Life in Hawaii sounds like the ultimate dream for many people who yearn for year-round warm weather, access to nature and a laid-back lifestyle. But while there are plenty of opportunities that can lead you to call one of the Hawaiian Islands home, it’s not all surfing and relaxation.
Uprooting your life on the mainland and moving to an island in the Pacific requires more planning than a standard move within the contiguous United States. Even with the proper planning, you may find that the cost of living, job opportunities or slower pace of life isn’t what you expected. Here’s what you should know about moving to the Aloha State.
Should You Move to Hawaii?
Retirement in Hawaii is a goal for many. But you don’t have to wait until you’re ready to retire to enjoy the island life.
Not surprisingly, it’s fairly easy to find a job in tourism, Hawaii's largest industry. National defense, health care and local government are other key industries on the chain of islands.
With an unemployment rate of just 2.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Honolulu metro area has the lowest unemployment rate out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. The median annual salary in Honolulu is $54,030, about $4,000 above the national median.
But the state capital of Honolulu on the island of Oahu may not be the place that you decide to call home. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian chain: Hawaii, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, Niihau and Kahoolawe, though the latter is uninhabited. Combined, the state of Hawaii has an unemployment rate of 2.6%, which is slightly higher than Honolulu but still low compared with the rest of the U.S.
Whether you come to Hawaii to retire, transfer for work or to find a job, you may want to explore your island options to see which one suits you best. You may find Hawaii to be an excellent place to call home for a few years, or it may become your forever home – either way, life in Hawaii will be a far different experience from just about anywhere else in the U.S.
How to Move to Hawaii
Like any long-distance move, it’s ideal to visit your new destination at least once prior to your move. Blake Howell, relocation director for Clark Realty in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii, explains that some people plan for years for a move to Hawaii, visiting different islands and towns, touring homes and gearing up for a job change or retirement.
However, Howell recalls a client who needed to relocate her family and pets to a rural part of the Big Island within a few months because she was pregnant. “With the right guidance and resources, complex moves can be done in a shorter time frame, but generally we do recommend plenty of advance planning, especially when there are pets and animals involved,” Howell wrote in an email.
If you have a flexible timeline, you might consider renting for a year before purchasing a home to get to know an area and determine exactly where you want to live.
Hawaii’s remote location makes relocating there a bit trickier than moving to a new town or state in the contiguous U.S. Because of the cost of shipping, it’s recommended that you leave behind unsentimental household items, from furniture to dishes, and buy new things once you're in Hawaii.
“I tend to tell people it’s best to really only bring what they have to have because it’s expensive to ship (an entire household),” says Sarah Bakewell, a real estate agent and corporate relocation specialist for Hawai’i Life Real Estate Brokers in Hanalei on Oahu.
Here’s what else you should know about moving to Hawaii:
- Hawaii is an expensive place to live.
- The housing market is competitive.
- Every island is different.
- Caring for the natural environment is important.
- Hawaii moves slower.
Hawaii Is an Expensive Place to Live
The cost of living in this tropical environment is high: Residents in the Honolulu metro area spend almost 29% of the median household income on monthly bills, including mortgage payments or rent, property taxes and utilities.
In addition to housing costs, many groceries and household goods are more expensive in Hawaii than on the mainland because of the added cost of transport.
However, you may forgo many packaged food items for fresh, local options. Farmers markets on the islands are popular and plentiful sources for local products, from Hawaii-grown coffee to fresh fruits, vegetables and fish.
The Housing Market Is Competitive
Both Bakewell and Howell report that there is low inventory of homes for sale or rent in Hawaii, so if you’re moving to the area, be prepared to compete with others who are looking for a home.
“Buyers who will be using a mortgage to purchase should have their finances in order and be ready to move on something quickly when they find the right property,” Howell says.
Every Island Is Different
Each island’s makeup of residents, natural landscape and history all contribute to a different feel. The Big Island of Hawaii has an active volcano, and depending where you live on the island, you may have to get volcano-related homeowners insurance.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, and its scenic valleys and Napali Coast are recognizable from films like “Jurassic Park” and “South Pacific,” but the residential areas maintain a low-key, small-town atmosphere.
