Surrounded by beautiful oceans, Hawaii naturally makes for an attractive place to live. But living in Hawaii comes with significant downsides as well: most of all, its cost of living, the highest in the United States.
Below, we’ll dig into everything you need to know about living in Hawaii. Let’s start with the good stuff.
Living in Hawaii: The Upsides
You can’t talk about the benefits of living in Hawaii without talking about the ocean and beaches. While the state is smaller, it’s got plenty of coastline. Plus, barring some federal areas, every beach is open to the public, regardless of ownership.
Part of what makes the ocean near Hawaii so amazing is the clean, clear waters in many areas. With high visibility, it’s easier to enjoy activities like scuba diving and snorkeling.
Plus, the water temperature is incredibly comfortable. Depending on the area, it typically ranges from about 72°F to about 83°F across the state, though most individual beaches fluctuate within a 5°F range in most cases.
All in all, that makes for exceptional swimming. Couple that with some of the most famous surf spots in the world, and it’s easy to see why the ocean in Hawaii draws so many people to the state.
Pristine Natural Beauty
When it comes to the natural beauty of Hawaii, it stretches far beyond the oceans. When it comes to the flora, there’s so much to appreciate. The Painted Forest on Maui is particularly breathtaking, allowing you to enjoy rainbow eucalyptus trees up close.
When the hibiscus, hinahina, plumeria, and many other flowers bloom, the state lights up with even more color. Couple that with the majesty of dense rainforests, and it’s easy to see why people become enamored with Hawaii.
On the fauna side, being able to swim with sea turtles is hard to beat. Seals, manta rays, chameleons, whales, and so many more amazing creatures also call the area home. Plus, the birdsong is something that simply has to be experienced firsthand.
Finally, you have amazing sunrises and sunsets. The colors reflecting off the water are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere, making Hawaii feel incredibly magical.
When it comes to weather, Hawaii offers those reliable, warm average temperatures that many people crave. Usually, the high temperatures throughout the year stay in the 80s. August and September typically come in with the highest average highs, coming in at 89°F, while January and February sit at the low point with averages of 80°F.
On the low side, temperatures rarely dip below the 60s. Even in January and February, the average is 66°F. During the hotter months, it’s still temperate, with August lows coming in at 75°F.
Plus, the sun shines for at least a little while almost every single day. When rains do come in – with most of that happening between November and March – it tends to be small pockets that don’t last overly long. Since that’s the case, most people find little to complain about when it comes to the weather.
When it comes to diversity, Hawaii is far ahead of the average. In fact, it’s the most ethnically and racially diverse state in the nation and the third most diverse state when it comes to cultural diversity. It also qualifies as the least white state in the country.
Between the Native Hawaiians, Asian population, and other groups, Hawaii is essentially a melting pot. Plus, tourists come in from all around the world, imbuing their unique perspective on the state during their stay and after making connections.
If you’re a fan of fresh fruits and seafood, Hawaii can easily seem like the perfect place to live. From succulent mahi-mahi to juicy pineapple, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything better.
Hawaiian cuisine is also heavily influenced by Asian and other Polynesian flavors. Every bite is a journey, one that you’ll happily take again and again.
Living in Hawaii: The Downsides
High Cost of Living
For many, the biggest drawback of living in Hawaii is the cost of living. Nearly everything is far more expensive in the state, including food, healthcare, transportation, and more. With a price index nearly double the national average, Hawaii has the highest cost of living of any U.S. state.
Food can also get expensive in Hawaii if you aren’t buying local. Many products have to be brought in from the mainland, a process that’s incredibly expensive. As a result, the prices of common items are significantly higher to offset that cost.
For example, when fuel prices are stable, a gallon of milk in Hawaii often costs more than a gallon of gasoline. A loaf of white bread costs $3.24 on average, far above the national average of $2.50. On average, a family of four in the United States would expect to spend around $9,835 on food annually. In Hawaii, that same family would need to pay $14,042.
