August 16, 2016

Retirement and Hawaii-Bound


How many of us dream of packing up our belongings and moving to Hawaii? The lure of endless sunshine, warm temperatures, seeing the ocean every day, and living close to nature are powerful pulls.

How many of us actually make that change? Blogger Laura and husband Brett are one couple that left rainy and chilly Portland for the perpetual summer of Kauai. After a few years of diligent research, serious downsizing, and a willingness to make major lifestyle adjustments, they made their dream a reality.

Laura is a regular reader of Satisfying Retirement. I asked her to share her story. She graciously agreed and has provided me with a wealth of information. Her own blog, The Occasional Nomads, provides a fascinating glimpse into all aspects of living over 2,600 miles from the mainland.

With her permission I am going to take parts of her past posts and e-mails to me and reproduce them here. I will add some of my own comments to her narrative. Some of what she has to share is what I expected: expenses are high but the climate is spectacular and worth the adjustments.

Her experiences also tell of having to undergo changes in diet, learning to make do when needed, living within the limits of an island environment, fitting in with the local culture, and give serious thought to bringing pets along.

Hawaiian cove
I will admit to being a lover of all things Hawaiian. I have been to all five of the major islands, both on business and for pleasure, at least 15 times. When I step off the plane I immediately feel at home. The softness of the air, the smells, the friendliness of the people, and the slower lifestyle have very strong appeal to me.

Several times Betty and I have toyed with the idea of relocating for at least part of each year.

I was excited to learn all about Laura and Brett's adventure and now, to share it with you. Even if you have never thought of such a move, many of their experiences can be applicable to any relocation or major lifestyle change.

Here is Laura's story:

I recently wrote on my blog about how and why we chose to retire to Hawai'i: The Occasional Nomad. We're different from many retirees who dream of Hawai'i because we chose it from a purely analytical standpoint versus having come here on vacation (although both my husband and I had both been here, but not together or on a family vacation).

Living in Hawai'i is very different from vacationing here. The transplants I know that have been successful have spent long stretches here versus basing their move only on positive vacation experiences.

If you want to come, research, research, research what it's actually like to live here and then research some more. So You Want To Live In Hawai'i by Toni Polancy. I don't know how recently it's been updated, but there is still lots of solid information on living here, choosing an island, as well as a chapter specifically about retirement. 

You can find out what things cost here - read the local food circulars; sign up for forums to discuss Hawai'i issues. Again, living here is different. If you still want to come, then start planing, planing, planing. And keep researching. A move overseas to Hawai'i is great motivation to downsize and get rid of the flotsam and jetsam in your life. Less really is more here.

Do I Have To be Rich To Move To Hawaii?

You don't have to be wealthy to live in Hawai'i, but you do need a steady, solid retirement income. You have to be adaptable and be prepared to live in a different way than you did back on the mainland. Be prepared to change, from how you live to what you eat to how you interact with others. The LAST thing anyone, local or otherwise, wants to hear here is, "well, back in xxx, we did it this way." Talk to transplants and locals about what they love about living here, and what they see as positives and negatives. Here is another post I wrote that discusses how we manage to live in such an expensive place on a fixed income: How We LIve In Such An Expensive Place. Again, less really is more here.

Do you want to rent or buy in Hawai'i? Almost everyone advises that you rent for at least a year before purchasing a home here, to make sure you want to stay before making the huge commitment of a home purchase. Besides being very expensive, homes here require LOTS of maintenance ("salt never sleeps"). We have been renting since we arrived, and currently have no intention to buy. We are enjoying the freedom from worry and other issues that renting has brought, and our housing needs will change again in a couple of years when our youngest daughter heads off to college, so we're glad to not currently be owning anything.

How About Fitting Into The Community?

Be prepared to have it take a while to make friends here. Locals have been seeing transplants come and go for years (most transplants don't last a year), so they take their time and make sure you're going to stay for the long haul before they open up (they're still very friendly and helpful in the meantime). We've made friends with other transplants/retirees.

I know our situation is a bit different from many: military retiree, older parents, etc. but our move to Hawai'i has been very positive for us. We can't imagine living anywhere else now.

How About Our Dog. Can We Bring Her?

