So you think you’d like to live in Paradise? Hawaii has been known for a long time as one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the idea of working during the day and partying the night away out on the beach is seductive to say the least.
But Hawaii is also one of the most expensive places in the world to live. You can do it; it just takes careful planning.
Cost of Living
Milk costs US$4 a gallon. The average shirt, over $50. A small apartment, as much as $2,000 a month.
It’s not cheap.
But there are ways you can cut the costs. When you first move to Hawaii, if you don’t have a lot of cash, consider camping. On Oahu, there are some very nice campgrounds that will cost you around $20 a night. If you have a like-minded friend, you have a built-in roommate; or you can check Craig’s List for potential roommates.
Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you take the plunge. Research relative salaries where you live now and in Hawaii. And save up enough money to survive for at least two months without a job; four months is better.
Here’s the good news. Hawaii has between 2% and 3% unemployment; this means that it’s a buyer’s market for employees, as long as you’re flexible about what you do. If you are set on being a software designer, you probably should reconsider Hawaii. If, however, you don’t mind waitressing or cleaning hotel rooms, at least short-term, you will be able to find a job almost right away, and it will probably pay at least a living wage.
Explore the job market before you move; if possible, have interviews lined up before you fly out so you can hit the ground running. Rent a post office box or a mail drop box in the town you’re moving to in Hawaii so you have a temporary local address. Being able to give a local address shows your commitment.
The best island to live on for employment is Oahu; it is also marginally the most expensive of the islands. Do a little research before you move. Don’t anticipate being able to island-hop; it costs more than you might think.
Where to Live
This is the hardest part. Research, research, research before you move. You won’t find a beautiful beach bungalow for an affordable price; but you will probably find an efficiency inland that won’t cost you too much. If you’re willing to live with a roommate, you’ll have an easier time affording a place. Plan, though, as if you won’t find one.
Advertise on Craig’s List for a room or temporary place to stay when you first get to the islands. You may be able to find someone willing to put you up for a reasonable price. Even crash space on a living room floor is preferable to having nowhere to go when you get there.
There are also campgrounds on Oahu and Hawaii that are priced reasonably. If you don’t mind living a little rough right after you move there, camping is a great way to save some money.
Having A Plan
It’s critical to have a plan before you move: where you are probably going to live, work, and play. Set up a budget, and assume you won’t have an income for the first two months just in case. Do as much work as you can before you move to Hawaii: line up job interviews, know how you’re going to get around, and send a deposit if you are lucky enough to find a reasonably priced apartment.
If you can’t afford most of this stuff but you’re young and good with kids, nanny services may solve some of your problems. You can contract to work as a live-in nanny for a year with a Hawaiian family, and work toward a more permanent job while you’re living on the island.
You can also get a job with a hotel chain with Hawaiian branches and transfer from within to a job in Hawaii. Or you can apply to one of the Hawaiian colleges and live on campus for the same price you’d pay for a university on the mainland; this has the added advantage of allowing you to use financial aid.
Any plan you make toward your goal of living in Hawaii must be unique to your own circumstances. Get creative; brainstorm, and think about what you really want in Hawaii. If it’s to live on the beach and write poetry, plan for that; if you prefer a roof and don’t care what you do for a living, plan for that.
Moving Your Stuff
It is very expensive to move your possessions to Hawaii. Your best bet is to only move things that are genuinely of value, and that you intend to continue using for years. Most shipping goes via boat, and will take up to six weeks to reach its destination.
This leaves you with two problems: first, you need essentials for six weeks after you arrive, and second, you will pay through the nose for anything you ship. Talk to several companies before you ship anything. It’s fairly likely that you will have to use a professional moving company to ship your possessions.
Anything that you can live without, sell it or give it away. Start about six months before you move so that you have time to sell as much as possible. Things that are of sentimental value should be left with parents, friends, or anyone else you trust; you can send for them later if necessary.
Apartments in Hawaii are also smaller than those on the mainland. If you have a choice between taking your bed or a futon, take the futon. Space-saver furniture is a keeper; your grandmother’s oak china cabinet is something to leave with friends and family.
Once you have everything chosen, go through it one more time and eliminate anything else you can live without. Things to take: lots of shorts and shirts (clothes are expensive), swim gear, professional attire, and small appliances. Things to leave: half-empty bottles of anything, extra linens, Grandma’s china. Pack as if you’re going for a year, but not forever. Things that you can’t bear to part with can be shipped over later, when you know how much room you really have.
Transportation When You Get There
If you’re moving to Oahu, there is a very robust public transportation system. It’s all buses, but because the island is small costs are reasonably low. If you have a quality lightweight bicycle, this is perfect transportation for most purposes; you can purchase a child trailer to attach to it to haul groceries and other necessities, and you’ll be set.
Make It Easy On Yourself
There are several things you can do to make it easier to transition to life in Hawaii. Proper financial planning is important, but it’s not everything you need.
Hawaii is a very tightly-knit community, and when you first get there you’ll be a haole – an outsider. Read about Hawaii’s attitudes; blogs are among the best places, but even something like a Froemmer’s will tell you many of the basics. Learn what a shaka is, how to dress, what the aloha attitude is, why you should eat Spam, and that you never call the mainland US “the states” – it’s one of the quickest ways to piss off a Hawaiian!
Don’t expect to blend in, at least not right away. Be friendly, and don’t be upset if you’re blown off; Hawaiians deal with tourists and other short-timers every day. Once you’re accepted, you’ll start getting lagniappe, little extras, and being treated with respect. It’s worth the work when you finally feel Hawaiian.