Moving to Hawaii: Things to Know Before You Move

mainland mentality
How to move to Hawaii from the mainland: moving to Hawaii begins with adjusting your mainland mentality to the island lifestyle.

Things to Know Before Moving to Hawaii

So you want to move to Hawaii!

The idea of moving to Hawaii from the continental United States is really tempting for Americans. Our 50th state, Hawaii is a tropical paradise with warm weather, sandy beaches and outdoor activities that almost everyone dreams of visiting at least once in their lifetime. People get to the Hawaiian Islands and then start to dream about relocating to make their home on one of the islands. But often they don’t consider the essential things to know before moving to Hawaii, which can sometimes be a rude awakening.

images of hawaii things to know moving to hawaii

When we lived on Kauai, the conversation with visitors often turned to how to move to Hawaii from the mainland. Who wouldn’t want to spend every waking moment of their day on a tropical island with a warm, sunny beach and palm trees? However, some recent transplants who started out so happy to be relocating to Hawaii end up fleeing their new home on an island paradise in short order. Nobody wants to be the person moving from Hawaii to the mainland after several months. How come moving to mainland from Hawaii happens so frequently and so soon?

As with any big move, relocating to the State of Hawaii to make it your permanent home requires an adjustment. The reality of moving to Hawaii isn’t just trading the mainland for Honolulu, or Oahu (the most populated of the main islands). In fact, out of the many resources available for those considering a move, a lot of people only concentrate on what Oahu has to offer. What a shame! Hawaii is much, much more.

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Why should I move to Hawaii?

Reasons to move to Hawaii are as individual as the person making the move. Regardless, you’re transporting yourself to a little speck in the middle of the vast blue Pacific Ocean. Island fever is a thing! If you choose Kauai, the Big Island, Maui or Molokai, there are going to be fewer similarities with the mainland – perhaps no movie theaters or franchise restaurants within convenient access. No freeways, and maybe just one highway with slower speed limits.

It’s hard for mainlanders to shed their ways while on vacation, but you’re considering a longer term. So, while there are so many positive advantages, you’ll make a better adjustment if you let go of a few things and adjust to the island lifestyle. These won’t be just your belongings from the mainland (which is an entirely different post), but aspects of mainland mentality that you may not even realize.

What is mainland mentality?

Preconceived notions having to do with the way life “should be” lived are common wherever we’re from. On the mainland, though, we can become used to certain pathways and ideals in life that are the antithesis of the island lifestyle of native Hawaiians. Relax, this is probably part of the reason you’re drawn to make a change.

Aloha! It's Kauai's spirit
moving to hawaii girls in Hanalei Bay

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The First Thing to Get Straight: Hawaii is not just Oahu!

Some people think they know everything there is to know about moving to Hawaii and Hawaiian culture, because they’ve visited Pearl Harbor or lived in Honolulu, Oahu. This is like saying you know everything about the United States because you’ve been to New York City. Even if you’ve experienced moving to Honolulu, your knowledge base isn’t necessarily complete.

Many online references cover aspects of living in and moving to Hawaii that only pertain to Oahu. Moving to Oahu advice is different than advice for the other islands. Get to know the other islands and decide which one resonates with you best.

hawaii islands map

Daily life in the tropics is different.

Your housing may be more open to the elements than you’re used to; our Wainiha house, for example, had louvers and screens in most of its window openings. If you’re in a wetter area, you’ll be dealing with mold, rust and mildew, jungle insects and critters, and weather effects on roads, bridges, etc.

In drier areas, proximity to the ocean air will still affect your house, car, and belongings. Leather will mildew almost before your eyes and certain fabrics will deteriorate rapidly.

The good news is you can choose your micro-climate (there are 10 climate zones on the Big Island alone). Depending upon the island, the community on the island, and the characteristics of your location on the island – leeward and windward, makai or mauka, your experience will be unique.

hawaii lifestyle open air room

Kauai is called the Garden Isle because it is so incredibly green, especially on the North Shore. In our jungle home, we’d get rain (liquid sunshine!) everyday but just for about ten minutes. Then sunshine and rainbows for the rest of the day. Here is a quick look:

You’ll be living slower on a little speck in the middle of the ocean.

