Shipping Household Items To Hawaii

Posted Jan 23, 2012 at 6:07pm

The moving process is never easy, but moving all your stuff to Hawaii is particularly challenging in that it requires not only land transport, but also ocean or air transport to get across that big, beautiful Pacific.

Approaches to the Moving Process

There are several approaches that you can take when moving your household items to Hawaii:

  • Sell, donate, or store most of your household items. Then all you have to do is simply box up your few remaining possessions and send them to Hawaii using a freight forwarder or mail service, or pack them in your checked baggage when you fly to Hawaii. PROS: Short of hiring a full-service moving company, this is the easiest, simplest approach. And if you don’t mind parting with most of your possessions, it can also be the cheapest approach. CONS: You might be sorry later that you didn’t ship certain items when you discover you can’t find replacements in Hawaii that are as good as the originals, or that it would have been cheaper to ship the original items instead of buying replacements at higher Hawaii prices. This is the approach I took when I moved to Hawaii, and there have been many times I’ve regretted not shipping my beloved Dyson vacuum cleaner to Hawaii. Some people who don’t ship their furniture are disappointed in the selection of furniture for sale in Hawaii, most of which is decidedly “island-style” (lots of rattan, bamboo, tropical prints, etc.). Others, however, find their taste in furnishings change once they move here, and delight in the bargains to be found on Craigslist Hawaii and at the many garage sales on the islands (thanks in part to the high turnover of military residents).
  • Coordinate each part of the move yourself. This usually involves booking a shipment with a shipping carrier and hiring two different sets of movers (one set at your old home and another set in Hawaii). PROS: You are in direct contact with each service provider you hire for each stage of the moving process, and therefore you can keep a closer eye on things. If something goes wrong, that company is accountable directly to you, not a middleman who might take longer in resolving the issue for you. Eliminating the middleman and doing more of the work yourself should also save you a significant amount of money. CONS: This is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive approach since you need to hire, coordinate, and supervise all of the service providers involved. If you plan on doing any of the actual labor yourself, you also risk bodily injury.
  • Hire a full-service moving company to coordinate the entire move. If you are willing and able to pay a premium for their services, a full-service moving company can do nearly all the work for you. PROS: This approach requires the least amount of your time and involvement. CONS: This is the most expensive approach. Resolving any problems might take longer because you’re dealing with a middleman, who in turn is dealing with a third-party company that they’ve hired to do the actual labor. You also don’t usually have a say on which third-party companies are hired to do the work — that’s decided by the moving company.

Price Estimates

Before you hire any service providers, you should get at least 3 estimates from 3 different companies so you can compare the prices and range of services offered by each. Full-service moving companies often send an estimator to your home to take inventory of all the household items you want to ship so they can give you a precise quote. Other companies will quote you a price estimate over the phone or by email according to the information you give them. In this case, it’s helpful to use a household inventory calculator beforehand so you can tell them the approximate total weight (in pounds) and volume (in cubic feet) of all the items you want to ship.

Background Check

Another thing you should do before you hire any moving service is check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Some companies won’t have any rating (due to lack of info), so you’ll have to rely on other sources (like online reviews or forum posts) to gauge their reputation. If a company you’re considering has a low rating, read its BBB review to find out what kind of complaints consumers have filed against the company. (5 moving companies to avoid.)

Ocean Transport

Matson barge cuts through the ocean

One of Matson's inter-island barges, the MV Maunalei. (Photo credit: Matson)

If you aren’t taking the “sell, donate, or store” approach to moving your stuff to Hawaii, then you probably have lots of stuff to move, including large items such as furniture. The most cost-effective way to send a large quantity of items and bulky items to Hawaii is usually by ship, using a shipping container. There are several ways you can do this:

  • Book a shipment directly with a shipping carrier. There are 3 shipping carriers that ship household goods and vehicles from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii: Matson, Horizon Lines, and Pasha Hawaii (Pasha Hawaii ships only vehicles and oversized cargo). Additionally, there is 1 more carrier — Young Brothers — that ships only between the 6 main Hawaiian Islands: Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Kauai, Molokai, and Lana’i. See a comparison chart of all 4 carriers below.
  • Hire a full-service moving company to book the shipment for you. This would be part of their door-t0-door moving package, and they would choose which carrier or freight forwarder to book your shipment with.
  • Send your items through a freight forwarder. Freight forwarders use the same shipping carriers, but because they book shipments in high volume, they get discounted rates, and can pass on some of their savings to you. This is how freight forwarders can offer lower shipping rates than if you booked directly with a shipping carrier. The catch: It will probably take longer for your shipment to reach its destination, because the freight forwarder won’t ship it until they’ve gathered enough additional cargo to meet their high-volume threshold.

