Thinking about retiring to a warm beach locale?

Florida and Hawaii always take top consideration.

By Leah Felderman  

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Sarasota, FL

  Need help finding care?

It should come as no surprise that many retirees, after having spent a better portion of their life dealing with harsh winters, toy with the idea of retiring to a place of perpetual summer. The changing of the seasons traded in for endless sunshine. The short winter days of white snow traded in for languorous walks down warm sandy beaches. Perhaps the search for the ideal retirement spot started years ago with repeat vacations to a favorite spot or annual snow bird migrations.

Florida and Hawaii always take top consideration for those wishing for a year-round tropical/subtropical climate with beautiful beaches. What is it really like to retire to a place where it essentially summer year-round? Curious about the perks (and downfalls) of retiring to The Sunshine State or the Aloha State? Read on!

Location

Living in Florida as a retiree is fantastic. This is a state that realizes it has two main appeals, retirement and tourism, and does its best to foster the development of both. If you choose the right location and can handle the subtropical aspects of it (mosquitoes, palmetto bugs, alligators, humidity, and the occasional hurricane) Florida is a wonderful place to spend your golden years. Your location within Florida is tantamount to having a carefree retirement. Dreaming of a beach bungalow in the Keys? Love the southern charm and undeveloped beauty of the Nature Coast? Although great places to visit, these areas do not make ideal retirement spots due to their lack of resources for an aging population. Similarly, Oahu is the only viable retirement option of all the Hawaiian Islands. As appealing as the other islands are with their abundance of natural beauty, smaller populations, and lower cost of living (in comparison to Oahu) they simply don’t have the abundance of resources necessary for a retiree population.

Medical care should be a primary factor when deciding on a retirement spot. Senior housing is another major factor to consider. Senior resources and programs, home care options, and transportation should be abundant with a variety of options to accommodate different needs and preferences. All these factors are available in abundance in the larger metro areas of Florida and on the island of Oahu (with the exception of senior housing).

Distance

It is much easier to retire somewhere in the contiguous US. The move itself is easier, less expensive, and people will visit you as much as they can (usually when it is winter where they live). The truth is, when living in Hawaii, you will rarely get visitors from the mainland on a regular basis. Tickets to the islands are expensive and travel is arduous. Perhaps this is a silver lining though, for those wishing to retire in solitude and seclusion. Concerned about developing “island fever” while living on Oahu? Don’t worry! Inter-island travel is inexpensive and a quick get-away to explore the diversity of the other islands is fun, easy, and just what the doctor ordered!

In terms of figurative distance, there is less of a culture shock when retiring to Florida. The better part of the retired Florida population seems to be relocated Northerners, and day to day living is similar to the rest of the Lower 48. Hawaii has a heavy Asian/Pacific Island influence and, although the 50th state, it often feels like living in a US territory with a very different set of day to day norms. For many newcomers to Hawaii, the foreignness of and the assimilation to your new home is part of the appeal and adventure!

Healthcare

Healthcare in Florida is fantastic, if you live near a larger metro area. Tampa, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami all have fantastic and varied medical practices including top notch hospitals, geriatric specialists, and easy access to VA facilities. Even some of the smaller, up and coming metro areas gaining popularity with retirees (such as Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee) have great options for medical care as well.

As mentioned previously, if you move to Hawaii and foresee needing medical care your only sound option is to live on Oahu. The medical options on Oahu are top notch! If you live on a neighboring island expect to be transported to Oahu for any extensive or specialized medical care. In addition, the Honolulu VA is teeming with options. Due to the large number military services on the island, a veteran will be surrounded with all the necessities afforded to them upon retirement.

Finances

Unless you have very stable (and slightly abundant) finances with a great source of retirement income, retiring in Hawaii for the duration of your golden years will be a struggle. Oahu is expensive. The cost of living is extremely high, as to be expected for a small group of islands in the middle of the Pacific.

Hawaii property taxes are very low, but you will more than make up for this in power and utility bills, which cost above average even when minding the meter. Many people choose their home’s location to avoid high electric bills, opting to live on the cooler parts of the island and/or higher up a hill to utilize the ocean breezes. One way to save big is moving to a place that already has solar installed, as this leads to an almost nonexistent power bill.

Florida property taxes and utility costs are about average for the Southeast. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding increased power bills in the summer. Air conditioning is an absolute necessity both for comfort and safety, as well as to dehumidify the home during the hot, humid summer months. Solar power isn’t as prevalent in Florida as Hawaii; however, the Florida utility companies in conjunction with local municipalities often offer discounts to established elderly residents and those on a fixed/low income.

Juxtaposed with Hawaii’s extremely low property tax is a pretty hefty state income tax. Florida has absolutely no state income tax and, as mentioned previously, an average property tax rate. Both places have a similar sales tax rate; although Hawaii’s “sales” tax is labeled differently the overall additional cost to consumer is about the same in both states.

