Registering Cars In Hawaii

Posted Jan 6, 2012 at 6:03pm

How you register a vehicle in Hawaii depends on whether you ship it from out of state, buy it new from a Hawaii dealership, or buy it used from someone in Hawaii.

If you ship your vehicle to Hawaii…

If you buy a new vehicle in Hawaii…

If you buy a used vehicle in Hawaii…

If you ship your vehicle to Hawaii…

…you must get it registered within 30 days of picking it up from the port in Hawaii.

Here’s how:

  1. Save your shipping receipt (also known as a “bill of lading”) when you pick up your vehicle from the port in Hawaii.
  2. Purchase no-fault insurance (required in Hawaii) for your vehicle.
  3. Take your vehicle and proof of insurance to a Periodic Motor Vehicle Inspection (PMVI) station (usually found at Hawaii gas stations and auto repair shops) for a state-required safety inspection. Here’s a list of PMVI stations on Oahu. Save the certificate they give you.
  4. Locate the motor vehicle registration office for the county that you now live in:
    1. City & County of Honolulu (Oahu) – Dept. of Customer Services or Satellite City Halls.
    2. Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lana’i) – Motor Vehicle & Licensing office locations
    3. Hawaii County (Big Island) – Vehicle Registration & Licensing office locations
    4. Kauai County (Kauai) -  Motor vehicle registration is handled through the Dept. of Finance, Treasury Division
  5. Choose 1 of these 2 options:
    1. Get a Hawaii Certificate of Registration and Hawaii license plates (the expiration date on your out-of-state Certificate of Registration will be transferred to your Hawaii Certificate of Registration), OR
    2. Get an Out-of-State Permit to operate your vehicle using your out-of-state license plates until your out-of-state Certificate of Registration expires or 12 months elapse, whichever occurs first. (NOTE: The vehicle must have 2 out-of-state license plates and be registered in your name in order to get an Out-of-State Permit.)

      Hawaii license plate that reads "NRD 793"

      (Photo credit: Bryan Rosengrant)

  6. To get a Hawaii Certificate of Registration and Hawaii license plates, bring the following to your county’s motor vehicle registration office:
    1. Registration application for your county: Maui County, Hawaii County. (Applications for the City & County of Honolulu and Kauai County are available only at their offices.)
    2. Maui County only, and only if there is a lien holder listed on your out-of-state registration: Conditional Letter of Acceptance (to be completed by registered owner)
    3. Only if the vehicle year model is from the current, previous, or subsequent year (e.g., 2012, 2011, or 2013) and was bought out-of-state: Motor Vehicle Use Tax Certification, Form G-27
    4. Non-resident, active-duty military personnel only: Military ID and Non-Resident Certificate Form for your county: Maui County. (Forms for the City & County of Honolulu, Hawaii County, and Kauai County are available from military units.)
    5. Shipping receipt (bill of lading) showing the date you picked up your vehicle from the port
    6. Out-of-state vehicle registration from your previous residence
    7. Only if there is no lien holder listed on your out-of-state registration: Certificate of Title
    8. Proof of no-fault vehicle insurance
    9. Safety inspection certificate
    10. Valid drivers license (an out-of-state license is OK, as long as it hasn’t expired)
    11. Check or cash to pay license plates fees (get an estimate of the cost)
  7. To get an Out-of-State Permit, bring the following to your county’s motor vehicle registration office:
    1. Out-of-State Permit Application for your county: Hawaii County. (Applications for the City & County of Honolulu, Maui County, and Kauai County are available only at their offices.)
    2. Shipping receipt (bill of lading) showing the date you picked up your vehicle from the port
    3. Out-of-state vehicle registration from your previous residence
    4. Proof of no-fault vehicle insurance
    5. Safety inspection certificate
    6. Valid drivers license (an out-of-state license is OK, as long as it hasn’t expired)
    7. Check or cash to pay the permit fee (usually around $5-$10)

If you buy a new vehicle in Hawaii…

…the dealer will probably handle the registration process for you. If they don’t, then you must:

