What to Know Before Moving to Hawaii

The island lifestyle may sound enticing, but before deciding to pack your items and move to one of the most isolated locations in the world, contemplate these top thirteen considerations of living in Hawaii.

By REAL. Updated May 10, 2023. | Living in Hawaii | 13 min. read

Have you visited Hawaii before?

Save a budget and take a trip to Hawaii before moving here. Decide which Hawaiian island might be right for you to live on – whether Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island, or Maui. Drive around the island and stop in the neighborhood you might want to live in. Explore the neighborhood during the day and at night. Talk to residents and ask questions; this will give you a good idea of the people and the place.

Stay for a least a week and realize that the weather is not always sunny. Hawaii has rain, chilly nights and even major flooding, hurricanes, and tsunami threats.

Towards the end of your stay, if you feel like Hawaii might be the right place for you, contact a realtor to discuss the local housing market – and even to explore possible places to live.

Can you afford to live in Hawaii?

With the median sales price of a single-family home on Oahu being $1,100,055 in 2023, anyone who moves to Hawaii should realize it is an expensive place to live.

Hawaii is isolated with most items being shipped across the Pacific Ocean. Also tourism and a limited supply drive up the costs. Food is expensive in Hawaii unless you are growing it in your yard. But property taxes are one of the lowest percentages in the country. While it may be more expensive to live in some U.S. locations, like Seattle, Manhattan, San Francisco, and San Diego than in Honolulu, Honolulu has a lower average income. Read more about the cost of living in Hawaii.

Before moving to Hawaii, look at your lifestyle and see if you may be able to sacrifice some of the luxuries available when living in a location with a lower cost of living.

If living near the ocean and enjoying a warm climate and healthy island lifestyle are more important for you than eating out or driving a fancy car, Hawaii might be an option.

Are you able to get a job before or even after moving to Hawaii?

Perhaps a job is bringing you to the Hawaiian Islands or you have a permanent change of station (PCS) to a military installation on Oahu. However, if you want to move to the islands and do not have a job secured, it can be difficult to find one. Due to a reputation of people moving to Hawaii that then quickly leave, some local companies are skeptical about hiring people who just moved here. Additionally, many desirable jobs might be reserved for people who are known by the employer; Hawaii is a small place, and connections are important.

Another factor that often surprises new transplants to the island is that a similar job position on the Mainland will typically pay much more there than in Hawaii. According to payscale.com, the average salary in Honolulu in December 2020 is $646,000.

Are you familiar with the Hawaii housing market?

Hawaii real estate has always been a competitive market and generally a desirable long-term investment because of the scarcity of land in paradise. Typically, the question is not whether real estate will go up in value but at what velocity. On Oahu, the statistics show the average annual increase in median sales price over the past 34 years is 4.84% in single family homes and 4.64% in condos.

Even despite the difficulties of COVID-19, the Oahu real estate market continues to be hot. At the end of 2020, closed sales of single-family homes on Oahu were up 35.9% while condo sales rose by 20.1%, compared to the same time at the end of December in 2019. In December 2020, median sales prices of single-family homes on Oahu were at $870,000, up 6.1% from 2019, and median sales prices for condos were at $455,000, up 6.9%, according to data from the Honolulu Board of REALTORS.

There is limited housing inventory on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu – now more than ever. Homes are moving off the market fast, and there were only 1.4 months of single-family homes inventory in December 2020, down 44% from the previous year. Active listings were down 33.4% percent from December 2019.

Buying your first home in Hawaii

Connect with a local real estate agent to start your search.


With interest rates rising, many buyers are using creative financing strategies, making living in Hawaii still obtainable. If you are thinking about moving to Hawaii, contact a local real estate agent to learn more about the dynamic, competitive Hawaii housing market and realize that securing a home in paradise is not always an easy endeavor.

Do you know about "Hawaiian time?"

