When a character deliberately adopts a lifestyle that keeps them underground and off the radar of someone who could be looking for them, such as the government, the Big Bad, the Nebulous Evil Organization, etc. Alternatively, it could be a lifestyle they've either decided to live by choice or had forced upon them by circumstances.
This is done by basically being homeless or only a few steps above it. Working low-paying jobs, paying cash for everything, constantly moving around, etc.
Can by either Played for Drama or Played for Laughs. When played straight, the drawbacks are emphasized, such as not being able to make friends or form attachments due to moving around all the time, being unable to contact family, not getting health care due to not having insurance, etc.
Serious examples set in modern times emphasize how difficult this can be, since many employers use direct deposit instead of paper checks, getting a place to live requires a thorough background check along with a security deposit and the first and last month's rent in advance, many businesses are moving away from accepting cash, etc. Also, if they're the victim of a crime they usually can't report it, because that means coming into contact with the authorities, providing ID, etc.
Not to be confused with Off the Grid.
- Gintama: Katsura lives like this due to being a rebel pursued by law enforcement, taking on multiple disguises, pseudonyms and isn't shown to have a permanent home. Subverted since he just as usually blows his cover by his constant need to have his name said correctly among other idiocies.
- L from Death Note has hundreds of pseudonyms that he goes by, switches between several hotels, has a private phone line and speaks through a voice filter, and almost never interacts with the public. (Even when he spoke to the Wammy's kids, he did so through a computer, and didn't even show his face, only his "L" logo.) All this is to protect him against Kira and anyone else who'd want to destroy a Great Detective like himself.
- In Heat Guy J, after being betrayed by Mauro, Clair and Giovanni go hide out in Judoh's slum area. They cancel their credit cards so they can't be found easily, and they stay with Kia (who is there looking for inspiration for an Angsty song.) Eventually, Daisuke takes them back to Shogun's house, because he needed to get information from Clair (who was unconscious at the moment.)
- The Punisher has lived this lifestyle since his debut. He has multiple safehouses and identities, moves around a great deal, does not make friends or get attached to anyone, keeps an extremely low profile, and pays cash for everything with money he takes off the criminals he kills. Often, he's shown as deliberately hitting big drug deals because not only will killing the main dealers put a serious dent in the business, but also because there'll be plenty of cash available for him to take once he's killed everyone.
- Some alternate reality versions of Spider-Man have been shown to have to do this.
- In one world where Flash Thompson got the spider-powers instead of Peter, he was so intoxicated by his new strength and eager to show off for the crowd that he killed Crusher Hogan in the ring by accidentally breaking his neck. Horrified, he escaped from the police who tried to arrest him, then realized he couldn't go home because an entire arena full of people saw what he did. Resignedly telling himself that since he made his bed, he had to sleep in it, he broke into a store, created a makeshift costume, and lived underground in New York City as the superhero Captain Spider, fighting crime to make up for what he'd done.
- In still another alternate reality, Peter let the burglar go, but the burglar killed both Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Devastated, with the house sold to pay off bills and nowhere to live or a means to support himself, he used his spider powers to break into stores and businesses after hours to get food, clothing, a warm place to sleep and clean up, etc. He continued to fight crime as Spider-Man, but without the support network or circle of friends that our Spider-Man had developed.
- In some of the The Terminator spin-off comics, Sarah and John Connor are depicted as living off the grid and trying to avoid leaving any kind of paper trail that Skynet could use to figure out where they've been and send a Terminator to that location. In one comic, John forgets himself long enough to sign for something at a shopping mall, and a Terminator immediately appears to attack him.
- Anon: The title character is a woman living in an incredibly intrusive world where all memory is part of a global network, having erased her own identity and past so she could wander the world incognito and work as a freelance memory hacker.
- Animal House, in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, updates Daniel Simpson Day thusly: "Whereabouts Unknown." The Mockumentary Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update does little to resolve this, finally almost catching up with him in Modesto, California.
- The Avengers: Doctor Banner is trying to do this, keeping a low profile in a South America and using his medical skills to help the local population, either as charity or accepting whatever someone can afford to pay in return. He does mutter that he should have "gotten paid first" when the little girl, who Natasha used to lure him out with a fake story about someone being sick, slips away before Natasha reveals herself. Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. does know where he is. It's hard to keep a low profile when your alter ego doesn't give a damn about such things...