It’s harder to bring stuff or get stuff here. Fedex and Amazon will be your friends. Your slow friends. Things get done in their own time. Contractors, waitstaff and service providers may or may not respond to requests. You will learn not to fight this more relaxed way of living, but to embrace it.

Life IS simpler in the Aloha State, from not having to wear real shoes, to not needing a big suburban lifestyle, worrying about private schools vs public schools or what kind of car you drive. All this contributes to less stress and greater happiness for Hawaii residents. Conversely, you may yearn for mainland style franchise eating and shopping, going to the movies in a real theater, or attending professional sporting events and concerts.

Paradise isn’t perfect.

Life in paradise is still life. Bad things happen to good people. Things like crime, rudeness, illness and economic troubles are here.

Hawaii is expensive: housing, food, power and gasoline prices are among the highest in the U.S. When the vog (volcanic ash-strewn air) rolls in, your allergies may respond. Flash flooding, tsunamis and hurricanes may test your preparedness. People who think the ocean is for playing (and it is!) may not remember the dangers of strong currents, high surf, and sharks. Public transportation and job opportunities might be hit or miss.

mainland Hawaii move beach scene Kauai

Bringing stuff may not be your best idea.

It’s easy to find a furnished place when you’re moving to Hawaii (ours used to be a vacation rental so it came with linens, towels, and kitchen items). We had our daughter send several large packages of things we deemed essential. Be aware that these oversized packages can take up to a month to arrive by USPS (they’ll wait for available surface space).

You may want to rethink shipping your car, too. While many people do, even if they’re coming temporarily, the reality is you can easily purchase a car, either from a dealer or a private party. Check out this post for a more complete discussion on why this is a better idea: Moving to Kauai: What About My Vehicle?

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relocating to hawaii tropical sunrise

We loved our island lifestyle on the North Shore (leeward and mauka) of Kauai. Our jungle house was a peaceful haven, and our little town of Hanalei was filled with fun and interesting people, visitors and residents alike. If you’re thinking of moving to Hawaii, don’t give up on your dreams! Put your plan together and make it happen!

How to Move to Hawaii from the Mainland with the Appropriate Mindset

Why move to Hawaii? To embrace the values and experience personal growth.

The first big difference you’ll notice on island is in the value system. The island lifestyle is more laissez faire. All the trappings you might associate on the mainland with prestige, wealth and station – clothing, cars, houses, Ivy League schools – just don’t translate. This could mean culture shock for you until you get used to the differences.

After moving to Hawaii, you’ll notice people don’t care overly much about that stuff. This just might be one of your main reasons to move to Hawaii anyway. So many people we met cited their desire to get off the mainland lifestyle treadmill, preferring to dispatch the trappings and lead a simpler, more authentic life.

Hawaii: Moving there means you’re going to meet all kinds of people.

Whether you’re in business or social situations in Hawaii, power players look just like everyone else. This results in a great opportunity to experience a lot more diversity in friendships, as people count folks from all types of different backgrounds as friends.

Not to say we were stagnated in that regard on the mainland, but you do get comfortable and perhaps don’t extend as much as you do when you’re in a new place. We found it refreshing and fascinating to hear about where people were from and what relocating to Hawaii had meant to them in terms of positive change.

move to Hawaii for new friends
Who is richer?

Living in Hawaii you’re going to dress differently.

There’s really not a lot of call in Hawaii for business suits and fancy footwear. Dressing up the mainland way doesn’t fit the island lifestyle. If you’re a guy, you’ll be in shorts and a t-shirt. Wahine (women) often just wear a bathing suit, with a pareo or sundress as an outer layer. Footwear is typically “Locals” or other inexpensive brands of slippers (flip flops) you can purchase at the grocery or drug store for about $6 a pair.

One of the more practical things to know about moving to Hawaii is that in wetter locations, items made of leather will develop mold seemingly in a matter of hours. Leave expensive handbags, belts and other accessories to the mainlanders, otherwise they are going to break your heart if you try and keep them.

move to Hawaii and be a beach bum
Toto, we’re not on the mainland anymore!

Think about potential commute scenarios when you decide where to live in Hawaii.

The typical suburban mainland lifestyle isn’t the best fit on island. One of the best things to know before moving to Hawaii will be to assess your potential commute to work. Commuting takes on different attributes depending upon how you make your living.

