship will be much more difficult.
Plus, with a Montenegrin passport, you get visa-free access to 124 countries (including Schengen). And, it also gives some members of the Unlucky Passport Club a chance at a US visa.
In years past, some people with poorly thought out tax plans flocked to Montenegro because they thought by banking here they could avoid CRS and AEOI. But this was short-sighted, given Montenegro has aspirations to join the EU.
Additionally, in 2019 Montenegro became the 130th country to sign the OECD’s “Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters”, which means Montenegro will comply with just about any request for information exchange on depositors, including automatic, on request, examinations, etc.
There are plenty of service providers, introducers, and shady middlemen offering overpriced services related to business, banking, and citizenship in Montenegro.
For example, the cost to set up a company in Montenegro (like most places) is a couple of hundred euros. And given that Montenegro is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, the annual cost for related services won’t run much higher than that.
But if you do a quick search online, you can quickly find overpriced corporate service providers charging €3,500 and up to register a Montenegrin company and open a bank account.
While that might seem worth it if you’re a rich Russian who doesn’t want to spend time on research, you can find legitimate service providers offering the same services for a fraction of that price elsewhere.
And, of course, you can set up your company and open bank accounts yourself too. It’s cheaper, faster, and you don’t have to worry about who has your personal information on file.
On top of that, Montenegro is a beautiful country that everyone should try and visit at some point in their life… so why not tie it to the opening of a (soon to be) EU bank account or getting on the fast track for EU citizenship?
If you need help sorting out your banking options, are struggling with account opening, or just aren’t sure where to turn, we can help.
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