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What's the cheapest living situation possible that still has basic utilities?
80 points by format997 on Jan 4, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments
I'm curious about possible non-conventional living arrangements to cut out one of my biggest expenses. If location weren't a primary concern (I can telecommute as a programmer, but would still want to live within a few hours of a major city), what's the cheapest living arrangement possible? Buying cheap land and hooking up utilities to a mobile home? What are the fees like to run utilities to new property? Are there cheaper living structures than mobile homes? Are there completely different ideas I'm not considering?

I'd be curious if I could set myself up with a basic home for $40,000 or less that would mean I wouldn't have to pay any other living expenses going forward besides unavoidable ones (property taxes [though I could pick a state without property tax], maintenance and utilities).

I've been able to do this after re-arranging my life over the past 5 years. I bought 7 acres of bare land for $35k and built a 200 sqft tiny house for $4,000. I homestead as much as I can and my bills are approximately $40/DSL, $40/Electrical, $35/Car insurance (I drive a 90s Honda), and approximately $30 a month in property taxes. I spend about $40 in propane for heat in the winter and my air conditioning bill is an extra $15/month in the summer. I'm halfway between Portland and San Francisco and do telecommute node.js/angular work. I'm saving up to build a nice house and a this summer backhoe. Some projects I'm working on this summer include a biodigester to supplement my propane for cooking gas, a rocket mass heater to eliminate my propane, a backyard blacksmiths area, drip irrigation and cistern system, and more fencing for livestock. My property search took me several years and I had no experience in construction but learned most of it from youtube and asking friends. I lived in a camper trailer while I built my place. So to answer your question, about $200 a month is the cheapest I can survive on.

Except you'd be in Detroit. :-)

I wonder if there is a huge hidden accumulation of unpaid property taxes the buyer would be on the hook for.

There likely isn't and risk to the buyer. These houses were most likely foreclosed or abandoned.

Detroit is auctioning off houses and lots that have not been paid up to the highest bidder by the dozens. These were likely purchased super cheap for flipping, and now being resold.

Detroit has a real problem with the city services right now, and as a result of the lack of services, and large land sales houses are SUPER cheap.

I'm curious as to the social angle on this. Do you get lonely out there, are friends primarily on line, is your partner (if applicable) happy with this situation, etc?

I ask because I've always dreamed of a life of simplicity similar to what you've got setup, but the thing that stops me is the possible isolation.

My friends generally broke down into three groups, those who were to busy to hang out because of their career, their family, or they were into bad situations I didn't want to get involved with (drugs, alcohol, wrong crowd). This wasn't the case in my 20s but now that I'm in my 30s this is just how it went down. Ultimately sitting behind a desk paying a mortgage for 30 years outweighed the social aspect of being lonely right now in my life. But visiting Portland is like going on vacation in my home town and I plan on buying a rental with a garage apartment just for me to have a home base when I'm in town. With all the financial freedom I have I see this in a few years. But yes, my partner wasn't 100% down with the move, regrettably didn't move with me. Also watching friends gather and text message each other in the same room was a funny moment for me.

You're living my dream.

I haven't been able to do what you're doing because remote work is hard to find. Because remote work has been so difficult to find, I've been hesitant to go all out like you have. I scouted all sorts of places and have not been able to get the variables to all work out.

I hang around the outskirts of cities and cobble together a living, and I go into the city for meetups. If I were doing what you were doing, I'd be scared because of the effort it would take to just hit the pavement and go talk to people who could offer me work.

Have you gone through job changes yet?

Remote work can be pretty easy to negotiate with smaller businesses. If you want to be a lead engineer for a fortune 500, good luck. But if you want to be the sole Admin for 1 or 2 small businesses and work remotely and only come in to install routers and such, it suddenly becomes MUCH easier to find.

You may take a pay cut, you work may become a little less interesting, but thats the tradeoff. I did just this and I think it was WELL worth it, life is slower paced, cheaper, I now have the flexibility to work from any location I want, Im headed to Cancun for two weeks next month for work... life is rough.

That's really cool and probably exactly what I was looking for. Sounds about as cheap as you can go.

How expensive was it to get any utilities hooked up to your property, or was that already taken care of when you bought the land?

The utilities a power pole and a well, were already on the property when I bought it. But the original costs were $6,500 to dig the well and approximately $5,000 to install and green tag the power pole. If you can get your total wattage usage down, you could easily go off the grid with the newer 430 watt solar panels and LiFePO4 batteries. Its almost an impulse buy for me and definitely something I want to do this summer. I got lucky but spent 5 years searching for my property. But, you can find properties with burned down mobile homes that have utilities already setup.

Very cool, do you have any suggestions as far as finding and purchasing cheap land?

