We Tried It: How to Renew Your Driver License in 13 Minutes or Less

One of our HONOLULU staffers got in and out in 13 minutes. Here is how she did it.
The line at the Honolulu's downtown Satellite City Hall
the line at the downtown satellite city hall. keep in mind there is a difference between satellite city halls and driver licensing centers, the latter can handle hundreds of drivers license transactions a day.
photo: Courtesy of city & county of honolulu 


The waits are epic, or at least the stuff of Honolulu urban legend. Tell someone you are going to renew your driver license, any location, and chances are the response will be “Good luck.” Its reputation is so bad that one of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s first moves after being elected was announcing that live webcams had been installed in five centers just so people could look at the lines. With the requirement that everyone have a REAL ID by next October, we expect a rush to renew licenses and state IDs.


So, when our marketing director, Christy Davis, returned from renewing her license in less than 15 minutes, and smiling, we had to ask her how she did it. Most of the information is available on the city's website or in your renewal paperwork. But since driver's licenses only need to be renewed every eight years, most of this was news to us and we wanted to share.


Here is what she learned.


1. Make an appointment in advance.

What’s the difference between making an appointment and walk-ins? As much as four to five hours. Walk-ins have to take a number—the day Christy went, the numbers ran out by 8:30 a.m.—then wait several hours. Some people she saw in the waiting room had been there at 7:30 a.m. and were still waiting at 1 p.m. to get started. Don’t wait too long to reserve your spot. The workers she spoke with told her in August that December appointments were already filling up. Make an appointment through alohaq.honolulu.gov. And if you can't make it, call and cancel. No shows slow everyone down.


2. Don’t try to renew your driver’s license too early.  

You can renew six months before your license expires. Go before that and you’ll get turned away even if you received a renewal notice in the mail.


3. Bring your birth certificate and social security card.

Those are acceptable forms of identification and you need two. Bringing more than that might be useful, just in case there is a problem with one of your documents; for example, your pay stub doesn’t have your social security number on it. Remember, you need original or certified documents. Copies are not accepted. Marriage certificates must come from the government, not a church. Click here for the full list of accepted documents.


4. Plan six to eight weeks ahead.

That’s how long the honolulu.gov website says it will take for your new license to be sent to you. A temporary paper one will be given in the meantime—something you should know if you plan to travel soon. Also, you no longer are allowed to take your old driver’s license with you. It will be confiscated.


5. Arrive just 10 minutes early for your appointment.

That’s more than enough time to fill out your paperwork. There is no advantage to going earlier; appointments are punctual. Do fill out those papers before you get to the counter. Those extra minutes add up for everyone else.


5. Go ahead, bring your credit card.

In the past, many locations were check and cash only. But this year, the city started accepting credit cards at all drivers licensing centers and will soon at all satellite city halls.


Find more information from the City & County of Honolulu Dept. of Customer Services.