Moving to Hawaii #illumedati 4

Hi everyone! It’s Whatever Wednesdays again and so… I’m going to talk about Moving to Hawaii.

I previously wrote about Living in Hawaii as a general overview for how things are different here.


Stock Photo from: Pixabay

So why are we talking about Moving to Hawaii today?

However, I was recently on a flight back to Oahu and I sat next to a nice couple who were contemplating moving to Oahu. In fact, they were headed there to interview and spend 2 weeks in Oahu. They asked me if I lived in Hawaii and how it was to live there.

I gave them most of my thoughts that I posted about in Living in Hawaii.

However, I realized that the information in that post isn’t quite the same as what they were asking.

The real question was “Can we move to Hawaii?”

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think that Moving to Hawaii and living here will be all rainbows and unicorns. Yes, it is a great place to live. The people, weather, and atmosphere are great. However, the actual day-to-day living will be a significant change from what you may be accustomed to on the mainland.

Ok, what do I need to know?

First things first. Please do not come to Hawaii unless you already have a job lined up. The job market here is pretty difficult and I think most of the locals would be wary to hire a mainlander, since there tends to be a high rate of attrition. I don’t know any percentages, but anecdotally, I would guess that ~half end up going back to the mainland.

This particular couple I was talking to was doing the right thing by interviewing out in Oahu and taking some time to see the island. They were also aware of the increased cost-of-living that comes with living in Hawaii. However, I think they were surprised when I told them just how much it would cost to buy a house/condo out here, especially in town. While their new jobs would come with a small bump in salary, I don’t think it would be able to offset the cost-of-living increase versus where they were from (Ohio). They asked me how much of a salary increase would be able to maintain the same lifestyle as Ohio.

This question was difficult to answer. I was sitting on a plane and had no cost-of-living calculator so I had to just kind of guess. My guess was 30%. If you made 30% in Hawaii then you may be able to maintain a reasonable lifestyle compared to the mainland. However, this does not include buying a house. That is a whole other issue.

I’m now at home, so I checked out this cost of living comparison and according to them… I am wrong.

$50,000 salary in Columbus, OH requires a salary of $106,999 in Honolulu, HI.  The cost of living is 114% higher.

Did I give them bad advice?

Well Yes and No.

30% more of a $50,000 salary is $65,000. That isn’t anywhere close to what the calculator says. However, you may notice the major reason why the cost of living is so high is that housing is a whopping 324% higher in Honolulu than in Columbus, OH —  for a 2 bedroom apartment.

So here’s the deal. If you want to move to Hawaii, you need to downsize. If you are a young couple, you have no need for a 2 bedroom on Oahu… and you really can’t afford it. So instead of paying $900 a month for your 2 bedroom in Columbus, OH, you will probably end up paying $1500-2000 a month in Honolulu, HI… for a 1 bedroom apartment. – Average Rent Trends

If you change the $3000 a month in the calculator to $2000 a month, that decreases your needs by $1000 a month, or $12000 a year (post-tax). So we’re getting a little closer to my +30% advice.

Another thing to consider is that this young couple will have two incomes… but only one rent to pay. So that also leans more toward my +30% number as well (in this particular case).

Ok, what else do I need to know about Moving to Hawaii?

Well, now you need to take a hard look at yourself:

Can you cut expenses? Can you forget about the Keeping Up With The Joneses?

Oahu is an island. Most of what we eat everyday is brought in from the mainland. Yes, there are Farmer’s Markets and yes, we do have a Whole Foods. However, these places are very expensive. If you are a foodie who needs reasonably priced high quality food all the time, then Oahu probably isn’t for you. Costco is a staple for good reason.

If you go to Ala Moana Center, you’ll see all the high end stores everywhere. Hanging out around Waikiki you would think that all of Oahu is just millionaires and billionaires who shop at Jimmy Choo and Louis Vutton all day. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would venture to say that the majority of the locals will never buy anything from any of those high end stores. Those stores are mostly for rich tourists to be extravagant on vacation and buy something that they can only get in “America” on their trip to Hawaii.

The majority of us here are wearing jeans or shorts. The locals really don’t care what brand name you are wearing or what car you are driving. It’s not important because it’s not a priority. The priority is to have enough money to live here. Any extra money is saved or used for to buy experiences, not things.

Anything else I should be aware of?


I talked about horrible traffic in my Living in Hawaii post. However, it does deserve being mentioned again.

It’s bad… like really bad.

