So, you want to know what living in Hawaii is really like? The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between?

You’ve come to the right place! Below, you’ll find an honest run-down of the pros and the cons of living in Hawaii. You’ll get a resident’s perspective on the best parts and the worst parts about making your home in the Aloha State.

At the end of the day, we love Hawaii. (We wouldn’t live here otherwise!) And we love welcoming new residents into the Royal Hawaiian Movers ohana. However, we’re also not blind to the fact that paradise comes at a cost. Our list of 21 pros and cons will give you the intel you need to make an informed decision about moving to Hawaii.

Con: You May Never Own a Home

Right now, the median list price for a home in Hawaii is $849,000. For many people, that number either means 1) owning a home is a no-go or 2) taking on a crushing mortgage.

Keep in mind that many of the properties listed at nearly a million dollars (and more!) can be outdated, unrenovated, and simply in need a lot of work. In other words, bargains are few and far between in Hawaii, and that’s simply the reality right now.

Yes, the Big Island has some more affordable properties. It’s one of the more budget-friendly places to buy a home.

However, if a single-family home is your dream, it’s simply a tougher one to achieve in Hawaii, as compared to many other U.S. states.

Pro: It’s Easy to Embrace Condo Living

A single-family home in Hawaii may not be financially feasible for everyone. However, Hawaii has a pretty big pool of condominiums. In fact, the Hawaii Living blog estimates that 60% of Oahu residents live in condos, rather than single-family homes.

  • Financially, condo living might be within reach, depending on your family structure. The median price for a condo on Oahu in July 2022 was $500,000.
  • Additionally, this low-maintenance lifestyle offers significant ease. It can also come with ocean views, something that you only find in the priciest single-family homes in Hawaii.

A lot of people come to Hawaii to live a lifestyle of less responsibility and more freedom. Homeownership may not fit within that vision, especially when you consider the work and upkeep a home requires.

Condo living may offer an easier way to enjoy Hawaii life, especially for seniors. You’ll find plenty of options to choose from across Hawaii.

Pro: Lots of People Go Off the Grid

If owning land is still on your bucket list—and you’re interested in building an off-the-grid house—you’ll be in excellent company in Hawaii. Living on an island makes you more aware of just how limited resources can be, and many people in Hawaii embrace sustainable living, to varying degrees. You’ll see plenty of roofs covered in solar panels. Some homeowners generate enough power to go off-grid. Others simply aim to reduce their pricey power bills or charge their electric vehicles, of which you’ll see plenty in Hawaii.

Off-grid living is particularly popular on the Big Island. Some areas simply don’t have any power and water infrastructure in place. Other areas get enough rain and sunshine that make it feasible to run a household without the use of public utilities. (Note that certain areas of Hawaii are good for setting up catchment systems, while others don’t get enough rainfall consistently. Do your research carefully!)

Building an off-grid home in Hawaii gives you the freedom to pick a piece of land that’s as remote as you please. It’s a perk many embrace, and you’ll find plenty of people who share your thinking in Hawaii, as well as plenty of ways to get supplies.

Con: But It’s a Significant Up-Front Investment

Remember that remote land we mentioned? The one that gets enough rain and sun to make off-grid life tempting? The one that’s a lot cheaper than a lot of the other listings?

There’s no real “catch”—except for the fact that you’re going to have to build all of your own infrastructure. And that’s going to mean a significant up-front investment to get water and power going on your land.

Sure, a catchment system can be relatively simple. However, if you want pressurized water in your home, you’ll still need things like a pump (along with electricity to power the pump), a pressurizer, and some way to sanitize the water for drinking.

Check out this YouTube video from the Big Island for a tour of what that system might look like:

A solar setup will require panels, an inverter, and possibly some kind of battery system.

In other words, even though off-grid living on a piece of remote land in Hawaii sounds tempting, make sure you take into account all of the costs that make that life feasible for you. Many will tell you that the up-front investment is more than worth it.

Con: You May Never Feel Like You Truly “Belong”

If you were born in California, you might refer to yourself as a “Californian.” However, when it comes to the word “Hawaiian,” it’s not that simple.

“Hawaiian” refers to those who can trace their ancestry to back to the Native Hawaiians who originally settled these islands—kanaka maoli. Being born in Hawaii doesn’t make you Hawaiian. Instead, those who live in Hawaii are referred to as “Hawaii residents” or kamaaina, (literally “child of the land”).