I was very fortunate that my father was a real estate broker, although he is no longer around I gained some really good tricks for my real estate purchase. First off, scout the areas you want to live. A lot of times real estate isn't listed on the local RMLS site (or if it is, might be incorrect information). Second strategy get a tax plot map. Look for property owners who are out of state and send them a offer letters. Craigslist, Zillow alert and other sites have been pretty helpful for leads as well. Third, pay attention to what other properties are selling. If everyone in the neighborhood is selling, there has to be a reason. Buy where nobody wants to sell. Finally, out of pure luck I bought my property on auction.com and was the final bidder without even looking at the property (there are ways to back out of a deal, my dad told me all the tricks :). The property information just happen to be wrong, it was the wrong zoning, address, acreage, etc. This was probably because it was in the holiday season. The Realtor assigned to the property didn't know anything about it. Because I did a title search before placing my bid, I knew more about it then they did! And because I scouted the area well, I knew approximately what I was expecting. I also knew that buying property during the holiday season (thanksgiving to new years) is the best possible time as far as I can tell. Generally home values go up in the summer and down in the winter. I also played the 2008 recession, but values didn't go down as much as I expected, but it helped. And no I didn't buy a property way out in nowhere, I'm about 20 minutes away from the Redwood Forest, 45 minutes from the coast, and 30 miles away from a Home Depo/Walmart. Regretfully, the nearest Trader Joe's is over an hour and a half away. :)

Just look where there aren't people. This is one click from the first hit for "norcal land sales" (selecting the lowest price bracket):


What about food?

Pick a college town and rent an apartment, optionally with a roommate. In much of the American midwest this implies an all-in rent & utilities expense in the $500 range.

If you wanted to try something more exotic, you can do the digital nomad thing and rent somewhere in Thailand for ~$100 a month, but honestly as a programmer I feel that optimizing sub-$500 expenses is not the best use of one's time versus figuring out how to make money in a stable and hopefully increasing-over-time fashion.

I understand the aesthetic appeal of going off the grid but if you wouldn't get a job as an electrician or day laborer which paid $400 a month then you shouldn't take on any major construction project to save $400 a month.

>If you wanted to try something more exotic, you can do the digital nomad thing and rent somewhere in Thailand for ~$100 a month,

I feel like I should point out that getting something that cheap in Thailand is difficult and certainly will not be pretty. I have previously lived in Thailand for just under a year and then gone on to be a digital nomad for three years and counting, mostly in south east Asia.

Its pretty trivial to live on 800-1200/month in Thailand and I have known people to get it down to $500/month but there is a floor there that, to go under, you would likely need to move somewhere very remote that is likely to have an unreliable electricity supply and probably won't have an existing net connection or a telephone line for you to get access to the net. It would help to speak reasonable Thai too as you will be living somewhere well away from the touristy bits of Thailand where the English speakers tend to congregate.

Now, that isn't to say that its impossible. I know someone who, at one point, was living on the outskirts of Siem Reap (Cambodia) for $200/month total. $80/month of that was rent. Firstly, he is an extremely experienced nomad. Secondly, that involved living in an old wooden house with no airconditioning (Cambodia gets brutally hot) and walking across town to use the wifi at KFC. It worked for him because he was working on a book so he only required sporadic net access. He is also from the Philippines and grew up without air conditioning so apparently the heat and humidity was bearable for him. Personally I find not having aircon in the tropics a really quick way to take your productivity to zero. Thirdly, to keep his costs that low an enormous proportion of his diet was made up of boiled rice with token amounts of vegetables. When he went to KFC he would purchase a single piece of chicken so they wouldn't kick him out and so his diet contained some protein. Handy if you want to lose weight I guess but tightly restricting your vegetable and protein intake is otherwise not particularly healthy.

Anyhow, just wanted to point out that "rent somewhere in Thailand for ~$100 a month" isn't something you are just going to walk off the plane and arrange without making some very serious health and lifestyle sacrifices.

If you're keen on Cambodia even a newly-arrived white person could get a good hotel room, with wifi (and television) in Battambang or Phnom Penh for $5 per night for a couple of days a couple of years back, so I'm sure ~$200ish per month is do-able even for beginners if they're keen on the street food.

If you're keen on Asia mainly to minimise costs, Thailand probably isn't the best place to start.

Thanks for the clarification. I was just quoting the number somebody quoted me yesterday, and he has about as many years/savvy invested into Thailand as I have in Japan.

Note: I got an apartment in Davao (which is in the Philippines) for $180/mo, utilities included (which includes air conditioning and wi fi and all other normal things), near city center. Took a small amount of insider knowledge (read: I asked a native friend I had made how people find apartments -- her answer was only marginally more complex than 'ayos dito', which is an/the online marketplace in the Philippines -- and had her help out when the guy's English was not quite amazing).

I've stayed in 'remote' places in Thailand from Surin to Sukothai, electricity is pretty good wherever you are.

It's definitely cheaper staying in the North East and you will have internet access.

There are also small expat communities in places like Surin city and Khon Kaen due to foreigners marrying locals from this region. So you won't be totally isolated.

You can definitely live well for under $800 in these areas.

