Relocation Guide

Step 1 in moving to Hawaii – figure out if you can afford it. Of course you will want to see how much homes are, so use my Property Search to see if you are even in the ballpark.  Hawaii is one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!  Remember though, property taxes in Oahu are quite low, so while the prices seem high, your monthly payments could be a lot lower than you would think, especially if you’ve come from Texas, New York, or California.

Hawaii is particularly expensive if you live in East Oahu as I do, where the cost of everything is higher. But if you move out to remote areas of the neighbor islands, well you can expect to pay $7~$9 for a gallon of milk. No joke, but now that we have 3 Costcos on Oahu, prices have come down a bit for most things. Surprisingly, gas prices are about the same as California.

Of the thousands of people who move to Hawaii every year, one thing that is on the mind of every one of them is probably the differnece in the cost of living. But we don’t usually use our AC, we never have a heating bill, and we wear a lot less clothing. I own 1 jacket, I think.

But what about other expenses? Just assume everything will cost 10-20% more, except for used cars. For some reason we have too many cars here and used car prices are lower than many areas of the US mainland.  2006 Census stated there were almost 2 cars for every resident in Hawaii

Step 2

For a tourist, Hawaii often means staying within the gates of a resort, never seeing the neighborhoods where residents live. So when a person is transferred here, (usually it’s Oahu) often they have no idea where on Oahu they will live.

Where you choose to live on Oahu will determine a lot about your lifestyle. Even though Oahu is only about 65 miles across and 111 miles around the perimeter, each section of the island has it’s own personality and quirks. A demographics study of each zip code can be found here . Choose carefully where you will live, or you will find yourself stuck somewhere you really don’t want to be. The commute around the island can be brutal, so it’s best to talk to a resident (me) first and find out the best place for you to live.

There are several ways to break down the island, but here’s a general overview from a real estate perspective:

* Town / Metro (Waikiki, downtown, St. Louis hts, Nuuanu, Manoa, Punchbowl, etc) ~ People on Oahu call it “Town.” What they mean is usually the downtown area of Honolulu, the business districts, and possibly China town. When you arrive at the airport and start heading toward Damond head (east) you are in town. Town could be Waikiki, Kaimuki, Pali, University, even Manoa. People who love to live in Town are called Townies. Most people who visit Oahu only see Town, the North Shore, and maybe Hawaii Kai if they go to Hanauma bay.

Living in Town is a little like living in L.A. It’s crowded and there are about 1000 condo buildings everywhere. If you look around and all you see are high rises, you are in Town. However there are beautiful areas of town, like Manoa, Nuuanu, Pali, Dowsett, and other neighborhoods hidden from most visitors.  There are wondeful neighborhoods in Honolulu, many of which you’ll never see unless you know where you are going.

* The Windward side (Kailua, Kaneohe) ~ To many, the Windward side is paradise within paradise. For this reason it has some of the most expensive real estate on the island of Oahu. Some people call it the rainy side, because it seems like it rains almost every day. Thanks to all that rain, Kailua and Kaneohe (and Waimanalo) have the most lush forests and mountains on Oahu. Much of the Windward side looks a lot like Kauai’s north shore, with tall green mountains and thick foliage everywhere you look.

Kailua has recently been updated, which has made the little town into a very nice place to live. With America’s best beach being Kailua beachpark, it’s easy to see why real estate here is in high demand. If you haven’t visited Kailua town before, it should be high on your list!

Kaneohe Town has also been renovated as of 2008 with the same kind of care that Kailua has. Over the last few years it has been revived, with a new mall and downtown area.  There are some wonderful homes up in the hills and down near the bay. Kaneohe bay is a giant body of water where many people like to waterski, fish, and kaya.  It’s also where a lot of sharks like to breed. Kaneohe has wondeful ocean and mountain views, great new and old homes, and a lively downtown area with plenty to do.

Up beyond Kaneohe is Laie, Ka’aawa (not a typo), Hauula, and a few other little towns that are very small, and very far from anything. When I drive through those areas I always wonder where those people work, because it would take them an hour to get into Honolulu Town. Buying real estate up here is primarily for people who want a second home or vacation rental, because of the remoteness. You could live up there and commute, but why? It’s better suited for people who can just sit at home and enjoy the ocean views, and not worry about driving anywhere.  Life in this area is slow, and it’s the way Hawaii was in the old days.  A beautiful relaxing community of mostly long time resindents and a few vacaitioners.  It’s slow paced Oahu, kind of like living on Maui or Kauai.