  1. Purchase no-fault vehicle insurance (required in Hawaii).
  2. Bring your vehicle and proof of insurance to a Hawaii gas station or mechanic for a state-required safety inspection. Save the certificate they give you.
  3. Locate the motor vehicle registration office for the county that you now live in:
    1. City & County of Honolulu (Oahu) – Dept. of Customer Services or Satellite City Halls.
    2. Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lana’i) – Motor Vehicle & Licensing office locations
    3. Hawaii County (Big Island) – Vehicle Registration & Licensing office locations
    4. Kauai County (Kauai) -  Motor vehicle registration is handled through the Dept. of Finance, Treasury Division
  4. Bring with you to the office:
    1. Registration application for your county: Maui County, Hawaii County. (Applications for the City & County of Honolulu and Kauai County are available only at their offices.) This application must be signed by you, the registered owner(s), and the vehicle dealer.
    2. Non-resident, active-duty military personnel only: Military ID and Non-Resident Certificate Form for your county: Maui County. (Forms for the City & County of Honolulu, Hawaii County, and Kauai County are available from military units.)
    3. Proof of no-fault vehicle insurance
    4. Hawaii Safety Inspection Certificate
    5. Valid drivers license (an out-of-state license is OK, as long as it hasn’t expired)
    6. Check or cash to pay registration and license plates fees (get an estimate of the cost)

If you buy a used vehicle in Hawaii…

…you must transfer ownership of the vehicle to your name within 30 days from the date of purchase.

Here’s how:

  1. Make sure the seller fills out Section A on the vehicle’s Certificate of Title.
  2. Any lien holder listed on the Certificate of Title must complete Section B.
  3. Fill out Section D yourself.
  4. If you will have a new lienholder, they must complete Section E.
  5. Purchase no-fault vehicle insurance (required in Hawaii).
  6. Locate the motor vehicle registration office for the county that you now live in:
    1. City & County of Honolulu (Oahu) – Dept. of Customer Services or Satellite City Halls.
    2. Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lana’i) – Motor Vehicle & Licensing office locations
    3. Hawaii County (Big Island) – Vehicle Registration & Licensing office locations
    4. Kauai County (Kauai) -  Motor vehicle registration is handled through the Dept. of Finance, Treasury Division
  7. Bring with you to the office:
    1. Certificate of Title
    2. Last-issued Certificate of Registration
    3. Last-issued Hawaii Safety Inspection Certificate
    4. Maui County only, and only if the vehicle is a pick-up truck or cargo van that won’t be used for business purposes: Non-Commercial Vehicle Certification
    5. Only if you are registering the vehicle in the name of a business: Letter of Authorization that authorizes you to buy vehicles on behalf of the business.
    6. Non-resident, active-duty military personnel only: Military ID and Non-Resident Certificate Form for your county: Maui County. (Forms for the City & County of Honolulu, Hawaii County, and Kauai County are available from military units.)
    7. Proof of no-fault vehicle insurance
    8. Valid drivers license (an out-of-state license is OK, as long as it hasn’t expired)
    9. Check or cash to pay transfer fee (usually around $5-$10). If the last-issued Certificate of Registration has expired or will expire within 45 days, you will also pay to renew the vehicle’s registration at this time (get an estimate of the cost).

A couple more things…

Registration Renewals: Once you’ve registered your vehicle in your name for the first time in Hawaii, you’ll be able to renew your registration each year by mail, online, or in-person. You’ll receive reminders in the mail notifying you of when your registration will expire and what you need to do to renew it.

Hawaii Motor Vehicle Inquiry: You can look up records for any motor vehicle registered in the state of Hawaii, as long as you know its vehicle identification number (VIN) and license plate number.

For more up-to-date, detailed info on moving to Hawaii, check out my e-book: Moving To Hawaii: A Step-By-Step Guide

Posted in Moving

Comments

  1. Maggie

    Aloha! We are moving to Oahu this June ! Our son (17 and amazingly responsible driver) recieved a large lifted truck from us for his birthday last year. We had fully intended to bring it with us (my mother died in a car accident and I swore my children would drive trucks or SUVs for added saftey). After looking online and calling a few shops, we are very worried that it won’t pass recon ( 6 in and 3 in lifts plus huge tires, we bought last month!!!!) I know we could remove the lifts for about $1000 but then the new tires ($2500) wouldn’t fit and we would need new tires and rims ($?). On top of that, the whole look would be changed ( ford f150). We’ve seen TONS of trucks just like ours both when we’ve been to Oahu and online for sale there….how are they getting the recon?!?!?!? Please help us, we are truly ready to sadly sell his car ( at a loss and it was a huge deal to us to have gotten it)….not everyone can have connections for a sticker? What am I missing? Mahalo sooo very much, I’d hate to have to sell his truck ( he’s the type of person you WANT behind the wheel of a big truck ) only to find out that I missed the way we could have kept it….Maggie

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Maggie: Let me do some research and see what I can find out about this. I’ve certainly seen lifted trucks here, too. I’ll let you know what I find out.