> I feel that optimizing sub-$500 expenses is not the best use of one's time versus figuring out how to make money

Second this. You can only save so much, but there's practically no upper limit on how much you can make.

Plus making money is more fun than saving it. Saving generally requires sacrifices that decrease your quality of life. And there are diminishing returns, so you'll need to make ever-bigger sacrifices as continue to decrease your spending.

I definitely agree with this. I'm just exploring the concept because I have problems that occasionally limit how much I can work - and just playing around with cheaper living arrangements that also work with that. Though, if I can find ways to make a lot of money without working a lot, that would also solve the problem.

The danger is that increasing your income often leads people to spend more on higher quality things that they might not need, thus forcing you to work longer, or to make even more money.

The trick is to be happy living well within your means, even if that means a lower quality of life than you could afford (but not a low quality of life)

I third this but the problem is it is easier to save the dollar that you already have in your hand than finding a new way to make it. So it is good to cut down on expenses without sacrificing much on life style

A lot of people agree. It's called division of labor.


$100 in Chiang Mai is possible for nothing fancy, but only if you speak thai. A fresh of the boat foreigner will pay $250 rock bottom without thai skills for a very basic apartment. Visa costs are at least $50 a month and you'll also need a scooter or deal with pickup taxis, which will add about $80-120 to the expenses unless you enjoy walking or cycling through the heat on roads not made for either of that.

Tokyo is much better value imo, as central parts are easily walkable and the yen is really cheap, so the costs work out roughly the same as in Thailand with the added benefit of living in a first world country.

A room in a shared apartment in central Tokyo can easily be had for 50k yen which is about $400 right now.

$600 will get you an unfurnished apartment in Ikeburo or so.

Japan is much more strict than Thailand on immigration laws, be careful about that. They also have no problem with throwing foreigners into jail, whereas Thailand will usually just deport you for visa violations.

Japanese companies also send young Japanese kids to work in Bangkok call centers, since they can pay them less there (the cost of living is lower? They would never dream of having non-Japanese staff the call center, BTW).

If you're from western Europe you can easily get a 1 year working holiday visa and go from there.

Staying in Thailand beyond 1 year these days legally is also difficult, so it works out the same.

I have never heard about the call center thing and doubt it, but there are plenty of japanese expats in Bangkok that arguably get a lot more work done than 2-3 thais would do at an overall equal cost.

Thailand is really not much cheaper than Japan these days for a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, but it remains a developing country.

> I have never heard about the call center thing and doubt it



Bangkok is quite a bit cheaper than Tokyo. And there is a huge Japanese expat population as a result.

> Thailand is really not much cheaper than Japan these days for a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, but it remains a developing country.

I would agree that Thailand is not as cheap as people think it is, but looking at what my friends in Japan pay (not even in Tokyo!), I doubt cost of living in Japan is comparable to cost of living in Thailand.

Everything in that article is dated 2008, but even then the minimum salary requirements for japanese people were 35k baht to get a work permit.

All the japanese expats I've gotten to know in Bangkok last year were well paid and no japanese person would normally work for that kind of money.

30k baht is what a company would get away with for a thai person fluent in japanese doing customer support.

Normal office worker salaries in Bangkok are about 20-25k baht without any language skills and they live hand to mouth on that money.

Perhaps, but I find Bangkok incredibly cheap compared to say Beijing; especially the rents, but even cars are cheaper there. Wouldn't mind living there someday if I could get a good job.

For sure. Even Mr Money Mustache lives on around 24K per year.

One of the problems with a focus on living cheap is that the rest of the world is still expensive. You can find ways to live super cheap, but medical is still outrageous. Traveling to an expensive city will still take a large chunk out of a small income.

Your focus should be on increasing options. That's probably making more money. You can make a decision to go cheap on the fly, but substantially increasing your savings takes time. As you get older, this may become even more difficult.

One of the problems with a focus on living cheap is that the rest of the world is still expensive. You can find ways to live super cheap, but medical is still outrageous

Or technology. A new iPhone isn't cheaper in Thailand.

> if you wouldn't get a job as an electrician or day laborer which paid $400 a month then you shouldn't take on any major construction project to save $400 a month

We're engineers. We enjoy building things. All sorts of things.

I wouldn't do it all the time, but why not try your hand at building yourself a house? Not as a means to save money, but as a hobby, an interesting project, something fun?

All the respect in the world for someone who wants to stride out into the wilderness and build a hobbit hole with their own two hands. If one enjoys it or finds it aesthetically appealing, great. If one simply wants to improve one's family's financial situation, trade solutions to business problems for money then trade money for living space, which is available from specialized providers who enjoy substantial economies of scale and technologically-induced productivity advantages over you.

> All the respect in the world for someone who wants to stride out into the wilderness and build a hobbit hole with their own two hands.

Okaaay ... not where I was going. I suppose you can do that.

You can also build yourself an office in your backyard, which is what I'm going to do in a few months. Won't save me any money, but I expect it to be fun.

