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If azure waters, sandy beaches, and a laidback island lifestyle sound like paradise, you’re not alone. Every year, thousands make the move to Hawaii in search of sun, fun, and that aloha spirit. But before you start packing your bags, know that island living isn’t always the vacation you might imagine.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Moving to Hawaii can be more expensive and isolated than you might expect. Be prepared for higher costs of living, limited housing options, cultural differences, and occasionally inclement weather that contrasts the idea of a tropical paradise.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you the full scoop on what it’s really like to call Hawaii home. From the pros and cons of island prices and remote locations to navigating local customs and respecting natural environments, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the most of paradise.

Hawaii’s High Cost of Living

Hawaii is notorious for having an exceptionally high cost of living compared to most places in the United States. Several key factors contribute to this, which can come as an unpleasant surprise for those moving to or visiting the islands.

Housing Demand and Limited Inventory

Hawaii’s breathtaking natural beauty and tropical climate make it a hugely popular place to live and visit. However, available housing has not kept pace with demand. There is limited land for development, and construction costs are very high due to Hawaii’s remote location.

As a result, purchasing or renting a home in Hawaii is tremendously expensive.

For instance, the median home price in Hawaii is over $800,000, more than double the national median of around $375,000. Rents are similarly high – a typical one bedroom apartment rents for $1,800 per month in Honolulu, over 50% higher than major US cities like Chicago or Houston.

Imported Goods and Services

Hawaii depends heavily on imported goods shipped from distant locations like the US mainland and Asia. Shipping to Hawaii adds considerable transportation costs compared to other states. Many goods arrive by air which is much more expensive than other shipping methods.

These extra shipping and handling costs translate into higher prices that local retailers pass on to consumers.

In addition, high labor costs contribute to elevated prices for services. Hawaii has a very high union participation rate, and salaries are often augmented by location pay allowances to compensate for the state’s elevated living expenses.

State Income Tax

Hawaii residents must contend with among the highest state income tax rates in America, topping out at 11% on the highest income bracket. For a high earner, state taxes in Hawaii can be thousands of dollars more per year than low-tax states like Florida or Texas.

These income taxes help fund Hawaii’s government services and infrastructure, but also put an additional burden on residents’ finances.

Tourist Premiums

Over 10 million tourists visit Hawaii per year, ranging from frugal backpackers to wealthy jet-setters who think little of dropping thousands of dollars per day on their island vacation. The tourism industry caters to this, with many restaurants, activities, and hotels charging “tourist premium” inflated prices.

For instance, a casual lunch plate in Hawaii can easily cost $15-20. Luau feasts or boat tours run $100 or more per person. Resorts tack on “resort fees” for amenities. Locals learn to avoid the most touristy establishments, but prices across the islands remain high due to soaking visitors contributing bountifully to the Hawaii economy.

Hawaii’s Remote Location

Far from Mainland Conveniences

One of the first things newcomers to Hawaii notice is how far away it is from the U.S. mainland and other places. The islands are located about 2,400 miles from Los Angeles, meaning flights take over 5 hours just to reach California.

This remoteness from the conveniences found on the mainland can take some adjusting. Many popular retailers, restaurant chains, and service providers don’t have a presence in Hawaii. Shopping options are more limited, especially when it comes to buying affordable products.

However, Hawaii makes up for this in other ways, with abundant natural beauty, outdoor activities, and local culture.

Limited Product Variety

In addition to being far from mainland conveniences, Hawaii’s isolation means product variety is more limited compared to other states. With ocean surrounding the islands, shipping costs are higher, making it less economical for companies to stock certain items.

As an example, vehicle options tend to be narrower, with fewer model varieties available from dealerships. Housing materials also have a narrower selection, driving up construction costs. While island life has its appeals, individuals moving from the mainland should be prepared for fewer choices when it comes to purchasing products.

Island Fever

The expression “island fever” refers to the feeling someone gets when living in a remote location with geographic constraints for an extended time. New Hawaii residents may experience some anxiety or irritability stemming from island fever, especially if coming from an urban area on the mainland.

Contributing factors include limited entertainment options, repetitive scenery, high cost of travel off the islands, and small population size. However, there are ways to cope, like exploring new parts of your island, taking up hobbies, and focusing on Hawaii’s natural beauty.

While island fever may strike initially, most people find they adapt over time. In fact, many mainlanders who relocate end up deciding to stay long-term.

No matter what island you move to, adjusting to Hawaii’s remote setting will likely involve some culture shock. But if you prepare mentally for the region’s isolation from the mainland, limited shopping selections, and the possibility of island fever, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

Keep an open and optimistic mindset, stay busy exploring all your new home has to offer, and tap into the local community. With aloha spirit and the right attitude, Hawaii’s middle-of-the-Pacific location may turn out to be your favorite thing about living there!

Respecting Local Customs

Native Hawaiian Traditions

Native Hawaiians have rich cultural traditions rooted in respect for their ancestors and the land. When visiting Hawaii, it’s important to learn about and honor these traditions. For example, ask permission before entering sacred spaces, don’t take lava rocks or other natural items from volcanic sites which are considered the manifestation of the goddess Pele, and avoid disturbing ancient Hawaiian cultural sites like heiau (temples) and fishponds.

Native Hawaiians also have strict cultural protocols around encounters with their royalty that should be respected. For instance, it is considered highly disrespectful to turn your back to Hawaiian royalty or walk in front of them.

Inform yourself on the proper etiquette if you happen to meet descendants of the Hawaiian royal families.