Shipping Container Sizes

Shipping containers for shipping household goods from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii come in the 4 sizes below. These measurements are for Matson’s containersHorizon Lines’ and Young Brothers’ container measurements are similar.

(‘ = feet, ” = inches, L = length, W = width, H = height)

  • 20′ standard container – interior dimensions: 19’4″L x 7’6″W x 7’8″H (1,171 cubic feet)
  • 40′ standard container – interior dimensions: 39’6″L x 7’9″W x 7’10″H (2,387 cubic feet)
  • 40′ high-cube container – interior dimensions: 39’5″L x 7’8″W x 8’10″ (2,686 cubic feet)
  • 45′ high-cube container – interior dimensions: 44’5″L x 7’8.5″W x 8’10″ (3,030 cubic feet)

Shipping LCL (Less Than A Container Load)

If you don’t have enough household items to fill an entire shipping container, you won’t be getting your money’s worth. Instead, you should look into LCL shipping options, which will be more cost-effective.

Shipping Oversized Items

If you have a large item that won’t fit in a shipping container, don’t fret: Matson, Pasha Hawaii, Horizon Lines, and Young Brothers can all accomodate oversized items by using flatracks or other specialized equipment.

Shipping Your Car & Other Vehicles

There are 2 ways you can ship cars, motorcycles, trucks, SUVs, or other vehicles:

  • Ship the vehicle separately from your household items. PROS: You can drive your car (or have it driven) right to the port. The vehicle will be secured inside the ship by professionals to ensure it doesn’t move around during shipment. CONS: You cannot leave anything inside your car except child car seats and the spare tire/jack. You must remove all other items, including after-market stereos, speakers, and roof racks.
  • Ship the vehicle inside your shipping container, along with your household items. PROS: You can fill the vehicle with your household items. CONS: You will have to rent a ramp or figure out another way to safely load your vehicle inside a container that’s 4 feet off the ground. Once the car is loaded, you are responsible for securing it inside the container so it doesn’t shift en route and damage the other items inside. Conversely, you’ll also need to secure your household goods so they don’t shift and damage your vehicle. If you have a lot of household items, you may find that the vehicle takes up too much valuable space inside your shipping container. If you don’t have a lot of household items, you may find that it’s cheaper to ship your car separately so you don’t have to pay for an entire shipping container.

As you can probably tell, I recommend shipping your vehicle separately. I don’t see any significant advantages to shipping your vehicle inside a container along with your household goods, but I do see plenty of potential pitfalls. To learn all about shipping your vehicle separately, check out my article on Shipping Cars to Hawaii.

Moving Process For Ocean Transport

Once your shipment is booked with a carrier, your moving process will probably look something like this:

  1. All your household belongings are packed into moving boxes or crates. Larger items such as furniture are wrapped to protect them from dirt and scratches.
  2. A shipping container is hauled by a big-rig truck to your old home, where it is unhitched from the truck and left on its trailer (approximately 4 feet off the ground).
  3. Your moving boxes, crates, and wrapped furniture are wheeled/carried up a ramp and loaded inside the container. NOTE: Shipping containers don’t usually come with a ramp, lift-gate, tie-downs, or packing materials, so make sure the movers you hire have all the necessary supplies and equipment. A 12-foot ladder is also very handy for loading items all the way to the top of the container.
  4. The big-rig truck comes back, hitches onto the trailer, and hauls the loaded container to the shipping port.
  5. At the port, your shipping carrier processes and loads your container onto the ship.
  6. The ship sails to Oahu.
  7. If necessary, your container is unloaded from the ship at the port in Oahu and transferred to an inter-island barge to sail to a neighbor island.
  8. Upon arriving at its final destination, your container is unloaded from the ship and processed by your shipping carrier.
  9. The container is loaded onto a trailer and hauled by a big-rig truck to your new home, where it is unhitched and left on its trailer.
  10. Your belongings are unloaded from the container, down a ramp, and into your new home. NOTE: Once again, you’ll need to get a ramp, and a 12-foot ladder will make unloading easier.
  11. All your moving boxes and crates are unpacked, and your furniture is unwrapped and moved into place.
  12. The big-rig truck returns to pick up the empty container and hauls it back to the shipyard.

Shipping Carriers

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LCL Shipping Options

If you don’t have enough household items to fill an entire shipping container, there’s no reason to pay for all that wasted space. There are several ways you can consolidate your freight with other people’s freight, and pay for just the portion of the shipping container that you’re using:

Do It Yourself

  • Young Brothers allows you to ship LCL cargo yourself. They will accept both palletized and loose items, but I would recommend palletizing and shrink-wrapping all your items together. This will serve two purposes: 1) To make your shipment more compact, and thus less costly; and 2) To reduce the likelihood that any of your items will go missing (remember, other people will be using the same shipping container). Young Brothers does not provide pallets or shrink wrap, but many moving companies can bundle all your items onto pallets for you. Or you could put all your items into a lockable shipping “cube.”
  • If you want to use Matson or Horizon Lines as your shipping carrier, then you have 2 choices:
    • Book your shipment through a freight forwarder (if you’re using Horizon Lines, they can make the arrangements for you).
    • Post a notice on a forum like asking if anyone else who is moving around the same time on the same shipping route wants to share a shipping container with you. If you find a taker, you can then book a FCL (full container load) shipment with Matson or Horizon and split the cost.