- In Barefoot, Mr. Phelpmitter is a mental patient and Conspiracy Theorist who believes that Big Brother Is Watching You, and thinks he's been institutionalized only because he insists on living "off the grid".
- Enemy of the State has The Hero on the run from the NSA. He gets aid from "Brill," a former intelligence agent who retired after discovering just how Gestapo-like the NSA had become. He lives like a hikikomori, monitoring the world inside a caged room to prevent electronic "bleed" from revealing his hideout. Brill even wears a brimmed ball cap and never looks up to preclude spy satellites from recognizing his face.
- Jack Reacher: Played with. In both the film and the books the title character keeps a low profile and moves around a great deal, but he's a veteran with a government pension that is deposited in his account. He withdraws funds using wire transfers, pays with cash and avoids using his bank card unless absolutely necessary, and usually leaves the area immediately after doing so in order to separate himself from the digital trail.
- Peppermint: The protagonist, Riley North, escapes a van en route to a psychiatric ward where she had been committed by a corrupt court that let the killers of her husband and daughter completely off the hook, and robs the bank she used to work at as well as a weapons store before going off the grid for 5 years. Having taken several levels in badass, she returns for payback.
- Red: Marvin Boggs lives off the grid in a state of mild paranoia about black helicopters. Of course in this case it's fully justified.
- The Terminator:
- Sarah Connor is doing this at the end of the movie, getting out of the US and heading to the bottom of South America. One, because the southern hemisphere is much safer than the northern hemisphere when it comes to surviving a nuclear war, and she needs to leave as few traces of her existence as possible so Skynet can't know where to send another Terminator to try and kill her. Even though she didn't know it, Kyle does make this clear to the cops when being questioned, saying so many records were destroyed in the war that Skynet only knew her name and the city she lived in.
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: John Connor has spent years off the grid so that Skynet in the future will never know exactly where he is on any given day, enabling them to send a Terminator back to intercept him. It's a grim lifestyle, he's even reduced to breaking into a veterinarian's office to get medical supplies to treat himself.
- Upgrade: Downplayed with Grey. He has a home and a job, but he has zero mechanical implants, somewhat uncommon in the movie's setting. The police have drones everywhere that can capture footage of incidents in seconds and can detect and identify any implants a person has, identifying them in the process. Because Grey has no implants he can move about undetected. This was one of the main factors in why STEM wanted Grey's body. The lack of implants would allow it to go fully off the grid once it gained complete control.
- The old gods in American Gods live like this by necessity; partly because their lack of worshipers leaves them destitute, but also because their rivals, the new gods, directly control advanced technology and other aspects of modern life.
- In the novel Lightning the antagonists are time-traveling Nazis from the 1940s who developed time travel, but they can only travel to the future. They use it to bring back futuristic weapons to their era to give the Germans an unbeatable advantage. In one part, the woman who's figured out what's going on is trying to determine how to escape the Nazis in a way where they won't be able to travel to the future, find out where she was, then travel to that time to kill her. It's up to her genre-savvy, sci-fi addicted son to figure how to move around without leaving any trace to betray them in the future.
- Repairman Jack has lived this trope since he was of legal age. He doesn't want to be just another cog in the machinery of society and avoids anything that could lead to that. He doesn't even have a social security number. He pays cash for everything and uses prepaid phones that can easily be discarded. He can't buy stocks or bonds or mutual funds to invest his money, so he pays cash for gold coins and stashes them as a retirement fund. His customers have to pay him in cash. As the series is long-running, it's shown how he adapts to evolving technology. He used to rent an office where the only thing in it was an answering machine where clients could call him, he's since ditched it and has all calls go to voicemail. He used to have multiple post office boxes that he would check regularly, now he just uses email.
- The Equalizer: The Equalizer retired from the intelligence community, and still thwarts villainy via newspaper ads. Otherwise, it's well this man keeps invisible, as there are foreign agents that'd like to give him a bullet as a parting gift.
- The Incredible Hulk (1977): Doctor David Banner is believed to be dead and wants people to think that that's the case. He wanders from job to job, city to city, without any real ID or home and avoiding a particularly determined reporter— who isn't following him, but rather the creature he turns into...