“If you like the city life, Oahu is your best choice. Traffic can be terrible, but if you need to work, Oahu and Honolulu will also have the most job opportunities,” Howell says.
If you’re unsure where in Hawaii you’d like to call home, it’s important to visit a few different spots to see which fits your personality and lifestyle. “Each island has its own magic – let’s put it that way,” Bakewell says. “There’s a magic that appeals to different people in different ways.”
Caring for the Natural Environment Is Important
You love Hawaii for its beautiful beaches, hiking trails, gorgeous views and climate. But locals know that it takes work to maintain the natural beauty of Hawaii.
When traveling into Hawaii, you must declare any plants or animals. If something you're transporting is potentially harmful to the local environment, you may not be allowed to bring it with you. Pets must have proof of current rabies vaccinations and will be inspected at animal quarantine stations upon arrival.
And when you fly from Hawaii back to the mainland, your bags go through an additional security check known as the agriculture inspection, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The inspection is aimed at ensuring fruits, plants, snails and other native items can’t potentially spread insects or plant diseases to different parts of the country.
Additionally, Hawaii is focused on keeping away invasive species that can harm the environment. As a resident, you’ll want to be mindful of the things you bring to and take away from the Islands, as well as be respectful of the natural environment. A new state law effective in 2021 bans the use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are chemicals known to harm coral reefs.
Hawaii Moves Slower
Things move slower in Hawaii, and while that makes for the perfect vacation setting when you’re looking to get away, know that it stays slow when you’re a local.
Bakewell says to expect contractors, colleagues and friends to take a few more days to respond to an email or phone call than you may be used to. Sometimes, the extremely casual way of life can wear on new residents who aren’t used to it. “You just have to slow down to survive here,” she says.
The Best Places to Live in 2019
What are the best qualities of your hometown? It may be that it’s easy to get around, there are plenty of job opportunities or it attracts new residents every year. To determine the Best Places to Live rankings, U.S. News looks at data on the country’s 125 most populous metro areas, including the cost of living, job market, crime rates, quality of education and more. The data is weighted based on the responses from a survey of more than 2,000 people throughout the U.S. to determine what matters most to them when picking their next place to live. Read on for the 25 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019.
Updated on May 17, 2019: This slideshow was originally published on April 9, 2019, and has been updated to reflect a change to the methodology in the desirability category, which did not affect the overall Best Places to Live rankings.25. Melbourne, Florida
25. Melbourne, Florida
Metro Population: 568,183
Median Home Price: $198,425
Median Annual Salary: $48,240
After ranking No. 29 in 2018, Melbourne moves up four spots this year, in part due to its rapid growth in population and high-quality high school education. The Quality of Life score for Best Places to Live factors in college preparedness among high school students, access to quality health care, property crime and murder rates, morning commute and overall well-being.24. Salt Lake City
24. Salt Lake City
Metro Population: 2,399,521
Median Home Price: $324,198
Median Annual Salary: $47,272
Salt Lake City is recognized for its strong job market, ability to attract new residents and overall quality of life. The biggest contributor to the Utah capital’s ranking at No. 24 is its affordability. Salt Lake City residents spend just 22.14% of the median household income on housing costs, which includes mortgage payments, rent, property taxes and utilities.23. Portland, Maine
23. Portland, Maine
Metro Population: 525,776
Median Home Price: $223,367
Median Annual Salary: $48,970
The most populous metro area in Maine may be one of the smaller places in the top 25, but Portland residents are quite happy. Of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., Portland ranks sixth on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, which asks residents how they feel about their hometown.22. Greenville, South Carolina
22. Greenville, South Carolina
Metro Population: 872,463
Median Home Price: $172,067
Median Annual Salary: $43,230
Situated in the mountains of South Carolina, Greenville takes the No. 22 spot on the list. Greenville gets its best score for affordability. Residents of the metro area benefit from having to spend just 21.44% of the median household income on housing expenses.21. Dallas-Fort Worth
21. Dallas-Fort Worth
Metro Population: 7,104,415
Median Home Price: $248,375
Median Annual Salary: $51,250
The most populous metro area in the top 25, Dallas-Fort Worth’s highest score is for population growth due to net migration. The Dallas-Fort Worth area grew by 5.7% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.20. Charlotte, North Carolina
20. Charlotte, North Carolina
Metro Population: 2,427,024
Median Home Price: $213,983
Median Annual Salary: $50,150
Moving up two spots from 2018, Charlotte gets its highest score from fast and sustained population growth. The Charlotte metro area grew by 7.06% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration alone.19. Washington, D.C.
