Moving to Hawaii

Related Pages: Visiting Hawaii

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Sabbatical in Honolulu

June 2013

Some years ago, I (a German professor) spent a sabbatical at UC Berkeley. My family and I had a wonderful time in the Bay Area and enjoyed the stay very much. I have now the opportunity to go to Honolulu, Hawaii for the spring term 2014. I would go with my wife and our 17 years old son. On the one hand we are excited about this chance to see a different part of the world. On the other hand we are afraid of being disappointed. Spending a week on holidays is totally different from living in a place for six months. If you are from Hawaii or have lived there, could you please give us some insights on what we can expect of the daily live in Honolulu? What is the public school system like? We liked the diversity of the Bay Area, the wide variety of cultural events, the wonderful nature etc. How is Honolulu in this respect. Any advice is highly appreciated. Dreaming of Hawaii

Honolulu is a major metropolis with LOTS of traffic all day long. So, make sure you look for housing near your work. Taking H-1 (freeway) during rush hour will be quite slow. There is a great bus system, but the buses are fighting the same traffic!

The public school system is not very good but the private school system is second to none. So, really, my biggest worry would be for your son. It would be pretty difficult to get into a private school for only one semester, and fitting into public school there is going to be quite hard.

Now for the good: culture they have a-plenty. They are hugely diverse as far as Asian cultures are concerned. The food is fantastic, and many options abound.

The largest industry is tourism, so there are many events going on all over town frequently. Nature/ocean/hikes all top notch.

Cost of living is astronomical--higher than the Bay Area in all ways: gas, electricity, groceries (remember most everything has to be shipped in), housing--everything is more expensive there.

There aren't any professional sports teams in Hawaii, so college sports are followed by many and games are well attended.

Historical sites abound to do with Hawaiian history, the monarchy, the missionaries.

Oh, I should mention the bugs. It is a tropical area, so no matter how clean the environment is kept, there are cockroaches (they fly too), ants, mosquitos, flies. You learn to live with them, because you can never get rid of them entirely.

I think you are wise to recognize that staying a week in a vacation area is very different than living there! grew up in Hawaii, and return often

You are asking important questions. Living in Hawaii is far different than being a tourist and I think that it'll be a very difficult adjustment for your family (as the archives make reference to).

As a bit of background, I was born and raised in Honolulu in the shadows of the University of Hawaii (UH, as it's affectionately known) in Manoa Valley. I left after high school, but go back to visit my family about 2-3 times a year from the Bay Area.

First, Honolulu is expensive. Rent, gas (you'll want a car, even for a semester), groceries, electricity - you name it. If your partner currently works but you'll be foregoing her salary when you are in Honolulu, I'd look very carefully at your expenses and see if you can reasonably expect to live comfortably on one salary in one of the most expensive places in the US. I think that when you are on vacation, you just sort of suck up the price of expensive gas for your rental car and groceries as the price of vacation but it can be frustrating and exasperating when it's your everyday life and you have no choice because you live on a rock in the middle of the ocean.

Also, if housing will not be provided for you, you will want to make sacrifices to live in town (aka Honolulu proper). The traffic on the main highway from the more affordable neighborhoods in West Oahu is terrible and many people start their commute at 4:30 or 5am to be at work on time in downtown Honolulu. Traffic in Honolulu as a whole is pretty terrible and the congestion keeps getting worse at all hours of the day.

I think that this move would be most difficult for your son. As a whole, the public schools are not good by any standard. I would take a look at Honolulu Magazine's Ranking of the Public Schools here: While there are good elementary schools, the high schools generally all fall at the bottom. Also, even if you think about going the private school route, I think it'd be difficult to get your son into any of the three big schools - Punahou School, Iolani School and Mid Pacific Institute - for a semester.

Another issue that you will find is the 'us versus them' mentality. Meaning the locals versus the tourists. The locals do their thing, the tourists are the tourists, the military does theirs, etc. Perhaps the University setting will be supportive of your family and you'll have a built in network there, but if/when your son enters the high school in the second semester, not only will he be the new kid, but he'll be the new kid who's from the mainland. While I'm sure the other students will be nice to him, I think that it'll be difficult for them to find common ground. It may be a slightly easier transition if you put him in a high school that primarily serves the military where students come and go frequently, but the area near UH feeds into Roosevelt HS and many of the students will have gone to elementary, middle and high school together. At a time when your son could be enjoying (perhaps) his last semester of high school with his friends, he'll instead be trying to adapt to a new culture, new school, and new people.

