Many of my friends and family members ask me about what it’s like to live in Hawaii. There are many things that are great, and a few things that you might not have considered. I decided to write down a list of things that I learned about after moving to Hawaii.
1) You will become instantly popular with your friends and family who live on the mainland. Try to get a place with a spare bedroom so you can accommodate visitors.
2) If you have a pet, consider getting your animal’s rabies vaccinations up to date well in advance of moving. The animals need to be current on their vaccinations and they also need to get blood work done to prove that they have built up immunity to rabies. It can take up to 4 months to get this process done and if you prepare ahead of time, it might save you being away from your pet.
3) If you want to ship your pet to Hawaii from the mainland, you’ll also need to have your pet given a good bill of health from your local veterinarian. Some airlines don’t allow certain dog breeds to fly in the hot summer season (think Boxer or dogs with Brady cephalic heads). It’s also expensive to ship them and if they’re a larger breed, they will likely need to ride in the cargo hold and my dogs and I aren’t too fond of that idea.
4) The weather can be great, but it isn’t always sunny. Sometimes we have VOG (Volcanic Fog) from the active volcano on the big island that clouds the skies. It looks similar to smog that you might see in LA or another big city. If you have allergies or asthma, you might benefit from bringing your eye drops, antihistamine or an albuterol inhaler with you. It can rain very hard suddenly and without much warning if you live in certain areas of Hawaii.
5) Traffic in Honolulu and Waikiki can be horrible. We’ve all heard this before, but I moved from Seattle and thought we had bad traffic there. Ha! You might also consider that many people on the roads are visiting from other places (even other countries) and aren’t familiar with the roads. Also if you drive in rural areas like the famous road to Hana, be prepared for some small roads, one-lane bridges and some areas where there’s not any protection between you and falling over a large cliff beside you. Drive carefully!
6) The food is amazing. If you’re visiting Honolulu and enjoy trying different kinds of foods – Asian, Hawaiian, Portuguese and a fusion of many others, you won’t be disappointed especially if you have a chance to get outside of Waikiki. The restaurant selections on islands other than Oahu might be a less abundant however.
7) It’s expensive – gasoline, groceries, eating out, movies, and many other things can cost quite a bit more than on the mainland! You knew that already though, and as you learn where to go shopping (think Costco if there is one on the island you visit) you will learn how to adjust. If a grocery store offers a membership or discount card, get it! I usually don’t spend as much money on “extras” here though. When I want to enjoy a day off, I usually don’t spend any money visiting the beach!
8) Things rust and wear out quickly if you don’t take care of them. Wash your car once a week if you can, then wipe it dry so you don’t get hard water spots. Then wax your car to protect the clear coat!
9) Be patient! Sometimes things move slower – traffic or lines at the cash register for example. It’s a fact of life. Try not to get frustrated; it will make your day more enjoyable.
10) Get to know people who’ve lived here for a long time. They can show you places and teach you things about the islands that you will not learn in a book or blog post.
11) If you ship a car to Hawaii, it’s a process to get the registration changed to Hawaii. Just take a day off work and plan on spending the whole day to get this done. Even if you have car insurance from a large company like State Farm or Farmer’s, you’ll need to get a local agent. Once you have your auto insurance agent and your new insurance ID card for Hawaii, you can go get your car safety inspected. These inspection stations can be busy, and they’ll check the tint color of your windows, your signals, mirrors and if your car checks out, they will give you a slip of paper that you can bring to the department of licensing. You may have to wait in line at the DOL for half a day, so be prepared. Bring something to read and some snacks and don’t forget to take a number. Licensing your car in Hawaii might be more expensive than in your Mainland State. Once your car is registered, you need to drive back to the safety inspection office and have them stick a safety sticker on your car. I told you it was a process didn’t I?
12) It can be hot and muggy, especially in the summer months. There are days when the trade winds aren’t blowing or the “Kona” winds blow up from the south and the weather can be a bit uncomfortable for those of us who are not used to the humidity. The trade winds usually keep it pleasant because they blow a cool breeze over the islands but don’t count on that 100% of the time. You may want to have an air-conditioner where you live. Do you pay the electric bill? See #7 about things being expensive in Hawaii – including electricity.
13) There are centipedes, cockroaches, scorpions, geckos, lots of different birds, frogs, and of course mosquitos. I don’t mind the geckos, birds and most frogs – I enjoy them except when they occasionally keep me awake at night. Centipedes, scorpions, cockroaches and mosquitos I don’t like however I learn to take proper precautions to avoid them. Take your trash bags outside every night before you go to bed!
