For some, Hawaii is a dream vacation destination. For others, Hawaii is home. For still others, Hawaii is a retirement goal.
If you’re in that last group—and you want to retire in Hawaii—there are a few things you need to know before you make your final decision. After moving tens of thousands of individuals and families to the Aloha State, we’ve learned the ins and outs of living in Hawaii. Below, we’ll share the 13 must-knows for retirees so you can feel confident that you’re selecting a spot that’s perfect for you.
#1: Hawaii Is Expensive
As a retiree, you may be living on a fixed income or budgeting carefully to ensure you have enough money to enjoy your retirement. If so, you should know that the cost of living in Hawaii is high.
In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) named Hawaii the most expensive state to live in. By their data, Hawaii is:
- The most expensive state to buy groceries in
- The most expensive state for housing
- The most expensive in utility costs
- The second-most expensive when it comes to transportation costs
So before you set your heart on Hawaii, put together a realistic budget to make sure the numbers work.
#2: Hawaii Does Offer a Few Tax Advantages
Despite the high cost of living, there are two key tax advantages to living in Hawaii that can work in favor of seniors interested in retiring in the state.
No Taxes on Certain Pension Plans
If you’ll be funding your retirement through withdrawals from employer-funded pension plan, you won’t have to pay state taxes on qualifying distributions. That includes withdrawals from:
- Government pensions
- Military pensions
- Private pensions funded by your employer
For some retirees, this can offer a nice tax break to offset Hawaii’s higher cost of living.
However, note that any withdrawals from self-funded accounts will still be subject to Hawaii state taxes.
Low Property Taxes
If you choose to buy a home in Hawaii, you can enjoy some of the lowest property taxes in the U.S. However, given Hawaii’s high cost of real estate, your property taxes may still be higher than if you purchased a lower-cost property on the mainland.
However, as an owner-occupier of your residence, you may qualify for tax relief programs that reduce the taxable assessed value of your home. Additionally, Kauai County, the County of Hawaii, and the City and County of Honolulu also offer exemption programs for seniors that further reduce the taxable assessed property value.
Rates and regulations vary by county, so make sure to investigate the rules in the county you’re considering.
#3: Overall, Though, Hawaii Does Have a High Tax Burden
Despite these two tax advantages, you may still end up paying a pretty big share of taxes in Hawaii. In fact, WalletHub ranked Hawaii as the state with the second-highest tax burden, just behind New York.
The main culprit driving this ranking? Hawaii’s total sales & excise tax burden, as compared to income. By WalletHub’s estimates, residents pay 6.97% of their personal income toward sales and excise taxes, the highest in the nation. Definitely something to consider before you retire to Hawaii.
#4: Consider a Property with Rental Potential
Given all these costs, how do retirees make the math work in Hawaii? Many take advantage of owning a property that includes a rental unit.
A number of single-family homes in Hawaii have a separate building called an ohana. Ohana means family in Hawaiian. While some do use ohanas to house family members, others rent them out for extra income.
Additionally, some houses are constructed to enable easy renting. For example, you may see properties with a mother-in-law suite on the ground floor. They may also include a completely separate entrance, a kitchen, a full bathroom, and a bedroom—perfect for an in-law or a renter.
As you’re looking at properties, you may want to look for one that offers you the possibility of rental income. The extra cash can be vital for supplementing your income in an expensive state.
#5: You’ll Love the Scenery—and the Weather
If you’ve dreamed of retiring to a place where you can enjoy beautiful natural vistas on a daily basis, Hawaii will certainly fit the bill. Plus, it’s got a range of landscapes to suit almost every taste: beachy coastal areas, lush rainforests, and cooler mountainside settings.
Additionally, Hawaii’s tradewinds keep the islands generally cooler than some of the other warm climates that draw retirees. The average high in Fort Myers, Florida, in July hovers around 92°. In Honolulu, the average high in July is 81°, with evening temperatures dipping into the 70s.
In other words, even though Hawaii is technically in the tropical zone, it’s often not as hot here as you might expect.
