Prospering on the cheap in San Francisco for location independents

Rooftop Sun Baking in San Francisco

UPDATED July 2009

If you are an independent technologist\artist\media hacker\entrepreneur\etc and want to experience San Francisco and the Bay Area on the ground instead of a one week gig feeling like a tourist. Here are tips to make it happen cheap!

Below are recommendations you may find useful:

Find your crew. This is so important. If you leave anywhere after 3 months and don’t have one meaningful connection then it’s going to suck on many different levels. I don’t have to explain why. You know what it feels like to belong.
My advice is to detach from the security of the Laptop and hit events early on arrival. I met three people at Word Camp San Francisco. One happened to be a guy called Peter who introduced me to J-dub. The rest is history.

Configure your “Triangle of Work” This term was invented by Jaan Orvet of noded and means designing a personalized desk, a meeting area and alternative workspace normally a sofa. Work as quickly as possible to set this up so you can start harmonizing what you do.

Go Ramen to save money and not get fat
I am a massive proponent of being Ramen Profitable and have been practicing it for years. Going Ramen makes your business lean and you lean. My favorite Ramen meals are authentic Italian pastas that are naturally low in fat.

Get a Bike With out a doubt the best way to see SF is by bike. Find a road bike on craigslist for under $100, join the Bike Kitchen, a do-it-yourself bike maintenance co-op, and realize the joy of working on ya bike.

Add another Muse Despite how much you are a tight arse, the reality is San Francisco is expensive. More income never goes a stray. This a place holder for the muse I executed to subsidize the rent.
And updated tips….

  1. Travel OFF PEAK

    Peak is May to August and any holidays i.e. Christmas, Thanks Giving are peak. For cheap flights and accommodation avoid these times.
    If you are flexible flights can be had anytime of year to LA.

  2. Fact: San Francisco DOES get cold and foggy either side of over Summer

  3. Get a VISA (Non US Citizens)

    If you are one of the 27 Countries who participate in the VISA WAIVER Program you automatically get 90 days.
    There are other ways to stay longer including the E3 Visa which I have attained and will blog about another time.

  4. Important! – 90 days includes travel to Canada and Mexico. Jetting off to Cancun for a week or two will not reset your Visa on re-entry.

  5. Stay with locals

    Accommodation will be your biggest expense. Use a travelling host site and let people stay at your house. In turn you will find it easier when you arrive in your international destination. I am a evangelist, I cannot recommend it enough but you can check out the other services on my couchsurfing facebook app for other suggested options. If you want an extended stay the best time of year is summer because all the students leave on holiday and cheap rooms are available. Use to find your new home.

    SUPERTIP: Pat Allan of let people find him by posting a housing wanted. Counter-intuitive but from all reports effective

  6. Get connected!

    The cheapest way is to stay off plan and buy a phone that is tri-band GSM, supports PUSH (mail), MMS, browser.

    I run a quad band I-mate SP5 running windows mobile 5.0. It cost me $250AU and is the stand out as the poor mans Iphone.

    This time I ran a Blackberry 8700c because of my muse I had newer models but because I destroy phones regularly the 8700c with quad band + Internet was sufficient

    My recommended off plan option in the U.S is AT&Ts Go Phone which comes with data options.

    The combo I use:

    • 5MB Media Pack 9.95
    • 100MB Media Pack 19.95
    • 200 MMS and TEXT $4.95

    5MB might not seem like much, but if you keep it for e-mail, twitter, browsing (images off) then you will be surprised.

    If you want an I-phone it can still be run off plan using t-mobile with a bit of hacking and sacrificing default function

  7. Go Public Transport

    PT is great in SF but starts to deteriorate as you move lower towards the valley and Palo Alto.
    Either way it is by far cheapest way to get around.
    Be smart and remove the guess work by installing BART’s trip planners and for realtime info on PDA.

  8. Drive using Zip Car

    It is inevitable you will be heading to Mountain View or Palo Alto for an event and PT to these areas does not cut it.
    Register for ZipCar and within a couple of days you can being picking up a car with in minutes from a convenient location to get you there.

    Important: Internationals, bring a copy of your driving record from your home country to fast track approval

  9. Make office

    If you want to feel lonely and ineffective quickly do coffee shops for 3 months. For FREE or a modest monthly fee you can have an office space along side other talented San Francisco independents. By having your own desk and location you can build a routine, get work done and meet locals just like you. My favorite place is the HatFactory but all the co-working locations are different so find one that fits you.

  10. Hit the FREE Events

    San Francisco and the Bay Area have a phenomenal amount of events all year round.
    And there is no better way to find out if you are up to par, meet people, get free food and drink and learn really cool things!
    I found the events, search and scheduling using upcoming excellent.

    Update: Tap into the nerve center: San Francisco Twitter accounts to follow for news, events, alerts, and more

What is your tips for prosperity when working in a new city?

  • Daniel

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article s to have a cheap legal working holiday in Silicon Valley, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  • Wade M

    A few thoughts.

    T-mobile will give you unlimited data for $30/month. It’s not hard at all to use an iPhone on T-mobile, works out of the box (on a non-locked iPhone). Teathering and MMS is 1 file, which is the same as any other carrier.

    Where’s the suggestions to check out Yosemite, which is considered one of the most amazing parks in the world, just a few hours from SF?

    Also, there’s a lot of taking here, with a focus on FREE events. If you’re here for 3 months and taking so much, how are you looking at giving back to the community you’re learning from and in?

    An interesting article to write. Mostly generic stuff, not relating to SF (Find crew, traingle of work, ramen, muse, off-peak, public transport, visa). The only bits SF specific is to get a bike, and follow local twitter accounts. Upcoming is a decent tip, but US specific.

    Also, short of you sending people to this page, how is anyone going to find it?

    I just don’t see any insights here, it’s generic and applies to almost any city in the world.

    Sorry to be a nag, but I was hoping for some unique insights from someone who’s been living here for 3 months.



  • Cama

    Hey Wade

    Not sure your motivation behind these comments as your opinions seem to be taking a shot at a simple resource post for international independents who know me personally and have no intention of taking a U.S job.

    Your question of giving back is an important one and not nearly thought and acted on enough by the majority of people.

    Personally, I could have done more. The 2 days volunteer work (offline) I did, could have been more like 4 hours a week every week. Getting off the computer and meeting people, listening and emphasizing getting a new perspective and doing what ever needs to be done. Being on Treasure Island and inter-changing downtown exposed me to a severe homeless person problem. Maybe I could have done something there.

    As plastic surgeons say “there is always room for improvement” and I know taking the time to contribute to one’s local community is something everyone can do more, especially me.