Moving To Hawaii With A Car - Questions To Ask And Shipping Basics

If you’ve been developing an interest in moving to Hawaii, a natural early step to feel curious about is the process of shipping your vehicle or vehicles. This blog post will cover the basic steps involved in shipping a car to the Hawaiian Islands, such as shipping options (such as port-to-port or door-to-door), the essential items allowed in the vehicle, and some of the paperwork required. We'll also touch on the reasons why you might consider selling your car before you move instead of shipping your car to Hawaii, such as with a vehicle ill-suited for your new Island lifestyle.

Moving to any new location comes with a list of to-dos, like getting your utilities set up, changing your address with the Postal Service, securing a new driver’s license, finding your new go-to grocery store, and, of course, making new friends to enjoy your new locale with.

 What to Know About Shipping Your Car to Hawaii

Hawaii is no different, and there’s one thing that will make most of these to-dos easier: Having a car to get you around. If you already own a car, you’ve probably already thought about some of these questions. We’ve got the answers you need. 

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It’s important to note: If you bought the car with a loan, you’ll need to obtain permission from the loan originator before you ship it.

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Question 1: Do I Need A Car?

As we discussed in our article about downsizing to save on your move, there are some things that you may want to sell, rather than move to Oahu. One of those things could be your car, depending on your particular circumstances and vehicle.

Life in Hawaii can often mean living in close proximity to beaches, shops, and amenities, reducing the need for frequent, long-distance driving. If your lifestyle in Oahu is going to be centered around a specific area, like a walkable urban neighborhood or a beachside community, the necessity of a personal vehicle decreases.

If you do need a car for your daily life, downsizing is another option. Large trucks and SUVs that are common on the mainland might find it a challenge to navigate and park in the tight spaces on Oahu. Selling such a vehicle before moving and then purchasing a smaller, more manageable car suited to Oahu's driving conditions can save you a lot of daily hassle.

Past that, the cost of shipping a car to the island and maintaining it can be substantial, especially for older vehicles. If you are a multiple-vehicle household, you may want to plan for the possibility of reducing down to one vehicle.

To help you with this important decision, we suggest that you ask yourself a lot of questions. Here are just a few:

Will My Car Need Replacing Soon?

Is this a car you’ll be driving for years to come? Or is a replacement just around the corner?

Hawaii's unique climate and terrain can be challenging for older vehicles. High humidity, salt air, and volcanic terrain can affect an older car's performance and longevity, increasing the likelihood of extra maintenance/repair costs.

If you plan to replace it in a couple of years, you may want to consider selling it before you move to save yourself the cost of the shipping. This can be particularly applicable on islands like Oahu where public transportation is readily available to and from most areas. A car with sentimental value, like a gift or an inheritance, might be worth the cost and effort of shipping and maintaining.

If you do want to bring a vehicle, it might still be worth replacing to get one that matches your new lifestyle. If you’re moving to the urban core of Honolulu, a heavy-duty SUV might not be ideal for narrow, crowded city streets.

What Kind Of Vehicle Matches My Dream Island Lifestyle?

The car that may have served you well in Texas may not be the right car for your new island life. The island of Oahu can feature heavy traffic, especially in and around Honolulu, with limited parking options in popular areas. If your current vehicle is a large SUV or a truck, you might find it challenging to navigate and park in these tight spaces.

Selling such a vehicle before moving and then purchasing a smaller, more manageable car suited to Oahu's driving conditions could save you a lot of hassle. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and ask yourself what your dream island lifestyle will include - the nitty gritty details of daily life.

What kind of driving will you be doing? Commuting to work? Driving paved roads to the beach? Off-roading on the weekends?  Can public transportation offset this?

If you're moving into the urban core of Honolulu or the surrounding neighborhoods, many homes have everything in easy walking distance. As a single person or a couple, it may be better off renting for those rare occasions you need to drive. But your needs will be different if you have kids that need a ride to school every day.

Related: Transportation & Commuting Costs On Oahu

What Is Vehicle Pricing Like On The Island I’m Moving To?

