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 Hawaii?
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 a Collection of Islands
Living on an island is a little different than living in downtown Boulder, Colorado. The Hawaiian islands are not large. Oahu is about 44 miles long and 30 miles across, is roughly shaped like a trapezoid and has an area of 597 sq. mi. If you live in a flat area today, it’s equivalent to a 25mi x 25mi square. Can you imagine living in that small area for the rest of your life? 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.
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.
Living in Hawaii is like living in a small neighborhood
On the other hand, if you’ve lived in a big city most of your life, chances are that 90% of your time was spent occupying a 600 sq mi region, also known as a “neighborhood”. Many people live, work, and play within a relatively small area and that’s what I kept thinking of after I moved here in the mid-80s and to this day I’ve never felt even a hint of island fever. I love this place and would be perfectly happy on this “rock” for the rest of my life.
I would say that if you’re used to wide open spaces and traveling long distances often, you’ll probably have a tough transition. If on the other hand you’re used to crowded urban areas and really don’t venture too far out of your stomping grounds, you won’t have a hard time.
Are you hot-bodied or cold-bodied?
It’s warm year-round in Hawaii. Some would call Hawaii “hot”. Vern 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. Vern knows people that sweat continually in Hawaii. They’re not doing anything physically, but they just sweat constantly. It really depends on your physical makeup. I can’t stand the cold and left the Midwest in the 80s after one too many winters. I find myself getting uncomfortably cold very easily, so for me it’s rarely ever too hot. I do know other folks, however, that are very heat sensitive and they run the A/C often. If you’re like me, Hawaii’s weather is heavenly and nothing even comes close. If you get hot easily, you may not like it.
What is the weather like when living in Hawaii?
If you’re like me and love summer and hate winter, living in Hawaii is simply paradise. Over 90% of my casual wardrobe is t-shirts and shorts. Yes, we pretty much get summer all year long. You can go to the beach just about any day and sit on the sand with just your swimwear on and rarely if ever will you feel cold. And of course the ocean never gets cold here!
That’s not to say that Hawaii’s weather doesn’t change. It varies about 10 degrees from winter to summer. The summer is super sunny and rather dry with temperatures hovering around 88 and maybe going to 90. Fall is cooler and wetter, around 80s but not going into the 90s. Winter hangs around mid 70s to low 80s with more rain and winds. Spring lightens up on the rain and gets back into the 80s. Boring, right? Not! I love it! One thing is for sure, if you look forward to fall and winter seasons, Hawaii probably won’t be right for you. But if you like summer, there’s nothing like it.
One of my favorite things to do is use the weather app on my iPhone to compare Hawaii’s weather to other places. You’ll notice our temperatures are rock steady throughout the week while other places on the mainland can wildly fluctuate.
It 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. Mount Waialeale on Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth. It averages over 452 inches of rain per year. That’s more than 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.
Love those morning mauka showers
We have an magical, almost daily occurrence here and we call it “Mauka (Mow-ka) showers” which is a very light rain that comes in the morning from the mountains. If you live nearby, you get a little sprinkle that gets the ground wet but not soaked. If you live further way from the mountains you’ll probably just see a rainbow. Yes, rainbows in Hawaii are quite commonplace.
Groceries are All $5 or More
While that may not be literally true, it sure seems 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. I’ve lived here since the mid 80s and still freak out at the checkout counter. In 2017 it’s as if you can’t spend less than $50 and those weekly grocery refills will run you $150-$200. Most everything consumable is imported by Hawaii and arrives by sea. One time Vern remembers shopping at the grocery close to his home in Waikiki – this was the cheapest grocery around so it was always packed with locals… Every single thing in his cart – and he had over 30 things – was over $5 and this was back in 2006. It’s unbelievably expensive. Get used to it if you want to live there – all islands have very expensive food. You might find some bargains at farmers markets but I’ve just resigned to live frugally. 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 state’s economy is mostly reliant on tourism, with the military coming in second. 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. Vern knows 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.
You’ll get paid less while you spend more, living in Hawaii
You might as well know the whole truth about what it takes to live in Hawaii. If you’re lucky, you’ll take about a 30% pay cut from what you’re earning now (of course actual results will vary) and meanwhile the cost of living can be twice as high. Do the math. It hurts.
But there is a secret, and it’s not for all: the way to financially survive in Hawaii is to start a small business. You’ll work your tail and it will take you a while to get established, but once you’ve gone through your “Baptism by Fire”, you’ll have a successful business that will earn you a good living. That’s how I survived here since the 80s.
The Worst Traffic You’ll Probably Ever Experience
Vern used his 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 him to drive his 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.
If you work in town you will need lots of patience in traffic
Most people work “In Town” which is an area roughly from downtown to Waikiki and they usually start work at around 8am. If you have to be in town by 8am, you better have some good entertainment in your car because you will be in it for a long time. Some folks driving in from the West side of the island leave their homes at 5am for what normally takes less than an hour while those from the East side have to leave their homes by 7am for what normally takes 30 minutes.
But we’ve got great police presence!
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 Vern at all and that’s why he used the bike or walked a lot while living in the islands.
For me, though I’ve had my share of speeding tickets (sorry, can’t help it) I’ve found Honolulu Police Department or HPD to be the best police force in the country. They’re quick to respond, are fabulous examples of the Spirit of Aloha, and will not hesitate the apply necessary force to keep us safe. Right on, HPD!
Hawaii’s High 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.
We wrote an in-depth page on Hawaii’s high cost of living and you should add it to your reading list.
For two people living in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu on Oahu in 2017 be prepared to pay between $1,500 and $1,670/mo for a studio or one bedroom and prices will vary widely depending on location and quality.
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 can go against one’s common sense to live here- but, in my case there’s no where else I can possibly imagine living and being happy. 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 “kay-kee”) 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. Mainland kids attending Hawaii public will be in for a traumatic culture shock. How bad? Back in the 70s I was told there a time-honored tradition called “Kill Haole Day” where haole (Caucasian) kids that didn’t culturally adjust well would get their share of harassment. I don’t think that tradition continues these days but the cultural undertones are definitely present and strong.
Plan on them attending private school
Realistically speaking, you should plan on having your children attend Hawaii private schools. Budget around $15k per child per year. The public schools here have gotten a lot better and the private schools are very good, but like anything else in Hawaii, it’s not cheap. For many people, the cost of education for their children is the “last straw” that makes Hawaii unaffordable.
But it’s a great place to grow up as a kid
Both my children were born and raised here and we had a fabulous time. We always had so much to do. Every weekend was a little adventure and we have thousands of priceless photos to remind us. We met so many wonderful families that became lifelong friends. And the field trips! When I was a kid, our highlight was visiting the Jays Potato Chip factory. When one of my kids was on 4th grade, we all went to the Big Island and saw and active volcano – for a field trip!
Ready to experience living in Hawaii?
If after reading all this you decide that you still want to live in Hawaii because it’s your destiny or something, here’s an approach to consider: 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:
- All Hawaii Articles.
- Want to Change Your Life? Move to Hawaii.
- Positives and Negatives about Life in Hawaii
- Which is the Ultimate Hawaii Beach?
- Magical, Mysterious, Matchless Hawaii
- Video & Photo: Walking Through Clouds in Kauai, Hawaii
- Bodyboarding at Bellows Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
- Bodyboarding Hawaii’s Surf
- My 2 Near Death Experiences Bodyboarding Hawaii’s Big Surf
- Turn Yourself into a Surfboard: Bodysurfing!
- Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay
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.
How much? Just $4.99 through Amazon.
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