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Moving to Key West Florida and the Cost of Living

33 Comments

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.

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

    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?

     



    33 Responses

    Eric
    Eric

    September 02, 2016

    Come live the dream…

    Tarponharbourapts.com

    Realtor Jeri Smith
    Realtor Jeri Smith

    August 24, 2016

    I have seen some great home prices on foreclosed homes in Monroe County. My favorite site is homepath.com These were loans backed by Fannie Mae which were defaulted on.
    Imo it would be best to buy if you are able. Rates are incredibly low and you can lock in a 30 years fixed mortgage to avoid rent hikes from your landlord.

    KeyzCat
    KeyzCat

    August 16, 2016

    When commenting on the school’s grade keep in mind that there is a large number of English as a Second, Third, fourth or fifth language students as well as a wonderful inclusive Disability program at Key West High School which in reality are pluses but when it comes to school ‘grades’ these programs have negative impact on the grade. Living in a community where weird is the norm kids that on the mainland are being tortured by students and even teachers and administrators will find it a lot more likely to find it is the ‘Mean Girls" and ’Heathers’ are the ones that don’t fit in to an island way of life. There is almost no label touting with kids of Billionaires best friends with kids whose families are on public assistance. And something unheard of in most High schools if you want to play a sport you can. There are try outs for baseball and it is the one sport that can be hard to get on the traveling team as Baseball is kinda a religion down here. The community supports the school and the students not just for one or two things but in everything. There are several club sports supported by probably one of the best PAL programs in the US. Officers even work in stop gap programs when after school programs are closed which in many mainland communities lead to left at home accidents and injuries to younger children. There are many opportunities for high school students to get after school jobs, internships in the community and professional certifications at the high school. The greatest issue for Keys students is the range some will have to travel to and from school. There are only 3 County High school programs in the lower keys there is an additional Charter Option at the FKCC campus on Stock Island covering the 100+ miles of Florida Keys.Coral Shores near Key Largo, Marathon Middle High (has both Middle school and High school grades) in Marathon, Collegiate Charter High School at FKCC on Stock Island and Key West High School. Some programs are limited to only one or two so if you live in Big Pine Key (zoned for Marathon Middle High 15 miles away, and your child wants to be in NJROTC They would need to apply to go to Key West and would have to be approved to ride bus that picks up on Little Torch as farthest north bus stop or drive the 60 miles round trip each day. For those that parents work in Key West this can be a minor inconvenience. Although school grades take in very important aspects sadly more often than not things that can be even more important to social, education, prep for college, work and life skills are overlooked. With dual enrollment, Virtual school through the state FLVS, College Prep, traditional 18 credit, Trades training and certifications (KWHS has a nationaly awarded Multimedia professional certification and a culinary program which offers catering to school, business and private events. Although there are VERY serious issues to being able to move here and not have to head back mainland bound in a few months. Although someone WILLING to work can find a job for being able to afford housing be willing to have a couple. Affordable housing is one of the greatest issues that face the worker bees of the islands. Habitat for Humanity is about to build a few homes but those in line for those have been on H4Hs list for years. The Lower Keys H4H does have a few rental apartments but those also take years to get in as do the County Afforable housing programs. can take a decade to move up to the front of the line. Average movement for a low income 2 bedroom is 3 – 5 spots every 2 years. On the mainland of Florida 250K can get you a nice home on Key west you might get in to a condo but they will be one of the condos that you are looking at 500-1300 HOA and Wind/Water Insrances above what your Mtg and basic Insurance costs. Those under 250 k condos are usually under 900sf Even half million dollar condos will not have central AC so do not be surprised. Useing small units which have come a long way from the powerbill killing units of decades ago is that you can limit the areas being cooled. So at night just bedroom needs to be cooled, The tile and Building materials can help reduce the amount of the air temprature The Sun however will be the worst so using window tinting and films might help limit your electric needs due to the sun you want to move here for it is going to limit the view. But hey an apt /condo/ house is just a place to sleep between your couple jobs and hours off right?