Fuel is also expensive in Hawaii. Intermittently, Hawaii has the second-highest gasoline prices in the nation. However, even if other states push it down the list from time to time, the state generally remains in the top five.
Isolation, aka “Island Fever”
A challenge of living in Hawaii is that the state is incredibly remote. In most cases, you’ll need to fly if you want to leave the islands, and that isn’t always cheap. If you want to head back to the continental United States, you usually need to spend a minimum of five and a half hours in the air to reach the mainland. If you’re heading to the East Coast, your air time could come in at 11 or 12 hours.
While Hawaii’s location can make it a good jumping-off point for parts of Asia, those trips generally take at least eight hours. Plus, they’ll require a passport and can get quite spendy. If you want to head to Europe, expect to fly for at least 16 hours.
Since flying can be costly, many people that live in Hawaii choose to remain on the islands most of the time. In some cases, this can lead to an unofficial condition known as “island fever.” It happens when transplants from the mainland or natives struggle mentally with feelings of isolation after moving to the Hawaiian Islands.
In many ways, island fever isn’t unlike claustrophobia. It’s a sense of being trapped or boxed in since leaving the islands isn’t easy. It can also resemble homesickness, particularly for transplants that have family back on the mainland that they can’t see as often as they’d like.
Tight Job Market
In some cases, Hawaii has a far tighter job market than many people expect. This is particularly true since the unemployment rate – which sat at 4.2% as of May 2022 – seems very reasonable.
Usually, the big challenge is that specific kinds of jobs aren’t necessarily plentiful. In most cases, you can typically do incredibly well if you focus on the hospitality sector. Similarly, healthcare jobs are reasonably widespread, as well as basic retail and broadly needed services.
However, other career paths aren’t as easy to maintain in Hawaii, particularly if you can’t work remotely. This is particularly true if you head to Maui, Molokai, or other islands that aren’t traditional business centers.
Lots of Tourists
In April 2022, the average number of visitors in Hawaii each day came in at 236,835. Considering that the total population in Hawaii – not including tourists – is about 1.44 million, that means around one in every six people in the state in April didn’t actually live there.
In some cases, the number of tourists can be off-putting. This is particularly true if you choose to live in a city or near an area that’s incredibly popular with visitors. In some cases, it may feel as if the tourists take over your favorite spots, making it seem like locals get the short end of the stick.
People Come and Go
It may be surprising, but many transplants don’t stay in Hawaii forever. Instead, they head to Hawaii to pursue a dream, only later discovering that it isn’t a great fit. Sometimes it’s the financial side of the equation that leads to that determination. In others, it’s succumbing to island fever.
For transplants, that can make it hard to build lasting relationships. Many long-time locals aren’t a fan of transplants, and with good reason. Since that’s the case, transplants typically befriend other transplants – making it all the more likely that the friends you make will one day move on from Hawaii.
This can be particularly true if you are near the military bases. Military members are limited in regards to how long they’ll stay in an area, as their job requires relocations every few years. If you connect with military members and their families, the odds of them remaining in Hawaii long-term are inherently slim.
For some, the lack of long-term connections makes it hard for Hawaii to feel like home. As a result, some transplants ultimately decide to leave instead of sticking it out in a place where they can’t build a community.
Is Living in Hawaii Right for You?
Ultimately, whether living in Hawaii is a good fit depends on your needs and priorities. If you’re comfortable with the high cost of living, have a career that you can easily pursue after moving, don’t mind the tourists, and are okay with people coming and going, you may find it’s a great choice. In the end, Hawaii is a paradise that has a lot to offer. For the right transplant, it’s undoubtedly a dream come true.
However, if your job opportunities are slim, you’re worried about affordability, or you’re at your best when you have a strong sense of community, you may want to explore other options. Remember, while moving to Hawaii is an option, you can always embrace being a tourist and regularly visit instead. Then, you can enjoy the magic that is Hawaii without the drawbacks of being a transplant.