To people who have never been to the 50th State, living in Hawaii seems like a dream; but it’s not all sunshine, blue skies, and cocktails on the beach. Anyone from the Islands who has moved to the Mainland and back knows: Going home isn’t easy.

Benjamin Ancheta, Jr., president and owner of Inkinen, has firsthand experience in the matter. Seventeen years after moving away for college and starting his career on the Mainland, a new job opportunity brought him home. “It’s really difficult to move back to Hawaii when you get used to Mainland career pathing, the speed at which you develop, and especially, competition,” he says.

Hawaii companies may be eager to bring local talent back to the Islands, but their leaders must understand the importance of setting the right expectations. Ancheta recommends an open discussion with potential recruits about the realities of living and working in Hawaii:

  • The cost of living is very high, yet salaries tend to be lower. Anyone looking to move to the Islands should do their research and run the numbers to determine what type of lifestyle they will be able to afford with their new income and expenditures.
  • Flying back to the Mainland isn’t easy — or cheap. People tend to think of Hawaii as a vacation destination but don’t consider the fact that once you live here, visiting out-of-state family and friends — or having them fly to the Islands — is costly and time consuming.
  • Moving anywhere — but especially to Hawaii — solely for a career opportunity can be difficult. Hawaii’s unique culture, geographic isolation, relatively small population, and less fluid labor market make it an especially challenging place to live if you don’t have other strong reasons for wanting to be here that will help you embed into the community.

If you’re feeling unsure about making the move, connecting with like-minded individuals beforehand can help ease concerns and get answers to your questions. LinkedIn groups are a great place to start; or, if you’re able to spend a stint in the Islands, participate in a program like Movers and Shakas, which aims to bring together purpose-driven, remote workers to actively contribute to Hawaii. Though it is open to remote workers throughout the U.S., the program strongly encourages returning kamaaina to apply. Through cultural orientation, volunteering, and community building, it provides selected cohort fellows with a roundtrip ticket to Hawaii, optional facilitated accommodations, and authentic local experiences.

Paige Rodgers, a social impact marketing consultant, was part of Movers and Shakas’ first cohort, and she is now preparing to move back to the Islands from California. “I was born and raised in Hawaii and left to go off to college,” she explains. “[I would return] home to see family and friends throughout the years and actually had hoped to come back [and] raise my family in Hawaii but ended up starting to work in the technology space on the Mainland.”

Both Rodgers and her husband work in the tech industry in the Bay Area. They couldn’t seem to find the same range and breadth of opportunities available in Hawaii, so their family remained in Marin County. “It never really seemed like the right time to make a move based on … cost of living and career opportunities,” she says. Movers and Shakas seemed like the perfect way to dip her toes back into Island life.

“It was really interesting that they were offering this opportunity of cultural immersion and this idea of environmental and historic stewardship,” she says. “[The program helped] demonstrate what it looks like to respect the people, the land, the environment, the history, [and] the culture, while being a professional living
in the Islands. That’s very different than if I had just said, I’m going to move over there and work remote for a couple of months and see what life is like [while I] hang out with my high school friends and go to the beach. I could have done that, but this was way more than that, by embedding us into both the business sector [and] the nonprofit sector, [with] this culturally respectful approach.”

Rodgers recommends that anyone considering a move to Hawaii apply for Movers and Shakas, find a program like it, or try to craft a similar experience on their own. “I would strongly encourage people to consider Movers and Shakas as a way to experience Hawaii in a much more immersive way,” she says. “If that opportunity doesn’t present itself … I would say [to] [figure out] how to spend a [significant] period of time in Hawaii working remote. Immerse yourself in [a] nonprofit, some type of community organization that gets you more involved in something related to the land, the culture, the history, the environment, or the people — [find] ways to contribute to the progress and the future of Hawaii versus just going to work and a glorified vacation. There is so much incredible work happening specific to Hawaiian history and the resurgence of Hawaiian
culture, that I think it’s so critical if you’re going to live there, be part of the community itself.”