Sadly, we relinquished our pets before we moved. It was NOT an easy thing to do, and might seem heartless to some, but it was the right thing to do for our pets. We knew from our research that it would be very difficult to impossible to find a rental here if we had a pet, so that was part of our consideration. Neither of the two homes we've lived have allowed pets, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have gotten chosen as renters for each one - the rental market here is very tight (I highly recommend that people start reading the Craigslist housing list daily once they think they want to move here - it's a real eye-opener on costs, what's available, and how few properties allow pets).

Still, even if we had planned to bring our dogs, two elderly pugs, the strong recommendation from our vet (who had lived in Hawai'i) is that we did not move them as either the upfront requirements or quarantine would have been very hard on them. And, it turned out we most likely couldn't have brought them anyway, at least at first, because many (if not most) airlines would not accept the breed for transport. We were gratefully able to re-home our beloved dogs into loving families using a rescue organization. It was more difficult to find a new home for our 11-year old cat, but one of our daughter's friends stepped forward and she also sends us pictures and videos - Lily adjusted well to her new home and is happy and doing well.

A period of quarantine is still required, but you can now take care of everything up front before you move, and your pet will be checked at the airport and released if all is in order. It's still very expensive - people we know have paid on the average $1000 per pet to get them admitted (you also pay for quarantine - it's not cheap either). Again, this is an area where people need to do their research and decide what they want to do.

Do you ever get island fever - The need to get off island?

 So far we haven't suffered from 'island fever.' One thing that you discover when you live here is that each part of the island is very unique, and has its own microclimate and culture. And, you become accustomed to driving shorter distances. So, a trip up the north side feels very far away and different from how it is where we live (on the east side, in Kapa'a). Same for heading down to the south or west sides. It makes the island seem a whole lot bigger than it really is.

We usually get in 2-3 trips off island every year though. This year we went to the Grand Canyon/Sedona during spring break (so got to do some driving then), then made a short visit over to Oahu in June, and later this month I'm taking my daughter back to college in Massachusetts (so far from home!) with a stop in Denver on the way back to visit my mom. Last year two of our daughters and I went to Japan in the spring, and then my husband took our oldest daughter to college in Oregon in the fall followed by a road trip with his sister down the California coast to Los Angeles which gave him his 'driving fix.' Anyway, so far we've never felt 'trapped' here, and have discovered there's nothing like coming to Kaua'i and knowing you are home.

Brett spent 22 years in the navy, and we did a LOT of traveling then, back and forth across the country. He said he's gotten his fill of driving, but I could see us doing some RV travel, maybe in a few years. We've talked about renting an RV and seeing some places we missed when we lived on the mainland (national parks, etc.).

A heartfelt mahalo to Laura and Brett for sharing their experiences. The ability of middle class folks to successfully relocate to the islands might encourage others to consider the move. But, Laura makes it clear that lots of research is required, as well as some basic changes in living and consumption habits. I urge you to check out her blog and read the posts for more details.

For Betty and me, the deal breakers are both the distance from family and the pet situation. We could be separated from our family for two or three months a year, since we already do that while on RV trips, but not as full time residents. And, for us there is no way we could give Bailey away or put her through the air travel or quarantine system. So, an occasional two week escape to Hawaii remains our option. 

How about you? Does this post give you any ideas? Do you see yourself living the island lifestyle? I look forward to your comments.

Hawaiian waterfall

In the meantime, Aloha!


  1. I've been a regular follower of Laura's blog for quite some time. I enjoy all the photos as well as her creative writing style. It almost makes me feel like I have visited Hawaii! No big move planned for us. Health changes necessitate no big changes for us. But, I feel like I can experience it vicariously!

    Thanks Bob, Laura and Brett for an interesting post. Aloha!

  2. One of my favorite bloggers, Laura keeps it real. From selling it all to living in a frugal way, she has shared their journey. Her blog helped in our journey of selling stuff and moving to be closer to our kids. The idea of knowing what you want and moving to it before you are too old to move, put a bright light on our path.
    Maybe I will see Hawaii again someday. Maybe. Until then, I am enjoying the adventures of Brett's hikes and Laura's beach and market days. I can smell the plumerias as I read.

    1. Our youngest daughter will be on Maui for three weeks next May on a business trip. She has invited Betty and me to join her during a lull in work. We may have to take her up on that offer. Our last trip to Maui was 4 or 5 years ago...too long.