The cost of living increase is usually what takes the most getting used to for recent transplants to Hawaii. Gas is almost double what it is for those living in the Midwest or the Deep South and a gallon of milk in Hawaii may give you the desire to turn vegan. There are ways to live on the cheap on Oahu. If you have veteran privileges and can access base resources, many items (especially gas and food) are almost the same price as on the mainland. Warehouse clubs offer similar deep discounts for civilians but are often unreasonable in their cost-benefit analysis for the needs of a senior couple vs a large extended family. Many retirees with lower incomes will be eligible for government assistance (food stamps) in both states.

Housing

Housing options on Oahu is where many see their retirement dreams implode. Housing on Oahu is limited and exorbitant. A small condominium (usually with a high monthly HOA) will run upwards of a quarter million and single-family homes start at a half million.  In addition, the waitlist for subsidized housing is long and only open to established Kama’aina (locals). Even low-income housing rentals can break the bank as most start at $1500 monthly.
Florida, while not as cheap as it was a decade ago, is still much more affordable for the general population of retirees than Oahu is. Florida is still relatively inexpensive in comparison to the Northeast and is, conservatively, at least half the price of living on Oahu. Due to the abundance of senior communities throughout Florida, there are always a wide variety of housing options, availability, and price points.

Transportation

Public transit on Oahu is great, although time consuming due to the seemingly endless construction and long rush hours. One benefit of being immersed in a culture that shows deference to elders-you’ll never be without a seat on the bus! Public transit is also very good in Florida in the more populated metro areas. Since Florida has areas with larger retiree populations, certain lines of transport take special routes to accommodate the elderly and their frequent places of travel.

Weather

The weather in Hawaii is perfect. It (almost) makes up for all the negatives associated with living on Oahu! Never too cold and rarely too hot, the island of Oahu offers a few distinct microclimates to accommodate your preferences. The hotter and drier Leeward side of the island is an option for those that don’t like showers and prefer the constant rays of the sun. The Windward side offers almost daily showers for those that prefer slightly cooler and more lush surroundings. Perhaps snuggling into the interior of a lush green forest for warmth and humidity is more desirable, or situated atop a mountain enveloped in mist for a constant cool. In the event of a natural disaster there is no full-scale evacuating of Oahu. There is really nowhere to go. If you live in a tsunami zone it would be best to move to higher ground. For the most part, if a natural disaster is looming most people stock up and hunker down.
Florida has more “weather” than Hawaii and even has a few distinguishable seasons. There are the “fry an egg on the sidewalk” summers, hurricane season, and an ever so brief few weeks where winter (fall by most people’s standards) makes an appearance. The rains and thunderstorms are intense but offer a welcome cooling off from the heat and humidity. Make no mistake, sometimes the heat and humidity are almost unbearable and most (if not all) of the day and night are spent in front of the air conditioner. Depending on the location hurricanes can be a serious and reoccurring concern, but preparations and evacuations are able to be made well in advance. As mentioned before, air conditioning is a necessity in Florida and no home should be without. If your elderly loved one still drives, their vehicle should also have a reliable air conditioner.

Social Implications

Don’t be fooled about the post card image of Hawaii: it is not all great weather and beautiful beaches. Yes, it is beautiful; from the mountains to the waterfalls to the beaches, Hawaii is a gorgeous place to live. Rainbows abound (seeing one never loses its charm), the weather is amazing, and the multitude of unspoiled natural settings juxtaposed with the cosmopolitan offerings of Honolulu is truly unique and captivating. However, there are plenty of negatives about living in Hawaii, including a great deal of social issues that are nowhere close to being resolved (or even efficiently addressed). Drugs, crime, pollution, the expanding homeless predicament, and the high cost of living are a few issues that are always at the forefront. Yes, Hawaii has high crime! Rest assured you probably won’t fall victim to personal crime and violent crime is rare; but petty crimes and property crime are pervasive and prevalent. This leads to concern for the elderly who may not be as vigilant with locking up, securing valuables, and being aware of their person and belongings when out in public. On the flip side, thanks to the heavy cultural Asian and Pacific Island influence, elders are treated with a great amount of deference and respect. It is not unusual to see strangers helping the elderly with a wide variety of activities from crossing the street to help with groceries to daily welfare checks by members of the community. There is an interesting dichotomy in Hawaii where you can be nourished by the kindness of strangers and the warmth of Aloha while simultaneously being stripped of your possessions and having your sense of privacy and security demolished.

Crime in Florida varies greatly by location, from the high violent crime rates of South Florida to the multitude of telephone and door to door scams targeting the elderly across the state. Although in greater abundance in Florida than elsewhere, due to demographics, scams targeting the elderly are of great concern whether the goal is for immediate monetary gain or to steal personal information for a longer-term fraud. Overall, Florida has a moderate crime rate which varies in type and frequency by location.

Leah Felderman BA MA
 

About the Author

Leah is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.



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