Moving to Key West Florida and the Cost of Living

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Just about anyone who loves the Island & Beach Life has thought about moving to Key West in Florida at one point in their life. However, very few consider the cost of living before actually moving.

Assuming of course you do not already live in Key West, it can seem a bit challenging to get there. Just like any other move, you need to take into consideration your typical moving expenses, housing, and perhaps a new career. But moving to Key West is not really the tough part. Residing there with an unexpected increased of living expenses can be the real challenge.

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Unlike any other town in the USA, the mention of "Key West" brings to mind a lazy carefree life.

Relaxing ocean side or bar hopping on Duval Street or visiting The Green Parrot is a daily experience for anyone that wants to live it, right? Suddenly you start to think of selling your house in Massachusetts, quitting your job, piling everything into a U Haul, and taking the trek.

Slow down there! 
The reality is the streets of Key West are not lined with gold. Even though Route 1 will bring you right to the island, you are still living on an island. That means everything will start to get more expensive. Gas, food, and housing are much more that on the main land. Because Key West is 3 hours from Maimi, the expense of getting goods and supplies to the island will hit your wallet a bit harder. Living in Key West is also very desirable, thus driving up the costs due to basic supply and demand economics. You need to take all of this into consideration before moving to Key West.

Here are some things top to consider before moving:

  • Get a job lined up. This is probably the most challenging thing to have ready. Unemployment is high and job competition is fierce. Unless you have a specialized skill that is in demand and limited, you will likely be landing a tourist related job. Food service workers and gift shop cashier positions are going to be the most common and tough to get. You may want to consider going to the island first and meeting potential employers instead of trying to get a job over the phone.
  • Find Housing. A 1-2 bed room cottage or apartment could easily cost $1200-$1800 a month. In many cases it will be much more. A 2-3 Bedroom home could be in the $300-500k range. That is for something that needs a LOT of TLC. Something decent and ready to move into is much closer to the $1,000,000 mark. Condo's of course will be much cheaper.
  • Food. You will find a few common big box grocery stores with prices a bit more than on the main land. However, your local restaurants and sub shops are operating on island time too, and have a budget to match. Expect to pay resort prices for your prepared meals and cocktails.
  • Gas. 87 Octane will run about 10% more than on the main land.
  • Family. It's a great place to visit, but Key West is not exactly family friendly. An excessive amount of public drunk people and a low rated public schools are common and a turn off.
  • Moving to Key West

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    So how can you justify moving to Key West on a budget? There are a few options.

    • Prepare. Make a trip to the mainland for visits to your local Costco or BJ's and stock up.
    • Get a roommate. Two roommates could be even better. Cut your rent and utility bills in half or more.
    • Get a bike. Driving in Key West can be a nightmare. You will find it much easier to ride a bike as the island is small enough. You will save not only time, but gas.
    • When you need supplies locally, avoid Duval Street. Duval Street is the main tourist area so everything will be more pricey.
    • Don't live in Key West. Many people that work in Key West do not live there. They will find a place to stay a few keys up and drive to work. Sure, you may not be living next to Mallory Square, but you are very close and the sunsets are still the same.

    If you plan accordingly, there will be little surprises. If visiting Smathers Beach, going snorkeling, people watching, biking, boating, and kayaking (to name a few) are worth it when you are not working, then the decision is easy to make. Move to Key West and be the envy of your friends. Be smart and live the Island & Beach life that many of us want to be a part of.

    Need some resources for moving to Key West?

     


    67 Comments


    • 🌴
      Lorrie Lehnerz

      I am so sad for the disappointment many people who live in key west have for their homes. It doesn’t sound like a place I would like to visit or live in. What a shame.


    • 🌴
      Kathy

      I lived in Islamorada from 1982 – 1996. It was a great experience when I was younger. Lots of Key West memories. The tourist are what made me leave. I don’t dislike tourists I know that it is the industry however, I could not even get to the grocery store on the weekends. Still have lots of family in the upper keys and visit often. Still one of my favorite places ever. Two of my three children are Conchs.


    • 🌴
      Sandy

      I spent every weekend in Islamorada almost. It was the keys then. Now you are Lowes burger king, McDonalds. Shops stores. I loved it back when it was boats,fishing,camping, deers. Wilderness yet safe for me and my two girls.
      Wouldn’t move there now, hell, cant afford to go 5here and stay anymore. I had my time and fun. Holiday Isle whoo hoo.


