The Florida Keys are an archipelago that sit off of the southern coast of Florida. Their location starts at the southeastern coast, and then moves west toward Key West, which is the westernmost of the islands that are currently inhabited. It is far enough south that the edge of Key West is just 90 miles from the northern shore of Cuba.
The city of Key West contains over 30% of the entire population of the island chain. Unlike the other islands that exist in the Caribbean region, the keys are built from animals and plants through coral creation. There are upland forests, shoreline areas, and inland wetlands to experience when living here.
Many of the plant and animal species that you will find in the Florida Keys are found nowhere else in the United States. Coconut palm trees grow everywhere there, along with certain maples and pines. The Key Deer has a refuge to protect it, while the American crocodile wanders around at the northernmost point of its territory.
List of the Pros of Living in the Florida Keys
1. The weather is very enjoyable in the Florida Keys.
When you live down on the islands, you will discover that the weather is sunny and hot almost every day. That means you have relative confidence in what the forecast will be when there are activities planned. There is still a rainy season that you’ll discover, and it can become muggy on some days. With a light breeze, almost every day can feel like paradise.
There’s also the benefit of not having snow to shovel in the winter. Even during the coldest days of the year in the Florida Keys, it will feel like a summer day to those who are used to the seasons that happen further to the north. The Florida Keys are one of only two locations in the United States that have never recorded a temperature below freezing.
2. There is no state tax that you need to worry about in the Florida Keys.
The state of Florida is one of the few in the U.S. that does not charge an income tax. That doesn’t mean you’ll be living in a tax-free environment, but you won’t need to file two tax returns each year unless you operate a business down there. The state sales tax is 6%, while Monroe County charges another 1.5%. If you watch your spending and manage income wisely, you will discover that it can be surprisingly affordable to live in the Sunshine State.
3. The unemployment rate in the Florida Keys is exceptionally low.
Except for a significant spike of layoffs that happened in 2017, the unemployment rate is very low in the Florida Keys and the rest of Monroe County that is on the mainland. It is currently hovering around 2% as of July 2019. It is usually about 0.5% to 1% lower than what the national unemployment rate is each month.
4. You will have plenty of space to explore.
Monroe County has 87% of its land area on the mainland, but only 60 people live there because almost the entire area is part of the Everglades. Over 99% of the county’s population lives on the Florida Keys, and the county seat is Key West. Each island has its own personality where you can find a place to fit in. Locals say that they have a “conch” of culture. There is an acceptance of alternative lifestyles here, and you will find a mild anti-authoritarian culture that is driven by the local industry.
5. Life moves at a much slower pace in the Florida Keys.
There are over 1,700 islands in the chain, but not all of them are inhabitable. Some are almost completely inaccessible. This isolation works to create a different pace of life for the people who call the Florida Keys home. When you start living here, then you will find that the hurried nature of getting to places disappears. Time seems to slow down. It is an advantage for most of the people who start living here, but it can be a challenging adjustment for some families.
6. You will get to live at or near the beach no matter where you are.
America’s Caribbean might not have the same highly developed beaches as the mainland, but you are going to be close to the water no matter where you live. When you add in the incredible food and the beautiful weather, there really isn’t a bad place to call home. Living by the beach can naturally reduce your stress levels, and it can even reduce the influence of chronic pain in your life. The sound of the water can help you get to sleep faster too, and the salty air can also be good for your health in other ways.
7. The sunsets in the Florida Keys are incredible.
One of the advantages of living in the Florida Keys is that you get to enjoy a beach sunset every day, all year long. Even if you live further up on the island chain and commute to Key West each day, you’ll still get to enjoy this unique benefit. There is something tranquil about being able to watch the sky turn different shades of color every night from the comfort of your own home.
8. Schools in the Florida Keys offer a low student-teacher ratio.
The graduation rate found in the schools of the Florida Keys are about average at 79%. Several other factors are also in the average range for the county’s school district. What you will find that is better here is the student-teacher ratio, which tends to be around 17-to-1.
List of the Cons of Living in the Florida Keys
1. It is going to rain a lot during the late summer.
The rainy season in the Florida Keys runs from August to September in most years, but it starts to pick up in June and can go late into October some years. You’ll have an average of 16 rainy days in September, but the number of monthly sunshine hours still remains about equal to what you would experience in the winter months. You’ll see about 6 inches of rain each month during the rainy season as well. If you don’t mind the weather a little bit during this time, then the warmer days that you’ll find here can be quite pleasant.