I feel sorry for those who can only think in dollars and cents. Not everything is about maximizing utility. You're allowed to have fun. You can even have fun improving one's financial situation.

It probably will. I'm building a small 8x12 framed shed (should have been done by now but life intervenes...). I doubt it will end up costing me more than about $750 all in. Whereas, the 12x24 pole construction lean-to I had built by a "contractor" 8 years ago cost about $3k back then. And pole buildings are expected to be cheap

DIY can definitely save money. I'll probably build another 8x12 building in the next 24 months, but this one will be designed as an office with insulation, power, etc and likely cost a lot more than $750.

You want to live in a city with great medical, great arts, and sports? Then go to Cleveland. Homes starting at $10k (some maintenance required)


It is cold...but it isn't Detroit.

How's the crime rate in those neighborhoods?

Sometimes I'll check out these maps, which have the state as a whole ranked not-so-good for robbery, property crime, burglary, etc.


(Understanding that these are state and not local rates.)

There's a crime map on each of the listings.

If you want to buy a home > http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com

If you want to travel & rent > https://nomadlist.io

Used travel trailers and RVs older than 15 years are ludicrously cheap. Arrange with the seller to drop it at your property if you don't have a big enough tow vehicle. You can find small patches of land in rural America for very little money. Say $10k for an acre in woods of no particular scenic beauty with power and water. Once you pick an area a real estate agent can help you find someone's old wilderness retreat or abandoned farmstead.

Speaking as someone with a solar installation, I wouldn't screw with solar if I were worried about cost. Live like you are on solar and you will buy $0.30 of electricity a day from the power company.

Your limitation is going to be fast enough internet, that will keep you close enough to be under cable tv or a benevolent telecom.

I've often wondered about that limitation.

I submitted this one:


"high-speed Internet"?

Caravans are not very well insulated, this is going to be location-dependent.

Move to a cheaper country. I moved to Guatemala a few years ago and live for around $8000 a year which includes a nice wooden cottage on a lake with three volcanos, decent internet, and eating out in really great restaurants three times a day.

3:05 is the lake https://vimeo.com/87304272

Agreed. I worked remotely in Mexico for 3 months and saved about 2 grand a month && lived better than I'd ever lived in the US. Nice rental in the best part of town, great food, top shelf tequila. I can't wait to go somewhere else and try it again.

To me this would be the way to go. I'm not really sure how all you people sort out visa situations long-term.

The cheapest way I've found to live was to buy a 4+ unit apartment building that when the 3+ other apartments are fully rented cover the cost of the mortgage, and utilities. As a result, net out of pocket each year for housing + utilities + taxes + insurance is < $0. (we turn a profit each year) For us, this means we can reinvest our earnings in our businesses and live a very comfortable middle class lifestyle. We live in a city, 3 blocks for 3 different cafes, a dozen restaurants, laundrymats, etc.

What sort of deposit did you need to buy an apartment building?

I'd wager that this isn't a viable solution for most people.

What city?

I've seen 8-10 unit apartment buildings for as little as 300k in Houston and 4 unit buildings for about the same price in a better part of town.

I met a "prohobo" once. Chatted with him at a coffee shop. He was living in a squat, had 4G/LTE Internet, and a solar panel for his electronics. Rode Greyhound and/or the rails around the country (the latter, he said, is hard to get away with these days). Said he also occasionally stayed in hotels when he needed to freshen up and get a better nights reset for a while.

I think he made a living doing contract web programming, routed his money to an electronic bank account.

You may try looking into Tiny houses, they may cause some problems with zoning in some area's so picking a location will require some research.

A tiny house can easily run under $20,000 fully equipped. Some people have been able to build them for under $10,000.

Fix the house with solar panels, maybe a small wind turbine for electricity. tin roof with a rain water collection, you can run is through a 3 stage or 5 stage filter into a small water tank under a couch. Solar or propane hot water heater, propane gas stove. Grab yourself a 5-mile wifi- antenna to pick up wifi from coffee shops nearby. Composting toilet or a standard RV backwater holding tank to take care of the nasty.

A tiny house with this set up can take care of all of your basic utilities and if you are frugal, resourceful and pick up recyclables, you could drive down the cost possibly under $10k.

Check out this video for my favorite tiny house build. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VckbqU4kK2I

Edit: You will need a car/truck that can tow it around. But an automobile would definitely come in handy if you still want to commute into the city.

Where would you typically park them for an extended period of time? Is that what you mean with zoning problems? Do people usually try to hang out in a large parking lot for long enough? Or perhaps just get outside the city limit in what looks like abandoned land?

Also, how do you deal with the waste water in the long run? Stop by RV parks and empty out your septic tanks?

I did some research on this few months ago. The rules and regulations are different from state to state, city to city. One of the tiny house builders I spoke to, told me that when a client comes to him, they often don't know the rules of their area, and it usually takes a lot of time for the builder to find out those rules (online research, call up gov offices etc). He was saying he'd pay good money for a "rulebook" - if someone can compile the rules and put them in an easily searchable format (and keep them updated).