If you are a punctual person, be prepared to slow down and find some patience. While punctuality is important, in order to enjoy the island life you must embrace island time. Things in Hawaii are often done at a slower pace with people “talking story” or chatting with each other along the way. Relax and enjoy forming relationships, soaking in the scenery while waiting, and escaping the hustle and bustle of many places in the world.

Do you have a pet?

Hawaii is a rabies-free state and has strict quarantine laws for any cats or dogs that move to the state. Here is some important information from Hawaii’s Animal Industry Division to assist in your dog or cat being released directly on the day you arrive (instead of up to 120 days of quarantine):

If you are moving to Hawaii with a furry friend, make sure you start the pet process early. The good news is that when your pet finally is reunited with you in Hawaii, there are many dog parks and other animal-friendly condos and communities to find a home.

Wildlife and insects are a part of the Hawaii lifestyle.

Before you pack your bags and ship your car to the Hawaiian Islands, ask yourself, can you tolerate flying cockroaches, geckos, stinging centipedes, and chickens crowing throughout the night? If you answered yes, continue on with your Hawaii home hunt.

While Hawaii does not have squirrels, monkeys, or some other animals found elsewhere, there is a variety of wildlife. Geckos, birds, whales, turtles, mongoose, wild boars, fish, roosters: wildlife is an exciting part of living in Hawaii.

The different Hawaiian Islands have different wildlife. Kauai is known for its chickens and Nene birds. Molokai and Maui are known for their deer. In the mountains of Oahu, many wild boars will be found, and often hunted by the locals.

Traffic can be jam-packed – especially on Oahu.

If you think Hawaii is a rural place with dirt roads and empty beaches, think again. While this may be true on some of the islands like Molokai and rural Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, Oahu has more than one million residents and some of the worst traffic in the country. Rush hour traffic also exists on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. The islands hope to implement more public transportation, like the Honolulu Rail that is under construction on Oahu, but the limited amount of geographical area and the high population can cause gridlock at times.

Here are some of the top Hawaii driving laws to know:

Get a Hawaii Driver’s License or state identification card to become a kama‘aina.

As soon as you are settled into your island lifestyle, get your Hawaii driver’s license. If you have a local license, you qualify for kama‘aina discounts, which can be up to 10 percent at places like surf shops, hotels, and restaurants. Kama‘aina means “child of the land” in Hawaiian, so not only will you get the discounts, but it is one more step to making Hawaii home.

For more information on getting a Hawaii driver’s license as well as registering your vehicle and registering to vote, go to the state-of-Hawaii-built newcomer’s guide.

Prepare to move your items across the Pacific Ocean.

When moving to Hawaii, it is important to simplify your stuff and only send items that are absolutely necessary. Most companies will give you a quote based on the distance you are moving and the number of things you have to move. The moving company can also provide you tips, and most can pack your things for you as well.

When moving from the Mainland, you will need to ship items, including possibly a car. There are many companies, like Pasha Hawaii and Horizon Lines, that make shipping and moving to and from the Mainland easy. Call several companies, until you find the one that comforts you. If you are coming from the West Coast U.S., like California, it typically costs around $1,100 per standard vehicle.

In addition to renting a container to send items across the Pacific, shipping items via USPS or UPS is an option as well as checking extra bags when you fly.

Leave the suit and tie behind.

Casual dress is common on the islands. Due to the warm climate and the aloha lifestyle, most men wear aloha shirts to work while women will wear dresses. Even in urban Honolulu, it is rare to see someone wearing a suit and tie or heels. Also, “flip flops” are known as “slippers” or “slippahs” in Hawaii, and they should always be removed before entering a home.

What school will your kids go to?

The Hawaii Department of Education is both the state and local agency that runs all the public schools in the Hawaiian Islands. There are not separate local school districts like on the Mainland. Research the schools to find out which one might be right for your child. You may want to live in an area with a better-rated public school or to apply for a geographic exemption (GE) to attend a public school outside of your zone.

