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Making the Dream of Living in Hawaii a Reality: Part 1

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"Lucky we live Hawaii!" is a common saying among locals in Hawaii. People around the world envy the tropical lifestyle, some even saving up their entire lives to afford a glorious, one-week vacation here in paradise. The last day of vacation is filled with thoughts and wishes of staying longer, eventually begging the question: Could living in Hawaii be a reality?

While vacationing and living in Hawaii are two different experiences (which is true of any destination), the island lifestyle has plenty of obvious benefits. Access to some of the world's top beaches and surf, a slower paced lifestyle, cuisine from around the world, and a year round warm climate makes Hawaii the ideal home for people of varying ages. It's not just for retirees! In fact, 20-something professionals have been a rapidly growing population on Oahu, postponing career opportunities to enjoy Hawaii life as jobs and the market rebound on the mainland U.S..

I know what you're thinking: "OK, I know Hawaii has tons to offer! What should I be concerned about?" Great question! Really, the first thing you should evaluate is if Hawaii fits into your budget and short-term goals. The cost of living is notoriously high but can be manageable with proper planning. Gas and electricity and milk (yes, milk) are among the highest in the country. Comparing your city with Hawaii with a cost-of-living calculator will give you ballpark of what to expect (you can find a good one here). Here's some of the major factors to consider:

1. Housing -- While costs across the board are higher, the biggest difference in cost versus the national average is housing -- Honolulu is nearly 250 percentabove the national average. But it's not just about price -- it's about location, location, location! Talking with friends, family, or other trusted sources about areas of Hawaii to target can really help concentrate your efforts. A $1,500 mortgage will buy you vastly different things in Honolulu, Wahiawa, and Hilo.

Are you renting or buying? Get familiar with what to expect by doing your research early - for renters, good ol' craigslist is the place to go (for rentals under $5,000/mo). For buying, a few of the top real estate companies have websites that display everything on the local MLS (such as Waikiki is a popular destination for new residents but can quickly lose its charm after a few months. While opinions will differ, very few locals call Waikiki home due to the congestion, traffic, and unrelenting noise. Jayson Dibble, a Michigan native who started out in Waikiki, shares his take:

I moved out of Waikiki primarily because I knew my money could go farther in another part of the island so I moved into a rental house in Kaimuki. That house also had a yard and an attached carport. Besides stretching the dollar, the other noticeable change was the quiet. Waikiki can be a very loud, busting place. Traffic noise is always an issue, especially on the lower floors.

Would I live in Waikiki again? It definitely had some pluses, and I was grateful for the experience. But to be honest, I was a happier human overall when I moved away from Waikiki. And other than a trip now and then to Buffalo Wild Wings on the edge of Waikiki and for special occasions, I really didn't find myself visiting Waikiki very much again. I found less crowded beaches and more reasonably priced restaurants elsewhere.

2. Employment -- It's impossible to give a total market overview of Hawaii in a paragraph, but as of May 2013, the unemployment rate in Hawaii has steady dropped to 4.3 percent, well below the national average of 7.6 percent. With Hawaii being an international destination, the dominant force in the Hawaii market is tourism but with major influences by government, construction, and the military. Pacific Business News is a great resource that covers all that's going on when it comes to business in the islands. Aside from the traditional resources such as Linkedin and, Hawaii Jobs on Demand is a popular, local resource for job postings.

This article gives great insight as to what employers are looking for when hiring talent from outside of the islands. It's not all about qualifications -- employers know that Hawaii houses a unique culture and they do their best to make sure it's a match first. "Hawaii's business culture is definitely unique and different from anywhere in North America, and anyone relocating here has to adapt to this work style," said Doug Harb, owner of Honolulu-based executive recruitment firm Makai Search Group. "You won't get very far if you come in trying to change it. That's why fit is so important."

3. Culture -- Why is culture so important? Because even if you can find a job and manage the costs of living, not being comfortable with the culture will eventually make Hawaii life unbearable. Diversity is the calling card of the islands. From California to Virginia to Okinawa to Seoul to Portugal, you will find people from every corner of the globe in Hawaii. The mixture of cultures can be a double edged sword, being both a rich cultural experience and a "cultural glass ceiling" as eluded to in Jason Rushin's employment blog article. Being from the mainland U.S. myself, "Hawaiian Time", the laidback lifestyle, and the "Aloha Spirit" were all new experiences I learned to embrace and accept. These are the things that truly make the islands unique and unlike any other place on earth. A wonderfully objective perspective on local culture can be found here, given by a non-local professional that found herself back in the islands because of its unique culture.

So once you've weighed all the options and decided Hawaii is for you, what next?