Living in Hawaiʻi

Rights & protections in the U.S.
Hawaiʻi culture & customs
Banking & payments
Living expenses

Rights & protections in the U.S.

Exchange visitors (EV) in the U.S. are entitled to certain rights and protections under U.S. law. UH faculty sponsors and sponsoring units must closely monitor their programs to ensure their EVs are:

  • Treated and paid fairly;
  • Not held in a job against their will;
  • Allowed to keep their passports and other ID documents in their own possession;
  • Able to report abuse without retaliation;
  • Able to request help from unions, immigrant and labor rights groups, and other groups; and
  • Able to seek justice in U.S. courts.

UH cannot discriminate against an EV based on gender, race, nationality, color, religion, or disability. In particular, EVs who are women cannot receive negative treatment for being pregnant or for simply being a woman. Both men and women may not be sexually harassed by any UH employee or affiliate – they may not demand sex acts from an EV, touch an EV in a sexual manner, or say sexual or offensive comments to the EV. EVs may find more information about UH’s sexual harassment policy and the procedures to file a complaint on the UH Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office’s website.

EVs can read more information about these rights in many different languages on the U.S. Department of State’s Rights and Protections website.


Hawaiʻi culture & customs

Hawaiʻi’s history has established it as a uniquely multicultural state with a variety of customs from many different cultures. Although Hawaiʻi became the U.S.’s 50th state in 1959, it was previously an independent kingdom, first settled by Polynesians and over time, unified and ruled by monarchs. In the late 1800s, American businessmen and plantation owners imprisoned and overthrew the reigning monarch with the aid of the U.S. military; in 1898, the U.S. annexed Hawaiʻi as a territory. Throughout the late 1800s into the early 1900s, sugar and pineapple plantation owners brought in immigrants from Japan, China, the Philippines, and Portugal to work the fields. The cultural practices of these immigrants and their descendants in combination with traditional Hawaiian customs have significantly contributed to the present-day diversity of Hawaiʻi’s community.

These days, a wide range of cultural experiences, such as ethnic festivals, international foods, dance and theater performances, art exhibits, publications in many languages, and international sports activities are widely available. Nearly all UH campuses hold international fairs, speakers from around the world, workshops and seminars, musical and theatrical performances, film festivals, and sporting events featuring local, U.S., and international participants. Because of this diversity, there are many types of customs practiced and etiquette expected throughout Hawaiʻi. Below are links to a few articles and websites providing more information on this topic:

Minding Your Manners in Hawaiʻi, Sheila Beal
Customs and Etiquette in Hawaiʻi, Wikipedia
Hawaiian Cultural Program Advisory Council, Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
The Hawaiian Historical Society


Banking & payments

When they first arrive in Hawaiʻi, exchange visitors (EVs) should have enough money saved to purchase necessities, secure housing, etc. However, for safety reasons, EVs should not carry a lot of cash with them. Therefore, shortly after arriving, an EV should open a checking account at a local bank to establish credit and to provide an easy method of paying for purchases. Using traveler’s checks and/or a credit card that is accepted in the U.S. are also good ideas.

There are several commercial banks near the various UH campuses that offer checking and savings accounts. EVs are eligible to join the University of Hawaiʻi Federal Credit Union (UHFCU), which provides full banking services to its members. There are UHFCU branches on the Mānoa and West Oʻahu campuses and in McCully (Honolulu).

UH payment delays

If an EV will receive payments from UH, the sponsoring department should communicate that there are often substantial delays before the first payment is made. Upon arriving in Hawaiʻi, the EV should have at least three months’ worth of readily accessible funds for support. Delays in receiving the first UH payment are most commonly caused by these factors:

  • No Social Security Number (SSN): An EV must have an SSN to receive payments from UH. Before applying for an SSN, which can only be done in person at a Social Security Administration (SSA) office no less than 10 days after arriving in the U.S., the EV must register with FSIS. Even after the SSA approves the application, the SSN card can take as long as 3-4 weeks to arrive in the mail.
  • UH paperwork processing: Despite the best planning efforts, delays in processing immigration and/or departmental appointment paperwork can occur not only when initially obtaining a DS-2019, but also at the time an EV arrives in Hawaiʻi.