Even kamaaina can be a complex term. Some believe you’re not truly kamaaina unless you were born in Hawaii—or unless you’ve lived here for a long time. Newly-arrived residents may be considered malihini—strangers, foreigners. You may also hear the word haole, which usually refers to Caucasian people. (Often, it’s just a statement of fact, not an insult. It’s all about the tone and the context.)

Where are we going with all this vocabulary? All of these words are a reminder that ancestry, identity, and origin are all critically important concepts in Hawaii. The islands have a complex history that continues to impact its people. European arrival brought a lot of suffering to the Native Hawaiian people. The population was reduced from an estimate of 683,000 in 1778 (the year Captain James Cook arrived) to a low of 24,000 in 1920. The islands were overthrown in 1893, and many generations of Native Hawaiians still feel the lasting effects.

(It’s impossible to reduce the history of the Hawaiian Islands to a few simple sentences. We encourage you to make your own deep-dive into Hawaii’s history if you want to better understand the points of view you’ll encounter here in Hawaii.)

All of this is to say that, even if you decide to call Hawaii “home,” it’s important to respect the people whose home this was originally, many of whom feel like second-class citizens on the land originally settled by their ancestors. It’s also important to realize that you may not ever truly “belong.” You may always feel like a visitor or a temporary resident. However, respecting the land and the people who originally settled it will go a long way.

Pro: You’ll Discover an Incredible Culture Here in Hawaii

Despite this complex history, you’ll still find a ton of aloha here in Hawaii. In our opinion, the more you give, the more you’ll experience.

Aloha is an intricate, multi-faceted concept to explain, but it’s something you’ll certainly feel in Hawaii. You might experience it when someone stops their car so you can cross the street. You might feel it in the friendly way you’re greeted at your favorite food truck. Or you might experience it when a neighbor goes out of their way to help you with a problem. Hawaii is a place where a smile and a patient attitude will get you far, whether you’re in a store, in the DMV, or just walking down the street.

There’s a reason that there are so many stories about the Hawaiian goddess Pele that involve her asking for help from a stranger. Those who assist the goddess-in-disguise are rewarded, and those who spurn her are punished. These stories reveal a culture where showing care and love to your community is prized. You’ll see that spirit alive in Hawaii today.

(By the way, we can’t encourage you enough to learn more about Native Hawaiian culture when you move to Hawaii. Get your kids involved in hula. Read Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen. Go see an authentic slack-key show. Tour Iao Palace and hear the true story of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Mai tais and grass skirts are easy to find in Hawaii. True cultural opportunities are harder to uncover—but a little digging will bring rich rewards.)

In short, even though you may never feel as though Hawaii is “yours,” you’ll still find opportunities to feel like a part of the community.

Pro: Some of the Best Things in Hawaii Are Free

In Hawaii, you’re almost always a short drive away from a gorgeous beach—the kind that some people save their whole lives to visit. For you, a beach visit might be an average Tuesday—and it’s free!

The same is true of most of the hikes you’ll find in Hawaii, as well as those gorgeous coastal views, rainforests, waterfalls, and mountains. And…

Pro: There’s Nowhere Better to Embrace Water Sports

Pick your poison. Surfing? You’ll find plenty of world-class breaks all around Hawaii—and they’re much less crowded than those in California. Foiling? Check. Kiteboarding? Check. Same with paddleboarding, canoeing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, spearfishing, boogie boarding, body surfing, etc., etc.

However you want to enjoy the ocean, it’s possible on just about every one of Hawaii’s islands. There’s a reason so many pro athletes make their home here.

Hawaii is a veritable watersports playground, one you’ll have easy access to every day of the week.

Con: The Cost of Living Can Be Brutal

All that said, the cost of living in Hawaii is no joke. It will really hit home when you put five items on the belt at Foodland and the cashier tells you your bill is $40.

Yes, of course, there are hacks that help. A Costco card can save you a bundle—but you’ve got to stay on top of your bulk purchases before they go bad. Farmer’s markets can be cheaper—or not. You’ve got to pick your produce carefully.

Although we mentioned the cost of buying a house earlier, we haven’t talked about rent yet. Housing is a huge problem in Hawaii right now. There’s not enough of it—and it’s all pretty expensive. You need to be ready to make a decision almost immediately after seeing a property because the landlord’s probably already swamped with potential renters.

In other words, unless you’ve got a bunch of money, you’re always doing a balancing act in Hawaii to keep ahead of the high cost of living. A lot of people work two jobs to break even.

Those who stay, though, have decided that paradise is worth the price.

