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How to Ship from China? Review of Most Common Shipping Methods

Shipping Methods

If you are in the import trade, shipping products from China can be a complex but important topic for importers. Many importers desperately try to strike a better balance between shipping time and cost.

In this article, we will describe the shipping methods you can use to ship from China. In addition to the cheap but slow sea freight and the expensive air freight, you have many more options. So you can choose the shipping method and mode that best suits your business.

1. Shipping Methods

You can choose the most suitable shipping method depending on the volume and weight of your cargo. Whether you are transporting a small shipment of 20 kg or a large shipment of several thousand kg, you can easily transport it from China.

2. Courier For Cargos Below 500kg

For most e-commerce sellers and new importers, courier services are used very frequently. It is the easiest and fastest but also the most expensive. Most Chinese suppliers call it express delivery.

And it is only offered by large companies with global distribution networks such as FedEx, DHL, UPS and TNT. The whole process from pick-up from the supplier to delivery to you is handled by the same company. They help you with the import/export process and ultimately collect import duties from you or your supplier.  

In short, courier services offer the following advantages.

• Fast. Deliveries to most countries take only 3-5 days.

• The easiest way to complete import customs clearance. Fewer compliance certifications are required than in other shipping methods.

• Shipping quotes are very simple. Just priced by the kilo. As long as they are in the same country, they can be shipped to any address for the same unit price.

Shipping Methods

How to ship products by courier?

You’d better not contact a courier company such as FedEx directly, as the official prices are very expensive. In most cases, the Chinese supplier will find a courier company for you. These companies can get some discounts from the courier company due to the high volume of shipments per day.

The important thing you need to know when you choose to ship by courier is the volume weight. This is because shipping costs are not always charged by weight, they are also charged by size.

Let me give you a simple example. Suppose there are two shipments. One is a large empty crate, weighing only 10 kg, with a volume of 1 cubic metre. The other shipment is the same size box but filled with products weighing a total of 300kg. so they convert the volume of the shipment into a volumetric weight and compare it to the actual weight. The shipping cost is whichever is greater.

Most international couriers use the same formula for calculating volumetric weight. It’s the length in centimetres, multiplied by width, multiplied by height and then divided by 5,000. so the volumetric weight of an empty 1 cubic metre box is 200kg, so the shipping charge is based on 200kg, not 10kg.

In summary, for bulky but low-value products such as toilet paper and disposable tableware, air freight is not economical. This is because the courier freight alone is more expensive than the product.

In addition, products made from lithium batteries, liquids or powders are prohibited from being transported by air. If you need to ship by air, some courier companies in China can provide this, but the cost is at least 50% higher.

Shipping Methods

3. Sea freight for cargos over 2CBM

Sea freight is the most common mode of transport for traditional trade because it is the cheapest. One big difference between it and couriers is that the shipping and customs process for ocean freight is not run by a single large company like FedEx.

Instead, you and the product supplier need to find a freight forwarder to assist you. He handles things like finding a truck to pick up the goods from the supplier’s warehouse, booking a container from the shipping company, finding a customs broker to complete the import/export process and finding a truck to deliver them from the port to your warehouse. This is how shipping works.

There are thousands of people or small companies doing this work. Of course, the service he offers is not the same as that of a courier and there is no tracking system on the website to let you know the exact location of your goods.

For sea freight, all products are transported by container. There are two most common types of containers, 20″ and 40″. If you have a large shipment of more than 20CBM then it is best to ask your freight forwarder to order a container for you. It is called FCL, Full Container Load.

But for smaller shipments, it is better to ship via LCL rather than container load. Your freight forwarder will help you to share a container with someone else and this will save you shipping costs.

Finally, if your shipment is less than 2CBM, I would not recommend you choose sea freight. This is because there is a fixed cost of several hundred dollars per shipment. When shipping volumes are small, the average cost per cubic metre can be very expensive. Sea freight is no longer cost-effective and the transit time is very long.

How long does sea freight take to arrive?

As the cheapest but slowest shipping methods, how long does it take to get from the Chinese seaport to home delivery?

However, in addition to the time spent at sea, the complex import process is also to blame. Don’t forget to consider the delivery schedule of your land transport company before you arrive.

Shipping Methods

4. Air freight for cargo above 500kg

You must be wondering, what is the difference between air freight and courier, when both are air freight?

The courier service is handled by a large company. They handle every step of the transport and import process themselves. And there is no “FedEx” for air freight. Otherwise, the process is almost identical for both shipping methods.

With air freight, you or your supplier will need to find a freight forwarder to help you book your space from the airline, find a customs broker for the import/export process and truck it from the airport to your warehouse.

The biggest advantage of air freight is the lower price. You can save approximately 20% of your costs by air freight. However, only consider airfreight for shipments over 500kg. This is because, just like sea freight, there is a fixed cost per air shipment.

So for shipments of less than 500kg, choose express delivery 100% of the time. This is because express shipping offers better service, easier customs clearance and faster delivery times.

Another advantage of airfreight is that for the same volume, the weight calculated for airfreight is about 20% smaller than for airfreight. This is because the formula for calculating the weight by volume for airfreight is length times width times height divided by 6000, whereas for airfreight the figure is 5000. if you are shipping a bulky but lightweight product, airfreight is approximately 34% cheaper.

5. Railway Freight for Full Container Load

Sea freight to European countries takes 30-50 days to arrive by sea, which is a very long time. Air and air freight takes less than a week but costs 5-8 times more than sea freight.

So you can choose rail freight, which offers a good balance between transport time and cost. This method of transport is ideal for countries in Eastern Europe and Western Asia that are far from seaports.

With regard to transit times, the rail transit time is 15-20 days. This is more favourable to customers as less transit time can help ease cash flow for many people.

The biggest disadvantage of rail freight is the limited number of countries that can be reached along the Central European rail route.

In addition, most freight forwarders do not allow you to share a container with anyone else, so you have to ship your product in full container loads. So this is not friendly to small importers.

Shipping Methods

6. Sea Freight Plus Courier for Ecommerce

As you can see from the above paragraph, the cheapest sea freight takes over a month and is only suitable for shipments of 2CBM or more. Air freight is fast and suitable for goods under 500kg, but costs 5-8 times more than sea freight. Rail is good in terms of time and cost, but you have to ship in full containers and you can’t ship to the USA.

So a few years ago, some clever freight forwarders combined ocean freight and express. They helped many clients put together a full container for shipping to the west coast of the USA and had a local courier such as UPS ship it from the port to a US address. The advantage of this is that you can even ship small shipments of around 50-100 kg, which is not possible even with a Less than Container Load (LCL).

However, the total cost of air freight is about twice as much as the total cost of regular sea freight. However, the shipping time from the Chinese port to the final destination in the USA is only about 20 days, which is 20-50% faster than regular sea freight.

In addition, this shipping method is not only applicable to the US, but also to countries with Amazon operating centres such as the UK and Germany. It is designed for Amazon sellers who want to ship small quantities to Amazon warehouses and need a cheaper but faster shipping solution than the ocean freight.

It is the most popular shipping solution for e-commerce sellers, especially Amazon FBA sellers, as it is cheap and suitable for small shipments. If you want to choose this shipping solution, it is best to ask a freight forwarder located in China who will specialise in shipping to Amazon.


We hope you find this article helpful. If you need a China sourcing agent, you can be confident in choosing our team – NINGBO GREENTIME IMP&EXP. With our professional and experienced employees, we are committed to bringing the best experience to our customers.

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