Many people who visit the Big Island of Hawai'i are entranced by the beauty, the friendly population and the sheer old-world charm of the island. Understandably they want to move here - and each time they visit it becomes harder and harder to get on the airplane and leave. Trust me; I understand; it happened to me.
Moving to Hawai'i is not a trivial matter. In fact, it will probably be one of the largest moves people do in their lifetime. Keeping in mind that Hawai'i is the most remote land in the world - separated from land by 2,500 miles of open ocean in all directions - it is not easy to move to Hawai'i.
This page is meant to give you some tips and resources on moving to the Big Island. We also recommend all the books in the sidebar to the left as good reading resources.
Before we ponder the specifics of moving to the Big Island, we should consider the negative aspects of island life. What? You say? Negatives to living in an island paradise? You bet. A friend who sees a lot of people move here estimates that 50% of the people who move here move back within 5 or 6 years. Here are the most common reasons:
| ||Friends And Family|
People who leave friends and family on the mainland often find that they miss them, or need to visit them periodically. Trips back and forth can become very expensive. Proximity to your loved ones is something to consider.
|Cost of Living|
Just about everything costs more in Hawai'i, and a lot depends on where in Hawai'i. Gas, non-local food, electricity, clothing all cost more than the mainland. Expect to pay even more on the resort side than on the wet side.
Unless you are retired or independently wealthy you will need a job. In the best case you have a business you are bringing to Hawai'i. In the worst case you need a job. Good paying jobs are hard to come by. Check our Job Resource page for more.
Hawai'i isn't for everyone. People who find it hard to make friends or understand foreign cultures may find it difficult to fit into the local style of life. The language is different and the variety of cultures on the island is a new experience for many people.
Some people find the environment a bit frightening. First is the climate - highly varied and always unpredictable. Next are natural disasters: lava, earthquakes, tsunami, and hurricanes. Finally there are insects, 4-inch cockroaches, termites and huge centipedes.
Once you have decided that Hawai'i is the place you want to be - there are five basic steps to follow in actually moving to Hawai'i:
- Visit Hawai'i
You would think this is a no-brainer - but in my various dealing with people via the Internet I am always amazed when I meet someone who has never been to Hawai'i but is "planning on moving there soon". I always ask why they want to move and they usually respond something to the effect of "I always wanted to live on a tropical island" or "Hawai'i always sounded so beautiful and romantic". To each of these people I have one, and only one thing to say - you had better come here to visit first.
Hawai'i is, if anything a place of extremes. There is extreme beauty, extreme weather, extreme environment, and extreme cultures. What Hawai'i is not - is endless beaches, resorts, and white sand - that's the movie version. If you are going to move here, live here and successfully interact with the Island and people, you need to understand the diversity and appreciate the many new and unusual things Hawai'i has to offer. The only way to get a taste of that is to visit here.
I asked one person I chatted with, who had never been here but intended on moving, what about the island specifically they liked to do? I asked Do you like learning about the Hawaiian culture, history, and hula? No, they said, that didn't interest them. I asked Then you like the nature, the volcano, the beauty of the environment? No, they said, they didn't care much for physical activities and tended to stick around the house. How about scuba, the ocean, boating? No, not into it they said. Stay on the Mainland I said, The Island is heavy enough.
The people who move here, and end up successfully integrating themselves into the Island life, tend to have visited for many, many years. They moved about the island getting to learn and appreciate the uniqueness that each area has to offer. They learned to interact with the people, appreciate the local foods, flavors, and traditions - and then, they made the bold decision to move.
- Location Location Location
As the real estate saying goes - it's all about Location. The next big step in the moving process is figuring out where you want to live. The easy answer is "well, on the Big Island" - but given that the Big Island has climates ranging from tropical to artic, the answer is not as easy as one might consider.
The Big Island is divided into 9 districts - sort of shaped as slices in a pie. That means each district has land that goes from sea level up to the higher elevations. Trade winds on the Big Island generally come from the northeast direction. That means the east side of the Island is cooler, usually by 5 degrees, than the west side of the Island.
