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Living in Hawaii

Waikiki View from Diamond Head, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Waikiki View from Diamond Head, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.Out of every ten visitors to the Hawaiian islands, at least five are wondering, “Is living in Hawaii possible for me?”

And for every five that do wonder such a thing realistically maybe one can choose to live in Hawaii for any length of time. Maybe less than one.

Why is it so difficult for the average person to be living in the islands?

Hawaii, though beautiful, is a very different place from wherever you grew up – Kansas, Okinawa, or wherever you call home. Lets look at some of the differences that I can see readily.

Hawaii is an Island

Living on an island is a little different than living in downtown Boulder, Colorado. The Hawaiian islands are not large. Oahu is about 60 miles on the long side and 35-40 on the short side (by recall, maybe a bit off). Can you imagine living in a 2400 mile square? The only way you go further than 60 miles is on a plane or in a boat – which sounds interesting, but there’s another set of issues there I’ll talk about in a minute.

Island Fever

Defined as the feeling that one is stuck on an island, and doesn’t have the freedom to just go somewhere and drive for a few hours to ‘get away’. Island fever usually hits first timers that moved to the islands after six months or a year. The sudden realization that – this is all there is. Sure Hawaii is beautiful… awesome views and landmarks… but, this is it. This is home, and it’s not a big home, it’s an island.

There are parts of the island you wouldn’t want to go see, and parts you shouldn’t see. There is a lot of private property on Oahu and the other islands, and you will never see a good portion of the island. So in reality, you’re stuck living and exploring the public places – whatever the government has declared as such. Island fever is one of the big sources of discontent among new Hawaii residents and it shouldn’t be overlooked because if you move to Hawaii to live it will likely hit you at some point in time and maybe be the entire reason for leaving later.

Year-Round Heat

It’s warm year round. Some would call Hawaii “hot”. I never would, having lived in Miami, Tampa, and Thailand for a combined total of 15 years. Those places are hot. Hawaii is perfect weather for me, but you may find it hot all the time. I know people that sweat continually in Hawaii. They’re not doing anything physically, but they just sweat constantly. If you’re one of those people – Hawaii may not be the right place for you to live.

No Seasons

There are no changing weather seasons in Hawaii. Only warm, balmy weather and that’s about it. Sure, once per year you might get to breath fog on a cold December or January day, but it doesn’t happen often. Not even every year.

Frequent Rain

Hawaii Mountains with RainbowIt rains often on all the islands, in different areas. If you’re planning on living in Kauai you should carry a poncho 24-7 because Kauai gets a lot of rain. One of the mountain peaks in Kauai is the wettest place on earth. It gets over 300 inches of rain per year. That’s almost an inch per day! So, no matter which Hawaii island you choose to be living on – it rains often – but usually in short bursts. Some find that annoying. If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle a lot you should be prepared to get dumped on by heavy showers occasionally. It happens, that’s Hawaii.

Groceries are All $5 or More

That’s not true, but it might seem that way the first hundred times or so you visit the grocery store. It’s unbelievable how expensive food is for those living in Hawaii. In six years I don’t think I ever got comfortable with the prices, it just always seemed like too much. Most everything consumable is imported by Hawaii and arrives by sea. One time I remember shopping at the grocery close to my home in Waikiki – this was the cheapest grocery around so it was always packed with locals… Every single thing in my cart – and I had over 30 things – was over $5. A gallon of milk, a pound of butter I remember in particular. Unbelievably expensive. Get used to it if you want to live there – all islands have very expensive food. There are secret resources locals use for food that are out of the way, but usually worth the trip. Of course, everyone is a member of Costco and Sam’s Club.

Employment is Tough to Find

Jobs exist in certain career fields. If you’re a waiter-waitress, nurse or other healthcare worker, or you have worked in the travel industry, you can probably find a job in Hawaii. If not, it’s a serious struggle finding employment for most people that move to Hawaii to live. The entire island is built on tourism. If your specialty is not sales, customer service, waiting tables, or selling retail you might want to reconsider living in Hawaii – or at least doing a lot of research before you arrive. I know a guy with a lot of different skills that arrived on Oahu and tried for a year to get a job. Finally he accepted a telephone sales job just to get some income. It’s a very tough job market, and don’t let the unemployment figures lull you into a false sense of security about the place. The jobs most often open are in those areas I mentioned above. Bring a whole lot of savings to live off if you don’t have skills in one of those fields.

Driving Horrorshow

I used my mountain bike a lot while living in Hawaii. Was it dangerous? Sure it was, most tourists are looking around and not prepared for bicycles on the street. Still, it was almost maddening for me to drive my Honda around Waikiki. Rush hours and weekends where there is an event of some kind going on – are pure nightmare material and you’ll not want to live far from where you work unless you live in downtown and work in Kapolei or somewhere else there is no traffic. Traffic goes toward the downtown and Waikiki areas in the morning and away during 5-7pm rush hour.

Add to the driving nightmare the fact that the Honolulu police are EVERYWHERE. There is a higher police presence in that city than I have experienced anywhere else in the nation. If you are late putting your seatbelt on – they are there. If you coast through a stop sign – even slightly – they’re on you. If you speed – they gotcha. If you ride in the wrong lane on the highway – you’re had. You cannot win driving a vehicle in the islands. This in particular was no fun for me at all. As I said, I used the bike or walked a lot while living in the islands.

Hawaii Cost of Living

If you’ve already lived in Tokyo,Japan; Seoul, Korea; Hollywood, California, and New York City, New York you’ll think Hawaii cost of living is reasonable and won’t be affected by it. If you’ve lived anywhere else you will probably become very cost-conscious once you start living on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or Big Island. Don’t even THINK about Lanai or Molokai because you can’t afford it.

