As I tossed and turned on a flimsy air mattress for the third night in a row, I finally admitted the bitter truth: I could have planned things better.
Moving to Hawaii sounds fantastic, and it is. I discovered, however, that living in paradise is not all rainbows, pink sunsets, and fragrant leis. It’s also about dealing with insects (never leave food out unless you want cockroaches as pets), island fever, and asking incessantly, “Do they ship to Hawaii?”
My response to the suggestion of relocating to the Aloha State was a resounding “Yes.” It didn’t matter that we were in the midst of a global pandemic, that we were moving with a baby, and that we had to observe a 14-day quarantine in a small hotel room; I couldn’t pass up the chance to live near the ocean and in a state where we could be outside safely (and wearing masks).
As of October 15, when trans-Pacific travel restrictions were lifted, I am no longer alone in my island fervor. In the first two weeks since restrictions were lifted, more than 82,000 visitors are estimated to have arrived. Each day, more than 100 of these individuals register as “Intended Residents.”
Before you abandon your snow chains and jump on the bandwagon, you should be aware that moving to paradise comes with a few caveats. To begin with, you’ll need to carefully plan your relocation, from deciding which island to live on to determining how to obtain furniture in a timely manner to determining how you’ll get around and how much it will cost (air tickets, postage/shipping, temporary housing, etc.). Check and double-check the process of timing and obtaining a negative Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) from a reliable partner, and finally, accept that being away from friends and family will at times feel isolating. It should also be noted that Hawaii today is very different from pre-COVID times: many businesses and attractions remain closed, there are no Friday fireworks shows from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and Tier 1 restrictions could be reinstated if the number of new infections exceeds 100 for more than seven days.
If the preceding doesn’t dissuade you from island ambitions, here’s what you need to know—from what to pack to how to find an apartment to where to buy a gallon of milk for $5—so that you can get set up quickly and embrace the aloha spirit of Hawaii.
Get your test properly organized.
Nobody desires to spend the first two weeks in Hawaii in a hotel room. To avoid this, please review the Pre-Travel Testing program for Hawaii, which can be found here. Print and carry your negative test result, complete the Safe Travels Hawaii Form prior to your arrival, and verify three times that your test was administered by a reputable lab. If you are departing from a city that is served by Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, or United Airlines, you should investigate their pre-organized testing programs. Hawaiian Airlines, for example, sells At-Home Testing Kits for $143 and has a drive-through lab in San Francisco (with additional locations to be added in the coming weeks) where same-day results can be obtained for $150 or within 36 hours for $90.
Don’t Appear Without Arrangement
While it may be tempting to organize a place virtually, it is recommended that you visit the neighborhood in person to get a feel for the area. Elizabeth La Riva, a real estate agent with Locations, remarked, “Sometimes people see great prices for oceanfront condos, but they may not be aware of the neighborhood.” She also suggests using CrimeMapping.com to determine whether an area is “safe.” The most practical solution (though perhaps not the cheapest) is to rent a furnished apartment for a month. Request a tax ID number (if it’s not included in the listing) to ensure that the rental is legal, as Hawaii has strict regulations regarding short-term rentals.
Utilize this month to investigate longer-term housing options on websites such as Zillow, Zumper, and HiCentral. As a general rule, most owners prefer a minimum six-month lease, but month-to-month leases do occasionally become available. The time will also allow you to order what you need (prioritize a mattress, as high-quality ones are often in short supply) and provide you with a forwarding address for your mail and boxes. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $1,800 for a decent one-bedroom apartment on Oahu, and between $2,600 and $3,000 for a newer condo with amenities. Be wary of fake rental ads offering a house for $2,000 per month.
If you are located on the West Coast, ship the vehicle.
It may feel like overkill to transport the car, but the cost in money (approximately $1,500 from California (Long Beach and Oakland) to Honolulu by Matson) and nerves (there is paperwork involved) will be worth it if you plan to stay longer than three months, and especially if you want to live somewhere other than Oahu. Car rentals in Hawaii are expensive (we rented a standard SUV on Oahu for approximately $70 per day), and only the airport location is open daily, making returns inconvenient. Consider a daily surcharge of approximately $20 to $30 if you are under the age of 25. Otherwise, pre-arrival peruse the online classifieds for used cars, as there are just as many people leaving for the mainland and selling their cars quickly as there are people arriving.