So yeah, there are zoning requirements and it's a good idea to do research before going for a tiny house.

Location is the hard part, but you can "Rent" from someone with some land. If an individual has a few acres, they may agree to let you park for a small rental fee. Also, if you buy your own land, technically a tiny house falls under the same classification as an RV, but some counties may want to "Keep the riff raff" out or to ensure a certain amount of revenue from property tax. Ask the local count if they will permit the use of property as a residence in a tiny home.

waste water can go into a holding tank, then disposed at an RV park for a small fee. if you purchase land, you can build a septic tank on your land and set up an RV hookup to your septic field. get it pumped once every year or two.

> Grab yourself a 5-mile wifi- antenna to pick up wifi from coffee shops nearby.

This sounds incredibly illegal.

> …illegal…

Barring access controls (like secured-wifi or a 'captive-portal' requiring authentication), I doubt this is illegal, at least in the US.

Lots of people and businesses leave their wifi open specifically to share with anyone within range. The few pennies of marginal cost are outweighed by the desire to be generous, or by actual goodwill earned from neighbors and passers-by.

And there may be no marginal cost at all! On typical unmetered broadband-plans, until the link is saturated, bandwidth is a "marginally-free" resource that expires worthless every second if it's not used.

So it should be used! An extra person hopping on is (until saturation) as close to a "free lunch" as you'll find in economics. It's the sort of ultra-efficient practice that law and culture should encourage, not stigmatize.

Beyond illegal, it's an abuse of trust. Very much "this is why we can't have nice things" behaviour.

I hope anybody doing this only uses it outside of business hours or something to not be a total jerk.

It also probably won't work unless you can figure out how to get a similar antenna on the other end.

I'm sure it's a problem if you don't ask, but one could always ask, or maybe even offer to pay for the access.


You'd do well to consider the life of a digital nomad. Here's some links to get you started.

http://nomadlist.io/ http://nomadjobs.io/ https://weworkremotely.com/

Move to Thailand but have customers in the USA and Europe

Besides Thailand and other countries with a low cost of living, some towns in the USA will actually pay you to move there.


You can also join various subsidy programs and grants:


Finally I recommend the Mr Money Mustache blog. Anyone read it?

You can go pretty low in Thailand, but it can actually get pretty expensive if you want a western lifestyle. And anyways, isn't Cambodia or Laos cheaper?

I'd be more concerned with visa issues.

Ya, you aren't supposed to work with tourist visas, and you should be paying taxes in your country of residence on your income. Things can get pretty shady, and you really don't want to wind up in a Thai jail!

Wait, what? You aren't supposed to work for people in the COUNTRY Just like you aren't supposed to do business with people in the country No one says you can't continue working on projects for clients in your home country

That is very very wrong. Thai law doesn't allow you to work on a tourist visa, even if you are working for someone outside of Thailand, it is very unambiguous on this point and they have been cracking down on co-working spaces accordingly. Almost all countries are like this actually.

So, a person with a tourist visa isn't able to do any work in their own hotel room, no matter what it is or for whom? Is it that they aren't supposed to do a service for anyone else (such as cook for a friend, or translate anything for a relative back home) or that they can't receive money? What if their company is generating passive income for them back home? Are they not supposed to access it? How are they supposed to pay for all the touristy stuff?

"Sorry sir. We noticed you were debugging your iPhone app in your hotel room, a version of which is being sold in the app store. You will now go to Thai Jail or be deported."

> So, a person with a tourist visa isn't able to do any work in their own hotel room, no matter what it is or for whom?


> Is it that they aren't supposed to do a service for anyone else (such as cook for a friend, or translate anything for a relative back home) or that they can't receive money?

You just can't get paid. If you were cooking for a "friend" but you were actually their personal chef...you would need a working visa.

For a visa waver country, you usually have the right to go to that country to attend conferences or training, but you aren't supposed to do any "work" like say...programming or writing documentation (again value creation).

> What is their company is generating passive income for them back home?

Passive and investment income don't count, only work that creates value and is paid accordingly. If you want to make investments in the country, there is a non tourist visa for that (and sometimes it is allowed on visa waver).

> How are they supposed to pay for all the touristy stuff?

Through the income you earned working hard back home.

> "Sorry sir. We noticed you were debugging your iPhone app in your hotel room, a version of which is being sold in the app store. You will now go to Thai Jail or be deported."

Yep. It hasn't happened yet, but there was a scare a few months ago:


A good description of the situation is here:


I can see immigration authorities getting peeved over people who are essentially running a freelance business from the country (hence cracking down on coworking spaces). That looks more like working in the country rather than really working back home: even if all your customers are abroad, the place of your self-employment as a freelancer is where you customarily actually reside and do the work. So if you maintain an office much of the year in Thailand and don't maintain one in the U.S., that sure looks like you're working in Thailand.

