Listen or download the podcast version of this post by clicking the audio file below.
An example of what you could, but probably shouldn't, bring a 45' shipping container.
You Can Buy It Here
In May of 2012, when Jason and I relocated to the Big Island, we didn’t really know anyone here to give guidance on a few things. Looking back, we spent a lot of time and money, and depended on many friends to help shove us off the mainland toward our new home.
Taking a look around our home, there’s not a single piece of furniture we brought with us that remains here today – except my grandmother’s 1920’s Victrola. And some art.
We literally shipped almost everything we owned.
I really cannot recommend you ship even half of what you own. You’ll get here and ideas will spawn, aesthetic will change. Artists and new friends will influence. Had we to do it over again, and for what we spent, I think we could have used the money in ways far better.
It’s a fresh start. A blank canvas. You’re an artist and this is your chance to embrace your new home.
How To Arrange Shipping
First, figure out what you cannot live without of your current possessions, divide everything by two, and leave it behind. Great grandma’s bronzed baby booties are likely to be crowded off your shelf by an interesting piece of driftwood and relegated to a box in storage. Leave them with a loved one on the mainland.
Next, contact a shipper in your area who can handle the arrangements. You can manage some of this yourself, but it requires research and other time you can spend better hugging friends and family goodbye (and sparing their backs helping you pack).
Note that if you plan to ship a car inside a container, and you’re doing it yourself, with all your other things inside the container, you’re going to need someplace that has a loading dock. It’s impossible to load a car into a container that sits five feet above the ground without one. You’ll also need some serious and expensive tie-downs to keep vehicles from shifting in transit. Grandma’s Victrola loses a lot of meaning in kindling form.
If you’re a DIY kind of person, here are two of the primary West Coast to Hawaii shippers:
If you live inland, your local shipper can help arrange through-shipping to Hawaii.
If you insist on schlepping, er, shipping everything you own:
Really? You’re not listening. Let me tell you the tale of our misguided adventures in greater detail.
We got the biggest shipping container available from Matson (ocean shipping) and stuffed all 45’ x 8’ x 9’6” of it full. Granted, we had inside it a 1912 Ford Model T Speedster and a Saturn Sky that was too low to the ground to do RORO (roll-on, roll-off). And, we’d planned to bring a 1947 Ford Farm tractor inside it as well, but it decided to not cooperate at the last minute and missed its opportunity to live the good life in Hawaii. We hired a carpenter to build a mid-level platform inside the container, under which went some vehicles, and above went shipping boxes. The utility trailer made it via RORO means. But, all in all, it was serious overkill.
And, by overkill, I mean, we brought everything, including a kitchen sink – surely we did? Didn’t we?
Don’t do what we did. For the next 4 years, we very slowly purged almost everything that took up two entire bedrooms and the storage locker under the new house.
We bought a 5 bedroom home. We brought one bed. That seemed dumb at the time, but finding 4 more beds wasn’t very hard, and there are a handful of furniture stores on the island who primarily import from Asia. Even if mainland style furniture is important to you (and limited selections are available in furniture stores here), consider whether or not you want to shop and ship before you head to your new home. Better yet – shop and have shipped after you get here.
Friends here on island have also had good luck ordering furniture online at Pottery Barn, Wayfair, and Amazon, many of which will ship to Hawaii for free!
Big box furniture stores exist on Oahu, and some people have things shipped from there. On the Big Island, we have Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, WalMart, Macy’s (limited). Many of these will let you order and have items shipped to the local stores.
Pressboard and particle board furniture is very common, both here and on the mainland. But the humidity of our climate makes them like a sponge, and they don’t last very long. Hardwood furniture (a lot of which incidentally is imported here from Asia), will last you a lifetime.
One thing we learned after a couple years here is that Amazon Prime will pay for itself over and over just in their free shipping alone. It has made life a lot easier on the island, despite some mainland partners of Amazon still not having a clue that USPS (most vendor’s primary shipping method) costs the same whether shipping from Los Angeles to San Diego, or New York to Hilo. A handful won’t ship to Hawaii, but someone else sells the same thing who will.
Here’s a list of local furniture stores on the island:
Bamboo Teak (in both Hilo and Kona)
Costco Kona (furniture on their website may or may not be in the warehouse, but you can order)
There are many other independent furniture stores you can discover.
About Shipping Vehicles
It might make sense to ship your vehicle, particularly if it’s reasonably new and in good condition. If it’s an exotic car, you might have more challenges with service and repair. But most brands have an island representative. For example, Toyota in Hilo is contracted by GM to provide warranty service, while the Nissan dealership wasn’t able to service their own electric vehicles without flying a service tech in from Maui.
You can ship your vehicles as “roll-on-roll-off”, not inside a container. But, if you’re shipping a 1912 dandy, you might want it inside a container. Matson charged us per vehicle, whether inside a container, or outside a container in the hold. But, they also charge for the container. If you’re bringing a vehicle with less than 6” clearance above the ground, it cannot be driven onto the ship and into the hold. If you must bring it, plan on a container.
If you buy a brand new vehicle to bring with you, Hawaii will charge sales tax on delivery here. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at licensing and registration costs for new vehicles.
Jeff Calley is a Realtor® in East Hawaii, whose background also includes work and management in varied industries, such as travel and tourism, electrical contracting, health care, and on-air broadcast, producing and content management for radio stations in Seattle and Palm Springs. When he's not helping people realize their real estate goals, he keeps busy with website management for AlohaBoysProperties.com as well as other websites. And if there's enough time left over, he photographs and makes video content for real estate websites and Multiple Listing Services. He's presently working on acquiring his commercial drone pilot's license (though he finds it funny that his helicopter pilot's license doesn't qualify!)