  3. I've never had any interest in traveling to Hawaii but, I admire the commitment it took them to make that move. I agree with you, Bob, about not being able to leave our pets. That's a definite deal breaker. I'm glad it worked out for them.

    1. Leaving pets would be a real problem, though things are better than they used to be. Not that many years ago I dog had to be in quarantine for up to six months. Now, 30 days is what is needed. Even so, that is tough on the pet and expensive for the family.

      I didn't ask but I assume there are dogs that can be adopted once in Hawaii. A life without a pet would seem a little empty to me.

    2. Yes, there are pets available for adoption here! The Kaua'i Humane Society has a wonderful adoption program. When you're visiting you can sign up and take it out to the beach or wherever you're going. You can also help transport animals back to mainland - the Society has a program where a shelter on the mainland agrees to take an animal (where they are adopted more quickly) and the dog flies "with you" on your return flight. All you have to do is sign up - the Society takes care of everything else, including getting the animal ready to travel, to the airport on time, etc. It's a great program and has helped many animals find homes.

      Again, you can fulfill all the quarantine requirements BEFORE you move. It's expensive, but your animals will be released to you as soon as you arrive. It's time consuming though, so if you think you want to move here, it's one of the first things that needs to be investigated and/or started.

    3. I meant to say one of the Society's programs is "adopting a dog for a day" and taking it out to the beach or wherever you're going - sorry for any confusion.

  4. Leave my pets, my mother, my family? For what? A nice view that can be gotten at so many more convenient locations?
    Yet, however,I admire the couple very much for their bravery and wish them much happiness and success.
    The last (and only time I visited Hawaii), I could not get over the amount of homeless people. They are quite visible. Live like a native? When I questioned them, they fished for their meals most days. But as the couple stated, they must have a good steady income coming in each month to afford living there. If you call that living? Most locals I met, did not.
    Another thing the locals confided in me was the racism. The locals despise white people. Not my opinion. Just a fact that was clearly relayed to me by a confidant.
    Once I realized, while I was in Hawaii that it truly is an island, I personally felt trapped. We like to get in our car and drive and go to different places. Island hopping is not going to a different place in Hawaii. It's more of the same old, same old. Not for us.
    But that's what retirement is. Different things to all different people.

    1. You're right - retirement is different things to different people. We initially put Hawai'i on our list of retirement locations as a joke. There was no way we could ever afford to retire here. But after a great deal of research and investigation, Hawai'i turned out to have almost everything WE were looking for, including living closer to family in Japan, nearby military facilities (my husband is retired military), great tax benefits for retirees, and of course the beautiful weather. The only two issues were the high cost of living and schools for our daughters, but we have learned how to work around and with those. Hawai'i has turned out to be the best retirement location for us, but I agree it is not for everyone.

      Yes, there are homeless here, mostly in Honolulu, but they live on all the islands. Actually, many positive steps have been taken to help them and find them homes. The situation is not as bad as it was a couple of years ago, but is still an issue just like it is everywhere. The biggest driver of homelessness here is housing costs coupled with entry-level incomes that don't cover the cost of housing. Some of the homeless are locals, but many are those who came over with inadequate savings and thought they would find a high-paying job that would cover housing and let them be at the beach every day. Most locals are not homeless and live in nice homes in nice neighborhoods. They go to work, to church, get together with friends and family just like people everywhere. If you're just visiting these are the people and lives you don't see and don't typically interact with.

      We are definitely not rich; in fact, most would be surprised by the amount of our annual income, but it's a steady retirement income that comes with good benefits because my husband is retired military. Living like a local means changing how you live; it doesn't mean going without. Less really is more here, but you don't have to go without if you can afford it and/or consider something a priority. We eat better here than we did back in Portland, are with a few exceptions prices here are close to what they were back there. Utilities are higher, but we've always been conservative so we haven't had a problem with them - we pay less than we did on the mainland. We budgeted high for everything before we came, but our actually monthly amounts have been much less. For example, we budgeted $300/month for gasoline - our actual monthly cost is less than $100. Gasoline bought at Costco here currently costs less than some places on the mainland.

      And can this meme that locals despise white people please stop? Locals do not "despise" white people - they don't like people who come here and then try to change how locals do things, or tell locals how to do things, or say "back on the xxx this is how we did things." Locals are upset that people are moving over here and taking over the land, causing housing prices to rise, and making Hawai'i just like the mainland. We have found that if you take the time to learn and respect the local ways of doing things, you'll fit in fine. A transplant's attitude, more than anything else, will determine how you are treated here. Treat the locals with aloha and respect and you will receive the same in return. We have yet to experience ANY racism here, and interact with and have made friends with many locals.