    • 🌴
      Angie Christie

      I moved to Key West from Canada in 1989. Shrimp boats swarmed the rocks at the historic byte. No cruise ships came to Port back then. I was a bartender in a local joint flooded with the local working stiffs. Friendly people who came together for one another in a time of crisis. Tight night community. My cute little duplex on Staples Ave. was an affordable $350 a month. The Bubba system was alive and worked well, everybody knew everybody. Life was GOOD. I raised my daughter, born in 1993, she grew up in the best of times. Schools were excellent. The year of 2004 changed everything in Key West. GREED graced the island I loved so much. Bigmoney came to town. Conchs were offered huge sums of money for their tiny homes in Old Town. A lot of the Conchs decided to take the money and run North, never having to worry about work or taxes ever again. Things changed. Once a single family home, now a vacation rental. The cost of living is unbelievable. The tight knit community has faded. Gone are the days when locals were treated with preferential benefits. Most of friends from back in the day were forced to leave, some drank their livers away. Great times back then. I can’t even go back for visit. I want to remember the Old Key West.


    • 🌴
      Dennis Allen

      Just got engaged in KW in late Sept. , getting married in KW on the 1 year anniversary of our first date. Her and I completely fell in love with the Island and the people (drunks included), and have begun to seriously start considering moving down. We have no children, and aren’t going to be making any, ever. Both of us are young professionals, who have held almost every job in the service industry, bar tending, bouncing, customer service, and business mgmt. I currently work in cleanroom making micro chips 12 hours a day, and have come to realize it’s not conducive to keeping your sanity. We currently live in upstate NY and the cost of living is the about same, if not higher as whats being described here. We’re not waiting till we’re to old to truly enjoy everything that island life has to offer. Hunter S . Thompson makes my case better than I can.

      Security
      by Hunter S. Thompson (1955).

      Security … what does this word mean in relation to life as we know it today? For the most part, it means safety and freedom from worry. It is said to be the end that all men strive for; but is security a utopian goal or is it another word for rut?

      Let us visualize the secure man; and by this term, I mean a man who has settled for financial and personal security for his goal in life. In general, he is a man who has pushed ambition and initiative aside and settled down, so to speak, in a boring, but safe and comfortable rut for the rest of his life. His future is but an extension of his present, and he accepts it as such with a complacent shrug of his shoulders. His ideas and ideals are those of society in general and he is accepted as a respectable, but average and prosaic man. But is he a man? has he any self-respect or pride in himself? How could he, when he has risked nothing and gained nothing? What does he think when he sees his youthful dreams of adventure, accomplishment, travel and romance buried under the cloak of conformity? How does he feel when he realizes that he has barely tasted the meal of life; when he sees the prison he has made for himself in pursuit of the almighty dollar? If he thinks this is all well and good, fine, but think of the tragedy of a man who has sacrificed his freedom on the altar of security, and wishes he could turn back the hands of time. A man is to be pitied who lacked the courage to accept the challenge of freedom and depart from the cushion of security and see life as it is instead of living it second-hand. Life has by-passed this man and he has watched from a secure place, afraid to seek anything better What has he done except to sit and wait for the tomorrow which never comes?

      Turn back the pages of history and see the men who have shaped the destiny of the world. Security was never theirs, but they lived rather than existed. Where would the world be if all men had sought security and not taken risks or gambled with their lives on the chance that, if they won, life would be different and richer? It is from the bystanders (who are in the vast majority) that we receive the propaganda that life is not worth living, that life is drudgery, that the ambitions of youth must he laid aside for a life which is but a painful wait for death. These are the ones who squeeze what excitement they can from life out of the imaginations and experiences of others through books and movies. These are the insignificant and forgotten men who preach conformity because it is all they know. These are the men who dream at night of what could have been, but who wake at dawn to take their places at the now-familiar rut and to merely exist through another day. For them, the romance of life is long dead and they are forced to go through the years on a treadmill, cursing their existence, yet afraid to die because of the unknown which faces them after death. They lacked the only true courage: the kind which enables men to face the unknown regardless of the consequences.

      As an afterthought, it seems hardly proper to write of life without once mentioning happiness; so we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?


    • 🌴
      Devin Clark

      At the risk of offending any Conchs that may be going through these posts, I’m going to have to shoot it straight. Key West is primed for a major recession, possibly even depression. I’m from a huge tourist city like Las Vegas, which was ground zero for our last big recession and all of the indicators are right there.