* East Oahu (Hawaii Kai, Kahala, Aiana Haina, Diamond Head) ~ Right after you pass Diamond Head on H1, the scenery starts to change. That’s because just about everything east of Diamond Head is zoned as residential real estate. That means more homes, less high rises, less condos, and a more upscale feel to the area. Hawaii Kai was the first planned community in Hawaii, and it’s clear as you look around that things are more orderly than in Town. The buildings are nicer, the houses are farther apart than in Town, and the traffic is lighter.

A lot of people that work in Honolulu live in East Oahu, so sometimes the morning commute is kind of long, but it’s nothing like the commute from the Ewa side (more later). Starting in Kahala, H1 turns into a minor 3 lane highway with stoplights. As you drive down the coast, you see multi million dollar homes perched on Hawaii Loa ridge and Aiana Haina. I think it’s the best part of the island, perhaps because I live in East Oahu.

Many people moving from the Mainland chose to live in East Oahu, particularly Kahala and Hawaii Kai. This is probably because it feels most familiar to them. The size of homes, the demographics, the layout of the city – these all add to the familiar feel that mainland transplants appreciate about East Oahu, Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, and Kahala. I’ll give you a free tour of East Oahu, as long as you’re going to buy a house here 🙂

Within Hawaii Kai, there are about 20 different neighborhoods, and many are very nicely built modern homes with all the amenities you could ask for. The average price in East Oahu is the highest in Hawaii, at around $800k-1M for just a regular home.  It’s the cost of living in paradise.

* Ewa (Ewa, Kapolei, Makakilo) ~ Ewa is pronounced E’ VA, as in, “there’s so much traffic on my morning commute, it takes fo’ Ewa!” People who live in Ewa drive a lot. Even if they don’t drive very far, they are in the car a lot. That’s because there is exactly 1 way out of Ewa into Town, where most of the 50,000 people in Ewa work. But here’s the positive side – Ewa, Kapolei, and Makakilo are the newest developed cities in Oahu, which means the homes are new, the buildings and some roads, almost everything is new. So on an island where everything gets rusted and oxidized by the sea air, the new housing can be very appealing.

People who live in Ewa typically do so because they want more house for their money, and they don’t mind commuting – or at least they put up with it every day, though they mind it. You can get a brand new beautiful house for about half the price it would be on the East side or in Honolulu.  If you want a new house with more space than you can get in East Oahu or in Town, then move to Ewa. There are great new shopping centers, including a new Target as of 2009.  A brand new mall was be built in 2010, and there are plenty of other things to do on the West side.

The average 3 bedroom 2bath house will run you about 25-50% LESS in Ewa than in Town or East Oahu. That is why you might want to check it out. However, make the commute one morning to make sure. Spend the night in Ewa and drive into town, then drive back to Ewa at 5pm. The 15 mile drive can take over an hour… in to the sun both ways.

* Leeward side (Makaha, Nanakuli, Waianae) ~ The Waianae coast is beautiful, but the homes can be a little run down, and many home owners are generally not taking care of things, and it’s the longest drive in Hawaii to get from Waianae to town. However, you can buy a house in Waianae for dirt cheap compared to everywhere else in Oahu, and in the winter there is good surf and wrapping swells in the summer.  There is a beautiful golf course community up in Makaha with huge custom homes, and there are beach front homes that are pretty amazing.  You can buy a large estate with an acre of land up in Makaha, with an ocean view, for about 1/4 the price of the same property in Kahala or Hawaii Kai.

16 17

* Central Oahu (Mililani, Wahiawa) ~ About half way up H2 on the way to the North Shore, you pass through Wahiawa and Mililani. Mililani is another town that has recently been built with a master plan. As such, it’s layout is pretty good, with shopping and amenities for everyone. There is old and new side to Mililani, and of course new Mililani is nicer because it’s new! Housing here and in Wahiawa is a little cheaper than town, so a lot of people make the commute down. It’s very green up in this area, and the trees remind people of Japan a little bit. I love Mililani Mauka, where all the homes were built after about 1990, and the neighborhoods have a great feel.  The schools there are also very highly praised.