- The Fugitive: Doctor Richard Kimble, wrongly convicted of killing his wife, escapes and wanders from job to job, town to town, without any real ID or home and avoiding a particularly determined police detective who is following him and intends to take him back into custody.
- Malcolm in the Middle: In one episode, Malcolm, Lois, and Craig encounter someone who has gone off the grid by living in the space between the shelves in a supermarket.
- Parks and Recreation:
- Played for Laughs regarding Ron. He does have a regular job, draws a paycheck, owns property (but hates giving out the address), invests in the stock market (at Ben's insistence), but does occasionally invoke this trope. He threw his computer in the dumpster after finding out about targeted ads and Google Maps. In one episode, he attempts to go off the grid entirely, buying a trailer in cash and throwing out his cell phone. This earns him a What the Hell, Hero? from his wife, who points out that, as a husband and father, he has to be reachable. He compromises by getting a cheap flip-phone and only giving the number to his immediate family.
- In another episode, Ron's response to his draconian ex-wife Tammy One showing up is to grab an emergency kit he has prepared, taking all of his accumulated vacation days, and hiding out in his cabin in the woods for a few weeks. When she finds out that she has to choose between her dream job and her boyfriend, Leslie joins him. They stay for a couple days, before realizing they have to face their problems head-on.
- Stingray follows the adventures of "Ray", a mysterious fellow with a talent for infiltration. He can only be contacted by a newspaper ad about a "Stingray for sale." The contact number changes each episode, and Ray asks for no payment for his help; rather, he wants his clients to be ready to do him any favor he might require of them.
- My Name Is Earl:
- Earl recalls how he robbed a stoner of all of his things during a Heat Wave and needs to make up for it. He goes to find Woody (the stoner he robbed), only to find that Woody is now living in a hippie Commune. The members stay there, grow their own crops, raise livestock for milk and wool, often make their own clothes, make their own wine, gather firewood to run an outdoor shower, and live without electricity or running water, for the sake of the environment.
- Back when Earl and Joy were married, they would sometimes, being poor and (apart from Earl taking a few short-lived odd-jobs here and there) almost perpetually unemployed, find that the bill collectors would sometimes get to be too much. When that happened, they would go to their "vacation home," an abandoned RV in the woods, until either the heat was off or they somehow got money to pay the bills.
- Later, when Earl is married to Billie, she gets angry with him for picking the list over sex with her, and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge undoing all of Earl's list items. Joy goes to the police, and Billie steps onto land belonging to the Camdenites, a group of people similar to the Amish, except... bizarre. (Even the wheel is too much tech for them!) The police can't touch her, because it's considered sovereign land, and she decides to hide out there and then murder Earl when he's least expecting it. The Camdenites don't have a problem with this, but they do have a problem sharing the land with someone who's not willing to work. However, she soon finds that she likes it there: working in the fields helps her get her anger out, property is shared so she can't go back to her compulsive stealing, and since the community is so generous, it reminds her to share, too. She decides to join them, which helps make up for Earl luring away young Camdenite women. She does briefly go back to Earl to hand him divorce papers...as well as the remainder of her insurance settlement, seeing as she no longer needs the money.
- In another episode, a man named Raynard adopted this lifestyle when he got evicted from his apartment and Earl turned him away because of Joy's pregnancy-amplified mood swings. He lived in an abandoned bookmobile that he and Earl stole for the purpose of getting girls to sleep with them. He ate some bad berries, that caused him to hallucinate, and also to believe that he had a beautiful wife (actually a raccoon). Earl decides to help Raynard get back into normal (well, for Camden) society, but all that does is get Raynard locked in a mental asylum. Earl concedes that maybe Raynard just isn't meant for mainstream society, gives him proper camping supplies, and returns him to the woods.
- A repeated tactic on Burn Notice, both by Team Westen and their opposition. In one memorable case, Michael was hired by a distraught mother to track down the father who'd kidnapped his own kid. Michael finds the guy in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, at which point the hired killer who'd been posing as the mother tried to take them all out at once.
- Star Trek: Picard: Played for Laughs in "Stardust City Rag." As the rest of La Sirena's crew are bombarded with holographic pop-up ads related to their personal histories (tea for Picard, drugs for Raffi, robots for Jurati, and starship repair for Rios), Elnor crestfallenly bemoans that he didn't get one — because he'd spent most of his life living in a monastery on a backwater planet and was effectively invisible to Freecloud's advertising server.
