12 Reasons You May NOT Want to Move to Hawaii
We think that Hawaii is the greatest place on earth. But that’s our opinion. However, Hawaii is not for everyone. It seems like Hawaii brings out a love/hate response in people. For some, it’s heaven on earth and they can’t possibly imagine living anywhere else. For others, it’s hell on earth and they can’t wait to get out of here.
What’s really interesting: Chances are you won’t know what side you will come down on until you actually live here. So to help you out we compiled the most common reasons why for some people, Hawaii is hell on earth. If you think many of the below reasons will turn you off, you can thank us for saving you untold headaches because there’s a really good chance that Hawaii is not right for you.
Reason #1 you should not move to Hawaii: There’s a good chance you’ll be living at what feels like poverty
The “middle class” in Hawaii lives at what their mainland counterparts would consider poverty levels. Many family work several jobs, live paycheck to paycheck, have substandard (by mainland comparison) housing conditions, very little expendable income and at any moment are living on the financial edge.
Put it simply, in Hawaii as of 2023 you need to be earning at least $150k a year to have what on the mainland can be had for $75k/yr. And if you have a larger family, you’ll need more and possibly a lot more income.
If you’re going to live in Hawaii, you need to be prepared to live a lifestyle of comparative poverty. If you can stay here for the long term you can work your way up, but on day one be prepared to live a vastly downgraded lifestyle. Unless you’re already a multi-millionaire.
Reason #2 you should not move to Hawaii: One of the worst places to start a business
On various rankings, Hawaii nearly always comes at the bottom of the list in terms of starting a business. If you’ve dreamed owning a business, Hawaii is going to make it many, many times harder for you to succeed. It’s not impossible though as Hawaii has thousands of successful small family businesses.
It’s just that you will have a much, much harder time starting and running a business here than almost anywhere else. If the business is in a regulated industry, you’ll have to deal with very long streams of red tape. And once you get past that, you’ll need to build trust and respect in the community to get customers and that becomes a big catch-22: You need customers to build that trust and respect but you need trust and respect to get customers.
Reason #3 you should not move to Hawaii: Near the bottom in public education
Hawaii has one of the largest capacity (per-capita) of private schools in the nation and that’s because parents try to avoid Hawaii’s public schools if they can. Hawaii’s public school system usually sits near the bottom of various national rankings. In 2023 WalletHub ranked Hawaii #41 overall and #41 for “Quality”.
The problem with private schools is that due to high demand, it’s expensive. In 2023 you can expect to pay around $20k/year per student. If you have two children, you’re talking $40k/yr and that’s after taxes so about $50k-$60k/yr of your gross income will go to paying for private school.
So combine this with the $150k income to start and you’re up to $200k/yr in gross income. And we haven’t even talked about buying a house yet.
Reason #4 you should not move to Hawaii: Pay is below national averages despite much higher cost of living.
Because everyone wants to live here and is willing to work for less (admittedly this is just our guess and not a data research-backed conclusion), the result is that jobs here pay much less than their mainland counterparts. Expect a 20% cut in pay or more from what you’re making on the mainland.
So you really end up taking a double-hit: first you get hurt due to a much higher cost of living than nearly any other city and then you get whacked with a pay cut.
Many people from big mainland cities say that Honolulu’s cost of living is similar to where they live which is true, but when those people compare what they will be paid to do the same job in Honolulu they are understandably shocked by the pay cut.
Hawaii has the high costs of big mainland cities with pay scales of small isolated towns and that’s a double whammy that’s hard to swallow.
Reason #5 you should not move to Hawaii: First time home ownership nearly impossible
In 2023 the median price of a single family home on Oahu is $986,000 and for a condo it was $631,000. Do the math. Unless you can put down approx $200k and carry an $800k mortgage for a home (and that’s a “median” home) or come up with $130k and carry a $500k mortgage for a condo, fuggetaboutit.
So either you have to make a really high income with very little expenses or you have to already have a home that you can sell that has sufficient equity.
As a result of these sky-high prices, most middle class folks in Hawaii must rent and those rents go up every year due to ever-climbing real estate prices.
Reason #6 you should not move to Hawaii: Traffic is really bad
Various national reports show Hawaii’s traffic as some of the nation’s worst. We know of friends that moved to LA from Honolulu and they think Honolulu is worse. The freeways look like parking lots during rush hours that can stretch a normally 30 minute commute into a two hour crawl. Every workday. On some parts of Oahu people have to get up at 5am to get to work by 8am. No lie.