Con: You’ll Be Living in the Middle of Nowhere

Hawaii is an isolated archipelago that’s more than 2,500 miles from Los Angeles. If you want to go anywhere outside of Hawaii, you’re looking at a long flight (5+ hours) and a pretty costly plane ticket. (Depending on when and where you’re headed, of course!)

If you’ve never lived in a small-town setting—or on an island before—you may start to feel claustrophobic. “Island fever” is real, and it’s not as simple to cure as when you’re living on the mainland.

However…

Pro: The Asia-Pacific Region Is Much More Open to You…

If you’ve ever wanted to explore Asia, Hawaii is a great jumping-off point. You’ll find direct flights to Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Manila, and more from Honolulu. You can also easily hop over to Incheon International Airport (ICN) in South Korea, a major hub for flights all over Asia.

Plus, Sydney is a direct flight away, as are Fiji and Guam, so you’ll have plenty of areas in the Asia-Pacific region to explore when Hawaii is your home base.

Pro: …And So Is the Rest of Hawaii

When you live in Hawaii, you’ll have plenty of time to explore all of the Hawaiian Islands at your leisure. There’s none of that “How many islands can we reasonably visit in 10 days on our once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii?” feeling.

No matter where you choose to settle, the other islands are just an interisland flight away. With Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, and Southwest Airlines all in the game, you can find interisland flights at relatively affordable rates. Hawaiian also runs occasional sales. One recent offer included $50 round-trip tickets between Maui and Oahu. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Pro: The Weather Is Incredible

If you’re someone who loves the freedom to be outside—and in the water—all year-round, Hawaii is the perfect spot for you. Daytime temperatures hover in the 80s in most locations year-round. You will see a little more rain in the “winter” months. However, you’ll largely be done with hiding indoors from seasonal weather.

Con: The Weather Can Be Extreme

All that said, Hawaii is subject to some pretty extreme weather every now and then.

  • On the Big Island, Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, has spewed VOG and hot lava across areas of the Big Island in recent years.
  • Additionally, hurricane season always brings some uncertainty to Hawaii. This area of the Pacific isn’t as active as, say, Hurricane Alley in the Atlantic. But big storms aren’t outside the realm of possibility. Hurricane Iniki wrought significant destruction on Kauai in 1992. While it’s been quite a while since Hawaii’s last big hurricane, it’s always a possibility.

Additionally, many newcomers to Hawaii don’t take into account the strength of the surrounding ocean. Because Hawaii is so isolated, there’s nothing to blunt the power of incoming waves, wind, and swell. Rip tides and powerful shorebreak are common. In fact, ocean drowning is the fourth leading cause of injury-related death in Hawaii for visitors and residents alike.

In other words, the natural environment Hawaii will awe you—and keep you on your toes.

Pro: Hawaii Is a Diverse Place to Live

If you long to live in a place with greater diversity, Hawaii delivers. In fact, the state is home to the country’s largest share of multiracial Americans. The website WalletHub also placed the state first in ethnic diversity, while ranking it the third-most diverse state overall.

Whether you’re looking for a place to fit into—or you want to raise your family in an ethnically diverse location—you’ll find a wealth of cultures, ethnicities, and races in Hawaii.

Con: Some Groups Are Not as Represented

Despite the diversity stats above, some groups are less represented in Hawaii. For example, Hawaii’s Black community is significantly smaller than the U.S. average. Whereas 13.6% of the overall U.S. population identified as Black or African American alone in the U.S. Census, that same number is a mere 2.2% in Hawaii. Additionally, while 18.9% of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic and Latino, that number is only 11.1% in Hawaii.

Percentage of the Population That Identifies as Black or African American Alone

U.S. Population – 13.6%
Hawaii > 2.2%

Percentage of the Population That Identifies as Hispanic or Latino

U.S. Population > 18.9%
Hawaii > 11.1%

In contrast, you’ll find a much higher percentage of the Hawaii population that identifies as Asian alone, in contrast to the U.S. population as a whole.

Percentage of the Population That Identifies as Asian Alone

U.S. Population > 6.1%
Hawaii > 36.8%

So while certain races and ethnicities enjoy greater representation in Hawaii, it’s not true across the board.

Con: Some Areas Get Overrun with Tourists

Next, a little secret that not every Hawaii resident will confess: During the pandemic, when the state all but shut down tourism, many of us really enjoyed our home state. We pulled up to popular spots and marveled at how easy it was to park. We strolled virtually empty beaches. We relished the light traffic. And maybe some of us secretly hoped it could always be like this.