      People who move here here can and do suffer from "Island Fever;" it's why most transplants don't last a year. After living here for over two years though we've found that each island is very different from the others, so island hopping is not just going to the same old, same old. Also, because we have family in other locations, like Japan, and because we just enjoy traveling, we make sure we get off the island at least a couple of times a year - we like to go to different places too. Travel is a line item in our budget.

      Like you said, retirement is different things to different people.

    2. Thanks, Laura, for this "insider's" glimpse of living in the islands, and for your response to the comment above. That comment is rather combative and makes some major assumptions from just one visit. Thank you for your calm and measured response.

      The point of the post and inviting you to participate is to share one couple's approach to their version of satisfying retirement. Moving to Hawaii (or Arizona, or northern Maine, for that matter) isn't or everyone. We all figure out what pros and cons we can live with.

  5. We had a very pleasant vacation in Hawaii last year. I don't think I want to move there, but I could go for an extended stay.

    1. It is my favorite place on earth, so any reason to go for a visit...long or short, is fine with me!

  6. I am heading to Kauai and the Big Island next Tuesday! Can't wait!

    Rick in Oregon

  7. Hawaii is a fine place to spend the golden years. Congrats to Laura on making it happen.

  8. We are headed to the Big Island in October and can't wait. I've seen all the islands but that one, so it's been on my bucket list. We both love Hawaii and also have several pieces of art in our home from our travels there. That said, we've discussed living there. My DH would probably try it, but I would not want to be that far from family and I also find myself getting island fever after a week to 10 days.

    I really appreciated Laura's story and look forward to following her blog. Thanks!

    1. The Big island is fascinating. As you probably know, one of the volcanos has been continuously erupting since 1983! Hilo still feels like old time Hawaii to me. The north shore has quaint little towns that are worth the drive.

    2. Yes! The volcanoes are the big draw for me, although DH has been (his son went to college in HI, so he's seen much more than I on all the islands). I liked Maui, but found it to be pretty touristy, although Haleakala was awesome. Kaua'i was probably my favorite, but I really do want to see the volcanoes. :) Thanks for the info...I'm looking forward to exploring.

  9. We've been to the Big Island once and have no desire to return. Nice for a visit, but wouldn't want to live there. On the other hand, we are just a few days away from closing on a new home in Arizona. We are very excited and can't wait to head out in October! We believe we are creating the best of both worlds in our retirement journey, by spending the "cold" months in Arizona and the summer months in Northern Michigan. To each, his or her own! 😎🌵🌴😎

    1. Welcome to the Grand Canyon State. Being snowbirds here and summer residents in Northern Michigan sounds perfect.

  10. What I find surprising are the number of Big island visits. I would have guessed Oahu and Honolulu would have been primary destinations, along with Maui. If I lived in Hawaii I would probably pick Maui's south shore or Kauai. Honolulu is just a big city with way too much traffic, though Oahu's north shore is spectacular.

    1. The Big Island is becoming a very popular vacation destination, and it's getting easier to find flights directly into Kona-Kailua from the mainland. There are some fascinating things to see and do there - I can't wait to get over to visit Volcanoes National Park. The Big Island is popular with many retirees relocating to Hawai'i because it has the lowest cost of living of all the islands, but the island is BIG. We seriously considered it along with Kaua'i before we moved, but in the end we were enchanted with Kaua'i, and haven't been disappointed. LIke the Big Island, Kaua'i is very rural, slow-paced and relaxed, but the schools are better and we are rarely affected by VOG. Housing costs less here on Kaua'i than on Oahu and Maui, but more than the Big Island. Kaua'i has better beaches, too (IMHO).

      Oahu/Waikiki still rank as the #1 vacation destination in the state though. We enjoyed our short vacation at Waikiki earlier this summer, but stayed close to our resort for the most part. We plan a longer vacation on Oahu in the future to see more of what the island has to offer. The traffic is overwhelming.