14) Be persistent if you’re trying to reach someone be telephone or email. I learned that sometimes people don’t get back to you right away. If you’re trying to rent a house or apartment, or conduct any form of business be persistent (not annoying) because sometimes people in Hawaii might not call or email you back immediately. Because this can be frustrating for me sometimes, I try to get back to other people as quickly as possible.
15) You don’t need as many clothes. Pick out a few pairs of shorts, aloha or T-shirts, some slippers, sunglasses and a hat and you’re ready for most days. On work days, wear some nice lightweight pants and shoes. Even most business professionals don’t wear a tie (even most doctors) but you’ll want to check with your employer on their standards. You might need one lightweight sweatshirt or sweater but unless you’re spending lots of time on Haleakala, Mauna Kea or one of the other mountains you probably won’t need a coat.
16) Wear sunscreen every day. The sun here is intense and you can get burned very quickly. I can’t tell you how many tourists that I’ve treated for sunburns while working as a physician in Hawaii. Melanoma, and carcinoma of the skin are also very common. You’ve probably seen people who have wrinkly skin and walk around with amazing suntans all the time but you don’t want to be one of them.
17) Be aware of scooters and motorcycles. They’re sometimes hard to see and are very common in Hawaii. You might be more aware of them than you want to be if you hear them racing down Ala Moana Boulevard at 1am.
18) Watch what you eat. As I mentioned in #6, the food is great but if you eat too much local food like rice, macaroni salad, lau-lau, Portuguese sausage, and Loco-Moco you might end up gaining weight quickly. We have more diabetic patients here in Hawaii than anywhere else I’ve worked.
19) Flying from one Hawaiian island to another can be expensive. I’ve been to all of the major islands (except Niihau and Kahoolawe) and I can say that the cost per mile of flight is more expensive in Hawaii and anywhere else I’ve been. A one-way ticket to Maui from Oahu is around $100 per person unless you find a special deal.
20) Having a small car might be an advantage especially if you live on Oahu because parking can be difficult, and gas prices are high.
21) If you buy things on the Internet, be aware that shipping prices can be extremely expensive! You may often pay more to ship an item to Hawaii from the mainland than what the price of the item is. Look for free shipping or have things shipped to the mainland and bring them with you if you travel back and forth.
22) You will hear people talk pidgin – the local language that is actually a mixture of many different languages. You may not understand it but if you live here long enough, you will learn some of the words.
23) There are natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis here that you might not be used to on the mainland. Register yourself and your family with the emergency contact registry and get a weather radio. Consider getting a ham (amateur) radio license to be able to communicate in a disaster.
24) Hawaii does not have daylights savings time.
25) Don’t leave items in your car in plain sight. This isn’t just in Hawaii but anywhere. I’ve heard many stories about tourists who arrive in Hawaii and drive right to Costco from the airport with their luggage in their car only to come back from shopping to find everything gone.
26) Each island in Hawaii is different. I’ve met so many people who have been to Hawaii year after year and they come to the same island and often stay in the same place. Each island has it’s own charisma and things about it that make it unique. Kauai is the most beautiful place I’ve been, Oahu has something from everyone, Maui has a unique valley and some of the best windsurfing in the world, Lanai has a couple great resorts and is very expensive to visit, Molokai has awesome sea cliffs and also has Kalaupapa, a place where patients with leprosy (Hanson’s disease) were quarantined and the Big Island has an active volcano and some of the most amazing places to star-gaze in the world. Check them all out before you decide where you want to live. Learn the difference between the Big Island of Hawaii and the island of Oahu where Honolulu and Waikiki are.
27) Living in Hawaii is not a 24/7 vacation. I’ve worked longer hours in Hawaii than any other job since residency. There are some weeks that I never get to the beach.
28) The school system is different than the mainland. I don’t have children, but if I did I would learn all I could about public versus private schools and where the best schools are in Hawaii and take that into account when deciding where to live.
29) Some people get “island fever” also known as “rock fever.” They have a feeling of being trapped on the island. I’ve never experienced that feeling but I recommend that you try living in Hawaii for a few months before deciding that you want to up-root your family and move here permanently.
30) This list is a work in progress and will change as I live here longer.
I hope that you’ve found some of this information useful.
Scott Rennie, DO