For some, a car is a prized possession with deep emotional significance. For others, it’s simply a means to get from Point A to Point B. No matter which category you fall into, owning and maintaining a vehicle represents a significant financial investment. Your car is also your key to getting around and making the most of the area you call home.  

Given the big role vehicles play in our lives, it’s natural to have equally big questions about moving your car between Hawaii and CaliforniaMuch like buying or selling your car, it’s a significant decision with big implications (including financial ones)! 

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider when moving your car, truck, or SUV between California and Hawaii. Whether you’re headed for Hawaii or making a beeline for the mainland, we’ll 1) help you decide whether to move your car and 2) show you how to prepare for all the steps along the way. Ultimately, you’ll end up with a clear decision about what to do with your car—and you’ll know exactly what to expect if you decide to move your vehicle with you. 

First of All, Is It Worth Shipping a Car Between Hawaii and California? 

In many situations, yes. When you’re moving between Hawaii and California, you’ve got a big advantage working in your favor: You’re most likely near a port on both ends.  

Proximity to a port makes it pretty easy to get your car to your final destination. As a result, moving cars between California and Hawaii can be much more cost-effective than, for example, moving a car between Colorado and Hawaii. After all, Denver is more than 1,000 miles from the nearest port in California, which means an additional layer of  logistics, longer transit times, and higher cost. 

That said, before you go all-in on moving your car, consider: 

Before you make your final decision, you might want to know exactly what shipping your car between California and Hawaii entails. We’ll walk you through it next. 

How Does It Work When Shipping a Car Between California and Hawaii? 

Essentially, you’ll have three options: 

#1: Do-It-Yourself

You book your own reservation with one of the steamship lines.

Drive your car to the nearest port where the steamship loads your car onto Roll on/Roll off ship. They’ll drive your vehicle onto the vessel and secure it for its journey.

Once it arrives at the destination port, the steamship line drives it right off the ship, where it’s stored until you come to pick it up at the port. Then, you drive it to your new home.

#2: Door-to-Door

A moving company takes care of driving your car to and from the port.

This is a great option if you don’t want to deal with logistics. A mover picks up your car, drives it to the nearest port, and turns it over to the steamship line.

On the other end, a representative from the moving company picks your car, delivers it to your new residence. There also are hybrid options to drop-off or pick-up your vehicle.

#3: Container

Include your car inside the shipping container with other goods

First, a car can easily take up half of a 40′ container, so it will significantly limit the amount of goods you can pack.

Plus, including your car can make your container more expensive to ship. If your vehicle doesn’t run or if it’s a special make and model, putting it in a container may be the best option for you. Your best bet? Talk to an expert before booking.

Now that you understand your options, let’s talk about pricing. 

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Your Car Between California and Hawaii? 

For port-to-port service, your price will likely be between $920-$1,747, depending on which steamship line you choose and which ports your car moves between. 

Ports available for drop-off/pick-up in California include: 

  • San Diego 
  • Los Angeles / Long Beach 
  • San Francisco Bay Area / Oakland 

Ports available for drop-off/pick-up in Hawaii include: 

  • Hilo, Big Island 
  • Kawaihae, Big Island (Kona side) 
  • Honolulu, Oahu 
  • Kahului, Maui 
  • Nawiliwili, Kauai 

How Long Does It Take to Ship Your Car Between California and Hawaii? 

In short, going to California from Hawaii can take anywhere from a week and a half to three weeks. Shipping your car to Hawaii from California can take anywhere from three weeks to a month. During busy times, these estimates will be longer.  

If you’re looking strictly at transit time—from when the ship departs the origin port until the ship arrives at the destination port—it takes around 5-8 sailing days between Hawaii and California.  

However, in addition to transit time, you’ll also need to account for: 

Additionally, it’s important to understand that ocean transit times are always an estimate. Weather conditions may extend the time it takes to get between ports. When you book, the steamship line will give you a window in which you can expect your car to arrive. 

What Kind of Paperwork Will I Need When Shipping a Car Between California and Hawaii? 

