Shipping to Hawaii? While Hawaii is part of the United States of America, shipping to the Island still comes with some considerations. Hawaii is approximately 2500 miles from the nearest US Ocean Port and Airport. As such shipping goods to and from the island is more challenging than interstate US shipments. In this article we explore some things your team should consider when shipping to/from Hawaii and why they are important.

Carrier and Schedule Availability:

Outside of formal custom regulations and procedures, shipping to/from Hawaii is in many ways much like arranging an import/export shipment. This is because careful consideration and planning has to be taken in selecting the right ocean or air carrier. Carriers to Hawaii are more limited than other major ocean ports and airports than major cities in the US or other countries around the globe. That means you may have to consider more restricted sailing or flight schedules depending on the time of the year. For the most part weekly sailings are usually available, but check with your trusted logistics partner to ensure the right schedule for your needs.

Transit Times:

Typically an ocean shipment will take approximately 5-7 days to arrive the main port of Honolulu from the West Coast of the USA. Major ports on the West Coast include Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland and Seattle. Each port will have varying sailing schedules so timing your cargo’s arrival is very important.

In cases of air cargo the transit time is typically one day, however, one should be aware of additional time due to layovers at other airports which could happen if you are shipping out of the East Coast. Also keep in mind that flights may not be available for every day of the week. Check with your forwarder for the best schedules based on your requirements.


Honolulu is the main port of call. Hawaii has 15 ports in total. In total there are 8 major islands in Hawaii. If your cargo is travelling via ocean to one of the smaller islands it usually goes by means of a barge.

A barge is a smaller transhipping vessel where your cargo will transfer to once it arrives Honolulu. This additional transit typically adds at least two days to your transit time.


Hawaii Consists of 8 Major Islands:

Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, Kahoolawe
Kahoolawe is the smallest island and mostly uninhabited. Hawaii is the largest Island of the United States.

Inland transport may also be more restricted once your cargo arrives. At major ports such as New York, sometimes it is possible to schedule pick ups the same day due to the high volume of carriers. However, in more remote locations in Hawaii, especially the minor islands, this is not always the case. It is very important to schedule pick ups and deliveries well in advance of your cargo’s arrival.


Shipping to/from Hawaii is typically more expensive. Being in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean it is very distant from all major countries and ports of call. Also, because there are a restricted number of carriers, this can cause an increase in shipping costs. According to John Holman, director of the Hawaii Export Assistance Center:

“Hawaii’s manufacturing and export sectors are severely limited due to the high cost of shipping,both importing raw materials and exporting finished goods,” - Source: Hawaii.gov

Aside from ocean or air freight, be sure your forwarder quotes the destination charges. Destination charges include (but are not limited to) cargo handling, port charges, agent fees, and other fees once your cargo lands at destination. Hawaii’s charges can be very specific due to its remote location and can be higher than typical destination charges of other major US or foreign ports.


Since Hawaii is part of the United States of America there are no additional custom clearance procedures if you ship goods from or to the Island (Note: This is assuming from/to the USA. If importing from or exporting to another country standard custom procedures would be required). That being said, Hawaii still has restrictions and guidelines for certain commodities due to its remote location. The USDA has specific regulations on what can be exported from mainland USA to Hawaii. Typically speaking, agricultural products, animals, and other live cultures that are not native to Hawaii may be prohibited or restricted requiring special approval. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture HDOA states:

“HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch conducts pre-entry, entry, and post-entry inspections of regulated materials entering the State. All microorganisms and non-domestic animals and certain microorganisms and plants require permits prior to their importation.” - Source: Hawaii.gov

Check with your forwarder to ensure your goods are allowed in the State and that your company is prepared to meet any regulations required by the local authorities.

Why Should You Consider Doing Business to Hawaii?

Not shipping to Hawaii? Some reasons your business may want to target Hawaii as a potential new territory is that the islan heavily depends on imports for raw materials and other goods while its economy depends on exports for growth. Due to logistical challenges some companies do not service Hawaii as a destination which means if your company does it may fulfil an important void.

Hawaii also has Foreign Trade Zone No. 9. This location may serve beneficial depending on other parts of the world your company may trade with . Foreign trade zones allow the storage and or processing of merchandise without formal custom processing or duties owed until they enter the market for consumption. The State of Hawaii Department of Transportation states:

“Firms that utilize Foreigh-Trade Zone No.9 enjoy its special legal status of being outside of the Customs territory of the United States. These firms use the Zone to postpone and, incases of re-export of cargo, avoid the application of US Customs Laws that impose duties, taxes, bonds, quotas and other requirements.” - Source: hidot.hawaii.gov/

Other Notable Stats:

Hawaii Imported 3.7 Billion Dollars worth of goods in 2019.


Hawaii Exported 447 Million Dollars worth of goods in 2019.


The number one commodity exported was Petroleum.
Source: Census.gov

Final Thoughts:

We have dealt with clients in the past that specifically service customers found on the tropical island that do particularly well simply because many companies believe shipping to Hawaii is too difficult or too expensive.
While Hawaii can be more challenging logistically, with the right logistics partner shipping to Hawaii and its outlying islands can be done efficiently. In doing so your team may discover new opportunities for growth and reach a new customer base. Talk to an Hawaii shipping expert at Vital Worldwide today to learn more! We look forward to talking to you. ALOHA!