But most countries don't categorically exclude doing work for a foreign employer while on a visa-free visit. The U.S. visa-waiver program explicitly allows "travel for business or pleasure" up to 90 days, and the EU has an analogous "business travel" exemption. Doing work for your normal "home" employer is expected under the definition of "business travel", which can and usually does include on-site work in the country (not only remote work for your home office). That's what the business travel visa exemption is largely intended to facilitate: things like BP London sending staff to Houston for 3 weeks to supervise plant startup, or Microsoft sending some staff from Redmond to Ireland to hash out a product design in person. As long as it's temporary (typically <90 days) and the employee continues to be employed normally by the home office (not paid by the local office), it doesn't have to be confined to training or conferences, and can include actual work.

So much is wrong here. There is a difference between what people do and what they are technically allowed to do. Enforcement is also quite difficult if you are working under the radar. Non immigration business visas don't allow you to do more than attend trainng and meetings, this includes wavers. Now, you might code, that is technically illegal, but they probably won't catch you. But for gods sake, if the immigration officer asks you what you will do, or what you did, just say "attend meetings and training," or you'll be deported so fast you won't know what happened (especially in the US and Switzerland).

It might not matter so much going from Ireland to Redmond, but going to Redmond it's a huge Pain in the ass, so much so that we have visa training for employees that do it (I work for Microsoft china) to make sure that US laws are followed (thankfully, I'm a US citizen, but unfortunately that also means I'm subject to double tax whenever I work in the states).

Interesting. My dad used to work for BP, and their lawyers were of the opinion that short-term engineering exchanges between the US and EU, either between corporate offices or to/from their engineering contractors, qualified as visa-waiver business travel. I wouldn't think they'd be trying to fly under the radar, since BP is a huge company that's often subject to regulatory scrutiny, but who knows. As far as I can find, the exemption is somewhat broader than just training, and also includes "business meetings" and meetings for the purpose of contract negotiation/supervision.

The thing the lawyers were really worried about was any kind of on-site visit to an operating plant, but that was for reasons of health/safety law, not immigration law. The non-operating engineering staff (local or foreign) had specific rules about what they couldn't do, so they wouldn't count as "operating" the plant, or get remotely implicated in anything safety-related. But for visits between corporate offices, they were very un-worried. Even visits to their Chinese joint-venture partner were pretty hassle-free, just requiring an "M" visa arranged by the partner.

Why double tax? By whom?

Interesting. But the article seems to suggest the exact opposite:

In the end, the whole thing turned out to be a misunderstanding. Immigration officials thought that the nomads were actually Punspace employees, and, as such, would have been required to have work permits. After several hours of worry and hassles, everybody was allowed to go back about their business and nobody was fined or deported. Punspace’s owners were, according to Johnny FD, very responsive and helpful and gave everyone a free month of usage for all the trouble.

This whole situation can be a viewed a win for digital nomads, since the Thai authorities, ultimately, confirmed that they can work in the country on a valid tourist visa. This incident also comes about a month after Chiang Mai immigration officials declared that digital nomads could work under a tourist visa.

I mean, after all, any content you create (be it writing a book in your spare time, with intent of publishing when ou come back, or taking a video with intent of showing it for money back home) would be potentially work. If that was the case then any person arriving with less than X amount of local currency could be detained after a few months on the basis that they couldn't possibly pay their way unless they had an income from somewhere.

Read the second link.

The literal reading of Thai immigration law is very strict, enforcement is another matter. Even if, as you say, Thai authorities casually say "it's ok", that isn't at all precedent and if they decide tomorrow to bring you in, they just will because it is easy to show that you are breaking the law. It is not like the USA or western countries where laws are more clear cut and more consistently enforced. Don't expect anyone to be reasonable.

Wow. Nice to see my post cited on HN.

I wrote that post after reading about a startup founder who was being very vocal about starting his company in Thailand and encouraging others to do the same. He never warned people of the legality of doing this and I felt that was highly unethical.

Not much has changed since then. There were a few arrests of 'Digital Nomads' in Chiang Mai, but nobody was actually charged or deported.

A few Russian tour guides in Pattaya have been charged, which might not sound significant as the work they do is different, but these arrests came after a statement that they would not be bothered. It's more evidence of the flip-flop enforcement of Thai law.

The thing about Thailand is that enforcement swings depending on the mood of the enforcers. What's tolerated today isn't tomorrow. That's just the way Thailand is.

Cambodia was a good choice previously as their laws were murky and not enforced at all, but that's different these days [1].

I'll be following that post up with a post on how to become legal whilst working in Thailand.

[1] - https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/work-permits-now-required...

And as a US citizen, you also need to pay US taxes on that income.

If you are paying Thai taxes, then you will probably get out of paying US taxes either by deducting or via the FEIE. Of course, if you are working remote in Thailand for an American company, you are pretty much in a double tax situation that you legally can't get out of (you can just not pay Thai tax, but that is breaking Thai law).