#6: You’ll Need to Prepare for Extreme Weather
Significant weather events have become more common globally, and there are a few specific threats that Hawaii is particularly susceptible to. If you decide to retire to Hawaii, you’ll want to be aware of the potential for:
- Hurricanes. The official season runs from June 1–November 30, but some major storms have hit outside that time period. It’s important to keep your emergency supplies up to date, just in case.
- Tsunamis. Estimates suggest there’s a 9% chance of a major tsunami hitting Hawaii in the next 50 years. Warning alarms are tested at regular intervals, so familiarize yourself with the sound.
- Lava flow and VOG. Kilauea, the most active volcano in the state and one of the most active volcanoes in the world, has major effects on the Big Island, some of which migrate to neighboring islands. If you’re buying a house on the Big Island, check out the USGS lava flow hazard zones map so you can gauge your risk.
- Additionally, gases and particulate matter from the vents, known as VOG (Volcanic smOG), can also affect people, especially those with respiratory problems. For more information on VOG, check out the current air quality data for the state of Hawaii.
To stay informed, we suggest signing up for emergency alerts once you make the move. It always pays to be prepared!
#7: You Might Just Live Longer
Despite some of these hazards, Hawaii still boasts the highest life expectancy in the nation at 86.5 years. Additionally, if you’re wondering about the availability of healthcare in the state, US News ranked Hawaii #1 in the U.S. for both health care access and health care quality.
In other words, retirees looking to live a long and healthy life have a good chance of doing so in Hawaii, surrounded by plenty of other equally healthy retirees with access to excellent healthcare.
Note: Consider Your Island Carefully
Keep in mind that the US News ranking applied to Hawaii as a state. Availability of healthcare facilities, providers, specialists, and equipment varies considerably from island to island. As you might guess, Oahu has the largest number and widest variety of healthcare options.
If you have a medical condition that requires specialized care or facilities, do your research before choosing your island. Interisland flights can be quick and (relatively) inexpensive. That said, it can quickly become burdensome to travel regularly for healthcare.
#8: You’ll Also Enjoy a Laid-Back Lifestyle
If you’ve gotten tired of the hustle-bustle of mainland life, the pace of Hawaii life might offer you a welcome change. Things certainly move at their own pace in the Aloha State, although that pace differs from island to island and neighborhood to neighborhood.
Notably, though, Hawaii was named the healthiest and happiest state seven years in a row in Gallup’s National Health and Well-Being Index from 2012–2019. If you’re a retiree looking to maximize your quality of life in your golden years, Hawaii is worth a look.
#9: Get the Facts on Hawaii’s Crime Rate
There’s nothing that interrupts a peaceful retirement more than being the victim of a crime. Although it’s not always the most pleasant topic, it’s worth looking at Hawaii’s crime rates so you have all the facts.
When it comes to violent crimes, Hawaii’s rate is lower than the U.S. average. It’s also lower than two other popular U.S. retirement destinations: Florida and South Carolina. In fact, Hawaii’s violent crime rate is less than half of South Carolina’s. In other words, if you move to Hawaii, you’ll have a lower chance of being a victim of a violent crime.
Where it comes to property crimes, Hawaii’s outlook isn’t quite as rosy. Its property crime rate is a bit higher than the U.S. average. It’s also higher than the property crime rate in Florida’s. However, Hawaii’s property crime rate still remains lower than South Carolina’s.
In summary, keep a careful eye on your possessions, and you’ll likely enjoy a quiet retirement in Hawaii.
Comparing Crime Rates Across Popular Retirement Areas
Crimes per 100,000 People per Year
- U.S. Overall
- 398.5 – Violent Crime Rate
- 1,958.2 – Property Crime Rate
- 254.2 – Violent Crime Rate
- 2,411.4 – Property Crime Rate
- 383.6 – Violent Crime Rate
- 1,769.4 – Property Crime Rate
- South Carolina
- 530.7 – Violent Crime Rate
- 2,721.1 – Property Crime Rate
#10: You’ll Want to Downsize Before You Move
Downsizing may be something you’ve already thought about—especially if you’re living in a larger home. (The maintenance and cleaning can really start to pile up!)