However, tourism drives the economy of the state, a fact that you’ll become keenly aware of when you live in Hawaii. Encountering crowds of tourists is practically inevitable. Sometimes, this gets frustrating for residents, especially when you’re just trying to get to work, and a rental car in front of you is hogging the road. Or when you want to go to your favorite hiking spot, and the parking is clogged by shiny rental Jeeps and Mustangs.

It’s a complicated question in Hawaii. Many are considering how we can better balance welcoming visitors with protecting the land and natural resources for generations to come. Some of Hawaii’s politicians and residents are working to diversify the state’s economy. For now, the prevalence of tourism is a fact of life in Hawaii.

Pro: It’s Easy to Find a Job

Now, there is a positive side to welcoming more than nine million visitors each month. There are a lot of jobs in Hawaii supporting tourism. If you’re willing to work in hospitality, retail, or food and beverage, you can find a job in Hawaii pretty quickly.

Con: However, It May Not Be the Job You Want

Even though jobs supporting tourism may be plentiful, they don’t always pay enough to support you in this high-cost-of-living state. MIT’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that an adult needs to earn $22.69/hour in the City & County of Honolulu just to get by—and that doesn’t include money for eating out or entertainment.

You’ll see plenty of jobs below that rate, unfortunately.

Additionally, if you want to break into a professional field, that job market can be a bit tougher—especially if you don’t know people here in Hawaii. Businesses operate on personal relationships. So if you don’t have an “in,” it can be challenging to secure that kind of employment on Hawaii.

Pro: Hawaii Is an Easy Place for an American to Live in “Paradise”

But here’s the good news: Hawaii is a U.S. state, which makes it a pretty easy-breezy place for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to live. The roads are pretty darn good, and many resemble the major roads you’ll see on the mainland. Plus, we’ve got all the familiar big box stores you’ll recognize: Walmart, Target, Costco, Safeway, etc. With Amazon Prime, you can ship most everything here (with some exceptions, like lithium batteries).

Additionally, unlike foreign destinations, you don’t have to worry about currency exchanges, foreign banking, work visas, etc. At the most, you may have to change over your driver’s license, but even that’s a pretty simple procedure. (The county DMVs are no worse than the ones on the mainland!)

Con: Hawaii May Not Feel Far-Flung Enough for Everyone

However, if you’re looking for a real immersive adventure that will turn your world upside down—the kind that comes from living around people who speak a different language, who live an entirely different lifestyle than what you’re used to—Hawaii may not be the place for you.

Yes, you’ll find people of many different cultural backgrounds and experiences here. And you can find pockets where things operate quite differently than they do on the mainland. But those yearning for a an immersive, live-abroad experience may not find Hawaii far-flung enough.

To Sum It All Up, Here Are Our (Honest) Pros and Cons of Living in Hawaii

Con: You May Never Own a Home
Pro: It’s Easy to Embrace Condo Living

Pro: Lots of People Go Off the Grid
Con: But It’s a Significant Up-Front Investment

Con: You May Never Feel Like You Truly “Belong”
Pro: You’ll Discover an Incredible Culture Here in Hawaii

Pro: Some of the Best Things in Hawaii Are Free
Pro: There’s Nowhere Better to Embrace Water Sports
Con: The Cost of Living Can Be Brutal

Con: You Live in the Middle of Nowhere
Pro: The Asia-Pacific Region Is Much More Open to You…
Pro: …And So Is the Rest of Hawaii

Pro: The Weather Is Incredible
Con: The Weather Can Be Extreme

Pro: Hawaii Is a Diverse Place to Live
Con: Some Groups Are Not as Represented

Con: Some Areas Get Overrun with Tourists
Pro: It’s Easy to Find a Job
Con: However, It May Not Be the Job You Want

Pro: Hawaii Is an Easy Place for an American to Live in “Paradise”
Con: Hawaii May Not Feel Far-Flung Enough for Everyone

At the End of the Day…

Hawaii is what you make of it. We know plenty of people who have moved out and stayed for a lifetime—and plenty of people who moved to Hawaii and soon headed back to the mainland.

We love it here, and, if it’s the right fit for you, you’ll love it, too.

Want to know more about Hawaii life? Or want to talk about the logistics of moving your belongings to Hawaii? Reach out to our team. We’d be happy to talk more about the real Hawaii—and get you a complimentary quote for your move.

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