Pidgin English Dialect

You’ll likely hear the local Hawaiian pidgin dialect which is a blend of English and Hawaiian words. Rather than judging, embrace pidgin as a reflection of Hawaii’s diverse heritage. Learning a few pidgin terms can help you connect better with locals.

“Brah” and “sistah” are respectful terms for brother and sister. “No make” means don’t do that. “Bumbye” refers to doing something later.

Avoid mocking pidgin, as it can come across as highly disrespectful. Pidgin developed so immigrant plantation workers could communicate and deserves to be celebrated as an integral part of Hawaiian culture.

Aloha Attire Expectations

The aloha spirit is strong in Hawaii, reflected in the popularity of colorful Hawaiian shirts and muumuu dresses known as “aloha attire.” While more casual dress is typical on the Islands, certain events and venues still expect aloha attire.

For weddings, nice restaurants, luaus, and some business settings, traditional aloha shirts and dresses would be appropriate. For women, aloha dresses should fall below the knee. And for men, avoid loud “party shirts” in formal contexts.

When in doubt, ask your local hosts about expectations so you can show respect.

Appreciating Island Environments

Geography and Climate Variability

Hawaii’s islands have incredibly diverse landscapes, from tropical rainforests to volcanic mountains, that showcase the grandeur of nature. However, this geography also leads to variable microclimates across the islands.

While coastal areas tend to be warm and sunny year-round, mountainous interior regions can experience cooler temps and frequent rainfall. Across Hawaii’s six major islands, precipitation differs greatly due to the rain shadow effect.

For instance, Mount Waialeale on Kauai receives over 400 inches of rainfall annually, making it one of the rainiest spots on Earth! Being aware of these geographic and climatic differences can help you pack properly and plan outdoor activities during your ideal weather conditions.

Outdoor Recreation Regulations

To preserve Hawaii’s natural beauty and cultural sites, there are important regulations on public lands for outdoor recreation. For example, hiking off marked trails or into closed areas can lead to large fines. Camping and campfires are restricted to designated areas, and require permits.

When visiting beaches, it’s essential to adhere to ocean safety warnings and lifeguard instructions to avoid accidents in rough surf. By educating yourself on Hawaii’s outdoor guidelines before exploring its spectacular parks and coasts, you can fully respect the native environment and culture.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s website provides an excellent overview of eco-friendly tips and rules to safely enjoy the islands (

Endemic Wildlife Conservation

Many native Hawaiian species are endangered after habitat loss from development and predators introduced by humans. As a visitor, you can positively contribute by observing wildlife respectfully from a distance and not disturbing native ecosystems that provide sanctuaries.

For example, sea turtles haul themselves onto beaches to bask or lay eggs, so it’s vital not to approach these vulnerable creatures. Supporting conservation organizations protecting Hawaii’s biodiversity also helps programs that return endangered plants and birds to the wild.

Get educated at visitor centers in national parks and reserves to learn how to treasure, rather than endanger, Hawaii’s exclusive flora and fauna flourishing since these islands formed. We all should feel kuleana – responsibility – to care for the endemic species calling Hawaiʻi home.

The Hawaii Lifestyle

Slower Pace and Island Time

Moving to Hawaii often means embracing a more relaxed pace of life known locally as “island time.” Compared to the mainland, things tend to move a bit slower here. Locals place a high value on spending quality time with family and friends, and there’s less emphasis on being busy or productive all the time.

You’ll quickly notice that Stores and businesses keep shorter hours, and people aren’t constantly rushing to get places. It’s not uncommon for locals to be 15-30 minutes “late” by mainland standards. The laidback lifestyle also translates to less road rage and fewer angry outbursts in public places.

This more relaxed way of life may take some getting used to, but many new residents find it a welcome change from the high stress and rapid pace of big cities. Personally, I find that “island time” has made me more patient, less stressed, and helped me to stop and smell the plumerias! 😊🌺

Commuting Considerations

Hawaii’s road infrastructure was not built to handle high volumes of traffic. So despite the islands’ small geographic size, rush hour commutes can still be lengthy, especially on Oahu. It’s not uncommon for drives that would take 15 minutes with no traffic to stretch out to over an hour during peak times.

This state of affairs underscores the importance of living close to your workplace or school to keep commute times manageable. Sometimes you can shave significant time off a commute just by traveling a few miles in a different direction.

I’d recommend using Google Maps to map out rush hour drive times from any neighborhood you’re considering moving to.

Also keep in mind that taking public transportation is not really feasible for most commutes, as bus service is infrequent or unavailable in many areas. So having your own vehicle is a must.

Building Community Connections

Making new friends and establishing social connections after a big move can be challenging. But the good news is Hawaiians place a high value on community, family, and supporting one another. There are many opportunities to get involved and give back.

Consider volunteering for local community organizations, nonprofit groups, or initiatives that resonate with you. Great ways to meet people include joining a recreational sports league, taking classes (surfing, Hawaiian language, hula dancing, etc.

), participating in a community garden, and attending cultural events.

You can also check sites like and Facebook for groups related to your interests. And be sure to chat up neighbors, other parents at your kids’ school or activities, and fellow fans if you attend any UH sports games or concerts around the islands.


While Hawaii’s postcard-perfect landscapes and warm Pacific welcome can’t be beaten, island living has its share of challenges from high prices to limited services. By going in eyes wide open about everything from sticker-shock costs to navigating island customs, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of paradise.

But for many who make the move and embrace the local lifestyle, Hawaii’s incomparable beauty and culture makes any tradeoffs worthwhile. With an outlook focused on ohana (family) and community over convenience, you’ll soon be on island time and loving your life in the islands.

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