      The housing market is extremely overvalued. There is no justifiable reason at all why residents are paying so much for so little. To say that any rental or place acquired under $300,000 is an understatement. There are places with extensive wear and tear, either from being built quite a long time ago, constant water damage, sub-par construction and housing foundations, patchwork repairs, and conversions to vacation rentals or apartment housing. I’ve personally never seen such a nerve wracking and sad situation of affordable housing compared to wages. There is a very limited amount of upward mobility here. I’ve been lucky enough to be a young professional with an opportunity to not be geographically locked to my income. The opportunities of learning and vocation based training simply are not available in Key West.

      Key West talks a great game when it comes to friendliness, however this is not the truth. It is an extremely cliquey place, that thrives off of pseudo-camaraderie of “toughing out an island lifestyle.” What that means is that if you’re not working in a bar, restaurant, or a boat full-time, and spending the majority of your hard earned money back in said bars and restaurant’s. It’s a way of life to work three or four jobs to afford the bare minimum, and it’s worn like a badge of honor. Alcoholism is a gigantic problem. Non-drinkers need not apply.

      Key West is having a hard time recovering post Irma not just because of the lack of tourism, but from its lack of differentiation in businesses. Especially on Duval St. I am extremely worried that city has close to zero awareness of demographic changes that are already happening. It is not irregular to walk down Duval’s busiest areas and hear the same song playing in 3 bars at the same time, that each have identical menus to each other, with identical price points. In a time like slow season you can watch this play out first hand as you see businesses close before they even get started and watch employees tough it out for pennies because there is nothing of merit other than the fact that they’re there and have been there for x amount of time. I don’t say any of this to shit on Key West, I say it all because I’m from a family of proud Conchs that have been here for over 80 years, and it’s extremely sad to see somewhere that’s already so geographically vulnerable suffer so badly.

      It would be a dream to maybe see Key West shift from it’s rebel. pirate spirit and grow up a bit and maybe be more open to some infrastructure planning and key things that it needs to at least have a future to not only attract customers, but have the ability to develop promising young locals to come back and innovate. Right now it’s a nightmare, that once you wake up you would never revisit.


    • 🌴
      W. P

      So, I loaded the wife up(which means way too many clothes), moved to key west this month. We found a place in coppitt key(10 miles away from the end of us 1) for 1200 its a rental, and we have our own space below our landlord, We have loved it so far. We love to snorkel and scuba… And find places that are just off the beaten path. If you don’t like being in the,ocean then why come?

      If you like to shop then go to a big city, if you like to leave cheaper, then go to rural area away from the beach.

      If you like to enjoy everyday and appreciate the most beautiful place in the united states then this place is for you.

      Money is made to be spent, this is by far the best place to spend it.


    • 🌴
      Yvette J Walker

      I was born in Key West in 1963 at the Navy Hospital, which is no longer there. My dad got transferred until I was about 4 and then we moved back until my parents divorced when I was 9. My dad, brother & half sister still reside there. Until about 8 years ago my kids and I visited every year. If you have a boat life is great otherwise not so good. I tell people that have never been not to go for their beaches and also that you will either hate it or love it. Best beaches ever are in siesta Key Sarasota.
      I now live in Tennessee. Rent near ( about 20 miles ) Nashville is very high. My daughter is paying $1200 a month for an extremely nice large 2 bed 2 bath apt with all amenities. That is considered on the cheaper side.
      I would never want to live in Key West again, but it is a cool place to visit. And it is true. People I talk to that have visited either Hate it or they Love it. Heading down to the big city this month. My husband has never been.


    • 🌴
      Julie Mckendree

      I lived in Key West from 1960-1965. I was a child.My Father was a Marine and the experience was wonderful. Much different than now.
      I went to St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic School. My education was top notch.
      I lived alot of history. I will always have wonderful memories. I visit it has changed in some ways but the true Key West still lives.


    • 🌴
      Michael

      The reason things cost more has nothing to do with trucking 150 Miles. That happens everywhere. It’s because prices are based on the perceived wealth of the zip code. That’s all.
      Housing is not only expensive it is of extremely low quality. Higher quality homes, places with full kitchens or central air, gardens, parking, storage will all cost more. Roommates are drunk unreliable wasters lives by here to piss you off. Loud parties will keep you awake. What make you laugh on vacation will make you grind your teeth as you work three jobs.
      The biggest thing here is you cannot get away. You must be polite to everyone all the time. Anyone you bad mouth may be a relative, a former or current lover, friend or enemy of anyone within hearing. Once you make an enemy, even accidentally, your reputation will spread like an oil slick. Lose your job? Good bye. No one will rehire you if you get a reputation and you aren’t an Important Person. These are the real issues living here. There is a pecking order and you are st the bottom. Don’t be ambitious is my first word of advice to people thinking of living here. Choose St Petersburg is my second, it’s much more livable.


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