As you decide between options, it's a good idea to research vehicle prices and availability on the island you're moving to. You'll find that most islands host a range of dealerships offering new and used cars, and their pricing information is usually accessible online or through a phone inquiry.

For those considering a pre-owned vehicle, platforms like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace are potential sources - but exercise caution and beware of scams. Even with legitimate private sales, they are usually sold "as is" and lack the warranty security that dealerships provide.

Regardless of which method is chosen, don't forget to request any available maintenance records and consider using services like CarFax to find a detailed vehicle history.

To help you make your final decision, you’ll probably want to do some research on how much cars cost on your chosen island. Most of the islands have major dealerships that sell both new and used cars, with access to their prices online or via phone call. If you’re looking to buy a used car, you can check out for-sale sites like Craigslist.

However, you’ll want to be cautious when buying a car in a private sale. Unlike dealers who offer warranties, these “as is” sales can either offer you a major deal or a major headache. In the best-case scenario, the seller will let you have an independent mechanic check out the car before purchasing.

You should also ask for any maintenance logs the seller has, and you can further check the background information on the car on sites like CarFax.

Shipping Your Current Vehicle

What to Know About Shipping Your Car to Hawaii

As with so many other aspects when you’re deciding how to move to Hawaii, you should plan well ahead to best prepare yourself.

Drop It Off Then Pick It Up

The cheapest and most common way to ship your car is to drive it to a port where a shipping company like Matson or Pasha will put it on a ship for you.
Most shipping companies will ask you have less than 1/4 of a tank of gas, otherwise they will have to siphon it out and that could delay the process. 

You drop your car off at the port, roll it onto the ship, strap it down and secure it. Then the ship goes to its destination port, where they roll it right off the ship and park it so you can pick it up. If you live near a West Coast port on the Mainland, like Long Beach or San Diego, this is a pretty simple task.

However, if you don’t live near one of these ports, it adds significant time and difficulty to the whole process.

Be prepared for a lot of activity

Typically there are a lot of people shipping at the same time so the dock can get a little crazy. Customer service can be lacking as they are dealing with a lot of people all needing answers to their questions. Most companies have heard all the questions and are quick with a response. This is what we have found from Matson, anyway.

What to Know About Shipping Your Car to HawaiiDon't stress but get answers

Sometimes customer service can be rough but push through and ask the questions you need to feel safe and secure that you understand the process.

Shop Around For The Best Value

Most companies require a down payment before the vehicle ships, and the final payment when you pick up in Hawaii - but verify this in the contract ahead of time. Companies have been known to take a down payment but then require the final payment upfront at the dock, rather than at the destination. Shipping cost will vary based on the type of vehicle and where you’re coming from, but you can expect to pay between $2000 and $5000 to ship a vehicle to Hawaii. 

Regardless of the method, there are a few things that stay the same. The vehicle can only contain certain items during shipping - infant car seats, a spare tire, car jack, floor mats, and a set of jumper cables - and the gas tank needs to be a quarter full or less due to safety regulations.

How long does it take?

Most shipping containers take about 14 days to travel and will likely come to Honolulu first. From there it can be shipped to other islands in 5-10 days.  You will be notified when your car arrives. Some companies offer a dock-to-door service for an additional charge, driving the vehicle to your new home for you, but otherwise you will need to pick your own car up from the port.

Side Note: Also make sure to have all the documents for your car with you when traveling. This way, you have it in hand when doing the transfer to Hawaii and registering. It's important to again note that if you bought the car with a loan, you’ll need to obtain permission from the loan originator before you ship it.

As with all things relating to moving - be prepared for delays every now then. Hawaii is an island state and subject to a lot of uncontrollable factors that can impact shipping. Set up all your appointments as soon as possible before moving.

More Blog Posts About Moving to Hawaii

 - Guide to Moving to Hawaii with Pets

- The Island Commute - Navigating Oahu's Transportation Landscape

- Cost Of Living In Hawaii Heading Into 2024

When you're ready to make the move - request a consultation for your next home! Reach out at 1-(808) 698-6100 or email me at [email protected] and we'll help find the right home for your needs.

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