Honolulu ranked worst in country for traffic – HawaiiNewsNow (2012)

“Traffic stinks. Honolulu is the worst city in the country for traffic with drivers wasting 58 hours last year sitting in congestion, according to Inrix, which just released a new traffic app.  That’s almost two and a half days.  It’s more than Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.”


What is Vog? It means volcanic smog/fog. It’s this stuff that comes over from the Big Island from one of the active volcanoes over there: Kīlauea.

When I first moved here April 2014, I felt sick for the first few months and I couldn’t understand why. Then one of my colleagues said, oh, that’s from the vog. So, of course I went home and googled vog and educated myself on what it was. Usually, it doesn’t affect Oahu because of the trade winds. But once in awhile we get Kona winds (southerly winds) which blows the vog over to us. Basically, we had a stint of Kona winds during May/June of that year which made me feel horrible. I don’t have any other allergies, but apparently I was allergic to vog.

I tried a bunch of stuff, like Zyrtec and Allegra but nothing seemed to work. Then all of the sudden, it just went away. I’m not sure if the vog just got better, or I just got used to it. Either way, I haven’t had any problems like that since around July 2014.

For those of you who already have allergies, I’ve been told that Vog exacerbates them. Meaning if you already have allergies, then Vog + allergies is 3x worse.


Hawaii is a very stringent on letting pets into their state because it is the only state that is rabies-free.

If you want to bring your pet here will be subject to some form of quarantine and it is a relatively lengthy process to bring your pet over here. – Source


Hawaii is a very gun unfriendly state, it has some of the toughest laws there are – Source and also Wikipedia

For those of you from more gun-friendly states like Texas, the likelihood is that you won’t be able to bring many of your guns with you. This is a dealbreaker for some.


Hawaii is mostly a tropical climate so expect to see a good amount of bugs. Most of them aren’t a huge deal, but you will see them.

In my particular case, I am one of those people that mosquitos love. My family and I can go out for a long walk and I might get like 5-6 mosquito bites while my family gets none. I tell them that they are lucky I am shielding them from the mosquitos. I do have Off! mosquito repellent (25% DEET), which apparently works pretty well. However,  I always forget to put it on.

Being a Minority

If you are Caucasian, you will be the minority in Hawaii. I’m Vietnamese, so I kind of blend in. My friends here say that “You look like a local — until you talk, then we know you’re from California.” However, my wife is Caucasian, an Italian girl from New Jersey, so she kind of sticks out. For her, she has no problems with being a minority, but it may feel “weird” for some people who aren’t used to it.

You may get called “haole” as well. Some think it is a derogatory term, but it’s really not. The term “haole” by itself just means “white person”. Just like “hapa” (like my children) means “half”, “part” or “mixed”. To be more specific, you can say “hapa haole” meaning “half white”. Interestingly, in California, “hapa” is has a more narrow connotation, meaning “part-Asian”.


Moving to Hawaii is a big decision.

Before you consider really consider it, look at a cost of living calculator.

Evaluate your priorities, lifestyle, and expenses.

Vog, Guns, Pets, Bugs, and Being a Minority are also considerations.



Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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4 thoughts on “Moving to Hawaii #illumedati

  • Physician on FIRE

    I haven’t ruled out moving to Hawaii for an extended stay at some point in the future. I actually carried an active HI medical license for awhile, but never found a good opportunity to use it.

    At this point, there’s a good chance I won’t line up a job if we do venture that way. Won’t need one 🙂 Although an extended locums position at a surgery center on one of the islands wouldn’t be a bad gig if a guy could get it.

    Traffic in Honolulu was horrendous the one time we were there. We spent most of our week in Oahu on the north shore, which was much more our style.


  • Smart Money MD

    Hey Sensei,

    I stumbled on your website through PoF. Great content! I, too, have contemplated moving to Hawaii. Looked around for jobs in Maui and even the Big Island. Starting income and earning potential are pretty horrendous in my field, and the work lifestyle options weren’t that great when I was looking.

    Love the Maui onions though. Can’t get enough of them and the Poke at Costco.

    • Sensei Post author

      Hi Smartmoneymd!


      Yea, unfortunately, being a physician in Hawaii has the double whammy of decreased incoming/earning potential combined with a (very) high cost-of-living.

      However, you are correct. The Maui Onions are awesome. The Poke at Costco, Foodland, or even Safeway are all very good if you buy the fresh stuff.

      You may want to consider retiring here and just doing locums a few times a month. This will help supplement your retirement while keeping your brain young.


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