That being said, you will not be disappointed by all of the natural beauty (so long as you don't tire of looking at the ocean ~ don't laugh as 'island syndrome' occurs). The hiking is amazing and perhaps you could learn to body board, windsurf, kite surf or do stand up paddling? Where financially possible, I hope that you will travel to some neighbor islands for a change of scenery (sort of) and to escape the Honolulu traffic. It'll never be such a short plane ride again. There are some opportunities to see community theater productions, but there are not many 'indie' movie theaters. Also, many dining options in Honolulu are on the Asian or Hawaiian spectrum. And, dining of the European flavors tend to be more expensive. Mexican or South American food? Forget it.

Good luck in your decision. happy in the bay area

Move to Hawaii for job at University of Hawaii?

May 2011

My husband recently got an Assistant Professor position (tenure track) at University of Hawaii. The ranking of their engineering program is around 100 (it wasn't so successful for my husband to land a position in top-ranking universities). Well, it has been his dream or career goal to be a faculty. However, to me, Hawaii equals 'vacation'. I just don't see us LIVE there. We have a one-year-old daughter. Both of us have decent jobs here in the bay area. To be frank, I don't want to move at all. I love the life and friends here, and moving with a young kid to Hawaii is too huge a project. Now my husband is very passionate about this perspective job. And I feel like for the family and his career, I will be forced to move. Please, give me some advice how to deal with the situation. Also please share some insights if you know Univ. of Hawaii and being a faculty there (Not that I don't believe what my husband said, just afraid his picture would be too rosy). Really appreciate your input.

My in-laws moved there when she got a faculty job at the U of Hawaii. It didn't work out for them; he had difficulty finding work, and they had trouble adapting to the culture (they are white, mostly living on the West Coast). Their children were grown so that wasn't so much a part of the equation, except for making visiting expensive. My advice from their situation would be to rent and get a very good idea of the different neighborhoods before buying a house. Also, keep in mind that living somewhere is very different than going on vacation -- moving to Hawaii is more like moving to an English speaking foreign country (with a mix of mainly Asian cultures), rather than like moving to another state in the US. The move would be easier if you are Asian. If you aren't ready to embrace a new culture and way of doing things, I would be cautious. anon

I hope that this isn't coming too late to be useful. I was in your husband's shoes 10 years ago (almost exactly)... and my ex-husband was in yours. I got a tenure-track offer (French), which would have meant packing up a 3yo and a newborn and moving to a tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific, and my then-husband didn't feel like he could do it. All of that was understandable, and I was feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of a 3/3 teaching load, 2 small kids, and a reluctant spouse. I turned the offer down.

I didn't know it at the time, but that was a major turning point in my life. I thought that other good jobs and offers would come along, but the next few years didn't have much to offer in the way of tenure-track jobs, and by the time things picked back up I was less competitive. So I stepped off the train: I spent a semester as a lecturer at Cal, then ended up changing careers. Thinks have since worked out very well for me. But even though I understood my then-husband's decision, it was also a major disappointment that he wasn't willing to try things out for a year or two after I had put so many years working towards this point.

I know this sounds more dramatic because the marriage didn't last; please be assured that there were other issues. You don't say what field your husband is in or what the other job possibilities are, but certainly both of you should take into account potential long-term impacts on his career. The view from the other side of the fence

You got so few responses that I thought I would say something. A good friend of mine moved to Hawaii 1.5 years ago. She likes it okay but finds it a little isolating. They are currently planning on staying 5-7 years and then trying to move. In the meantime, she is trying to take advantage of all the cool things Hawaii has to offer. Perhaps you could do the same thing?

My sister is a professor and just took a job in a place she isn't wild about, but jobs are tough to come by and if you take a break, my understanding is that it is very tough to get back in. Anon

I'm not an academic, but both my husband and mother are, as well as a few other family members. I'm an attorney, so I'm the slacker of the family. My mother went back to school when I was a teenager, so she entered the academic job market in her forties. She had a job offer at University of Hawaii in Hilo and took it. She was only there for a few years, and then transferred to Tulane, and later to Western Washington, where she has tenure. She liked being in Hawaii, and sometimes says she regrets not staying there. My sister visited and decided to go to college at University of Hawaii, and loved it. The reality of the academic job market is that it is much easier to find a job if you are employed. We try to go to Hawaii at least once a year, and it's a fun place, so I'd encourage you to seriously consider the offer. Hawaii fan