Freight Forwarders

Because freight-forwarding companies book shipments in high volume, they get discounted rates, and can pass on some of their savings to you. This is how they can offer lower shipping rates than if you booked directly with a shipping carrier.

Another advantage to using a freight forwarder is that you can ship LCL cargo, since they are in the business of consolidating freight and shipping in high-volume batches. They’ll palletize all your items together, measure the dimensions and/or weight, and charge you only for the space that your belongings will take up in a shipping container.

The downside to using a freight forwarder is that it might take longer for your shipment to reach its destination. This is because the freight forwarder won’t ship your stuff until they’ve gathered enough additional cargo to qualify for the high-volume discounted shipping rate.

Here are 3 freight forwarders that specialize in shipping to Hawaii:

Shipping “Cube” Services

If you’re looking for something more secure than palletizing and shrink-wrapping your LCL cargo, a shipping “cube” might be just the answer. It’s basically a mini shipping container that you can lock. The cube is dropped off at your home just like a regular shipping container, except it sits right on the ground, so no ramp is needed to load items into it. After the cube is all loaded up, the company picks it up and hauls it to the port, where it’s put inside a regular shipping container with other cargo that’s going to Hawaii. Upon arrival, your cube is hauled to your new home and dropped off so you can unload it. After it’s emptied, the company picks it up and takes it away.

Cubic foot per cubic foot, a shipping cube is definitely more expensive than a regular shipping container. However, if you don’t have enough stuff to fill a regular shipping container, the total cost of a shipping cube service might be less costly than the total cost of a full-sized shipping container. There’s no denying that it’s a convenient service — like a freight forwarder, it allows you to ship LCL cargo, and some shipping cube companies also offer loading and packing services, just like a full-service moving company.

Here are 3 shipping cube services that ship to Hawaii:

Moving Companies

Full-Service Movers

Full-size moving companies can take care of your entire move to Hawaii for you. For a premium price, they can pack, load, transport, ship, deliver, unload, and upack all your household items from your old home to your new one. They hire third-party companies (like trucking companies and shipping carriers) to handle any services that their own employees don’t cover. The full-service moving company acts as a sort of “project manager” for your entire move, which relieves you from having to coordinate several different service providers to cover all parts of your move.

The downside to using a full-service moving company is that it may take longer to resolve any problems that might arise, because you’re not dealing directly with any third-party service providers that they’ve hired. You also don’t usually have control over which third-party companies they use.

Most full-service moving companies will let you pick and choose which services you want. You don’t necessarily have to hire them to handle every part of your move. For example, you might pack your own moving boxes, and then hire the moving company just to load the boxes into a shipping container and take it to the port.

Here are some reputable and popular full-service moving companies that are based in Hawaii, and are thus familiar with mainland-to-Hawaii moves:

  • M. Dyer & Sons (based on Oahu) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Has earned positive reviews in online forums. Has also been named on annual award lists such as the Star-Advertiser’s “Best of the Best,” Honolulu Magazine’s “Best of Honolulu,” and Pacific Business News’ “Best in the Business.” Can handle local, inter-island, mainland-to-Hawaii, and international moves. Also offers custom-crating services.
  • Pacific Transfer (based on Oahu) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Earned a positive review on Yelp. Agent for Atlas Van Lines International. In business since 1978. Can handle local, inter-island (no vehicles), mainland, and international moves. Services all Oahu military bases.
  • Town & Country Moving & Storage (based on Oahu, Big Island, Maui) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Military-approved. Have agents on Molokai and Lana’i, too. In business since 1986. Can handle local, inter-island, and mainland moves. Also offers storage service.
  • Kona Trans Moving & Storage (based in Hilo & Kailua-Kona on Big Island) – No BBB rating, but recommended in online forums. In business since 1939. Can handle local, inter-island, and mainland moves. Can handle moving fragile antiques and pianos. Other services offered: Custom crating, climate-controlled storage, and container-hauling.
  • HITCO Moving & Storage (based in Hilo and Kailua-Kona on Big Island) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. In business since 1921. Can handle local, inter-island, mainland, and international moves. Also offers container-hauling service.
  • Akamai Movers (based on Oahu) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A. Can handle local, inter-island, and mainland moves. Also offers climate-controlled storage service.
  • Mountain Movers (based on Maui) – BBB rating: A+. Can handle local, inter-island, mainland, and international moves.
  • Aloha International Moving Services (based on Oahu and Kauai) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: Not available. Earned a positive review on Yelp. Online forum reviews are mixed. Can handle local, inter-island, mainland, and international moves. Also offers storage service.
  • Island Movers (based on Oahu and Maui) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Reviews on Yelp and Citysearch are mixed. Can handle local, inter-island, mainland, and international moves. Also offers storage service.
  • Royal Hawaiian Movers (based on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hilo, and Kailua-Kona) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Earned several negative reviews on Yelp and mixed reviews on Citysearch. Can handle local, inter-island, mainland, and international moves. Also offers storage and container-hauling services. In business since 1982.