      Maui is beautiful, but word around here is that is has been overrun by tourists. Kaua'i has been "discovered" as well, so it remains to be seen how things will go here. We had family that visited both Maui and Kaua'i last year and said they wished they had done both weeks on Kaua'i - they felt it was more friendly and relaxing. But I know others that love Maui and wouldn't go anywhere else!

  11. I love Hawaii and our family is planning to be there over Christmas. I realize from Laura's blog that a lot of work goes on between thinking about moving somewhere and actually making the move. Making a plan and doing the research is a major point I got from Laura. We are not ready to move from our large house just yet but I can see the need in a few years. There are a lot of beautiful places to live but being close to family is primary. Thanks for sharing

    1. Laura makes the important point that people who vacation on the islands, fall in love with them, and just move, are probably headed back to the mainland sooner than later. Hawaii is one of the 50 states, but very different than the others in several ways. Proper research and self-assessment are very important before moving 2,500 miles away onto a rock in the Pacific.

  12. This is great advice not just for people moving to Hawaii but for retirees who want to relocate anywhere far from home. I only question one item: I'm afraid you DO have to be rich to live in Hawaii!

    1. I guess that all depends on how you define "rich." I've read of some that wouldn't come here unless they had an income twice or more what ours is, but I've also read of others doing on well on less than ours. It's all relative, and depends on what YOU need and deem a necessity.

      That's why doing as much research as you can before you move is so important. Check out housing costs because that will be your biggest expense here. If you decide to buy here you do need to be "rich," especially if you want a big house with an ocean view. Housing prices are HIGH (condos may be less but have high HOA fees) and you also have lots of and/or more frequent maintenance here. It will cost you more if you need to have a lot of square footage, but if you can be comfortable with less in a smaller house you can keep costs down, and that goes for renting as well. If you buy all your food at Safeway or other local groceries, your food bill will be much higher than if you primarily shop at Costco, farmers' markets, and through Amazon. Gas may be more expensive here, but you don't need to drive as much or as far (unless you decide to live on Oahu and end up spending your time sitting in traffic).

      There are loads of ways to spend your money here if you really want to, but you don't have to. Your clothing expenses will be less: all you need are shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. We have teenagers, and their clothing expenses dropped to nearly nothing here. There are no heating bills in the winter. You might want to run an A/C at times during the summer, but most people here don't, or at least not all the time. No one here (on Kaua'i at least) cares what kind of car you drive, or what you wear. Beach activities are free, and hiking is free on every island, with amazing vistas and views to be experienced. The expensive activities are the ones the tourists take part in. You can work, but there are plenty of places to volunteer.

      There are also several tax advantages here for retirees. Your pension from the government, federal or any state, is not taxed. Income from a non-contributory pension is not taxed either. Only a portion of the income from a contributory pension is taxed. There are rebates on the Hawai'i GET tax for those over 65, and senior also get a large exemption on their property taxes (I've heard of property taxes as low as $150 PER YEAR for seniors).

      I think one of the best things you don't bring here with you is debt. How much money you need depends though on how you want to live, and what you want to do when you're here. We like to travel, so have that expense built into our budget, but we have retired friends who are perfectly happy to stay here year round and go to the beach almost every day. Having some savings is important as well, in case you need to or decide you want to move back to the mainland. Whether you move your own things over with you, or buy what you need once you get here is another decision that only each individual/family can make.

      Again, each island is different which is why research is so important. Housing (which is the biggest expense here) is way more on Oahu and Maui than it is here on Kaua'i, and the cost of living is even lower on the Big Island. Health care availability is different on each island - more on Oahu but maybe less on the Big Island. But the idea of "rich" is relative. A solid, steady source of income is important - the people we've seen struggle are those who don't know what they're going to bring in or have from month to month.

  13. Hi Laura, I have been doing my research for a few years now. But one thing I could not find was on taxes.
    Is that true, retirements from States or Military are not taxed. My husband was in the Air Force and once he did his service. He and I bot worked for the State of California. We both have pensions, but under the age of 60. Do you have more information on this?

    Reno, NV

  14. Hi Julie - government pensions, either from the federal government or ANY state, are not taxed by Hawai'i, nor are non-contribuatory pensions. I don't think age is a factor. My husband is retired navy, and also draws a pension from the company he worked for following retirement; my pension is from the state of Oregon, and none of it is taxed by Hawai'i. Neither is our social security, and we also get a rebate based on our rent payments. Hope this helps!


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