Living expenses

Most food, building materials, and other goods must be shipped to Hawaiʻi. As a result, food, housing, and other basic living necessities are more expensive here than in many other U.S. states and other countries. Therefore, it is important for exchange visitors (EVs) and their family members to develop a budget before coming to Hawaiʻi to ensure they are able to support themselves throughout their stay.

EVs and J-2 dependents must show evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves before FSIS can issue Form DS-2019. The following are the minimum amounts required for the average basic living expenses, including housing, local transportation, and health insurance. EVs and their families should also set aside additional funds for food and miscellaneous personal expenses, such as international travel, toiletries, and other costs.

  • Exchange visitor: $2000 per month
  • Spouse: Additional $700 per month
  • Child: Additional $500 per month per child



In Honolulu, the cost of rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment averages $900-$1800 per month; a two-bedroom apartment averages $1800-$2500 per month. In other locations on Oʻahu and on the neighbor islands, housing costs may be similar or lower depending on the area.

On-campus housing

On the UH Mānoa campus, there are two options for on-campus housing:

  • The East-West Center’s (EWC) international graduate residence hall, which is a dormitory (“dorm”). For more information, see the EWC’s website or contact the EWC Housing Office by phone at (808) 944-7805 or by email at
  • UH faculty housing, which is available only to those rare EVs who will be appointed to temporary, fixed-term faculty positions. Faculty housing is assigned on a priority basis; temporary faculty receive lowest priority and are eligible for one year of residence. For more information, see the UH Faculty Housing website or contact the Faculty Housing Office by phone at (808) 956-8449 or by email at

Off-campus housing

Due to the limited availability of on-campus housing, most EVs live off-campus. Before arriving in Hawaiʻi, an EV and their dependents should consult a map of the area near campus so they can avoid places that are too far from campus. By entering the street address of the program site, an EV can use Google Maps to find the closest residential areas and even use “street view” to see the appearance of those areas.

EVs at UH Mānoa can begin their off-campus housing search by checking the Exchange Housing and Rentals website, which lists rentals on Oʻahu that are updated monthly by the Women’s Campus Club. EV’s can also use housing search engines, such as ApartmentList, RentCafe, Zillow, HotPads, or HiCentral.

Another excellent source of rental listings is local newspapers. On Oʻahu, EVs can consult the Honolulu Star Advertiser‘s housing listings. EVs who will conduct their programs on the Hawaiʻi Island (Big Island) may wish to consult the Hawaiʻi Tribune-Herald‘s list of rentals; those on Maui can check the classifieds section in The Maui News; and EVs on Kauaʻi may refer to The Garden Island‘s rental listings.

Scam and Fraud Awareness

The convenience of shopping online brings with it a heightened risk of scams and fraud. You should always be mindful and vigilant before providing anyone your personal information or sending payment of any kind. Housing scams primarily appear as online advertisements on sites such as The contact person will insist that you send them money for housing accommodations even though you have not yet visited the property in person. Never send money or give out personal information or immigration details to anyone over the phone or online. If you are required to wire money ahead of time, please be sure the housing post is legitimate. Check the address on Google Maps or a search engine to ensure it is a residential building. Try to arrange a digital viewing via Skype, FaceTime, etc. to confirm it is a real address and to see the unit in person.

