What it’s like living in Hawaii – the good, bad and ugly but mostly good

What’s it like living in Hawaii you ask?

The Hawaiian Islands are comprised of 6 major islands within an island state and things are definitely different living in Hawaii than other parts of the mainland USA. Moving to Hawaii and living in Hawaii is very different, tropical, fun and also comes with compromises that you might not think of when you move to the islands.

Here are some of the major things to know about living in Hawaii and moving to Hawaii from a local’s perspective, about what it really is like to live in paradise with the ups and downs of island life.

What it's like living in Hawaii

Is it realistic to live in Hawaii? What it's like living in Hawaii

Is it realistic to live in Hawaii?

It really depends on the individual and your needs to live on the islands but here are some of the main considerations to think about when you consider a move to Hawaii.

With the cost of living in Hawaii very high and wages low, it’s not an easy lifestyle here unless you make sacrifices.

Most of the islands have a high cost of living, but there are affordable places on each island and even the BIg Island of Hawaii is affordable to live depending on the area that you choose.

Do you have a job or can bring your work online here? What it's like living in Hawaii

Do you have a job or can bring your work to Hawaii?

It’s better to have a job you can bring over or create your own business unless you already have a job lined up when you come to live on the islands. With lower salaries and higher cost of living, expect an average of 20 percent less pay on the islands compared to the mainland.

Employment on the islands typically focus on jobs that cover government jobs, agriculture, tourism and the military. The bulk of business is through small business and mom and pop operations around the islands. So if you are looking at a cottage business or start up, then there is a possibility of finding a niche in an area that needs more services, stores or new ideas for commerce.

Hula Ohana 26

Are you comfortable being in a multi-cultural environment?

Hawaii is a state with many nationalities of minorities with no dominant race. So basically it’s a melting pot of people and mixed races growing up together which is a good thing, but you also have to know that you can integrate with all these mixed race groups.

Plantation workers from an international presence came to Hawaii to work the plantation farms and bringing their culture and traditions, foods and hard working ethics and help to creating a melting pot of cultures and people that have inter mixed and make Hawaii what it is today.

Can you afford the cost of living here in Hawaii?

Living in paradise is not cheap with the average cost of living very high and expensive in all of the urban areas around each island. The cost of living in Honolulu, Lahaina or even Lihue can be out of reach for most people considering moving to an urban environment in Hawaii.

Of course there’s the alternative to living on the neighbor islands and even living away from the urban centers to find a cheaper lifestyle and place to live. Things overall for electricity, food, rent and even gasoline is far above the mainland prices so you have to factor additional costs to living in any of the Hawaiian islands.

Where you live makes a big impact on your budget and lifestyle

Have you visited different areas of the island you are considering and checked out schools, neighborhoods shopping and other requirements?

Have you decided if you like an urban environment, more remote and isolated or something right on the beach? All of these decisions makes a big impact on your monthly budget and being able to afford living in certain areas and islands of Hawaii.

Can you afford living here if you choose a more expensive location?

General observations about living in Hawaii

After the honeymoon phase ends

It’s all fun and cool new things to do and places to see but eventually when things do settle in, the daily grind with work, grocery shopping and every day chores comes into play. You still have the beaches and nice tropical vibe with shorts you can wear year-round so you have to put things into the right balance.

Living on an island means that things happen on island time

When the weather is good or bad there’s always an excuse to delay things unfortunately things do happen on island time and there are always delays in store. You should be patient and build in time for delays everyday from traffic, long lines at the gas station to starting a new project on the home.

Hawaii is paradise but daily life gets in the way

Outside of work, family obligations and doing things around the house projects, there also everyday things to keep you busy and not enjoying the lifestyle and beach normally even its right at your backyard.

If you’re not local, you’ll never be

That goes to say in any small-town environment but more so in Hawaii. Locals are very friendly but you will always be the outsider trying to fit in. So again, it takes effort to find the right place and community to fit into living a good life on the islands.

If you want to move to Hawaii, finding a good community of people with same interests, spirituality, family friendly organizations and other criteria is always important to fitting in and belonging to a place you’ll call home.

If your not Hawaiian, what are you called?

Only real Hawaiians are indigenous and native Hawaiian. The rest of us outsiders can be called any of the following: Haole, locals or “Kama’aiana”, islanders or Hawaii residents.

Even Hawaii has problems, crime, homelessness, drugs and rude people

Just like big mainland problems, you’ll find that here also in Hawaii with petty crime, drugs, homeless and other bad influences. You just have to choose your locations wisely and stay out of the trouble spots and situations that happens in any local environments.

Living wages are typically lower in Hawaii with Pay scales an average of 20 percent less than national averages. So, things are more expensive on the island but you get paid less as average. (This typically doesn’t apply for those that telecommute or bring their jobs with them)

What’s daily life like living in Hawaii?

Daily life is different with each family but also similar in terms of work, bringing kids to school, driving to local shops, groceries and other conveniences and other daily chores. What you’ll see is that there few retailers outside of big box stores and service centers that offer services or even product that is constantly in stock. Choices are more limited here on the island and we have to wait for the next shipment to fill up the shelves at Costco, Target, Walmart and the other Big Box retailers here. Service providers are always stretched thin with delays for getting oil changes, tire rotations, termite inspections and so on. Here’s a few more things to think about living in Hawaii and daily activities.

potlucks are always the big events and social gatherings on the islands

Social life = Potlucks

No need to eat out all the time, potlucks are always the big events and social gatherings on the islands. Best way to enjoy each other’s company at the beach or someone’s carport is a potluck gathering Hawaiian style. When cost of food is high, potlucks are a popular way to socialize and also economize on the food front.