19. Washington, D.C.
Metro Population: 6,090,196
Median Home Price: $376,767
Median Annual Salary: $69,210
After ranking No. 8 on the 2018 Best Places to Live list, the District of Columbia fell back this year to No. 19. While the nation’s capital continues to have a strong job market and high median annual salary, the area’s cost of living has increased and net migration slowed between 2013 and 2017. The metro area grew by just 1.88% due to net migration during that time period.18. Sarasota, Florida
18. Sarasota, Florida
Metro Population: 768,381
Median Home Price: $237,260
Median Annual Salary: $42,680
After ranking No. 34 in 2018, this metro area on the Gulf Coast of Florida jumps 16 spots to No. 18. Sarasota is the third-fastest growing metro area out of the 125 places on the list. Between 2013 and 2017, Sarasota saw a population increase of 13.1% due to net migration.17. Boise, Idaho
17. Boise, Idaho
Metro Population: 677,346
Median Home Price: $221,475
Median Annual Salary: $43,880
Idaho’s capital makes the list with high scores for population growth due to net migration and housing affordability compared with its median annual household income. Boise’s lowest score, however, is in desirability among U.S. residents when considering where they would want to live.16. Asheville, North Carolina
16. Asheville, North Carolina
Metro Population: 445,625
Median Home Price: $248,500
Median Annual Salary: $41,210
Set in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville receives its highest score for desirability, where it ranks 16th out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Additionally, the Asheville area grew by 6.16% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration.15. Nashville, Tennessee
15. Nashville, Tennessee
Metro Population: 1,830,410
Median Home Price: $248,883
Median Annual Salary: $47,110
Nashville takes the No. 15 spot overall, with many U.S. residents viewing the Tennessee metro area as a desirable place to live. People are also acting on that feeling, as Nashville has grown by 6.88% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration alone.14. San Jose, California
14. San Jose, California
Metro Population: 1,969,897
Median Home Price: $1,080,017
Median Annual Salary: $77,180
The capital of Silicon Valley climbs three spots from No. 17 in 2018. With a median annual salary of $77,180 and an unemployment rate of just 2.6%, San Jose continues its reign as the metro area with the strongest job market out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S.13. Grand Rapids, Michigan
13. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Metro Population: 1,039,182
Median Home Price: $181,533
Median Annual Salary: $44,770
Grand Rapids ranks sixth out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for affordability. The western Michigan metro area also scores highly for quality of life, which takes into account the quality of public high school education, commute time, property crime and murder rates and general happiness among residents, per the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.12. Madison, Wisconsin
12. Madison, Wisconsin
Metro Population: 640,072
Median Home Price: $247,967
Median Annual Salary: $52,190
Madison takes the No. 12 spot in the Best Places to Live ranking, in large part due to the metro area’s job market. Madison residents benefit from a median annual salary of $52,190, which is above the national average of $50,620. The unemployment rate, at 2.2%, is 1.7% better than the national average of 3.9%.11. Huntsville, Alabama
11. Huntsville, Alabama
Metro Population: 444,908
Median Home Price: $167,300
Median Annual Salary: $53,600
Huntsville is the smallest metro area in the top 25 Best Places to Live. This northern Alabama metro area is the most affordable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. and offers a flourishing job market, with many local companies focused on science, technology, engineering and math.10. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina
10. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina
Metro Population: 1,824,266
Median Home Price: $249,294
Median Annual Salary: $53,788
The Raleigh and Durham metro area continues to be an attractive place for people to relocate, thanks to its affordability and job market. Research, technology, education and health care are consistently growing industries in the area.9. Seattle
Metro Population: 3,735,216
Median Home Price: $442,333
Median Annual Salary: $63,120