Types of rental listings

Rental listings often describe available properties using these terms:

  • Shared room/room for rent: Room in an apartment or house that is shared with others of the same or different genders. The kitchen and bathroom are also usually shared by all residents of the apartment/house. Scheduling a visit with those sharing the unit is important to make sure everyone understands and respects each other.
  • Studio: Apartment that is one large room that usually has its own small kitchen or kitchenette and bathroom. There is no separate bedroom. Accommodates one person or a couple.
  • 1-bedroom: Apartment that has a kitchen, bathroom, and separate bedroom. Usually accommodates 1-3 people.
  • Furnished: Apartment/house that includes basic kitchen appliances as well as beds and some furniture.
  • Partly furnished: Apartment/house that has basic kitchen appliances such as a stove, refrigerator, and water heater, but comes with little to no furniture.
  • Unfurnished: Apartment/house does not have appliances or furniture.

How to begin renting a property

Once an EV finds listings for acceptable rentals, they should contact the landlords or property managers stated in the listings. The EV should set up appointments to walk through and see the houses/apartments/rooms. If an EV sees an advertisement for a rental that looks promising, it is best to contact the landlord/property manager right away, since desirable rentals are usually taken quickly.

The rental agreement (lease)

The EV will then enter into a rental agreement (also called a “lease”) with the landlord/property manager of the property. Ideally, the lease should be in writing and should be signed by both the landlord and the tenant (the EV). This agreement outlines the responsibilities that the landlord and tenant have with respect to the rental property.

Leases can vary in duration. A lease with a specific end date is called a “fixed term lease.” Six months to one year is the usual length of a fixed-term lease and can be re-negotiated  and extended when it is about to expire. Another type of lease has a “month-to-month tenancy,” which means it does not have a specific end date. In a month-to-month agreement, the EV may continue renting the property on a monthly basis as long as the rent is paid and the landlord/property manager agrees the EV may remain in the property. If a fixed term ends and a landlord keeps accepting money, the fixed term becomes a month-to month lease. The advantage of a month-to-month lease is that renters can leave the property at any time with a 28-day written notice to the landlord/property manager. On the other hand, the landlord/property manager can raise the rent at any time or ask a tenant to leave by giving 45 days written notice.

The EV should read and discuss the terms of the lease with the landlord/property manager to be sure there will be no misunderstandings about each person’s responsibilities. A written inventory of furniture and appliances and evaluation of the condition of the property should be checked and confirmed before the EV moves in. The EV should point out any discrepancies and/or damages so they are not blamed for any damage or missing appliances/furniture. It is also a good idea to keep a copy of the inventory for future reference in case it is needed at the time of vacating the property.

Security deposit

A security deposit is usually required at the time the EV enters into a rental agreement and pays the first month’s rent. The security deposit is normally equal to (but cannot be more than) the amount of one month’s rent. The purpose of the security deposit is to protect the property owner in case of damage to the property or failure to pay the rent when due. This deposit (or part of it) should be returned at the time the EV moves out if the landlord/property manager determines that the apartment is left in satisfactory condition.

Setting up a residence

If an EV needs furniture or other household items, they may want to browse thrift shops and discount stores for inexpensive items. The classifieds sections of newspapers, the used furniture store section of the “Yellow Pages” in the telephone book, or campus bulletin boards are also good sources of secondhand items.



There are a few options exchange visitors (EVs) and their families can use to get around Hawaiʻi. Many EVs who live close to the campuses where they conduct their program activities are able to walk, bike, or use public transportation. Others may prefer to drive their own cars or other vehicles.

Public transportation

EVs at UH Mānoa may wish to use the UHM Rainbow Shuttle, which is available to all members of the public free of charge. The shuttle runs on a regular schedule during semesters and on a limited schedule during school breaks.

All of the islands with UH campuses have county-maintained public transportation systems.


If an EV wishes to drive a car, motorcycle or moped, they must have accident and liability insurance and the vehicle must be registered with the appropriate county and have a current safety inspection sticker. The EV must have one of the following driver’s permits:

  • A valid State of Hawaiʻi driver’s license; or a driver’s license issued by another U.S. state or territory or
  • A valid foreign driver’s license and an International Driving Permit.