My advice: don't take a radical path until you control/manage your current path. I am also a web developer and can/have worked remotely but I think that deep down one needs social interaction (even more so if you have kids!). I was also looking to minimize expenses but instead of taking a radical path I decided to control my expenses while keeping most of my lifestyle and guess what? With enough discipline and team work (your partner, if any, must agree with the plan) you may get very low on expenses without having to change too much your routine. The formula was dead obvious for me and you've heard it a thousand times: pay down debt, get rid of credit cards (keep a couple for EMERGENCIES), get rid of unnecessary expenses, buy used, reuse, don't buy toys, don't eat out too much, buy wholesale, bike to work, walk to groceries, etc. Many times the solution to a problem/want/need is not money but creativity and rational thinking, e.g. do you need a backyard b/c you want a bbq on your 'own' place? You will do that bbq maybe 10 times/year. Is it worth it to buy the land/house for that reason? How about a public park for the bbq, or the outdoors? One final word: a mortgage is 99% of the time a bad (financial) decision.

If you're serious about cheapest as the most important variable, then the sort of glib (but true) answer to this question is to observe where people who have no other choice end up living, which means a trailer in a rural area or housing in the cheapest parts of any large U.S. metro.

If you're lucky enough to have startup capital, then you can reduce your recurring expenses to practically nothing. You can find a trailer for a few grand, for example, and functional houses can be found for less than $20k in many American cities. You can probably find parks charging only a couple hundred a month for lot rent, if you go the trailer route, and property taxes will be minimal on houses in the described range, if you choose that, instead.

If you don't want to invest anything up front, you can still find housing for around $350/mo in the worst parts of the Midwestern city I live in. (But you shouldn't expect a very hands-on landlord.) You might even find weekly- or daily-rate housing that's cheaper, but I've never personally looked into that sort of thing.

Obviously, there's a reason that these areas are so inexpensive, but I've optimized only for cost.

I think that reason is the most important consideration. It looks like you may be referring to the worst parts of #4 on this list!


Indeed, I am. Incidentally, the worst parts of St. Louis account for basically all of that ranking. People here like to focus on the separation of the City of St. Louis from the surrounding St. Louis County (which is critical in understanding St. Louis's ranking on that list), but even within the City itself there are large areas that have basically none or few homicides every year. The most violent areas are extremely violent, in other words.

Keep the regular job. Just buy a cheap van, and rent a 24/7 parking space.

You can figure out the rest. Buy takeaways or use a gas stove for food, use a 24/7 gym for showering/toilet, and go to your job for the internet (alternatively, the library, free WiFi places, or mobile net).

That's probably the cheapest way to live without being entirely homeless (or just buying land/house).

The cost to run utilities to a property varies considerably with location. Typically it depends on the distance of your property from existing electrical lines. If you purchase land way off grid it can cost > $100K to get an electrical connection. So you need to do some research before buying any land. At some point it is cheaper to generate your own electricity. If you generate your own electricity then you need to research what form of energy is most plentiful for your region (solar, wind, hydro, or a gas / diesel generator). You might consider getting a property with decent hydroelectric "head" (water flowing with a significant elevation drop) as microhydro power tends to be more reliable than solar or wind. I advise you to research this site for more options: http://www.homepower.com/

Trying to go completely off grid - building your own house - is way too much hassle.

I think of it as an optimization problem. you do not want inconvenience yourself too much with having to worry about your own home being towed !. It will add unwanted stress to your life.

The best approach as someone said - "college town with a roomate" - this is the lowest you should go since college dorms are really fancy these days and are super cheap. the extra saving you will get by going below this ( becoming essentially homeless ) is not worth the other problems associated with it ( security, winter, etc )

Money is not the end of it all. Mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing is always more important.

The other great advantage of college town is its filled with people who want to socialize. You dont want to be 50 and look back at your life as someone who saved a lot of money and lived in a car.

> (I can telecommute as a programmer, but would still want to live within a few hours of a major city)


> I'd be curious if I could set myself up with a basic home for $40,000 or less

As others have mentioned, it's not too hard to build an off-the-grid small house. If you want to go with new, that's certainly an option.

Since you don't mind being a couple hours from a major city, may I suggest spending a bit more and buying used? You can buy yourself a decent one family home within that distance span. Add some solar panels and you're good to go.

You can also buy a two-family, rent out one of the units, and actually make money. Lots of options in real estate if you don't want to spend a ton.

Cheapest for whom? Many of my mates worked at mines, and therefore lived on site with all expenes paid - utilities, meals, boarding, etc. In the off time, I'm sure you could find some way to minimise many of those expenses too.

Basically, any job that requires you to relocate will minimise YOUR expenses, because your company will pay for it all. But I get the feeling that's not what you were after.

I know a guy who works trucking the chemicals for the oil fracking. He makes a lot of money, and when on the job all expenses are paid.