In order to ship your car, you’ll need to provide several documents. Although the documents for shipping to Hawaii vs. shipping to California are similar, there are a few key differences. 

When you’re sending your car westbound, you’ll need: 

  • A copy of your reservation – It’s useful to have this printed out so it’s easy to access. 
  • A copy of the car’s current, valid registration or the title / bill of sale. If the car is financed, you may also need a lien authorization letter from the lien holder, authorizing shipment to Hawaii. 
  • The registered owner must be present at the drop-off, with picture ID. If the registered owner cannot be present, you’ll need a notarized letter authorizing the person dropping off the car to release the vehicle. 

When you’re sending your car eastbound, you’ll need: 

  • A copy of your reservation – Again, having this printed out and ready to go can make your life easier. 
  • A copy of the car’s current, valid registration AND the title / bill of sale. (Yes, you’ll need both items. The requirements headed from Hawaii to the mainland are more strict!) 
  • If the car is financed, you’ll also need a lien authorization letter from the lien holder, authorizing shipment outside of Hawaii. 
  • The registered owner must be present at the drop-off, with picture ID. If the registered owner cannot be present, you’ll need a notarized letter authorizing the person dropping off the car to release the vehicle. 

If you have any questions about your paperwork, make sure to ask your steamship line when you make your reservation. The wrong paperwork can delay the shipment of your vehicle significantly. 

Can I Include Personal Effects in My Car? 

No. Although it would be really convenient to use all that trunk space (or backseat area!) for your personal possessions, your car must be empty all belongings. Additionally, when you drop off your car, your gasoline tank should be no more than ¼ full.  

For the full details on prepping your car for the move to or from Hawaii, check out our article: Shipping Your Car to Hawaii: Your Biggest Questions Answered. 

Can I Ship My Car, Truck, or SUV?
What About Altered Vehicles? 

Standard passenger vehicles—including cars, trucks, and SUVs—will generally fall within the size guidelines for the steamship lines: 21’8″ long by 8′ wide by 7′ high. Anything larger than this will need to be quoted out to determine an accurate price.  

Additionally, if your vehicle has significant customizations or alterations—especially ones that may put it beyond standard dimensions—make sure you tell the steamship line while booking. Anything you can remove, such as roof racks, should be removed before dropping off your car.  

After the Journey:  

How do I register my car in Hawaii

Once you get to Hawaii, you’ll need to decide whether to get an out-of-state permit or to transfer your car’s registration to Hawaii. An out-of-state permit allows you to operate a vehicle within the county you’ll be living in until the out-of-state permit expires or for a maximum of one year from date of arrival. 

If you plan to be in Hawaii more than a year, it’s probably easiest to process your out-of-state vehicle transfer immediately. (Plus, you’ll get a license plate with a rainbow on it—bonus!) Whatever you decide, you’ll need to either get an out-of-state permit or complete your out-of-state registration transfer within 30 days of arrivalFor more information, refer to the website of the county you plan to live in: 

How do I register my car in California

If you’re moving to California, you’re required to register your car with the DMV within 20 days of the date you establish residency.  

California also has some very specific requirements for importing cars from out of state. Make sure you check the requirements on the California DMV website before shipping your car to California.  

The site will also walk you through the registration requirements. In general, you’ll need to present: 

  • Title 
  • Registration 
  • Your out-of-state license plates 
  • A smog certification from a California smog station 
  • The related application forms and fees 

Your New Home Is Waiting 

Whether you’re moving to California or Hawaii, you’ve got an incredible landscape ready to be explored. If you decide to take your car with you, you’ll have a familiar vehicle at your disposal so you can hit the ground running in your new home. However, if you decide not to take your car after, you’ll have a different opportunity awaiting you—the opportunity to pick out the perfect car for your new lifestyle. Whichever path you choose, adventure is just a drive away. 

Want some help shipping your car—or any of your other personal possessions—between Hawaii and California? Our experts would be happy to help. Simply reach out for a complimentary quote to get started. 

Tell us about your move!