Job interview at University of Hawaii at Manoa

Jan 2009

I have a job interview at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I'd love the job, and the Hawaiian lifestyle sounds absolutely fantastic, but we are wondering if it's a realistic move for a family with 2 almost-school-aged kids on 2 academic-type salaries. It seems like Hawaii is the only place except NYC where housing prices are MORE expensive than the bay area. And apparently there's terrible traffic. And rumor has it that the public schools aren't so great. And we'd be even further (and 4 more expensive plane tickets) away from our east coast families. Yikes! But it's Hawaii! I want to fantasize about us all out body surfing with Obama, but I guess I'm getting too old not think about practicalities. Any advice about whether or not it can be done and how we could do it (if the job works out, of course)? Thanks! Would love to move to Paradise...

Coincidentally, I grew up on the beach in Kailua where the Obamas spent Christmas this year. Our neighbors lent them their house as they were Democratic Party attorneys and old friends. (My 90 year old dad is a sunrise beach walking buddy...)

I went to Kainalu Elementary School (public) and it was and is still pretty nice. There is a big flat grass field there to run your guts out at recess... One of my neighbors and best friend growing up, went to Punahou which is pricey but, she thinks that her UH Professor father was getting a special rate. One idea to check out?

The Honolulu Advertiser is online so you can see actual prices. I don't think that houses do cost more there for what you get. Houses right on the beach are a lot. But, a block away and it's like the hills here in Berkeley. By the canal, and it's comparable to Richmond so.. Commuting to Manoa is stop dead traffic comparable to Emeryville to Vallejo here at the same times. However, the scenery is better. Back in Manoa Valley is gorgeous and there are cool old wood houses. They cost about the same as nice parts of Oakland. Hiking and waterfalls abound around Nuuanu.

I think that public high schools are pretty rough everywhere. Most Elementary schools are OK. Don't worry until you need to. I think the quality of life trades are equal. Aloha Nui Loa

When we returned to the Bay Area, after two years in Hawaii, we had the notion of setting up a 12-step program: if anyone was thinking of moving there, call us and we'd rush over to talk you out of it. Moving there was a big deal, so we did three test-drives of 2 to 3 weeks each over a 6-month period, and loved it. So we took the plunge. First thing we learned is that the hotels and B typically used highly toxic stuff to beat back the bugs, and in our own home, we had the pleasure of three-inch flying cockroaches. Flying!!! We found substantial differences between being a tourist and trying to live there. Many unhappinesses with service providers: home repairs, car service, banks, movers, etc. We have many stories. And, sadly, we found the 'melting pot' notion to be a chamber of commerce fiction. We had never felt discrimination before because of who we were, nor observed so much of it. And it was very expensive, and we really missed family and friends in California. We made regular use of the 5-hour flight to California -- and, when the jet stream was at the right (i.e. wrong) place, they were the bumpiest flights we've ever been on. That said . . . clearly a lot of people love it. We are not unusually grumpy folks, and we did meet more than a few others who were counting the days till they could leave -- and many more who really felt they were in paradise. (We went to several big social events -- Christmas party -- at the home of one of the top officials of UH. Catered by Woolworths, featuring six kinds of fried food on the puupuu platters (including fried Spam) and Jell-o moulds.) Finally, and I'll stop ranting: an extraordinary book called Land and Power in Hawaii, published by the UH Press. An amazing expose of the depths of corruption in the state government and business hierarchy. A 'good guy' social advocate we met carried a copy everywhere, and when introduced to new people, rather ostentatiously got it out and looked them up, and smiled knowingly. Oh, and traffic on the amusingly-named ''Interstat e'' highway And and and . . and good luck to you. John

My mom moved to Hawaii about 10 years ago from the Bay Area and while she had anticipated it would be more expensive, she had no idea how much more than Berkeley! The monthly basics: groceries (a lot more for lower quality), electricity (use more for fans and air conditioning and highest rates in the US), gas (WAY more, their gas prices never came down from that crazy spike last year), rents and house prices (high like here), can't get TV without paying for cable, a lot less work to go around (may not be a problem but will you both be getting academic jobs in Hawaii?), the schools stink (can you afford private school after all I just listed?). Anything you want besides pineapple has the shipping cost added in! Hawaii is amazing, beautiful and easy-going. It's a great place to live for many reasons. Have you thought about going for 1 to 2 years to try it out first? Keep your house (if you have one) and rent it out until you decide?

If you do move, send your stuff by freighter(even your car). Furniture and cars are more expensive there too! Love Maui, can't afford to move!