    Stefan Ayres
    Stefan Ayres

    August 15, 2016

    Good read!! I have travelled to Key West many times and do find it to be captivating and appealing (lest the tourists ?) but I don’t understand the willingness to pay this extremely high cost of living. I’ve lived all over and yet I always end up back in the Midwest, in Amish Country, where you can buy a mansion with many acres for $200,000. I guess I don’t understand the disproportionate cost of living/average pay either…..guess it all depends on what someone wants for themselves. I would rather live in the Midwest and be able to afford regular vacations……and a nice house….and a luxury car. I don’t knock anyone that chooses this however, because it sure is beautiful. ?

    Laura
    Laura

    August 12, 2016

    I’ve lived in Key West for 30yrs and I’ll say it’s not for everyone! If you like small town living and knowing ALOT of people everywhere you go and are comfortable with knowing you have to drive a couple hours to get to a mall then you’ll love it here! If you can’t escape the comforts of wanting everything outside your front door then you’ll hate it and constantly compare it to somewhere else! Yes the housing costs are higher but the supply isn’t as abundant! It could take a VERY LONG time but great deals DO come along. They call it paradise for a reason! You either want the relaxation of an island or the chaos of a city…choose wisely cause they’re not combined.living 10 miles up the keys is cheaper and still very close to everything. It’s all relative. ..in the heart of a city is mu h more expensive than on the outskirts! I think people’s expectations are too high and not reasonable. If you WANT EVERYTHING then you must expect to PAY FOR EVERYTHING!!!

    Chris Owens
    Chris Owens

    August 07, 2016

    Just got home (Orlando area) from a week in KW working (covering for another staff member). I have to correct the gas prices – Orlando was 1.87, Miami/Upper Keys 2.18, KW 2.63 a gallon. I have been to KW many times vacationing and would love to live here for many reasons and I do not even drink! I like that it is walk and bike friendly, historically fascinating, architecturally beautiful, quirky, diverse (One Human Family), and just plain positive. It represents a mindset and lifestyle change for real. For me, the drawback is distance from family and the housing challenge. I would live in Old Town or not move to KW at all. It is a very special place.

    Don
    Don

    July 29, 2016

    The school board is inept. Don’t bring your kids here. The real estate prices in this article are low. Good luck

    Phillip leo
    Phillip leo

    July 23, 2016

    KEY WESt is a great place to visit,2nights,3 days :-) :-) :-) :-)

    Nora
    Nora

    July 21, 2016

    I lived there for 5 years..I don’t get it…I saw people work 3/4 jobs and live in campers… You are surrounded by drunks on vacation all the time..Duvall street smells like a bar floor in the mornings.. You work hard and then have little time to enjoy it. There are many other places that have a relaxed lifestyle that do not cost as much..going on vacation there doesn’t give you a real view of living there…

    Jack Brizendine
    Jack Brizendine

    July 21, 2016

    I am a professional solo acoustic musician/ Entertainer that has been making a living doing so in Louisville, My… which is a good music City, for about 15 years…. I’m looking to relocate down to Key West because I’ve been told if you are a musician, as such and know a million songs and are great Entertainer you can basically work as much as you can handle…. does this sound familiar to anyone?

    Jane
    Jane

    June 13, 2016

    The cost of housing is considerably higher than Jay stated.

    Bob S.
    Bob S.

    June 09, 2016

    I looked at some real estate listings. A 350 sq ft condo in KW is priced at $245,000. That’s the size of my patio.

    Eric santmyer
    Eric santmyer

    June 07, 2016

    Everything in life is a matter of perspective. Ive been visiting the kw twice a year for 8 years now and every time I leave it gets harder and harder. Im an executive chef and traveled all over. There is no place that holds my heart like kw. If you dont try you will never know. Ones perspective is there own. Life is to short to not experience everything you possibly can. $ is only $ Happiness is everything. Im taking the leap the end of this year, I cant wait!!

    Henry Tucker
    Henry Tucker

    June 02, 2016

    Excellent article! My pipe dream!

    JS Stewart
    JS Stewart

    May 26, 2016

    Tourists are a two edged sword everywhere for the locals. They are the reason for many of the jobs but they are the reason for the inflated costs of goods and services in a market where wages are disproportionately low.

