Coding in a corner of the world
July 15, 2013 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I’m a US citizen and would like to go somewhere for a coding 'vacation' for a few months. Essentially I just want to live somewhere cheap and work to improve my software development skills – learn new languages, build a couple projects, etc. Where could/should I go?

There’s a couple ways this differs from other kinds of working (e.g. novel writing) vacations: first, I need power & Internet, if not around the clock than the vast majority of the day. Second, I need to be someplace where I can feel safe bringing a $2,000 computer and an external monitor.

I’m open to US and non-US locations. I don’t speak any foreign languages (save a tiny amount of Spanish), but I’m certainly willing to learn enough words to get around if need be.
posted by twobit to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might search for "digital nomad" and "location independent professional." There are an increasing number of web sites devoted to this; for example, Tropical MBA has information on locations, and there are many more. Bizpora is sort of Couch Surfing for entrepreneurs, which can get you local contacts if not cheap housing.

Currently popular among the online crowd are:

- Chiang Mai, Thailand: good internet, cafes where you can work, cheap lodging, other foreigners like you working online, and excellent food. When I was in Chiang Mai three years ago, the internet was faster and more widely available than in Australia (Australia sucked!), and apparently it's improved. I never felt unsafe working on my laptop in public. I'm not sure how easy it is to stay for months.

- Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City: fast internet, even more cafes, big-city energy, other foreigners working in cafes. There are a couple of districts popular with expats; you might check the sites and forums for info. The visa situation in Vietnam is supposed to be easier than in Thailand.

I get the impression that the best internet is in Asia, but not everywhere in Asia. For example, Bali is cheap and beautiful but I hear lots of complaints about internet. Singapore has great infrastructure but isn't cheap. The Philippines is cheapish but has frustrating internet according to many. I myself am interested in Georgetown, Malaysia, but currently work online from Mexico.

In Latin America, you won't find nearly as good internet, but it's better than you might be thinking. In my Mexican neighborhood, we have 10 mb service on both cable and fiber optic. There's free wifi in the parks. Mexico City is safer than you might believe and has great infrastructure. Other cities to consider are Mérida and Querétaro (both have very little crime); some people prefer beach towns but in my experience the internet can be spotty.

Big cities in Latin American that are getting some attention from the online entrepreneur crowd are Medellín, Colombia; Lima, Perú (but it's not cheap); and Santiago, Chile. I liked Buenos Aires for a short visit, and you can rent a short-term furnished studio apartment in a nice neighborhood for $758-800/month, but the people are intense and the mood isn't exactly upbeat these days.

I would steer clear of Central America due to bad internet and security concerns, except maybe for Costa Rica. I was miserable in Nicaragua, and while Guatemala still appeals to some, you might check the security situation. Friends report that Panama City is "boring and disgusting," though I've heard better reports from others.

In Europe, Berlin appears to have a crowd of online nomads. Eastern Europe gets some recommendations but isn't as popular as Thailand and Vietnam, possibly due to the weather.

Don't assume that the internet is cheap and widely available in Europe. In my trips to London I found it hard to get online sometimes, and when I traveled through the Netherlands and Belgium hotels rarely had the in-room wifi they had promised and cafes had a sort of metered connection that ended up being expensive.

It's amazingly easy these days to work from anywhere, and changing your location can give you all sorts of new ideas. Do it!
posted by ceiba at 9:48 PM on July 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

Try searching for "hacker spaces." They are open spaces where people come to work on their projects around... people who come to work on their projects.
posted by jander03 at 10:12 PM on July 15, 2013


- You can live cheap here
- A foreign language? Boy you can choose from dozens
- Weather? Your choice. Pick one.
- Power/Internet? Yes, unless you are in one of those northern India villages.
- Cellular connectivity? You got it. Yes, everywhere.
- Travel around? Filthy cheap("filthy" was just to add intensity). My recommendation - take the trains.
- Safety of a $2000 laptop? Well, I myself keep a $1500 MBA and I have reasons to believe the burglar won't notice the price difference ;-). You are not planning to camp with all that, are you? :P

Warning: Though the country is good and safe and clean but it's certainly not USA, France or Sweden. Having said that, I believe you'll like it here.

ps. You can PM me if you need further info. I am a techie from Bangalore but I wouldn't recommend this city, not because it's bad but because you said you want the place to be a corner which this city is not :-)
posted by amar at 12:04 AM on July 16, 2013


Could you please explain a little bit more about Eastern Europe situation. Actually I was planning to focus my Euro trip around here because of financial reasons. My reason is purely travel. 1.5-3 months and then back to work and I am Indian.
posted by amar at 12:07 AM on July 16, 2013

I've done this in Tulum, Mexico and Kerala, India, and I know people who've done it in Thailand and Turkey. Its a fun experience, but I don't actually think it's that conducive to learning. The overhead is enormous, with things like broken Internet requiring a monumental effort to fix. First you have to figure out who to call, then you have to figure out how to explain your highly technical problem to them, then you have to wait for them to fix it on a likely-not-very-American schedule.