Moving up one spot from 2018, Seattle ranks No. 9 this year thanks to its consistently strong job market and high desirability among U.S. residents as a place to live. The job market contributes to its reputation as a great place to live, with Seattle ranking seventh out of the 125 metro areas on the list for desirability.8. Portland, Oregon
8. Portland, Oregon
Metro Population: 2,382,037
Median Home Price: $375,425
Median Annual Salary: $55,330
U.S. residents view Portland as a highly desirable place to live, with the city taking the No. 1 spot in that category in a four-way tie with Colorado Springs, Colorado, Honolulu and San Francisco. Additionally, a strong job market and consistent growth in population due to net migration over a five-year period leads to the Rose City’s rise in the rankings.7. San Francisco
7. San Francisco
Metro Population: 4,641,820
Median Home Price: $768,517
Median Annual Salary: $69,700
Ranking No. 20 in 2018, San Francisco jumped to No. 7 this year. San Francisco continues to have a strong job market, and even more U.S. residents are saying they would like to live in the City by the Bay. San Francisco received a perfect score for desirability.6. Minneapolis-St. Paul
6. Minneapolis-St. Paul
Metro Population: 3,526,149
Median Home Price: $237,367
Median Annual Salary: $56,030
Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area takes the No. 6 spot, continuing its climb up the rankings after scoring No. 9 in 2018 and No. 17 in 2017. A major reason for Minneapolis-St. Paul’s jump is the metro area’s low cost of living. Area residents spend just 21.5% of the median household income on housing expenses.5. Des Moines, Iowa
5. Des Moines, Iowa
Metro Population: 623,113
Median Home Price: $178,942
Median Annual Salary: $50,600
Des Moines takes the No. 5 spot this year, with continued growth in its job market, sustained net migration to the metro area and solid quality of life scores. Des Moines also maintains a low cost of living compared to the median household income.4. Fayetteville, Arkansas
4. Fayetteville, Arkansas
Metro Population: 514,166
Median Home Price: $177,942
Median Annual Salary: $45,830
This fast-growing metro area in Arkansas has long been a strong contender in the Best Places to Live ranking – and this year is no different. A low cost of living compared with household income, strong population growth due to net migration and high quality of life scores all contribute to Fayetteville’s No. 4 ranking in 2019.3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Metro Population: 698,595
Median Home Price: $286,700
Median Annual Salary: $50,050
At No. 3 in the overall Best Places to Live list, Colorado Springs also shares the top spot for desirability as a place to live among U.S. residents with San Francisco, Honolulu and Portland, Oregon. High marks for college preparedness among high school students and a consistently strong job market help Colorado Springs rank near the top of the list this year.2. Denver
Metro Population: 2,798,684
Median Home Price: $393,842
Median Annual Salary: $57,400
After taking the No. 3 spot in 2018 behind Colorado Springs, Denver is back in second place in 2019. Denver remains desirable to U.S. residents and has a flourishing job market, but migration to the area has slowed over the last couple years.1. Austin, Texas
1. Austin, Texas
Metro Population: 2,000,590
Median Home Price: $292,500
Median Annual Salary: $51,840
For the third year in a row, Austin is the No. 1 Best Place to Live in the U.S. The capital of Texas continues to receive interest from the tech industry, contributing to a strong job market and high desirability among Americans as a place to live. Aside from the job opportunities, new residents are attracted to Austin for its eclectic arts and music scene, which are highlighted in the annual South by Southwest festival, which features music, film and television attractions.The Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019:
The Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019:
- Austin, Texas
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Des Moines, Iowa
- Minneapolis-St. Paul
- San Francisco
- Portland, Oregon
- Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina
- Huntsville, Alabama
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- San Jose, California
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Boise, Idaho
- Sarasota, Florida
- Washington, D.C.
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- Greenville, South Carolina
- Portland, Maine
- Salt Lake City
- Melbourne, Florida
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 11, 2020
U.S. News analyzed the 150 most populous metro areas to rank places to live by category.