For two people living in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu on Oahu you would spend $850-1000 for a studio or sketchy 1-bedroom. Sketchy is an Aussie word I’ve been using for a little while, hope it doesn’t throw you too bad. It means same thing as “dodgy”.

Car insurance, health insurance, fire insurance, every insurance is more expensive in Hawaii. If you ride a motorcycle be prepared to sign away a good portion of your monthly income to insurance. The whole living in Hawaii experience is outrageously expensive and it goes against my common sense to live there- but, in my case I just can’t resist. You may be that way too – or, you may find it too much to deal with.

Many Hawaii residents have 2 and 3 jobs to keep up with expenses.


This one is a catch-22. If your own attitude is poor – you’ll meet some of the nastiest people you ever didn’t want to know in Hawaii. That’s just the way it is everywhere, right? However, if you’ve got a cool attitude and are open to learning how things work before and during your time there – and you are friendly, outgoing, and a decent person all around you’ll be blissed out to meet the coolest bunch of people you ever knew.

Give first – and you’ll get more in return. Such has been my experience meeting new people in Hawaii. The Hawaiian spirit of Aloha is really a wonderful philosophy of life and I hope you get to experience it in heaps during your stay. If you’re not the type of person that deals well with cultural diversity or have a lack of common sense, you may not do well in Hawaii and it can be a very cold place for the ignorant, clueless, and heartless.

Bringing Your Kids

Bringing your school-aged kids (keiki) to Hawaii to live might seem like a great idea… ‘let them breathe the clean air and soak up the sunshine… swim with the dolphins!’ Sure. They can do all that. But, they’ll still have to endure the school system. For mainland kids arriving in Hawaii for school it’s usually traumatic. I wouldn’t recommend (anymore) that anyone bring their kids to Hawaii to live. I just wouldn’t. That’s me. I’ve considered at length whether I would want my daughter to grow up in Hawaii and attend Hawaiian schools. I’ve decided – definitely not. We won’t move back to Hawaii until I can afford the home-school experience. In that scenario I think Hawaii would be a great place for a child to grow up. Otherwise, no. That’s just my bias.

If after reading all these negatives you decide that you still want to live in Hawaii because it’s your destiny or something try this. Look at living in Hawaii as a temporary thing and tell yourself you’ll try living on an island for a year. See if you can make it that long. By then you’ll have a good idea what the island you’re living on is like… you’ll have some idea what the other islands are like – hopefully you’ve visited them too. You might choose to move to another island or you might continue on living where you are. Or, you might move back to the mainland US after a year. No harm done, right? You just spent a year in Hawaii while many people dream of that lifestyle. You’ll have many people ask how you did it because they too are starting to get that question in the back of their mind…

“Is Living in Hawaii possible for me?”

A collection of articles about all sorts of Hawaii experiences:

Photo credits: Flickr users skyseeker (top), dbking (bottom).

Here it is, our updated book that describes everything you likely want to know about living in Hawaii.

Moving to Hawaii Book by Vern Lovic

How much? Just $4.99 through Amazon.

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If you need a format other than PDF, buy it on Amazon first and then let us know by sending email at our contact page here. We have EPUB and MOBI formats. EPUB for most ereaders including Apple’s IPad and iPhone, and MOBI for the Amazon Kindle. Just ask!

About the author: Moving to Hawaii was one of the most amazing moves ever. I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’re in the financial position to make it work. Living in Hawaii has a fair bit of both positive and negative experiences awaiting each of us who give it a try. Read some of the articles here and try to get a feel for whether you might thrive in the islands. I wrote an entire book on the subject and it’s usually less than $5. It’s up there on the right side column. Best of luck and life to you! Aloha! – Vern L.

8 comments… add one
  • Vanna


    My friend and I are both 20 and debating living in Hawaii over the summer break, what’s the best area to live for college students and how difficult is it to find a job as a waitress or bartender somewhere?

  • julie kennedy

    Looking to stay a month on one of the hawian islands for a month need some imformation on accomadation ect

  • Juju

    Aloha Mr.V thank you for all the tips and look forward to making Hawaii my new home. Not sure where, but looking forward to the adventure ahead.
    Mahalo & Aloha. Juju

  • SM

    Why are Hawaii school systems bad? I’m considering moving there for a teaching position.

    • I think as far as teaching, you won’t find it too bad. The system from the kids point of view is not so great. There are many reasons. Most teachers don’t stay very long, unless they are local and grew up there. The kids can be fairly transient as well. Many families move to Hawaii and then move back out in a year or two. If you ended up moving to teach, please let me know how it turned out for you.

      • Greg Webb

        Vern, what are the reasons that Hawaiian schools are not so good? Are the private and church schools any better?


        • When public schools are ranked across the USA, Hawaiian schools typically are not listed highly. The lifestyle of many people in the islands isn’t focused on education, either at school or at home. There are some excellent private schools in Hawaii. Our U.S. President graduated from one. I just suggest to everyone moving there, that they plan on putting their kids in private schools, or don’t go. That’s just my bias. Kids are more important than parents – in my mind. ;)

    • dala yama

      a friend of mine had a job consulting teachers how to do their job better (most public schools here are pretty bad). Sounds like these are main reasons:

      – Teacher unions so strong that incompetent teachers can’t be fired. So many (but not all of course) teachers are doing the bare minimum.

      – Many parents are too busy working (because of high cost of living) to care about or be involved with their children’s education. Honestly lot of local parents are not involved/care about their kids education. Most parents who are able, put their kids in private schools.

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