    • Michele Meyer

      After reading through some forums, here’s what I found out:

      According to Hawaii state law, the maximum front/rear bumper heights are: passenger vehicles=22 inches; vehicles with GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 4,500 lbs. and under=29 inches; GVWR 4,501-7,500 lbs.=33 inches; 7,501-10,000 lbs.=35 inches.

      All four wheels must be covered by fenders, and those fenders must cover the width of the tire tread. Tires must display the “DOT” symbol on the sidewalls. You also need mudflaps, and you have to get your alignment checked/adjusted within 30 days of your recon inspection appointment.

      Inspections are done at 1112 Kapahulu Ave. in Honolulu by appointment only: Call 808-733-2542 or 808-733-2545. Directions: Take the H1 freeway east, take exit 25a (King Street), stay in the middle lane, and turn left at the light. The station is under the H1 overpass and is just a couple of trailers. Pull into the coned lane and go to the trailer on your left (the one on your right is for taxi inspections).

      Here’s the complete rule book for all parts of the vehicle.

      According to other forums I read, some truck owners in Hawaii don’t care about recon and just drive their truck illegally. They’re either taking their chances, enjoying it until they get caught, or “know someone” who works as an inspector who can give them a recon sticker. Enforcement of the laws is much stricter on Oahu than the neighbor islands, so that makes a difference, too.

      • Melissa

        I am trying to call the phone number 733-2542 and it is a fax machine. Is there any other number or can you tell me the location of the place? I know you need an appointment.

        • Melissa

          I see the address now…..sorry. but if you have another number that would help…..

          • Michele Meyer

            Hi, Melissa:

            I just added an alternate phone number: 808-733-2545. I tried calling both — they both rang (no fax machine noise this time), but there was no answer (and no voicemail). I read on an old forum post that they don’t open until noon (Hawaii Time), so maybe that’s still true. I’ll try calling again later to see if those numbers really work, and what hours they’re open.

            Aloha,
            Michele

            • Heather

              Hi Melissa,

              I have no advice about the law, however I did want to forewarn you that parking spaces here are…….MUCH smaller than that on the mainland. I smacked the front corner of my CRV pulling into a parking spot. So I can only assume it will be challenging to park a big truck. Just wanted to give you a heads up. :)

  2. Vicki

    Hello,
    My husband is in the Navy, we are moving to Hawaii from California very soon. Due to being in the Navy, our van is registered in Washington (our home state) as well as our drivers licenses. Do we still need to switch over from what we have now?

    Thank you

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Vicki:

      If your Washington car registration and drivers licenses haven’t expired yet, you can continue to use those in Hawaii. You don’t have to do anything special to continue to use your out-of-state drivers licenses. However, to continue to use your Washington car registration, you must:

      - Have 2 out-of-state license plates (on front AND back of vehicle), otherwise you’ll need to get Hawaii registration and license plates.

      - Get an out-of-state permit from the Hawaii motor vehicle registration office in the county you live in. This out-of-state permit is valid only until your Washington car registration expires or 12 months elapse (whichever comes first). After that, you must switch over to Hawaii car registration and license plates.

      If you’d rather get Hawaii registration and plates as soon as you move to Hawaii, you can do that, too. Since you’re military, make sure you get a Non-Resident Certificate Form from your unit and bring it with you when you register the car — it will save you money on your registration fees.

      Good luck on the move in April — you’re going to love it here!

  3. greg m

    Aloha!

    I have a specific question, that I think you answered, but I want to be sure on this before I get the car buying process started. I just moved to the big island (hilo side) from the mainland (Md). I have a valid license there that isn’t due to expire for 5 years. I am hoping to buy a used car from a private owner here. What I would like to know is: can I just keep my current license (state of Md), and register the care in Hawaii, with Hawaii plates, etc? Also, for registration I see that certain documents are required, such as the last issued certificate of inspection, and the last issued certificate of registration. So I need to get these documents from the previous owner, in addition to the title? Once I buy the car, I will have to get it inspected first to have a certificate of inspection, right? I’m wondering how I can get the car to the inspection station Legally if it’s not registered yet. Seems odd to me that they would expect that first. Is it possible that they would allow me to get it registered with a 30 day temporary registration that I have to get it inspected within those 30 days? I know these are a lot of questions, but I just want to get this straightened out beforehand, and you seem very knowledgable on these subjects. Thanks for your help, and aloha!