    Lisa G
    Lisa G

    May 22, 2016

    We just left Key West for the SECOND time. I guess we’re slow learners. We loved it there more than I can say, but jobs don’t pay well for most people and housing really is ridiculously overpriced. Giving up a car does NOT make up the increased price of housing, utilities are higher than anywhere we’ve lived, food is also higher and restaurants are outrageously expensive (to capture more tourist dollars). Airfare in and out of Key West is outrageous so it’s difficult to leave to see family or have them fly in to see you. And seats are limited due to the short runway that doesn’t allow for big planes to fly in. Living up the Keys is cheaper, but kind of defeated the purpose of moving to Key West and we wanted to live in Old Town Key West. We did it. We loved it. But couldn’t afford to stay. We will go back for vacations because there is SO MUCH to do there and recapture a little of the magic that will always be there.

    Brenda
    Brenda

    May 22, 2016

    Had to chuckle when I saw “Key West is 3 hours from MAIMI”…….you definitely got the MAIM part right!. I have lived in Homestead, about 40 minutes south of It, almost my entire life. A major problem for anyone driving to/from the Keys is the two-lane US1 with concrete wall median when there is a traffic accident…..almost impossible for police and rescue to arrive on scene due to bumper-to-bumper stopped traffic. The most serious situation is when a hurricane is an eminent threat….what would be a normal 3-4 hour drive can become a 10-12 hour nightmare.

    Jon Seibert
    Jon Seibert

    May 21, 2016

    You have to want to live in KW to move here, most have to make some form of sacrifice . But to fulfill your dream it’s worth it. Most quoted house prices are off, as a Realtor on the island I can find you something to buy for almost all budgets. Just sold a nice 3 bd. Condo in old town, 5 blocks from Duval, for 475k. And a few miles up the keys it is much cheaper. If you are serious and ready to make your dream come true call me . C-21 Schwartz, Jon Seibert 305-433-0552

    Jon Seibert
    Jon Seibert

    May 21, 2016

    You have to want to live in KW to move here, most have to make some form of sacrifice . But to fulfill your dream it’s worth it. Most quoted house prices are off, as a Realtor on the island I can find you something to buy for almost all budgets. Just sold a nice 3 bd. Condo in old town, 5 blocks from Duval, for 475k. And a few miles up the keys it is much cheaper. If you are serious and ready to make your dream come true call me . C-21 Schwartz, Jon Seibert 305-433-0552

    Steve Ness
    Steve Ness

    May 20, 2016

    We just returned from KW, as we talked to many locals, affordable housing is THE major problem for KW right now, working two jobs is a must for most, but as one couple said “your be amazed what you can live without”We check the real estate listing, prices started at 700k for a fixer upper to 8m.Would love to live there one day be at this point we’d have to hit the lottery.

    Billy
    Billy

    May 20, 2016

    We are in the process of searching for a vacation home and in this current market a 1/1.5 in old town will run $500k+. 2/2 is $650+ and these are not updated cottages or condos, lots of TLC needed.

    Elaine Chinnis
    Elaine Chinnis

    April 26, 2016

    Very interesting post. I lived between KeyWest and Sugarloaf key and Cudjoe Key key for 22 years. I still own a business there and I work a full-time job as well. The insurance rates, cost of housing, and all the other expenses are outrageous. I was lucky enough to sell my house and buy a Beautiful three bedroom two bath house 2 miles from the beach in North Carolina. Yes, I miss my friends but they are all leaving Key-West as well. There is going to be a major shift in quality of Service and most likely another bubble burst in the housing market. I found a similar, historical, beachfront town called Southport North Carolina. Low crime, amazing beaches, friendly safe community. Contact me at 305-304-3675 if you would like to buy a real home for under $200,000.

    Islander
    Islander

    April 26, 2016

    I believe you should re-assess your housing cost…

    I wish I could by something other than an older trailer for 300k

    Karin
    Karin

    April 26, 2016

    In Key West a decent house costs over a million. Whoever did the research hasn’t looked at buying a home. For $300 – 500K you can get a one bedroom condo that’s in need or major renovations/repairs.