Homeschool, public charter, and private schools are also popular in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii has some of the highest private school enrollment in the country. Most private schools are in urban Honolulu, and tuition is typically around $20,000 per year with some schools, like Punahou and ‘Iolani, having competitive admissions. Research more about all the different educational options on the island to assure your children have a smooth, successful transition.

Are you ready to immerse yourself in the local culture and lingo?

The sense of community is strong in Hawaii with an emphasis on family and helping your neighbors. However, realize that if you did not grow up in Hawaii, you will most likely never be considered local. While Caucasians are often called haole, the term typically is not meant in a derogatory way. Fitting into the local culture is all about the attitude and respect shown to others. Realize Hawaii has a long history of being overthrown by the United States, and thus come to Hawaii to learn from the locals, not to transform the Hawaii lifestyle into your previous culture.

When you settle into your new home and begin to make friends, you will realize many of the people in Hawaii speak pidgin and the Hawaiian language. Pidgin evolved from Hawaii’s plantation history when immigrants from Japan, Portugal, China, and other countries worked together in the sugar and pineapple fields. Since everyone spoke different languages, they created pidgin, combining words, sentence structures, and intonations from other languages. Knowing a few Hawaiian and pidgin words will assist in your acclimation to the islands:

When learning the local culture or language, do it cautiously, as locals may laugh if you do not pronounce it correctly or are trying too hard.

Settle into paradise and search for breathtaking scenery and sites.

When you finally move to Hawaii, take some time to look around and bask in the beauty. There truly is no place like Hawaii on Earth – the vast, volcano-developed mountains, the sparking blue Pacific waters, the colorful sunrises and sunsets; you have moved to paradise.

There are many popular destinations that any Hawaii resident will want to visit as well as “secret” spots that can only be found after exploring the Hawaiian Islands for some time. Each of the islands has their top tourist spots, that visitors as well as Hawaii residents enjoy.

On Oahu, reserve tickets online to visit Pearl Harbor, the historical site that launched the U.S. involvement in World War II. Also, make time to visit Waikiki and the popular snorkeling spot of Hanauma Bay nearby in Hawaii Kai. On the North Shore of Oahu, stop by world-famous surf spots, like Banzai Pipeline, and make your way to Laie to learn more about the Pacific islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

On Maui, cruise from Lahaina Harbor to visit the amazing whales that migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii from December through April. Take a drive up Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall dormant volcano, that is also one of Maui’s most popular tourist attractions. Venture on the road to Hana, where you will experience 620 curves and 59 bridges as well as waterfalls and natural pools. And when you want to relax, don’t forget there are many popular luaus, such as the Old Lahaina Luau, that will showcase hula and delicious Hawaiian foods.

If call Kauai your new Hawaiian home, you will not want to miss “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” that is Waimea Canyon. Its colorful rock formations and deep gorges offer epic views. Wailua Falls near downtown Lihue and the Na Pali Coast are two other popular Kauai sites for those who enjoy engaging with beautiful Hawaiian nature.

On the Big Island of Hawaii, or Hawaii Island, you surely will want to stop into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has dried lava from Kilauea’s many recent eruptions. You might even be able to view the red lava sputters or steam from the crater of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. After viewing the active volcanoes of Kilauea, settle into Parker Ranch, which has views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two dormant volcanoes on the Big Island. Tourists enjoy Parker Ranch where they can enjoy immersing in the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) life.

Each of the Hawaiian Islands has spectacular scenery and sites to explore, so while moving may be stressful and living in Hawaii is not always easy, do not forget to take the time to enjoy beautiful Hawaii. Thousands of people visit Hawaii each year as a tourist. As a Hawaii resident, you will have the unique opportunity to call one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations your home. Cherish Hawaii’s beauty – from its sites to its scenery to its culture – and you be reminded why you decided to call Hawaii home.

Moving to Hawaii is an adventure. If you come with an open mind and a humble spirit and a realization that it is not always easy to live on an isolated island, you will enjoy the beauty of Hawaii paradise and all it has to offer.

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