    Greg

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Greg:

      Yes, you can keep your current driver’s license and transfer the registration of the used car from the previous owner to your name (keeping the old Hawaii plates that the used car comes with).

      Yes, you need to get the last certificate of inspection and certificate of registration from the previous owner when you buy the car.

      You have 30 days from the date of purchase to transfer the registration to your name, so don’t worry about having to drive the car during that time under the previous owner’s registration.

      Also, if the last certificate of inspection (that you get from the previous owner) hasn’t expired yet, you don’t need to get the car inspected again before transfering the registration to your name.

      Aloha,
      Michele

  4. C.R

    What happens if you are in the process of registering with hawaii 6 months after being on the island and you still have previous states tags but it was in storage. & if i loose my shipping document. Can I get a new copy ? Will there be fines ?

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, CR:

      You should be able to get a copy of your shipping document (bill of lading) from whichever shipping carrier you used (probably Matson, Horizon Lines, or Pasha Hawaii), so give them a call. I’m sure they keep records of everything they ship.

      I’m not sure if the county you live in will charge you a fine for not registering your car within 30 days of arrival in Hawaii. If your out-of-state registration hasn’t expired yet, they might not charge you. I would just get it registered as soon as possible.

      Good luck!
      MIchele

  5. Jeremy

    I’m military and need to get the out-of-state permit. What if I lost my bill of lading, or if it has been well over 30 days since my vehicle arrived on island? I’m assuming there is a fee or fine, but I can’t find the dollar amount anywhere.

    • Jeremy

      Sorry, I missed your comment above. I do believe there is a fee. At least that is what I’m hearing. I just can’t find out how much it is, and that is frustrating me.

      • Michele Meyer

        Hi, Jeremy:

        Since you’re military, I’m going to assume you’re on Oahu, so the info below pertains to the City & County of Honolulu…

        I did some more digging, and I think you’re right that there is a penalty. I couldn’t find how much it is, but if it’s about the same as the penalty fee for not renewing your registration on time, it should be around $16. This is taken from Honolulu’s city/county website: “A penalty will be assessed if fees are not paid on or before the expiration date. The penalty shall be an annual flat rate of $16.00.”

        Just in case you don’t already know: Members of the military are exempt from motor vehicle weight taxes, so that should save you some money on your registration fees: “Non-resident active duty military personnel must submit a properly completed Non-Resident Certificate, Form CS-L (MVR) 50*, for each registration, renewal or transfer transaction. … Form CS-L (MVR) 50 is available from your military personnel office or your military unit.”

        When I tried to use the online tool to find out how much your registration fees would be, it said owners of out-of-state vehicles should call (808) 532-4324 to find out what their costs will be. If you don’t get anywhere with that phone number, try emailing the Department of Customer Services (which handles vehicle registrations) at: csd@honolulu.gov

        I can relate to your frustration — I’m still amazed at how hard it is to find basic info (fees, phone numbers, addresses, forms, etc.) on some of Hawaii’s state and county government sites! The county motor vehicle departments are among the worst.

        Hope that phone number helps you out!
        Michele

  6. Jenn

    Hi there, We will be living on Maui for 22months. The vehicle we are shipping has registration in our home state that doesn’t expire for 36months. I read that you can use your out of state registration until it expires or 12months on the island, after that you need to get HI registration/plates. I would greatly prefer to not transition to HI plates since 10months later I would have to go through the grueling process to re-issue plates in my home state. Do you happen to know what the fine would be for driving a vehicle in HI, with CURRENT out of state registration, over the allotted 12months rule?

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Jenn:

      Sorry, I don’t know what the fine would be. Every county is different, though, when it comes to motor vehicle rules. The 12-month rule is applicable to the island of Oahu, but it might be different in Maui County, so it’s definitely worth asking about. Maui County’s Motor Vehicle & Licensing Department’s phone number is: (808) 270-7363 (Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm Hawaiian Time).

      Good luck!
      Michele

  7. Maggie

    Aloha!
    We are moving to Oahu in two days!!!! Our question is: we have Allied insurance here in California (not offered in Hawaii)… Allied will cover us in Hawaii for one year as a curtisy to us… But … Will Hawaii DMV/ registration etc accept our insurance so that we can get our Hawaii registration, plates etc in the first 30 days without having to change insurance companies until later…. Mahalo for you help!
    Maggie

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Maggie:

      Unfortunately, you have to have proof of valid Hawaii car insurance anytime you drive your car in Hawaii, even during those initial 30 days. Here’s some more info on Hawaii car insurance:

      http://hawaii.gov/dcca/ins/consumer/consumer_information/mvi

      Good luck with the move! I hope you and your family (including the kitties!) have a safe journey.

