An expat guide to living in Hawaii Island

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What is it like to live in Hawaii as an expat?

In this Expat Interview, Katie shares her expat life in Hawaii. She discusses her moving procedure, good and bad things about Hawaii, where to visit in Hawaii, the cost of living in Hawaii, and more.


About Hawaii

If you look on a map, the Hawaiian Islands appear so small and insignificant, but if you experience them, they will undoubtedly occupy a big space in your heart.

You see, Hawaii is more than just a state.

It’s more than just a place. It’s something that becomes part of you. Hawaii is a paradise-type place that is easy to fall in love with and very hard to leave.

Technically speaking, it is a state of America, though it is culturally a world apart.

I immigrated to America and called Hawaii, particularly the island of O’ahu, home for three years, and I am here to share it with you today.

expat living in Hawaii vacation


What was your procedure for moving to Hawaii?

It was a very long and stressful process to move to Hawaii from a different country.

My visa petition took ten months, cost 10,000AUD, and involved interviews, medical exams, and endless paperwork.

Once I got the green light from the immigration department, I had two weeks to notice to move, so I just packed two suitcases and got on a flight – that was the easy part.

I moved to Kailua on the island of O’ahu and lived by the beach where I could listen to the waves as I fell asleep each night – it was a dream. I then began the process to petition to stay legally, which took another eight months.


Why did you choose to live in Hawaii?

Why not? I had visited Hawaii before, and it is a paradise! As far as where I lived in Hawaii, there was not much thought put into it.

living in Hawaii travel to Hawaii

The two weeks’ notice I had to move went by like a blur, and I was working full time for those entire two weeks – the day I moved, I worked a regular day, then got on the plane at night.

So it just happened that I ended up living in Kailua, but it worked out perfectly because it was relaxed, beachy and there were lots of stores and things to see and do in the area.

Since I was learning to drive on the other side of the road by myself at first, it was convenient to have a lot close by until I started being confident driving on the highways.


How did you prepare to move to Hawaii?

I followed the immigration process as I mentioned, and, apart from that, I had researched places where I could volunteer my time and planned some of the things I wanted to see and do while I was there.


What is the cost of living in Hawaii?

Hawaii is quite an expensive place to live, so you would need to be prepared for that if you were planning to move.

Accommodation is one of the high costs.

I had a studio apartment in Honolulu at one point, which cost $2000USD a month in rent & it was only one room!

Car expenses and food are also quite expensive.

Though it is expensive, it can work out well if you like the outdoors because you can adventure all day, swim, or hike outdoors for free.

You never have to drive very far to find adventure, and you can also carpool with your buddies to save money on fuel.

For food, there are many farmer markets which can be a big help to save money as well.

things to do in Hawaii


What are the difficulties of living in Hawaii?

My difficulties were mostly adjusting to life in America – learning the new words, processes for everyday life, and teaching myself to drive on the other side of the road.

The only way to deal with it was to keep learning and make a lot of mistakes. I asked a lot of questions and just kept learning about life in this new place each day.


Did you experience any discrimination in Hawaii from locals because you’re a foreigner?

No. I had some discrimination at one of the places I worked, but I’m not sure being foreign was the cause – maybe just because I was the new person for the job.

I know other people have experienced tensions in Hawaii after moving there. Still, while out and about, I was fortunate to have always had great interactions with the local people who made me feel welcome.

It sounds cheesy to say, especially to people who haven’t lived there, but I certainly felt the Aloha spirit.


How to overcome culture shock?

Of course, moving to a new country and a new culture comes with a bit of shock, but it was not too intense.

I simply made an effort to enjoy the things that were different in a good way and understand the things that were different but not so good.

Also, I think the biggest tip is not to compare the new place you live to wherever you are from – just let it be what it is and appreciate it for that.

I found a tribe of friends and tried to experience and enjoy everything that Hawaii had to offer.


What do you like about Hawaii?

There is so much that I love about Hawaii.

I love the ocean, so being able to swim in the beautiful water year-round was an absolute treat.