2. There is the occasional threat of a hurricane or tropical storm.
The location of the Florida Keys can put it in the path of the occasional hurricane or tropical storm that can bring devastating winds. Because you are connected to the mainland with a highway, anything that would be strong enough to cut off that transportation network would likely destroy your home. No area on the islands is more than 20 feet above sea level, and most locations are between 1-10 feet. Almost every neighborhood is subject to flooding and strong winds during these storms. Evacuations for tropical storms are common.
Most of the islands are quite small, which increases this threat as well. Key West is only four miles long and two miles wide.
3. Highway 1 is the most dangerous road in Florida.
There are some visitors who come to the Florida Keys by flying into the airport. A few stop by from a ferry or a cruise ship that came from another part of the state. Most people come to the Florida Keys by driving U.S. 1, which is a highway that stretches from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West. Several hundred thousand visitors make their way to the islands each year, and it is a two-lane highway almost the entire way. This combination of factors, and the fact that there is no alternative road, makes this stretch the highest per capita rate of automobile accidents in the entire state.
4. Most of the jobs involve the sea or hospitality.
Unless you plan to start living in the Florida Keys and work from home, your two employment options involve life at sea or working at one of the hotels, restaurants, or other tourist amenities that are in the area. If you love snorkeling, Scuba diving, or fishing, then life can be great here if you own a boat. If not, then you will be giving up some of the conveniences of the mainland while trying to find something that can help you to pay the bills.
The one exception to this disadvantage is if you are in the military. There are several positions in the Coast Guard that are in the region. You might also find work in the public sector if you start the process before you move. Bartenders are always in demand with the tourism industry, but it could be a struggle at times to pay your bills.
5. The median housing costs are exceptionally high in the Florida Keys.
If you look at the average price of a home in the state of Florida, then you would be looking at a price of about $225,000 for a fair mid-range home. If you decide to start living in Key West, then the average housing cost is over $600,000. You could live on Key Largo if you prefer, but at a price of more than $620,000. The cost of living index for housing on the islands is three times more than the U.S. average, which puts it closer to what you would experience when living in New York City.
That’s why most people choose to rent when they start living here. You can expect to pay about $1,400 per month for a one-bedroom or studio if you live in the upper Keys, with larger spaces going for as high as $3,075 per month.
6. There can be a lack of activities to enjoy when living in the Florida Keys.
You will find places like Big Pine and Marathon provide you with the small-town approach to life that is available throughout the United States. You’ll get to know the people who work at the Post Office, the restaurants will know what you usually order, and your preferred drink is waiting for you at the bar. If you’re not into water sports, there isn’t much to do here except to grab some food and get something to drink. There’s only one movie theater, and it only shows one movie at a time.
7. The Florida Keys are a transient place.
Most of the people who start living in the Florida Keys do so because they are in a transitory place in their life. People tend to come and go here a lot, which means it can be a challenge to form lasting friendships. You’ll meet plenty of interesting characters during your time here, but most of them will move away within a year. If you plan to live on the islands on a full-time basis, you’ll want to establish yourself in ownership groups and the “lifers” who can connect you to their networks so that you won’t feel so alone.
Because of this nature, it takes some time for the locals to accept you because they’ll expect you to bolt at the first opportunity. It takes a couple of years to really start fitting in when you begin to live here.
8. Unless you shop for your food, expect to pay more for everything.
Because there are additional transportation costs for deliveries to the Florida Keys, everything is going to cost a little more. Expect to pay at least 10% higher fees for your fuel than you would on the mainland. If you want to eat at a restaurant, then you’re going to be paying resort prices to get that prepared meal. Island time doesn’t just apply to your pace of life either. Expect slower services, delays in delivery, and other outcomes that some people might find to be problematic.
9. The significant tourism levels in the Florida Keys leads to a higher crime rate.
The crime rate in the Florida Keys is about 20% higher than what you will find across the rest of the United States. This disadvantage applies to the statewide average as well, with the rates being 14% higher than what Florida experiences. It isn’t all bad – the rate of violent crime is 10% lower, but property crime rates are 25% higher than the national average. You will want to take precautions with your home and use common sense when handling your business when you start living here.
The pros and cons of living in the Florida Keys provide examples of what it takes to manage your daily needs. There may be fewer conveniences here, but it also feels like there is more freedom to do what you want. The slower pace of life can be a relaxing change of pace, especially if you want to rest and relax after a long day at work – or as a retirement option when you are done with your career.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.