Once his rotation is over, he hops on a plane to Thailand. He owns a house there that he paid comparatively nothing for, has a housekeeper that he pays a good wage to for the area - but really a pittance here - and he chills out drinking on the beach until his next rotation comes up.

This used to be very common with offshore oil drilling too. You work 21 days straight on an oil platform and then get 14 days off. Company paid all expenses while on the platform and also paid air travel to/from your home base to the town nearest to the offshore oil platform and from where company will ferry you to/from oil platform on a chopper.

the generic term for "tumbleweed houses" is "tiny homes" or "tiny houses". there's also a couple in New York? who built a great house out of a shipping container.

How about living in a van or RV? Check out http://www.reddit.com/r/vandwellers.

@dang/HN admin: It was disappointing to see this thread instantly go from Page 1/Top Ten to Page 3/#64.

Did some auto-filter get triggered?

Draw a fifty mile circle from a mid sized city, and look for a recent vintage double wide trailer.

1 ) college town / sharing flat 2 ) short period: live in your office building

Move to a big city in a poor country.

I hope that's a joke, that's a terrible advice.

As an aspiring writer (read as: as someone aspiring to earn less money) I've looked into this quite a bit.

I'm married with kids (well soon to be plural anyway) so the cheap rents are out of the question, and despite their generally lower cost apartments aren't ideal. Not only is there a high risk of bedbug infestation, which will set you back significantly if you get hit, but the costs are fixed and will increase every year.

From what I've figured out reading other peoples stories, the best way is to go nearly-off-grid. If your area allows mobile homes as a primary dwelling, then this is generally the ideal. They're generally cheaply available, they're normally of a size comparable to a single bed apartment, but they also come up to 3 and 4 bedroom models with two bath.

In rural areas these often have wood stoves as the primary heating with small propane/electric ones as backup so your pipes don't freeze if you go away for a weekend.

If you're setting up in a rural area, with 5+ acres of land you can easily be self-sustaining on your own wood supply. You can set yourself up with a small wind turbine and solar rig for your electricity.

Honestly though, the majority of my work experience is from various construction fields. I want to go this way to maximize my freedom. Cutting wood and tilling soil is just exercise to me so I don't have a problem growing my own vegetables and managing my own wood lot. The only thing I've spent money on owning my house was getting my furnace replaced, and only then because I didn't have the equipment to do the piping due to the age of my house.

My dream is to build my own house from the foundation up, and if possible using lumber I harvest myself.

So really you need to quantify what your reasons for doing this are. If it's just reduce expenses for a few years to maximize your savings you're probably best going for a college town apartment. If you want to escape the city and are merely using your skills as a means to an end to fund this endeavour, then I'd say learn the skills and go rural.

There's people in Alaska and elsewhere who can make ends meet at $10 a month. You need soap? Save your stove ashes, put them in a lye barrel and you make your own lye that you can mix with fat you've saved from cooking or - if you're really into it - your own hunting, or your own animals.

When you pay for a burger at McDonalds you're paying for the guy who grew the corn, the guy who fed the cow, the guy who drove it to the slaughter house, for the slaughter, for the processing, for the guy who drives the delivery truck, for the kid who cooks and makes the burger, and for the kid who serves you - and for every owner, manager and foreman along the way.

You can pay nothing at all for a burger by growing your own corn, raising your own cows and slaughtering them, growing your own wheat, raising your own chickens and making your own bread.

So: Earn a shit ton of money, buy a $750,000 house and never do anything around the house. Gardener does the outside, maid does the inside and takes the garbage out on garbage day. You pick up most of your food from restaurants, or you can even hire a housekeeper that does the groceries and prepares an evening meal for you.

You can earn good money, buy a $250,000 house. You'll mow your own lawn, you'll do your own cleaning and cooking. You'll do small repairs around the house, etc.

Or you can do what off-grid can do. You earn nothing, you sell what you have to. You grow your own food, hunt/raise your own meats, and you make pretty much everything you want.

The question is, how far down the rabbit hole does your happiness lie?


Seems like the tiny house movement has largely overlooked yurts. Yurts are cheaper than those more traditional stick-construction tiny houses. You can buy a complete yurt with installation for less than people spend attempting to build a typical tiny house themselves, and you end up with more space. Even if you decide to do-it-yourself, a yurt is far easier to build.

Just google yurts and see what I find?

I think the intended suggestion is: If you are going to build a dwelling, a yurt is one of the most cost-effective structures you could construct. They can be lived in year-round in almost any climate. In some locations they may be regarded as temporary structures, and therefore would not be held to the same building requirements as a standard house. Furthermore, if you decide to move, you can take the yurt with you, since it can be dismantled.

Also, the hexayurts linked by the sibling comment are probably not what you should be looking for. They are not designed for wet or cold weather conditions. They are designed as temporary shelters for festivals and such, not as permanent dwellings.

I'm assuming he's referring to Hexayurts:


Buy a property with separate unit(s) in the back and rent them out. You're now living near-free or even making a profit.

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