I loved how easy it was to get out and adventure, either on land or in the water.

expat living in Hawaii vacation

The landscapes were stunning.

I love the laid-back lifestyle, the shave ice, acai bowls, and Huli-Huli chicken.

Most of all, I loved the lifestyle and the people. The way they view and enjoy the land, their connectedness to the island is beautiful and contagious.


Are there any bad things about Hawaii that you don’t like?

I feel as though I saw it decline during my three years there with litter, erosion, and places getting more crowded, and I think the Instagram culture had a lot to do with it.

It’s my fear for Hawaii that this trend will continue.


What are your favorite things to do in Hawaii?

I love to wake up early, watch the sunrise and go for a swim or hike, then go to a nice cafe for a coffee and snack, and maybe go for another swim.

The outdoors was my favorite, and these were the perfect days.

hiking in hawaii expat living in Hawaii


Where do you recommend visiting in Hawaii?

For O’ahu, my biggest recommendation is to get outside of Waikiki and see more of the island.

There’s just so much more to offer than Waikiki, and each area has its unique vibe.

I think renting a car and cruising the North Shore is a must-do – stopping to eat some of the famous shrimp from a food truck along the way, of course.

Also, you can’t go to Hawaii without a visit to the famous Lanikai Beach!


Is it easy to make new friends in Hawaii?

I found it easy to make friends through volunteering and working, and I also made many friends by connecting with people on Instagram.

I think the more you put yourself out there with things you love, the easier it is to meet other like-minded people.


Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I think I was the only foreign one in my friend’s groups. I mostly spent time with locals or people who had moved there from another state in America.


Where is your favorite place in Hawaii to meet friends?

My friends and I were always outside, either hanging out in the ocean or hiking somewhere.

Living in Hawaii is so expensive, but luckily a lot of the fun stuff we enjoyed was free, so it worked out well.

best things to do in Hawaii vacation

We were also usually hungry from all the activities and loved to stop in at small coffee shops. Green World Farms was my favorite or local food truck.


A memorable experience in Hawaii

When I first moved here, it was just before Christmas, and I was at a furniture store trying to buy myself a bed.

The older, local lady asked me my plans for the holidays, and I had said that I didn’t know yet, probably go to the beach since I had just moved there and didn’t know anyone.

‘Nobody should be alone for the holidays,’ she said as she gave me her phone number and invited me to spend Christmas with her family.

I’ll never forget how kind she was to a stranger with a weird accent like me.


Did you change your perspective about Hawaii after living here for a while?

It got more beautiful, and I fell in love with it more and more each day.

The most significant change in perspective was that over time I saw how nature changed and was being affected by people, as I mentioned earlier.


What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Hawaii?

Be respectful of the people, be respectful of nature, and enjoy it. Hawaii has a lot to offer if you open yourself up to experiencing it.

best things to do in Hawaii

Also, check where you plan to live and work in relation to the peak traffic times and directions.

Like most places, traffic jams can be heavy when going into the city in the mornings and outbound in the evenings. So if you can live and work somewhere that you can avoid it or work your schedule around those times, that would make life a little easier.


Would you recommend others to live in Hawaii?

Of course, if you can afford it since usually, the cost of living is one of the most challenging elements of living in Hawaii.


What have you learned from living abroad?

I’ve since moved to a different country again since living in Hawaii.

My expat and travel experience has taught me that while we may be from different parts of the world, we are all much more similar than we are different.

Still, it’s good to experience the culture, learn as much as you can and understand the differences because when you make an effort to learn about others, that’s where the best connections are made.


About Katie

expat living working in Hawaii

Katie is a dream-chasing travel blogger who shares extraordinary travel experiences.

She has a passion for travel, photography, nature, and generally anything outside of the ever-dangerous comfort zone.

When she isn’t traveling, you can find her cuddled up with her two dogs and a warm cup of tea, blogging away on her website, The Katie Show Blog.

Don’t forget to follow Katie on her Instagram and Twitter

The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.