What’s really bad about the traffic is that it’s extremely peaky. If your travel time can flex from 30 minutes to 2 hours, what time do you leave the house to get into town by 10am? Who knows? This forces you to leave early and then you might arrive really early, on-time, or late. This wastes a lot of time and makes one want to avoid driving whenever possible.
But wait, there’s more. Here’s the real kicker: because our mostly mountainous islands have few highways, most locations on the island are only accessible from a single highway. When we get the occasional big highway accident, the entire island chokes on traffic. There have been some horror stories of people taking 8 hours to get home. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen.
If you don’t like sitting in traffic, you’ll either need to live really close to where you work which typically means much higher housing costs or work near where you live which typically means much lower paying jobs.
Reason #7 you should not move to Hawaii: Fewer choices, less competition, poorer service, higher prices
Because of Hawaii’s disincentives, there is less competition for anything in our small, closed market. Less competition is almost always bad for consumers and here it applies to much more than just high prices. Companies just don’t have to try as hard to win your business, creating for many a “take it or leave it” approach. This lack of competition also permeates our politics: Hawaii is a single party state, featuring the lowest voter turnout in the nation.
This all contributes to an attitude of apathy for many. For a while there was a popular bumper sticker “Ainokea!” (pronounced eye-no-kay-ah) which is local slang for “I no care”.
You would think our conditions would be ripe for change and consumer revolt, but in Hawaii our Aloha Spirit culture creates a shrug-and-bear-it type of attitude.
Reason #8 you should not move to Hawaii: You may not recover from the culture shock
If you’re caucasian (locally called “Haole” [How-lay]) and raised with traditional American / Western values you are almost guaranteed to be in for a huge culture shock. While Hawaii is one of the United States of America, it’s about as far away from the USA culturally as is it geographically. Consider this: Hawaii’s Statehood holiday (i.e. “celebrating” the day Hawaii became a state) is never celebrated (or even recognized!) by elected officials at any level and is almost always met with protests by those who believe Hawaii was illegally overthrown and illegally annexed by the United States.
Once you get over the passive/aggressive anti-American attitude, you’ll then have to acclimate to a social culture which is founded on a beautiful Hawaiian value system of Aloha, acceptance, and ‘ohana (family) that combines with a strong Asian influence that brings with it an interesting mix of duty, honor, and extremely cliquey social circles.
Once you get past that, you’ll have to be forever comfortable that you’re the “low man on the totem pole” in terms of racial minorities. All in Hawaii are minorities but there is a pecking order. Hawaiians are on the top of the heap, followed by other Polynesians, then Asians, and finally the Haoles.
In summary, if you can handle an anti-American closed society embracing pan-Pacific cultural values where haoles are the on the bottom of the social pecking order, you’ll do fine. Most mainland haoles never get past this. Those that do have have learned to embrace its benefits (the Aloha Spirit, the non-materialistic values, the beauty of racial diversity, and the Japanese “Samurai” code of honor) while not letting the downside bother them.
Reason #9 you should not move to Hawaii: You’ll always be an outsider
It doesn’t matter how well you’ve integrated with Hawaii’s culture; you’ll always be the “mainlander” and if you’re haole, even more so. It won’t matter if you married “local”, have been Hanai’d (“ha-nigh”) by a local family (to Hanai is to adopt one into a family), had mixed-race children, have done countless good works for Hawaii and have lived here for most of your life. Too bad so sad you’re still a mainland haole.
Unlike the US mainland where you’re either a New Yorker, Chicagoan, Californian, Georgian or whatevers, in Hawaii you will never be more than a Hawaii resident. The only people that will call you “Hawaiian” are those that are absolutely clueless.
What does this mean, really? It means you will have to completely let go of your Western self and completely embrace your new Hawaiian islander self. You must be like Lt. John Dunbar who comes in as an American soldier to a remote output and “turns injun”, becoming “Dances with Wolves” in an Native American Indian tribe and long longer speaks English or identifies by his American name. If you can be Dances with Wolves, you’ll do fine. If you insist on remaining Lt. John Dunbar, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll need to leave.
Reason #10 you should not move to Hawaii: Everything is really expensive
If it costs money, it will cost a lot more than you’re used to paying. Nothing here is cheap. Even locally produced goods cost a ton more. One interview with a local cattle rancher revealed that it’s cheaper to ship calves from Hawaii to the mainland, raise them there, then ship them back for the slaughterhouse than it is to raise them on Hawaiian lands.
If you can’t buy it in the stores, you’ll have to ship it. Amazon’s free shipping has been a godsend for Hawaii (and you’ll love that Amazon Prime membership!) but not everything is on Amazon (at least yet) so for any special order items you’ll have to wait a long time and pay a whole lot of shipping costs. And even on Amazon, there are many items that only ship to the “Continental United States” which means Hawaii is out of luck.