- Underbelly: antagonist Anthony Perish has not appeared in a government or major private-sector database for decades, having been on the run from a minor drugs charge whilst building a nationwide empire, and is entirely off police radar until the events of the series.
- About half the difficulty in the middle sections of Orpheus is surviving off the grid. The party still has to remain in some contact with civilization to pursue their goals, but the enemy is tracking their credit cards, identities, and more. The slightest slip-up brings down the hammer.
- Forced on Troubleshooters in the Paranoia adventure "Down and Out in Alpha Complex". Due to a snafu with their identification, they find themselves cut off from food, housing, and work and stuck living rough in the corridors. Even for Paranoia, it's cruel.
- Promethean: The Created has the Prometheans usually forced into this by the nature of their creation and Torment. While they can be around normal humans for short periods of time, the longer a Promethean remains in an area, the more likely it is to become hostile to them by becoming a literal Wasteland, or worse, Firestorm. Most Prometheans chose to limit their contact with others so they don't attract attention to their unnatural existence and cause further problems for themselves.
- So-called SINless (those lacking in a System Identification Number, or SIN) live off the grid by default. Much like a Real Life ID or social security number, a SIN is required for practically every above-the-board contract, including employment, apartments, bank accounts, licenses, and more, meaning that the vast majority of SINless live in abject poverty as an abused underclass who tend to depend on criminal- or quasi-criminal enterprises for survival, and require the use of certified credsticks for money transfers since they cannot get banking services legally. Worse, the surveillance state is everywhere in Shadowrun, and certain areas require people's PDAs or commlinks to be broadcasting the wearer's SIN to specialized equipment, and being SINless in these areas is a crime. On the flip side, SINners (those with a SIN, whether issued by a nation or a Mega-Corp) find going off-grid extremely difficult, as SIN databases are also able to cross-reference vast amount of personal information, including recent appearance from the last time a camera connected to a SIN reader, got a look at you, DNA samples from your last doctor's visit, and purchase history from your credit card.
- Certain organizations (jokingly called 'SINdicates' In-Universe) specialize in forging fake SINs and are even able to purge legitimate SINs from the global databanks, allowing people to go on- and off the grid as needed. The 'SINdicates' charge a mint for their services however, meaning that only professional criminals (including Shadowrunners) can afford their services. Needless to say, while a fake SIN can be purged relatively easily, being caught using one can go extremely badly.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- In Morrowind, Imperial Spymaster of the Blades Caius Cosades uses this as part of his cover identity. He lives in a small one-room hovel at the edge of Balmora, is Obfuscating Stupidity and Playing Drunk as a Skooma addict, and is perpetually shirtless and wearing only common pants. Until you present him with the coded orders you received, he'll dismiss you and describe himself as "an old Skooma addict".
- In Skyrim, Esbern, Chronicler of the Blades, has taken to this lifestyle living as a shut-in in the sewers beneath Riften. As part of the Great War in the years preceding the game, the Blades have been outlawed as part of the vestigial Third Empire's uneasy treaty (the White-Gold Concordat) with the Aldmeri Dominion. Another facet of the Concordat allows Thalmor agents, the fascistic ruling party of the Dominion, to patrol Imperial holdings and arrest/execute those in violation, including former Blades. Naturally, you lead their agents right to Esbern as part of the main quest and have to help defend him against them.
- Life Is Strange 2: Daniel and Sean end up doing this after going on the run when their father's killed in a Police Brutality incident. Sean eventually goes off the grid completely by discarding his phone on the advice of a blogger and supporting himself and Daniel by questionable means.
- "Off the Grid" is one of the possible lot traits in The Sims 4, which makes the majority of electronic and plumbing objects unusable, but also eliminates the weekly bills.
- One episode of Rick and Morty features a VR game called Roy, where the player takes control of a person named Roy and live his entire life out in a matter of minutes. After Morty's rather uneventful playthrough, Rick decides to show him up by taking Roy off the grid, which attracts a crowd of amazed onlookers.
- The famous "Tomacco" episode of The Simpsons kicks off with Homer accidentally challenging a Southern gentleman to a duel. Remembering the location of an old family farmhouse, the family goes off to hide there in the hopes the duelist will get bored and go away. He doesn't.