The property market of Montenegro, which is seeking membership into the European Union, has gained attention from Hongkongers and mainland Chinese drawn to the Balkan country’s immigration by investment programme. One project called Boka Place in Porto Montenegro, beckons wealthy investors where a piece of the residential and commercial neighbourhood west of the capital of Podgorica starts from 190,000 euros (US$223,740). Since its launch in 2019, the Montenegrin programme has become the third most popular scheme among Hongkongers, after similar offerings from Malta and Portugal, according to immigration consultancy Henley & Partners. Mainland Chinese were most interested in Montenegro. “Based on the enquiries we have received from Chinese this year, Montenegro was the top interest programme, followed by St Lucia and Malta,” said Dominic Volek, group head of private clients and head of Asia. Montenegro, which covers 13,812 sq km, borders five countries including Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. About 75 per cent of its 623,000 population are Christians by faith, and about one-fifth Muslim. It’s set to join the EU in 2025. The so-called passport-for-cash incentive, usually in the form of authorised investments such as property purchases, are used by small nations to lure foreign investments, and often rebuked by some within the EU. They have, however, gained popularity among Hongkongers since last year following the city’s worst political crisis. The sweeping national security law renewed interest among Hongkongers in such programmes. Immigration enquiries as well as applications for good citizenship from the Hong Kong police have risen too, immigrations consultants have said. Montenegro’s programme has several features that might make it more appealing to Hongkongers. It allows applicants to gain immediate full citizenship and a passport to freely travel to 124 destinations including Europe’s Schengen Area, Cuba and Russia. The scheme will only accept 2,000 applicants and will run for three years and requires a US$100,000 donation to the state. In terms of investment options, the minimum is 450,000 euros in an approved real estate project in Podgorica or the coastal region of Montenegro. The threshold is lower at 250,000 euros for properties in the northern or central regions. The basic outlay is considerably lower than the cost of an average home in Hong Kong. A typical 300-sq ft flat in New Territories, for example, would cost about HK$5 million or 550,000 euros, according to local property listings. ‘Exodus’ from Hong Kong? Those who fear national security law mull best offers from welcoming countries “All things considered, the investment requirements for Montenegro’s programme are extremely attractive, especially considering its future EU member status,” Volek said. Those who have been approved “rarely physically” relocate to Montenegro, he added. Boka Place in Porto Montenegro, a marina owned by the Dubai government’s investment vehicle, is a mixed-use development that features restaurants, retail shops and public spaces. It is located about 90 minutes’ drive west of Podgorica and is due for completion in 2023. Starting from 190,000 euros, the residential units will be eligible under the citizenship by investment programme. Enquiries from mainland and Hong Kong-based property agents are rising, said Slavica Milic, residential marketing manager at Porto Montenegro. “We have a number of residents within our existing developments from Japan and Australia,” he said. “Once travel restrictions are lifted, we anticipate a steady amount of interest from Asia-Pacific for flats in Boka Place.” Other property agents observe a “moderate” interest from Hongkongers and mainland Chinese for property in Montenegro. “There has been moderate interest from this market but only in the recently launched citizenship by investment programme,” said Kieran Kelleher, owner and managing director of Dream Estates Montenegro, an associate of Savills. Demand remains poor and weakening among local and foreign investors in places including Podgorica, Kelleher said. It may take two to three years for these regions to clear the excess stock and recover to pre-Covid-19 levels and capital appreciation will be slow for years to come, he added.