Around Wahiawa and Mililani are dozens of little communities. In fact there are so many that I don’t think anyone could ever keep track of them all. There are hillside homes, valley homes, flatland homes, country, city, you name it, it’s there. Also, there is a large military contingent, because of the base right there in the middle of Mililani.

23 1

* Pearl City area (Pearlridge, Aiea, Halawa) ~ If you need to live near Town, but you don’t want to live right in it, Pearl City and the Aiea area are a good alternative. If you can work/live in Pearl City, even better.  With housing prices that are a little lower then Kailua and the East side, there are great properties for sale here.  As you might suspect it’s near Pearl Harbor, and if you can get a home on Halawa Hts or Aiea Hts, chances are you will have a nice view of the harbor. Some homes actually have a view all the way to Diamond Head. From Aiea, you can get a view of both ends of the island, depending on the position of your house.

The most popular local mall, Pearlridge, is the largest center of shopping, eating, and all kinds of industrial and commercial businesses. This area has easy access to all the freeways, and is about as central to Town as anything else. Also, Aloha stadium is here, where you can enjoy all kinds of events, including concerts and sports.

Houses in Aiea and Pearl City are mostly built in the 1960’s to 70’s, but there have been many homes built ore rebuilt in the last few years. In the oldest neighborhoods people are starting to tear down old homes and rebuild with new construction. If you can get one of these new rebuilds with a nice view, I think you’ll be very satisfied.


* North Shore (Haleiwa, Sunset, Pupukea) ~ Big waves, 2 lane roads, and multi million dollar houses. Locals will call this area “country,” as in, “I’m going up country.” Or, “the waves in country are huge!” Life on the North Shore is different than most of the island. It’s a little bit like living in Kauai or the Big Island, except that you can get to Honolulu Town in about 30 minutes with no traffic. The famous Pipeline and Waimea Bay bring giant waves in the winter, and about a million tourists with them.

If you’re thinking of living up country, you better not need to commute. While a lot of people do commute all the way from North Shore in Honolulu, it’s a pretty long drive, probably around 90 minutes.  There is not much to do except surf and enjoy the ocean, or the country on the North Shore of Oahu. There are no malls, hardly any stores, no entertainment. The country side of Oahu is for surfers, local people with local jobs, vacationers, and retirees. If you can afford a second home on the north shore, you’re one of the lucky ones on earth. It’s beauty and tranquility are second to none. The only problem is that there is a 2 lane road that runs all the way through the country, so if there’s big waves, expect tons of traffic. Living on the North Shore is a little bit like living in a small town.

Step 3

Find a job in Hawaii ~ The people who make it here are the ones who have a job that they like, one that pays enough, one that will last. The statistics are fuzzy, but a good percentage of people who move here from the mainland end up leaving within 5 years. Unfortunately, life in Hawaii is not always the paradise they were hoping for. Living on Oahu is living on an island, and all that entails. Look on or look in the classified section.  If you’re transferring to Hawaii within your company, look into the longevity of that job. Is it one that will force you to move away from Hawaii within a few years? I have found that the key is keep this mindset “I’m going to stay in Hawaii forever.” If you come with the mindset of a temporary resident, you’ll most likely end up leaving soon.

Decide which area of the Islands you will live in ~ This is one of the first things you must do. Read the previous post, talk to me, talk to other residents, visit the island a few times. If you move here without visiting at least a few times, you might find yourself very confused and disappointed with the area you choose. Where you live on Oahu will determine all kinds of things, but most importantly for your longevity here, it will determine your commute and your friends.

Study company relocation policy to see what expenses are covered and which vendors are approved ~ If you’re relocating with your company, you need to learn all about their policies. If you choose the wrong mover or the wrong lender, you may pay dearly for it. In other words, your company may not cover it.

Check which moving expenses will be tax deductible ~ Call your CPA and figure out what you can spend on government money. You might be surprised. If your move is work related, you will be able to write off a good portion of your Hawaii relocation.