Pack lightly but carefully
If it cannot be packaged, dispose of it; if it is essential, ship it. Being in Hawaii, there are many things you won’t need, such as your entire winter wardrobe and anything susceptible to mold (e.g. leather, antiques). Plan carefully what you’ll need for the first month; Amazon Prime is available, but it does not offer two-day shipping (more like once every one to two weeks), and many companies do not ship to Hawaii or do so only for a substantial surcharge.
Whether it’s a coffee maker, supplements, computer monitor, or irreplaceable mementos, it may be worthwhile to pay extra for excess baggage or ship the item via USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate box. Include a twin-size air mattress in your checked luggage; it will come in handy while you wait for your mattresses and furniture to arrive.
Wayfair and IKEA do not charge for shipping.
It can be difficult to find affordable, high-quality furniture in Hawaii, especially if you live anywhere other than Oahu. Consider renting a PODS container if you’re attached to specific pieces of furniture. The portable container (starting at seven feet and taking between 23 and 30 days to arrive) delivers to Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and the Big Island for a starting price of $3,859 plus tax from Northern California and $6,402 plus tax from the East Coast; two months’ rent and home delivery are included. haul2hi specializes in shipping IKEA items and publishes a standard shipping deadline on their website if you have your heart set on specific IKEA pieces.
Get Your Finances in Order
You will not find a Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Chase branch in Hawaii, so before you land, ensure that you can access your mainland bank (and eCheck service) online and that you have sufficient cash and checks on hand. Alternatively, you can open a Convenience Checking account with a $25 minimum opening deposit at Bank of Hawaii. It accepts applications from those who are at least 18 years old, have a Social Security number, and can provide evidence of a U.S. address in any of the 50 states, Guam, Saipan, Palau, or American Samoa (for existing customers).
Include a Job
Hawaii has been one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus, and this cannot be overstated. In September of 2020, the unemployment rate will be 15.1%. Many of Hawaii’s available jobs are in the tourism and service industries, and although the islands are slowly reopening, many hotels and tourism-related businesses won’t reopen until at least 2021. In conclusion, employment opportunities are limited, and many residents already hold multiple jobs to make ends meet. Indeed reports that the average annual salary in Honolulu is $70,000, but when the high cost of living is factored in, it’s closer to $56,100. If you are fortunate enough to arrive with a job, it is not inconceivable that you will have to adjust your lifestyle in order to stretch your funds. However, the beach is free and the water is a pleasant 75 degrees year-round, so this may not be a significant issue.
Get Used to Purchasing Discounts
Everything you’ve heard about the cost of living in Hawaii is accurate. You will pay $8 for a gallon of milk (unless you get it from Sam’s Club for about $5), chicken breast can cost an eye-popping $6 per pound (and that’s a bargain), and an 18-pack of eggs can cost up to $6, despite the chickens you see crossing the road. Be accustomed to searching for deals (Times, Safeway, Target, and Foodland run regular ads), have your Costco and Sam’s Club membership ready for two-week shopping trips, and freeze items that are on sale. Keep an eye out for roadside vegetable and fruit stores (we like Kahuku Fruit Stands when we’re up north) to purchase from. Depending on where you are located–strictly for Oahu–grocery delivery is not available island-wide, so you’ll have to drive to find the best deals.
It’s Warm and Humid
The subtropical climate of Hawaii requires some adjustment, and if you live in the wetter (windward) part of the island, you’ll also have to deal with rust, mold, mildew, and various insects. However, air conditioning is not always available for good reason. The average cost of electricity on Oahu in 2019 was $0.3134 per kilowatt-hour (it is higher on other islands), so get used to using a fan or, better yet, the trade winds to keep cool. You’ll find that sitting on your lanai with the doors and windows open will become a regular occurrence.
Moving to Hawaii is significantly more difficult (and expensive) than driving across the country with a U-Haul. For myself and my family, the experience thus far has been comparable to spotting a double rainbow: full of awe and delight, and a blessing in these uncertain times. Mahalo!
Topic: I Really Wish I Knew These Things Before I Moved to Hawaii
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