In Honolulu, commuting can be an even worse nightmare than on the mainland. Conversely, in the out islands, which have more of a small-town feel, your commute may not exist in the traditional sense at all. Some people cobble together their island lifestyle by working multiple part-time jobs. Many others work from home. It seems as though more flexible schedules are the norm, as opposed to 9 to 5.

moving hawaii riding in back of a truck
Getting from Point A to Point B

After moving to Hawaii, you learn to watch the water for what might be a good beach day. A fancy new car is just as affected by salt-water air and sand as one that isn’t so fancy. If you’re going to surf or do other water sports, you’ll want a vehicle that will haul your gear around with the least amount of hassle. This generally means some kind of truck, van or SUV.

Change your ideas about how you live.

While it’s true you pay for proximity to the ocean, moving to Hawaii will change the way you think about where you live.

Island homes tend to be smaller and more expensive when compared with the mainland. Many are open to the elements, with screens and louvers replacing window glass. Yours may not have a dishwasher or clothes dryer. You could be doing laundry in a carport, garage or semi-open structure.

And you may find it’s not in your best interest to own a home at all (you may not be able to afford it, or you may not want to commit); instead you’ll rent.

kauai jungle road
Surfboard house numbers on our jungle road
colorful laundry no dryer in Hawaii
Hanging laundry to dry

What Will Moving to Hawaii Cost?

We won’t lie. Housing prices, whether you’re a renter or a buyer, will most likely come as a shock. Ownership levels in Hawaii are lower than they are on the mainland, simply because of sky-high values and prices. Relocating to Hawaii from the mainland may mean you revise your expectations.

But don’t despair. Rental housing can vary from a little surf shack all the way up to a plantation-style mansion, with everything in between. Lots of the time, rentals come furnished and some will include utilities, particularly if there is more than one household on the property yet not separate meters. This housing can range from basic to complete (our house was a former vacation rental, so it came with everything down to forks and spoons).

There may be an “ohana” (literally, “family”) unit in a lower level or separate structure in back of the house. The best moving to Hawaii advice resources will suggest looking for this type of situation, particularly if you’ve not brought household goods with you.

Leases are generally six months to a year in duration, and then you go month-to-month after that. So you don’t have to commit for a lengthy period of time; once you get better bearings, you might decide another community, or even another island, might be good to try.

Because much of your new island lifestyle will be spent outdoors, you’ll not require as much space compared with what you had on the mainland, too, and a small home will often suffice.

open air living in Hawaii
Open louvers and screens in our house
eating healthy in Hawaii fresh fruit display
These will look familiar

High-priced groceries are another observation that visitors make when evaluating whether moving to Hawaii would be feasible. True, almost everything that comes to Hawaii has to be shipped in from other places, leading to an inflated cost of living. Yes, grocery items from the mainland are more expensive and the selection may be disappointing.

But, you’re going to be eating differently and probably in more healthy ways. This is one of the best reasons to move to Hawaii in our opinion! Instead of cow’s milk at the grocery store, perhaps you’ll change to coconut water or fruit juices. Processed and frozen foods will give way to fresh.

Local organic fruits and vegetables are plentiful at the many farmers’ markets. Enthusiastic gardeners can grow to their hearts’ content – the season is 365 days a year, quite an adjustment for those who gardened in colder climates.

tropical fruit display farmers market Kauai
Try new things!

Newcomers may have difficulty adjusting to the time difference. One of the major things to know before moving to Hawaii if you’re a sports fan: football games and other sporting events are on in the early morning and afternoons rather than at the hours typically set aside by mainland fans. Other mainland TV which is time-sensitive is on too early to catch, or will be broadcast on delay.

Mainlanders often forget that you’re on island time, or the concept of time zones, entirely; we frequently got texts and phone calls in the wee hours from businesses and individuals alike. Grrrr! 🙂

These are not the only timing issues that grate on the nerves of recent transplants. One of the things to know about moving to Hawaii that people will probably mention is that locals often take a laidback attitude towards timeliness itself which is different than mainland United States. I actually came to believe it was rude to arrive on time; what if the hostess had fallen behind with preparations? Wouldn’t it be stressful to be completing things while guests looked on? Ten or fifteen minutes after the appointed time started to feel better.

stand up paddle in hanalei bay hawaii lifestyle
Island time

“Cabin fever” can be expensive. Another aspect of moving to Hawaii that travelers often experience is cabin fever. People often forget how far away from everything else Hawaii truly is. Those leaving for the mainland or other destinations can expect at least a five hour flight to get to their journey’s end.