    Erin Holehan
    Erin Holehan

    April 25, 2016

    I lived in Key West from 97-00 for a job that was OFFERED to me. Manager of Alamo/National on Roosevelt. I lived near the airport in am apartment for $1500/mo. I left 3 years later to go back to the mainland and work in Lauderdale. I still have regrets. Yes. Love Key West. Expensive, yes….but how much do you love it/want it. A few years later I was back down there on a girls weekend and met my husband and father of our 3 beautiful children at the Ocean Key Resort pool. Now, KW holds an even more special place in my heart. Ummmm….retirement spot???? Yes, please!

    Mike  Tolbert
    Mike Tolbert

    April 24, 2016

    Those housing cost are stupid low of what it actually cost here Most jobs pay 12$ a hr or less And You work 2 jobs to barely scrape by. Most newcomers last less than 3 yrs tops here and leave because its so expensive. The island is crowded noisy and getting worse every year. Keep it real a 2 bedroom is usually well over 2000 a month one bedrooms going for 1500 and up. Ley west just aint same place it used to be!

    Dina
    Dina

    April 24, 2016

    Do your research. Our high school has good graduation rates, lots of advance placement options, and extensive sports and student activities programs.

    Monica
    Monica

    April 24, 2016

    I am relocating to Key West after almost 20 years away from it. I am sure it has changed a lot, but I have been visiting regularly because my parents never left. I have to disagree to some extent in regards to the “family friendly” point. I raised my kids there until they were of school age, and during those years, no place could have compared to KW in regards to safety, access to nature and the most healthy and simple lifestyle for a child. It was perfect. My kids teethed on mangoes and picked shells off the ocean every morning as we did our beach walks…..my son learned how to free dive and catch fish by the time he was 4. Both my kids were able to swim without fear by the time they were 1-1/2. They knew more about fish and wildlife than the average American child before they even got to go to school, and developed a love for nature they carry to this day. MY kids are college age now, and they cannot wait for a break to get to the keys,….it is their hometown and love it as such. So yes, it is expensive, and the housing is actually a lot more expensive then you describe it. Many locals have to have 2 jobs to survive it, however, I would not have exchanged those first few years of lifestyle my kids experienced with any other place in the world. I look forward getting back to my island.

    Chris Barth
    Chris Barth

    April 21, 2016

    I have lived in the keys since 1991. A equal split between the upper keys and Key West. We are back in Key west with our two boys. Best move we could have done for them. Schools are no different them the upper keys. Still all are grade a schools. What you have to remember is the island is 50% military. So there are many military kids that attend our schools. The sports programs are very insanely good for the kids. Top notch programs! Always something to do for the kids every weekend.. So I totally disagree with not living ion the island or living here with a family.
    Are there drunks in this town, yes! It’s a party town. We live in a area called New Town and its away from all the craziness of duval and down town. No matter where you live, you will find drunks and drugs.
    Cost of living is high. To buy a house starts at $500,000 and rent is very high. There is price to pay for living here. I have found that you don’t drive very far here. So your fuel bill will be cut in half. It’s only a 2/4 mile island.
    Plenty of job oppertunities here in Key West. If your in the hospitality business you’ll find multiple jobs the pay. If it’s a gratuity based job then your sitting better than most people. Key West is a high volume tourist town. It stays busy almost year around.
    The article mentioned some good facts, but I had to disagree with some of its misleading points.

    Neil Chamberlain
    Neil Chamberlain

    April 19, 2016

    Most of this is very good advice but Babs is correct about the housing costs.

    Unemployment isn’t very high right now but the pay scale is a bit low for the cost of living. Expect to make sacrifices to live here such as working more than 1 job, getting a roommate (or more), or getting rid of the car altogether!

    Jason Guarino
    Jason Guarino

    April 19, 2016

    Wendy, very true. The brand was born in FL and we just moved to NH. But the FL address will be coming back very soon. Stay tuned!

    Babs Wade
    Babs Wade

    April 19, 2016

    I live in Key West and your housing info is a little out of date. A one bedroom apartment is going to cost between $1500-$2200, a two bedroom from $1800-$2600ish and 3 bedrooms run around $3000 upwards. You would be lucky to buy a two bedroom for $300,000. They tend to start around $500,000.

    Wenby kilheffer
    Wenby kilheffer

    April 19, 2016

    Island Jay’s address is in New Hampshire! Doesn’t necessarily invalidate his info, it is just interesting!

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