Everything is expensive in Hawaii

With almost 80 percent of goods and food imported to the islands it all adds up to an expensive life on the islands.  Everything is costly from your electricity, rent, groceries, insurance, transportation and medical. But finding a place to live is where you’ll be spending the most of your disposable income on so that is a big chunk of lifestyle and what you can afford on the islands. When there are less choices, little competition, then prices typically are higher around the islands than what you’ll find on the mainland.

You have to settle for what is available on the island

Since heavy or bulky items are not always available, choices are limited to what’s on the island and the places you can buy them. The more remote the island, the fewer the options of what is available for sale.

Everything rusts fast in Hawaii

Everything rusts fast in Hawaii

Things that have exposed metal parts that are not covered or painted tend to rust very quickly on the island especially in outdoor areas where the combination of humidity, sun, rain and all elements tends to make things rust quickly and not last a long time. This can easily apply to your appliances, windows and doors, Furniture with metal parts, electronic equipment.

Not everything is next day service on the islands

Next day delivery service?

A large part of products and materials are imported to Hawaii and is more expensive on the islands. Fast service like FedEx overnight or USPS next day typically takes two to four days longer to get to all the islands unfortunately

Amazon doesn’t ship everything to the islands and shipping costs are expensive

Because of limited availability Online purchases on Amazon and other sites are very popular on the islands. But not everything on Amazon can ship to the islands especially in large size or heavier items and paying for transport on some of these bulkier items are pricy. You have to shop wisely online to find out if delivery is available on your island location, handling and delivery costs.

Regular maintenance is key or the jungle comes back

Regular maintenance is key or the jungle comes back fast

If you have a small garden or a large one, the jungle, weeds and mold take over quickly. If you own a home or rent, maintaining and keeping a house in order is just as crucial or it all goes downhill very quickly – let’s not forget about mold, musky smelling clothes and furniture that needs to be cleaned ongoing. Regular maintenance in daily life is important especially in a tropical environment where things can deteriorate and turn black or moldy in a very short timeframe.

Slippahs off at the front door

Slippahs off at the front door please

Visiting friends or neighbors at their home for a function? Remember shoes and slippahs are always left at the front door. With bugs, dust and other things clinging to your shoes, it’s proper etiquette to leave the slippahs at da door.

Kupuna or seniors are respected in Hawaii

Kupuna or seniors are respected in Hawaii

Seniors known as kupuna in the community are always respected and go first in everything, lines, eating, greeting and all social occasions. Incorporated from Asian and Hawaiian heritage, elders have always been at the top of the chain in Hawaiian culture and family life.

Best things about living in Hawaii
Sunrise at Hawaiian Paradise Park on the Big Island

Best things about living in Hawaii

There’s definitely a lot to think about with the high cost of living, limited choices in shopping, everything is expensive and services are slow. You’ll have long waits for a service person to come out and fix something like plumbing issues, electrical needs or even swapping out that old water heater. But along with the negatives and difficulties, there’s also the good stuff about living in paradise, check these out:

aloha wear for men and women is as formal as it gets on the islands

No need for expensive clothes – aloha wear for men and women is as formal as it gets on the islands

With mostly good year-round weather, you can actually walk around with shorts and t-shirt all year round.

No need for fancy cars and expensive electrical goods in Hawaii

No need for fancy cars and expensive electrical goods that break down easily with humidity, salty conditions, rain and other changing weather that breaks down any electric stuff good. If its old and still running, no need change it, keep it going till it dies.

The best food is not always the fancy restaurants, but the local mom and pop shops, food truck vendors or even the farmers market food stalls

Weather is good and everyone is outside enjoying the island, beaches and some adventure experience, all for free

Talk story time – Slow down and get to know your neighbors and even strangers here. There’s always time to talk story and enjoy each others company.

Fresh tropical Hawaiian fruit is soooo good in season

Fresh tropical fruit is soooo good in season, cheap or even free if you ask your neighbors for some free fruit on their loaded trees.

You’ll be surprised how many people will let you cut in line at crowded roads, long lines and even parking lots.

Sunrises and sunsets are free and always a fantastic experience and free on the islands.

Conclusion on how to live in Hawaii

Conclusion on how to live in Hawaii

It really is a trade off living in Hawaii and a compromise with your needs, job and lifestyle here. Basically you have to do with out a lot of things that are easily available on the mainland including a mainland attitude. Appreciate the here and now, who’s surrounding you and want you want to do here will give you an idea about what’s important in life and the quality of living in Hawaii.

Living on an island means it’s harder to get to do some things that you like and even impossible, so you do have to make compromises, pay more for shipping and services or do without. But overall “Lucky we live Hawaii” is a favorite motto here on the islands.

Did we miss anything pros or cons living in Hawaii?

I’m sure there’s so much more to share good or bad about Hawaii life, please do share in the comments below on what you think Hawaiian life is all about now on the islands.

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Popular Hawaiian dishes you need to try

Traditional Hawaiian food favorite dishes

Farmers markets in Hawaii

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  1. Gloria

    Transportation here can be simplified by using DaBus. Seniors can ride for $35.00 a year. No need for a car. You can use Lyft or Uber if you need to or rent a car for a couple days. Parking is another story.

    • emorata

      Thanks for sharing the transportation means around the islands and living in Hawaii


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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.