Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Hawaii (Besides Buying a Surfboard)

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It’s easy to fantasize about living in Hawaii when wind chills are in the single digits and you haven’t seen the sunshine since October. But if you’re seriously considering selling everything and jetting off to the Aloha State, there’s more involved than packing a bag and purchasing a ukulele (and maybe a surfboard). 

Want to move to Hawaii? Here’s how to plan it out, and what you’ll need to keep in mind before you head to paradise permanently.

Can you move to Hawaii?

If you are a U.S. citizen or have a green card, there are no special permissions needed to move to Hawaii permanently. Although Hawaii is separated by an ocean and is unique culturally, it’s fairly simple to make a move across the Pacific, says Chuck Garrett, a certified relocation professional and a real estate agent in Hawaii. 

“Notwithstanding the distance, many aspects of moving to Hawaii are the same as relocating between states on the mainland. The two major differences will be shipping your vehicle and complying with Hawaii’s animal quarantine laws,” Garrett says. 

If you’re taking your dog or cat to enjoy your new life with you (and obviously setting up their own IG account with videos of them learning to surf), you’ll need to prepare for that ahead of your projected move date. To get your ducks in a row, compile records of your pet’s vaccinations (and get your pet tested for rabies at least 30 days before your arrival), have your vet sign a certificate of health for your pet, and pay Hawaii’s pet entry fees, which vary by breed and mode of transportation. You are also required to get your pet examined once you arrive at the airport. The reason for all these stringent rules? Hawaii is the only state that doesn’t have rabies—and they intend to keep it that way. 

If your dog or cat doesn’t pass the airport examination upon arrival or you didn’t follow the protocol exactly, your little fur child will have to be quarantined for about 120 days

As for your car, you’ll have to ship it from the west coast. There are very specific instructions you’ll have to follow, such as making sure it’s clean, has no traces of dirt, no cracks in the windshield, and no storage of personal items, says Hawaii real estate agent Amy-Noelle Gallo

“I do suggest that if you have a good car to bring it over because cars in Hawaii are so much more expensive,” she says. “But if it’s on its last leg, it probably won’t make it over the ocean.” 

How much does it cost to move to Hawaii?

Now that you know you can move to Hawaii, the big question is how much is this going to cost you. That all depends, Garrett says. 

Shipping a car starts at $1,500, but moving your household goods will depend on how much stuff you’re moving, where you’re moving from, and whether an employer will help you pay for it. A ballpark estimate for moving a three-bedroom house is between $5,000 and $10,000. Typically, you’d move your things in a shipping container, which is charged by weight. But the best way to move to Hawaii is to leave all your furniture and household items on the mainland. 

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“It’s wise to almost start over,” Garrett says. “The last time I moved back to Hawaii, I only brought selected artwork, dishes, and photographs—mementos and things like that. We furnished the house over here.”

Besides, Gallo says, your furniture fitted for an Ohio home is probably not going to fit in a Hawaiian-sized living room. 

“The best way to find new stuff is to buy it off someone who is leaving the island,” she suggests.

Is moving to Hawaii realistic?

Moving to the islands may be your dream, but how realistic is it for those of us on the mainland? With a little planning, anything is possible—but paradise seekers need to understand the gravity of the cost. 

In addition to being financially prepared, it’s also a good idea to visit as much of the state as you can to get a feel for where you’d like to move, as some areas outside of populated Oahu can be quite remote. If you are planning on renting, it’s also crucial to be on the island for an in-person meeting with a property manager, as most of them will not rent sight unseen to a new tenant, says Garrett.

What is it like to live in Hawaii?

Sure, you know the weather will be great, the waves will be righteous, and the sunsets surely will be unmatchable, but what is it really like to live day-to-day life on an island? 

First, it’s more expensive to buy everyday things. “Locally, we call all of the extra costs for food, housing, and shipping a ‘paradise tax,’” says Garrett. Beyond the expenses, you also have to keep in mind that most houses do not have built-in heating systems, the speed limit is around 45 miles per hour (adhering to a slower-paced “Hawaii time”), and that traveling outside of the state will be at least a five-hour trip, something that can potentially make you feel isolated and give you “island fever.” 

But of course, at the end of the day Hawaii is pretty close to paradise. 

“Hawaii is the dream world that some can stay in and enjoy for the rest of their life,” says Gallo. “When you get to Hawaii and you get connected to the people, everybody is family.”