Partial-Service Movers

Unlike full-service movers, these companies don’t do it all — but that can be a good thing if you’re trying to save money. If you just need some strong backs to load and unload your shipping container, these guys can get the job done at a fair price. A couple of them can also haul a shipping container between the Oahu port and your home.

  • 2 Guys & A Truck (Oahu only) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Has earned several positive Yelp reviews. In business since 2001. Offers trucking and container loading/unloading service — on Oahu only. Does not offer container transport or packing/unpacking service.
  • Johnny The Mover (Oahu only) – BBB-accredited. BBB rating: A+. Has earned positive reviews on Yelp. Offers trucking, container transport, container loading/unloading, and box packing/unpacking services — on Oahu only.
  • Hawaii Piano & Household Moving (Oahu only) – BBB rating: A+. Reviews on Yelp and Citysearch are mostly positive. Offers trucking, container transport, and container loading/unloading service — on Oahu only. Does not offer packing/unpacking service.

5 Moving Companies To Avoid

Just in case you were thinking of using any of these companies… I don’t recommend it.

Mail Services & Air Transport

If you don’t have a lot of stuff, using a mail service or air transport to move it all to Hawaii could be your simplest option. (See price comparison table below.)

United States Postal Service (USPS)

USPS offers the cheapest mail services (assuming you live in the U.S):

  • Media Mail – This dirt-cheap rate can be used only for sending books, DVDs, CDs, and certain other media (sorry, no video games or magazines). And yes, they will open up your boxes to check to make sure that’s all you have in there.
  • Parcel Post – For all your belongings that don’t qualify for Media Rate, Parcel Post is your next cheapest rate. But be warned: Packages sent via Parcel Post to Hawaii typically take 4 weeks (some have been known to take up to 8 weeks) to reach their destination. After weeks in-transit on trucks and boats, your package will probably arrive looking pretty beat-up. So make sure you use a sturdy box, packing material, and lots of tape. If the items you’re sending are irreplaceable or particularly valuable, don’t risk sending them on the long, rough Parcel Post journey — use Priority Mail instead (see below).
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate – Because it’s based only on volume and not weight, Priority Mail Flat Rate is ideal for sending small-but-heavy things that will fit inside a Flat Rate box. And because the rate remains the same no matter where you send the package (as long as it’s within the U.S.), it’s especially great for sending things long distances — like to Hawaii.
  • Priority Mail – If your items won’t fit in a Flate Rate box, then regular Priority Mail (priced by weight and box dimensions) is your next best option.

Another reason to consider using USPS: If you don’t have a mailing address in Hawaii at the time you want to start sending your packages, you can send them via General Delivery to the main post office in the city/town you’re moving to. They’ll hold the packages there for up to 30 days at no charge.

United Parcel Service (UPS) & FedEx

Although it may sound funny, there is UPS and FedEx “Ground service” to Hawaii (although there’s no underwater tunnel involved!). Ground service is the cheapest that UPS and FedEx offers, and will deliver your packages from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii in just 3-6 days.

However, unless you have access to UPS or FedEx corporate rates (which are substantially discounted), the cost is approximately twice that of USPS Priority Mail. FedEx is slightly cheaper than UPS.

Airline Cargo Services

If you’re shipping inter-island only, another option to consider is Aloha Air Cargo (although they don’t fly to Molokai or Lana’i). In addition to their next-day service, they offer a discounted Aloha FlexShip service, which has a transit time of 3-5 days. Aloha FlexShip requires a minimum order of $90, and your shipment must be palletized.

Hawaiian Airlines Cargo and Island Air also offer air transport services, but only to “known shippers.” However, if you have a business and don’t mind going through an application process, those are two other options.

Airline Checked Baggage

One last shipping method to consider is to check in your packed household items as baggage on your flight to Hawaii. This can be a particularly cost-efficient method for odd-sized items such as bicycles, surfboards, and large musical instruments.

Price Comparison: Mail & Air Transport Services
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