The Big Island has two mountains in the middle over 13,000 ft high that disrupts much of the weather and allows the island to create its own weather conditions. The east side is normally much wetter than the west side. Portions of the east side of Hawai'i can receive over 150 to 200 inches of rain a year. Whereas portions of the southwest and northwest areas of the Big Island are desert. With communities as high as 4000 to 6000 ft above sea level the temperature can range by 20 degrees by altitude.
The climate can also vary greatly within just a few miles as you go from one ecosystem to another. For example, the town of Volcano sits on the border between the very wet Puna District and the very dry Ka'ū District. As you go from Volcano Village into Ka'ū the climate is vastly different, going from 70 inches of rain a year to less than 40 in the span of two miles.
Want a house on the ocean? There are many things to consider. A house on the ocean is subjected to a lot more salt-water spray than a house set farther back. Salt-water means corrosion that means higher maintenance. Another consideration in an ocean house is the threat of a tsunami. The final consideration to an ocean house is heavy storms can pick up 10 ton lava boulders and toss them into your house with ease. A storm in 2003 caused much damage along parts of the Puna coast and completely destroyed two houses due to tossed boulders.
- Buying a House
In Hawai'i property comes in two flavors. The first is Fee Simple and is what you are familiar with in most property sales. The second type is Lease Hold.
A Fee Simple property means you, or you bank, pay cash for the property and you are then the owner of that property.
A Lease Hold property means that a 3rd party actually owns the property and you are only paying a lease. The property will have a time on that lease at the end of which you have to renegotiate with the owner for a new lease.
Some properties are part of an association or subdivision and there will be monthly or yearly association fees for things like road maintenance and other expenses.
Also consider carefully the neighborhood. Does a neighbor seem to like junk cars? Is there a rooster farm nearby (noisy early in the morning). Does a neighbor run a daytime car repair garage out of his home? Go to the property at various times of the day and night to see what type of noises you'll have to live near.
To find houses in Hawai'i click here.
- Moving Your Stuff
This is about the easiest step in moving to Hawai'i. First, have a huge garage sale and get rid of 90% of the stuff you own that you really don't need. Consider that Hawai'i has much higher humidity - things mildew here quickly. That leather coat isn't going to fare well and do you really need it if you're intending at living at sea level? Furniture that makes sense in the mainland might not make sense in Hawai'i. Where in the mainland, houses help keep the environment out, in Hawai'i houses are designed to let the air flow through the houses to keep you cool.
Now that you got rid of most of your stuff, the rest of it gets packed up and shipped to a West Coast port and shipped to Hawai'i via one of the container cargo ships. You can do this yourself by contacting a container cargo company such as Matson. They will deliver a full (24 ft) or partial container to your house. When you're done filling it up they will come and ship it to one of the port cities. The container will be loaded on a ship and taken to Oahu, from there it will be shipped to the Big Island. It will be taken off the ship and you can have it trucked to your house and unloaded. Or you can hire any of the nation-wide moving companies to do it for you.
As for your car, Matson currently charges around $995 to ship a vehicle from the mainland to the Big Island.
- Moving In
So it's the day to leave. You have your one-way ticket to Hawai'i and your container is on the ship and bobbing somewhere in the Pacific. What could go wrong? Plenty. You might consider spending the first week in a hotel or rental while you get your new house setup and some of the basics in place. If you shipped a car it is highly unlikely that it arrived when you did. In any case you will probably need a rental car. Having a hotel room and rental car can greatly ease the move-in experience and give you the time you need to get acquainted with the new house and area.
You may want to designate one room in your house as a "dry room" that you can close off from the rest of the house. In that room, put a dehumidifier and keep important papers, stamps, envelopes, anything that might be prone to mildew or sticking together. In the kitchen you may want to keep your spices in the freezer.
If you did not ship a car, you will need to purchase a new or used car. If you moved to Hawai'i because you LOVE the nature and intend on making the most of what the Island has to offer, you will want a 4-wheel drive vehicle that will allow you to get to the most remote of places. Hawai'i has lots of BIG vehicles - and we use them. Weekends will find the most remote beaches packed with locals having fun in the sun.
Affordable Paradise: The Secrets of an Affordable Life in Hawai'i
Living and Retiring in Hawai'i : The 50th State in the 21st Century
So You Want to Live in Hawai'i
How to Live in Hawai'i on $1000 Per Month
Business Basics in Hawai'i: Secrets of Starting Your Own Business in Our State