Why are things so expensive here? It’s not just because everything has to be shipped in, which it does, but rather a cocktail that consists of:
- High real estate prices (which affects warehouse and retail costs)
- High government overhead (taxes, regulations, etc)
- Low competition
- Higher than normal shipping costs due to the Jones Act which requires that all shipping from the US mainland arrives on US flagged ships.
Hawaiian islanders get used to it until they go to the mainland for a trip and only then realize the “Paradise Tax” that we have to pay. Visitors to Hawaii need only take one trip to the grocery store or any restaurant to experience extreme sticker shock that us islanders have just come to accept.
Reason #11 you should not move to Hawaii: Everything is really crowded
Anything in Hawaii that becomes even somewhat popular immediately becomes overcrowded. This perhaps may be more acute on Oahu than the other islands but the underlying fundamentals are similar. Find a good restaurant? You’ll have to wait for an hour. New product announcement? Lines around the block. Big concert in town? Sold out in an hour. Big shopping sale at the mall? You’ll never find parking. Big event anywhere? Traffic backed up for miles. Big surf event? You can’t get near the place.
This phenomenon is probably the result of a combination of these factors:
- High population density
- Little variety results in high demand for new things
- Bored with status quo of things to do
- Cultural acceptance of waiting in very long lines
If you don’t like long lines or crowds, this is obviously not going to work for you. The way we islanders deal with this is either embrace it by making the long camped out lines part of the fun of the event itself (if you can believe that), or if possible, wait until the craze subsides and then participate, though this latter approach doesn’t work well for short-term events like concerts. One visitor summed up their experience: “It’s hot, crowded, and expensive”.
Reason #12 you should not move to Hawaii: No road trips
One of many things mainland Americans take for granted is the amazingly awesome fun of a road trip. We’re not going to go into great detail here about how much fun that is because you either know or you don’t.
The best thing you can do in Hawaii is an “around the island” trip and we put that in quotes because you really can’t go around any of the islands due to terrain. So in reality what you end up doing is driving across the island and then back.
It’s fun, gorgeous, varied, and scenic. But it’s the same road and the same scenery each time. It’s still beautiful but you can only do it so many times.
For those that enjoy road trips, you are really going to miss this if you move to Hawaii.
Still reading? You get a bonus 2 more reasons why you should not move to Hawaii
Reason #13 you should not move to Hawaii: Visiting family on the mainland is really expensive
In 2023 it’s about $600 round trip to San Francisco and $900 to Chicago or New York. So for a family of 4, you’re looking at $2,000 to $3,200 just to get off the island. Add in $200/night for hotel, $75/day for car and a 2 week vacation starts adding up to around $10,000. And we’re not talking about any trips abroad.
Visiting family will probably cost you a lot less as you’ll end up staying at someone’s house but you’ll still have to pop for airfare, probably car, and definitely eating out.
Either way, mainland trips are something you really have to think about long and hard because it’s going to cost you. What ends up happening over time is you go there less and less, growing ever more distant from mainland family. For some, that’s a great benefit. For others, it’s heartbreaking. Over time for many, it’s a dealbreaker.
Reason #14 you should not move to Hawaii: Less food variety
Before Costco came to Hawaii this was a lot worse but we still don’t get anywhere near the food variety that you see in similarly-sized mainland cities. Surprisingly, our fresh fruit selection is not very good. While we have good local supply of pineapples, bananas and papayas, fruit that has to be shipped in is rarely ripe and either overripe or underripe. Peaches are the best example: we only get really sweet and juicy peaches for perhaps 2-3 weeks out of the year with substandard selection after that.
Restaurants are a problem too. Hawaii has a large selection of Asian-centric restaurants but after that it falls off the cliff. Italian, Greek, Mexican, Pizza and the like are sorely lacking. And don’t even try asking for locally popular foods like Philly Cheesesteaks and Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches.
If you love Asian cuisine and seafood (especially sashimi), you’ll be in heaven. But great [anything else] restaurants? You’ll be lucky if you find a tiny handful of the rest and how many times can you go to the same Italian restaurant?
Should you move not move to Hawaii? Despite all that, we’re still here!
Share this page with anyone you know that lives in Hawaii and they will have little to disagree with. But, guess what? They are still here and so are we! Why?
Easy! We love the positives and the negatives don’t matter that much to us. This of course is an individual choice and only you can weigh out your own internal equation.
So now that you’ve read the bad, it’s time to read about the good.
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