You'll learn a lot actually, if you're not a seasoned traveller, but most of it won't be programming skills.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:45 AM on July 16, 2013

Berlin would be a great place to do it. It's highly affordable by Western European standards; you can get great food at low prices. There seem to be a lot of English-speaking programmer types in Berlin (which may be a plus or a minus for you). You would need only minimal German to get by. If you do go, check that the place you're renting has fast internet--my understanding is that it can be surprisingly slow in some parts of town. As a US citizen you can stay for 90 days without doing any paperwork.
posted by EtTuHealy at 5:08 AM on July 16, 2013

since you're in the US and you list your requirements, i think the best bet would be a small, "dieing" rural town. flying anywhere, except maybe central america, would eat into the cost effectiveness of your trip.

i think you'd be surprised by how cheap rent can be outside of DC.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:14 AM on July 16, 2013

A few months is just long enough for me to recommend against living overseas, especially if you are earning a living during this time and not just coding for preparation. Lots of visa and tax complications there.

Like others have said this question is impossible to answer because you don't say what you like. Cities? Warm oceans? Art? Roots Music? Hipsters? Gambling? Super-cheapness? Fancy food? Down home cooking? I like all of those things, so I would go to New Orleans or Biloxi MS.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:03 AM on July 16, 2013

I go to Amsterdam for 3 months a year on my passport and maintain my web development business during that time.

It's friggin' wonderful.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:23 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lviv, Ukraine. Yes you will like it a lot.
posted by tarvuz at 10:33 AM on July 16, 2013

@amar, I don't have any personal experience in Eastern Europe, but here's an article about internet access in Romania with comments praising Bulgaria.
posted by ceiba at 4:01 PM on July 16, 2013

I'm here in Bangkok doing kinda the same thing (e.g. working on a travel-related startup) - there are a number of working spaces and networking groups. Chiang Mai has some areas (from what I've heard), but you'll almost certainly find the networking to be better in Bangkok.

As for life in Thailand, I talk about that a little on my blog (see my profile) - feel free to MeMail with specific questions :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 1:36 AM on July 17, 2013

What counts as cheap? Do you want to roam constantly, or would you rather get an apartment/house for the duration?

If you're from one of the visa-waiver countries you can come to New Zealand for 3 months. It's not a cheap country to live in, but you could get a place near the beach for a few hundred dollars a week. (I don't know if that place is within range of DSL, broadband is spotty.)
posted by The Monkey at 3:03 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would steer clear of Central America due to bad internet and security concerns, except maybe for Costa Rica. I was miserable in Nicaragua, and while Guatemala still appeals to some, you might check the security situation. Friends report that Panama City is "boring and disgusting," though I've heard better reports from others.

I would have no hesitation recommending Central America except that you want to take a computer and monitor. Travelling around with that would be a pain, and I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving it at home if I went travelling somewhere. If you can do it with a budget laptop that you can throw in a safe, I'd recommend Grenada in Nicaragua.
posted by empath at 4:30 AM on July 17, 2013

Basically you have to consider that anywhere that is in a developing country, you are going to be living near people for whom a $2000 anything represents a year's salary. That is asking for trouble.
posted by empath at 4:33 AM on July 17, 2013

Even the cheap-ass US$4 a night places I stayed in in Malaysia and Thailand (and Cambodia), had wifi.
If you're staying anywhere with lockable rooms, you should be good.
Food is awesome.
I stayed on the west side of Koh Phangan, opposite side to the (super-trashy) monthly full moon party, and it had all the advantages of resources for tourists, and english speakers, without most of the actual tourists for 3 weeks out of the month.

There was snorkling, yoga classes, scuba diving, cooking classes nearby.
I'd meant to do roughly the same thing as you on my way back (bone up on some CMS's etc, programming languages), but I had a sudden family funeral to attend back home. Admittedly, a more urban environment with more geeks would be more stimulating to geeksploration of skills, but hanging out in a beachside bungalow also has a lot to be said for it.
posted by Elysum at 8:33 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Taiwan might have super-fast internet and would be cheaper than Japan or Hong Kong. English is just about doable in Taipei.
posted by mdonley at 11:00 AM on July 19, 2013

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