Research Schools in Hawaii ~ Schools in Hawaii are a grab bag of all kinds of quality and style. We have private, charter, and public. The private schools will cost about $10k- $15k a year, even if it’s just elementary. In fact there are some preschools that cost that much. The public school system is not the best, so research individual schools and talk to teachers and parents.

PETS:  Allow 45-60 days to get your pets ready for the move to Hawaii.  Dogs need to have 2 rabies shots, 30 days apart, followed by embedded microchip, FAV test, and then 2 weeks to review a blood test.  If you do not follow the procedures ahead of time, your pooch may get stuck in costly quarantine for several months. See for more information.

Estimate moving van costs ~ It costs about $10k to move a small 3 bedroom house from California, out of Long Beach, to Honolulu port. If you have more, expect to spend double, because more than that means you have to rent the entire 40ft container. There are dozens of companies out there, but most of them are going to put your furniture on Matson, so just go directly there first and get a quote

Shipping Your Car ~ Your car will cost $995 to ship on Matson from Long Beach California to the Honolulu port. If you’re moving from anywhere else, it’s either going to cost you more or you’re going to have to drive it to the port. I would go to Matson for this too. I’ve heard of horror stories of people losing their car in the ocean…

Research options for temporary furnished housing ~ There are tons of temp housing units in Waikiki, although it’s very expensive. A nice condo in Waikiki or the Ala Moana area can be as much as $1000 a week! If you look in some of the other less expensive areas like Nuuanu or Makakilo, even Kaimuki or Manoa, you’re likley to find something for about 25% less.

Update your address book of friends and relatives ~ Don’t forget to tell everyone about your move to Hawaii! Give them your new address early so you don’t lose mail on the mainland. Mail to Oahu takes 2-4 days. I recently mailed a letter from Hawaii Kai to California and it took only 2 days. Pretty great.

Complete a change of address notifications at the post office ~ Do this before you get to Hawaii, or some of your mail will be lost. In fact, a week before your move would be best. That way when you land in Honolulu, you will have some mail waiting for you !

Begin sorting out those items you do not plan to move ~ Don’t bring everything. It will cost you tons of money, and you don’t need a lot of things in Hawaii that you need on the mainland. For instance, the weather in Hawaii is about 70-80 degrees all year. In mid January, the dead of winter, it’s about 70 degrees at night and you can sleep with the windows open. So don’t bring heavy jackets, snow chains, winter gear. I gave my snow chains away when I moved here…

Pack, then Pack again ~ one thing you have to remember, everything must be boxed. The movers are not going to take loose stuff in the container, so even lamps, ironing boards, EVERYTHING must be boxed. A bicycle is about the only thing you don’t have to box. Wrap everything in paper and packing material. You don’t want your stuff to be broken traveling the Pacific ocean on the way to Hawaii. Once you’re done packing, you have to pack again. What?
After you Pack all your stuff, you have to pack it up in bigger boxes, and pack up the last minute items you need until the day of your move. You will be amazed at the little things that stick around your house until the last day. Coming to Hawaii is a BIG move. It means you have to pack everything perfectly, in big boxes, wrapped, padded, sealed.

Get a bank account in Hawaii ~ There are no mainland banks on Hawaii. Whatever bank you use, you have to switch, because all the banks are local only. We have First Hawaiian, American savings, Bank of Hawaii, and a few small others. We don’t have your bank. Trust me. Do it early so you have checks that people will take.

Turn on new home’s utilities ~ Do it a few days before you leave for Hawaii.

Turn off utilities at old home ~ Give yourself a day or two after you move out.

Get a Hawaii Driver’s license ~ Unfortunately, you have to go the main city hall in town in Honolulu. There is nowhere else to get your license. You can renew a Hawaii Driver’s License at the satellite city hall in your little town just about anywhere in Hawaii, but to transfer your first license to Hawaii, you have to go to the main branch of the city hall here in Town.

Register your car in Hawaii ~ Before you can register a car in Hawaii, you have to get Hawaii Car Insurance. No, your mainland insurance is not good enough. Your company may cover you, but that doesn’t mean you can register the car here in Hawaii. You have to get a card that specifically says “Hawaii Insurance Card” on top. Call your company to see if they have offices here. Most people here use AIG, Geico, or some local company. Chances are you’re going to have to switch. See what I mean by “living on an island?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *