So you’re thinking about moving to Hawaii? It’s an exciting idea with obvious allure. Few people don’t want to live in a tropical paradise where the beaches are plentiful, and the aloha spirit runs deep. And although this dream can become a reality if you’re ready to dive in, learning about island life is essential for anyone itching to relocate here.
Hawaii is a magical land where volcanoes scrape the sky and time can stand still. But it’s also in the center of the Pacific and the most isolated island chain on Earth. From job opportunities to the cost of living, there are a number of unique features that affect residents here that you probably haven’t thought of while daydreaming on vacation. Each of the individual Hawaiian islands has a distinct vibe and character as well.
To help you turn those dreams of living in Hawaii into a reality, here’s a guide to everything you need to know to make it happen. With a little planning and patience, moving to Hawaii is more than possible. It’s not for everyone, but once you’re here, you may never leave.
The Hawaiian Islands and the people who trace their roots to the early voyagers who settled here have a unique history and culture. Before you up and move to Hawaii, it’s essential to educate yourself about the spirit and the essence of this powerful place. There is a strong sense of community, and the locals are proud, caring, and overall very friendly. The aloha spirit is an authentic thing and much more than just a greeting. It’s a sense of responsibility to spread good feelings and happiness to others.
That said, it can take time for an outsider to break into the community. You are a stranger, a malihini, when you first arrive. That doesn’t mean you will be treated poorly or anything; you just won’t be a local anytime soon, if ever. The more time you take to learn about Hawaiian culture and history, the better off you’ll be. It’s a place where you talk to strangers and help your neighbor. Friendliness and caring go a long way. These are essential tenets to any community, but in Hawaii, they live strong.
Learn a few Hawaiian phrases as well – aloha and mahalo is an easy start. Also, understanding that respect for ohana, family, and aina, the land, is vital as these are fundamental aspects of the culture. Ohana can extend far beyond your immediate family, and a real reverence of the natural world exists everywhere on the islands. Kama’aina is a child or person of land, anyone who chooses to live in Hawaii.
Before we dive into the rest of this guide, it’s also important to mention that tensions do exist between local Hawaiians and haoles, the term for anyone who doesn’t have Hawaiian blood. The history of US involvement in the islands is complex and dubious. The fall of the Hawaiian Monarchy and its annexation into the US was controversial when it occurred, and this is an issue that has not been forgotten. It’s recognized as the state of Hawaii today, but not long ago, it was the independent Kingdom of Hawaii.
But again, respect goes a long way, and understanding this history should be approached as equally important as finding a job or place to live. If moving to Hawaii here, you’re not an ignorant tourist any longer, and if you want to embrace Hawaii, do everyone a favor and educate yourself on its people and its past.
As with any move to Hawaii, there are initial considerations you need to have in order before, during, and after your move. If you take the plunge and move to the Big Island, it will be a bit different than loading up the minivan and moving to the other side of town. It takes some extra effort and resources to pull it off.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Hawaii is high. It’s the most expensive state in the US, and Honolulu consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities to live in. If you are coming from an expensive city in California or New York, it might not seem that much higher. But if you are moving from a cheaper rural location, you’re probably going to be shocked.
Everything from housing costs to gas to groceries costs significantly more out here. Much of the food and supplies need to be imported and shipped from the mainland or elsewhere, which increases prices across the board. Hawaii residents pay more for rent, real estate, and healthcare than just about anywhere else in the US.
The average price of a single-family home in Oahu is $870,000 as of December 2020, and the average rent is $2,257. Realtors might love their commissions here, but anyone looking to buy a new home will undoubtedly pay for the luxury. If you live in San Francisco or another expensive location, that might not be a crazy jump, but it’s high and leads right into the next important consideration…
A job is another significant factor when moving to Hawaii. Even though it costs more to live in Hawaii, there aren’t as many high-paying jobs available out here. The unemployment rate is typically one of the highest in the US. The economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and most employment opportunities are found in that industry. If you can figure out your employment situation before moving, you will have a definite advantage. Finding a job here can take time, especially a high-paying one. There are more possibilities for remote work opportunities created by the coronavirus pandemic, however.
What to Bring
The best advice is not to bring much. Especially if you are renting or moving here solo. Shipping belongings out to the islands can get expensive in a hurry. Pack your essentials in a couple of big suitcases or duffel bags and get everything else you need or want once you arrive. Furnished rentals are pretty standard, and you can get other furniture items on Craigslist or other social media marketplaces.
If you are moving an entire house full of belongings, you can get a shipping container. These run anywhere from around $4k-$6k per container. There are smaller options out there, but you will still be looking at thousands of dollars. The more you can find on-island, the more economical your move to Hawaii is going to be. You can ship things out via other means, and all the major shipping providers (USPS, UPS, FedEx) will ship out here. That will add up quickly and be more expensive in the long run than a shipping container.
Shipping a vehicle out is a good idea, especially if you’re moving from the west coast, as it will be more affordable. There are car dealerships and private party used vehicles in Hawaii, but just like everything else out here, they are more expensive than on the mainland. If you have a nice car you like back home; it is probably worth shipping out.
Where to Live?
First things first, you need to find a place to live. Hawaii consists of four major islands – the Big Island, Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. There are also the lesser populated islands of Molokai and Lanai, but chances are you won’t be settling in either of those straight away. Job opportunities or real estate costs might decide for you, of course, but each island is unique in its own way.
In addition to the different vibes on each island, the weather and climate can change drastically depending on what side you live on. The leeward side (think west coast) of each island is typically more sunny and warm. The windward sides are cooler and experience trade winds but also see heavy amounts of rain.
The island of Oahu is the most populated, and with that comes the most job opportunities and available real estate. You will find popular attractions here, such as Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. The north shore is a haven for world-class surf and is a little slower-paced than Honolulu’s hustle and bustle. It’s a good spot for families with plenty of private schools and public schools scattered throughout the city.
The Big Island
The Big Island, also just called Hawaii, is the largest of the Hawaiian islands. It has the most landmass by a longshot and the most affordable real estate and rental prices. Life is spread out and can be rustic here – perfect for anyone who wants to live the farm life or get away from fast-paced living. Kailua-Kona and Hilo are the biggest towns on the Big Island, and it’s also home to the famous active volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. You will want a car here, and being so spread out, island fever is a reality.
The Valley Isle, Maui is home to world-class beaches, great waters for snorkeling, and high-end resorts. Real estate and rents can be expensive here, but it has a good blend of quiet beach life, modern amenities, and beautiful natural settings. Kihei and Lahaina are the two larger communities on West Maui that are great places to live, and Kahului is the biggest town with the most job opportunities.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and the least populated. This is the place to live if you want to live a rural island life away from the grind. You won’t find any major cities or developments here, and that’s part of the allure. It’s an excellent spot for the adventurous at heart and has some great hiking opportunities and small-town communities. Finding a place to live and a job can be challenging, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking into it.
All of the information found above should get you pointed in the right direction. While moving to Hawaii is definitely possible, it’s not necessarily easy. There are plenty of considerations to keep in mind, and your living costs are going to increase. But that’s the cost you pay to live in paradise, right?! The islands are an amazing place to call home, and the living out here is more than good. With a little planning and the gumption to go for it, you’ll be surrounded by aloha in no time.