Most of us who live in the contiguous United States think nothing of jumping in a car and driving several hours to attend concerts and sporting events. In fact, there are few sporting events in Hawaii and popular entertainment takes on different forms.

What is the Best Moving to Hawaii Advice We Received?

gas prices are high in hawaii
High price + small island = less driving!

Except for the higher prices, which even longtime island residents complain about on a regular basis, the best moving to Hawaii advice we received is to relax. The easiest way to adapt is by adjusting expectations. It’s easy to ramp up the excitement to unrealistic proportions.

Remember, one of the most important reasons to move to Hawaii is the realization that your mainland lifestyle isn’t serving you. Consider all the moving to Hawaii advice you receive in the context from which it is given.

Someone who has never lived in the islands might not be the best source for things to know about a mainland Hawaii move. That’s more about them than it is you. Consider what will moving to Hawaii cost in terms of mental health and overall enjoyment vs staying where you are. Only you will know whether you’ll regret not making the choice. If things don’t work out you’ll find yourself moving from Hawaii to mainland again.

Should I move to Hawaii? Only you can answer that question. No matter the specifics behind your move, if you make an effort to embrace the more relaxed, natural and spiritual island lifestyle that drew you to Hawaii in the first place, your mainland mentality will become a distant memory of how you used to be. Aloha!

move to hawaii rainbow beach
This is the magic

For more great ideas, check out the Travel Essentials section in PassingThru’s Amazon Store.

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Thursday 25th of November 2021

Thanks for the great info, I have been going to Hawaii for almost 30 years almost every year, I sold my last business to move to the Big Island but life would not let me leave the mainland. Two years from retirement and I am starting to plan the move again. The only time I really feel alive is when I am on the Island. I hope I will feel the same for the extended stay (the rest of my life).


Saturday 6th of March 2021

Hi! I loved reading your article. My husband is currently interviewing for a Wildland Firefighter job on Volcanoes National Park. Do you have any input on the area that can help me make the decision of safety for my children?

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 8th of March 2021

Hi Melissa - I'm sorry I'm not familiar with the particulars you'e asking about with respect to safety from volcanic activity on the Big Island. I would think there'd be an opportunity to consult with your husband's employer for guidance, though. Thanks!

Suzanne Fluhr

Sunday 24th of March 2019

We lived in Hawaii for 3 months in 2014 when my husband did a sabbatical at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu. At home in Philadelphia, he can be pretty tightly wound and is often at work from 7 to 7 and works at home on weekends. Almost as soon as we arrived, I noticed him relax. His commute became a 2 mile walk through Ala Moana Park on the beach path. His office overlooked the water. He wore an Aloha shirt to work almost every day. When the director of the Cancer Center testified before the Hawaii State Legislature, he wore jeans, explaining to my husband that if he wore a suit, the legislators would be suspicious.


Friday 12th of July 2019

I'm curious....did you ever consider moving to Oahu permanently after your experience? What a fabulous place to sabbatical!


Sunday 15th of November 2015

After visiting Maui, we also wished we could move there. Even though we actually enjoy the city we live in right now. But the easy going life style and island time is something I loved. Thanks for highlighting the pros and cons..I have to show this to my boyfriend ;-)

Betsy Wuebker

Sunday 15th of November 2015

Hi Maya - We count the decision to move to Hawaii one of the best things we ever did.

Steve Markun

Monday 16th of March 2015

The reality is that these are islands exist on huge amounts of federal corporate welfare. Few move here to make it. Usually you get the dreamers, drifters, and outcasts of society moving here. The younger better educated locals leave for real opportunities in progressive modern places with real jobs with large corporations. Your left with the dregs, 50% of the state doesn't work, transient military, and the east Oahu crowd in their insular mannini professional sector. The locals have been screwed for years thanks to regressive excise taxes on everything and monopoly union controlled extortionist shipping thanks to Matson and the Jones Act. Heaven help the masses here when the military downsizes. Tourism only pays the corporations out of state and the fat cats. The plantation caste system is alive and well. The place is an overpriced intellectual wasteland devoid of much need for cerebral capital.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 16th of March 2015

Hi Steve - Thanks for your comment.