Before you move to Hawaii, we definitely recommend you downsize your possessions. Most people need way less than they think they will out here. It’s rare to put on fancy clothing. You might even ditch closed-toe shoes entirely. And if you have any winter-weather gear hanging around, that’s an easy decision: Put it right in the give-away pile.
If you’ve got heirlooms or sentimental items you want to gift to your family and friends, the time to do it is now, before you retire to Hawaii. It will save you a bundle on your move, and it’s likely you’ll barely miss many of those possessions once you’re settled in your new home.
#11: Consider a Condo
Along those same lines, you may also want to consider choosing the condominium lifestyle in Hawaii. Although condos don’t come with the rental-unit potential we mentioned above, they do come with a huge upside: no maintenance.
Take, for example, your lawn. Plants grow in Hawaii’s rich soil and sunshine like crazy. If you don’t stay on top of your landscaping, it will creep out of your control pretty quickly. Living in a condo means those items are taken care of for you.
In other words, why worry about a leaky roof if you don’t have to? Condo life can take a lot of worry and responsibility off your plate—key for a relaxed, retirement lifestyle.
#12: The Distance Can Be Hard (Unless Your Ohana Is Here!)
If you’re one of the lucky retirees moving to Hawaii to rejoin your family, you won’t have to confront one of the most difficult realities for Hawaii residents: being far away from friends and family.
In your golden years, it’s important to have a community around you. In addition to enjoying the warmth of your loved ones, there’s a great deal of security in knowing that there’s someone nearby who can help you as needed. Maybe you need to change a lightbulb that’s difficult to reach or you feel sick and need to visit the doctor. Having someone who you feel comfortable calling for assistance can make a huge difference in your quality of life.
You will find a strong sense of community spirit here in Hawaii. However, if you’re moving here without any ties, ask yourself how ready you are to restart your social life from scratch before you commit to relocating.
#13: A Couple of Hawaiian Words Will Go a Long Way
Finally, as you consider Hawaii for your retirement, it’s important to recognize the distinct culture you’ll encounter here, especially that of the native Hawaiians who originally settled these islands.
Understanding a few Hawaiian words is a great place to start getting yourself oriented:
A Few Common Hawaiian Words
- Aloha – Used for “hello” and “goodbye,” but also carries a deeper meaning extending positive feelings and good will toward the person you’re speaking with.
- Hana hou – Encore! Literally to do something again.
- Kamaaina – A Hawaii resident, sometimes used to refer to someone born in Hawaii who is not of native Hawaiian descent.
- Kapu – Forbidden, also used to indicate “no trespassing”
- Keiki – Children
- Kokua – Help
- Kupuna – A respected elder or older person
- Mahalo – Thank you
- Malihini – Newcomer
- Ohana – Family, both in the literal and figurative sense. Your close friends in Hawaii will likely become part of your ohana.
If you’re willing and interested to dig deeper than simple vocabulary, you’ll find many rich Hawaiian cultural traditions to enjoy. Consider attending a hula performance or a slack-key show. There are also plenty of museums documenting Hawaii’s complex and fascinating history. All of these will open a whole new perspective on your experience in Hawaii—as well as the experiences of the people you meet while you live here.
Making Hawaii Your Late-in-Life Home
For many retirees, Hawaii checks a lot of boxes: It’s warm, it’s beautiful, and it’s got a welcoming spirit that makes many people feel quickly at home. Now that you’ve read our 13 must-knows, where do you find yourself? Ready to retire in Hawaii? Or ready to do a little more research?
Take your time! If and when you’re ready to pack up and move to Hawaii, we’d be happy to help! Just reach out to one of our experts for a complimentary quote. We have teams and warehouses on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, so we can help you get your belongings anywhere in Hawaii.
Tell us about your move!