      Aloha,
      Michele

  8. Alan

    Aloha!
    I just relocated back to Hawaii from Korea a few weeks ago. I bought an ameican spec car (2011) in Korea and it’ll arrive in 2-3 weeks. I’d like to get it registered so I can drive it off the lot as soon as it arrives. Unfortunately to get it registered I need a safety inspection. The problem is that I don’t have any license plates on it to be able to drive it to a safety inspection facility. The only solution I can think of is to have it towed to the facility… Are there any other options?

    Thanks,
    Alan

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Alan:

      I wish I knew the answer to your question, but this is one that you’ll have to ask your county vehicle registration office about.

      If you live on Oahu, try calling (808) 768-4385 or email csd@honolulu.gov. If you can’t talk to a live person or don’t get a response, then visit one of the Satellite City Halls — they’re supposed to be less crowded than the main City Hall.

      Here is the contact info for the county offices on Maui, Molokai & Lanai, the Big Island, and Kauai.

      Good luck!
      Michele

      • Alan

        Hi Michele,
        thanks for your reply. I contacted that number and ended up speaking with someone from the ‘out of state’ registration section. I was told that there is a 30 day grace period so people can get their insurance, safety check, and registration (in that order). During that time people are allowed to drive without plates as long as they have their shipping documents and insurance in case they are pulled over by police.

        Alan

        • Michele Meyer

          Wonderful, thank you for sharing what you found out!

  9. Don

    Hi, I am thinking of buying a used car in Hawaii. The seller states that the car has not been registered for 5years and not in storage. My question is if I buy the car will I have to pay the past 5years fees or penalties? Or will I just need to pay regular fees? Thanks in advance. Don

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Don:

      Good question — but unfortunately I don’t know the answer. You’ll need to ask your county vehicle registration office:

      If you live on Oahu, try calling (808) 768-4385 or email csd@honolulu.gov. If you can’t talk to a live person or don’t get a response, then visit one of the Satellite City Halls — they’re supposed to be less crowded than the main City Hall.

      Here is the contact info for the county offices on Maui, Molokai & Lanai, the Big Island, and Kauai.

      Good luck!
      Michele

  10. Dawn

    Our daughter is currently a student at UH Manoa. We are currently planning on shipping a car from the Mainland to Oahu. The car and registration is in our name not her’s. Since we just bought the car we will have a least 12 months before applying for a Hawaii Certificate of Registration, so we will apply for the “out of state permit”

    Can she apply for the out of state permit in our name, since we are the owners of the car and her permanent address is on the Mainland. While she is in school her address changes yearly?

    Thanks,
    Dawn

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Dawn:

      Good question, although I don’t know the answer, unfortunately. Call Honolulu City/County at (808) 768-4385 or email csd@honolulu.gov. Or have your daughter visit one of the Satellite City Halls — they’re supposed to be less crowded than the main City Hall. The City/County will be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to get the car registered properly.

      Aloha,
      Michele

  11. Steve and Marsi

    We are coming to Maui for an extended stay of 9 months from Pennsylvania (which only has one plate in the rear).
    We wish to keep our plates as we won’t actually be residents of Hawaii.
    I called and spoke with the DMV in Maui and asked about the 2 plate rule and was told that it won’t be a problem so long as we complete the application for the Out-of-State Permit.
    After reading your info, there seems to be contradictory information.
    Can you please elaborate on where you sourced your info regarding the requirement of two plates on a vehicle the is operating on an Out-of-State permit?
    Additionally, I read the info on the internet and there was nothing stating two plates would be required for this permit.
    Again, I’m just trying to clarify and you seem to know what your talking about.
    Thanks a bunch in advance!
    Marsi and Steve

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, Marsi & Steve:

      I got the 2-plate rule from the City & County of Honolulu’s website, so that may apply strictly only to Oahu. You should definitely listen to whatever your local county office is telling you, as the different islands do vary a bit in their rules and regulations. So go with what Maui County has told you. I’m glad to hear they’ll let you keep your PA plates! :)

      Enjoy your 9-month stay on Maui!
      Michele

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