Island Living: How to Move to Kauai, Hawaii

Thinking of moving to Hawaii? Here’s what it’s like to live on Kauai.

October 4, 2017

When Lee Scott’s wife Naomi announced that she wanted more nature in her life, Scott said, “No problem, let’s go camping this weekend.” But the nature she had in mind was bigger, greener and far more spirit-nourishing than any outdoor space they knew in Mississippi, their home at the time.

Moving to Kauai Hawaii: Hanalei Bay
Locals and tourists both frequent Hanalei Bay. Shutterstock

Naomi Scott heard Kauai calling, and persuaded her husband to move to Hawaii’s Garden Isle, a lush paradise playground with endless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, surfing and more. Sure, the price of island living is steep. But for these two outdoorsy types, the cost not to move would have been far greater. Scott answers frequently asked questions on what day-to-day life is like in Kauai.

Moving to Kauai Hawaii: Hanapepe
Lee Scott opened Light Source Photography in the town of Hanapepe in May 2013. Lee Scott

What jobs can I find?
Scott was fortunate to have lived in Japan for a few years, helping him to become fluent in a second language. Being able to speak Japanese scored him a hotel concierge job immediately on Kauai, enabling the couple to move shortly after they’d made the decision to commit to island life.


Which is exactly what he suggests newcomers do. “Get established first, then find your niche,” says Scott.

The tourism sector is always hiring. Kauai, with its high cost of living and incommensurate wages, is typically in need of doctors and teachers. Just don’t expect to find work as a business manager or accountant.

“There is only so much opportunity in terms of corporate structure,” Scott says. That is, until you start your own business, which Scott did in 2012, turning to landscape photography. Initially, he sold prints in a flea market before being offered a corner in an art gallery. Then, in May 2013, he opened his own shop, Light Source Photography, in the town of Hanapepe on the south side of Kauai.

Moving to Kauai Hawaii: Kauai roadside fruit stands
In Kauai, roadside fruit stands like this one are standard. Shutterstock

Where do I buy groceries?
“Our grocery run is the Saturday farmers’ market in Kilauea,” says Scott, a vegetarian of 20 years. There, the couple stocks up on cucumbers, leafy greens, green onions and other island bounty. They supplement the produce with bulk dried goods from Healthy Hut, a health foods store near the farmers’ market.

Once a month, Scott heads to Kauai’s Costco, located in Lihue on the southwest side of the island, for cat litter, toilet paper and other household supplies.

When asked if there are any foods from his mainland life that he misses, he admits he’s hard-pressed to name any.


Rather, he sees more of what he’s gained from the move. Think fresh mangos, papayas and star fruit. It’s not uncommon for him to come home to find a few avocadoes on his doorstop, gifted from his landlord.

Overall, Scott says he much prefers food shopping on Kauai. “It’s outdoors, everything is fresh — it just feels healthier,” Scott says.

Moving to Kauai Hawaii: Waimea, Kauai
“Fall Dance, Waimea, Kauai,” a photo by Lee Scott Lee Scott

How do I bring pets to the island?
Leaving behind their two cats wasn’t an option for the couple. And so they navigated the six-month quarantine process.


Hawaii’s quarantine laws require blood work, as well as two rabies tests, six months apart. But there is one upside to the whole ordeal.

“The home quarantine is a godsend,” says Scott, adding that the other option is for pets to wait it out on Oahu, which is quite insufferable both for pet and owner.

What are the health care options?
Scott considers Kauai’s healthcare facilities largely sufficient, even choosing to have a knee surgery on island, following a torn meniscus.

“I’ve been super happy with the care I received,” he says of that procedure, and his regular visits to the doctor.

He adds that ambulance service on island is reliable, but most big-ticket emergencies require airlift to Oahu. “For critical conditions, Oahu offers better care,” Scott says.

Moving to Kauai Hawaii: Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is a popular local hangout on Kauai Shutterstock

Will online retailers deliver?
Amazon will deliver to Kauai, but all purchases — Prime or otherwise — are sent standard business. However, pretty much any other online retail therapy might be nothing more than window-shopping.

“You can shop online and find the perfect sofa that you want,” says Scott, “and then in the fine print, you’ll read that the company will not ship to Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico. That is something everyone is bummed out about initially.”

How do I move my belongings?
Matson has the monopoly on car shipments,” says Scott of the over-ocean transport company. He adds that shipping a car over is the smart move, considering that Kauai’s public transit system is lacking. Otherwise, you have to ask yourself how much it’s worth it to bring other possessions. “We looked into it, and it would have cost $8,000 to ship a container,” Scott recalls. At that price, the couple couldn’t justify it, even though they still miss their handmade furniture and Eames chairs they had from their Mississippi life.

When the couple found a longer-term rental, they borrowed a U-Haul and made a Costco run, picking out a bed, bookcase, TV and kitchen items. Their resulting interior might not be featured in a design magazine any time soon, but that’s quite all right with Scott.

Says the outdoor photographer, “The things that anyone is going to enjoy on Kauai aren’t going to be inside.”


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