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You have embarked on an adventure, or you are just thinking about it? What adventure am I talking about you ask? You have decided to buy your products from China. It is a long and tedious process that requires patience, research and full control. Today, however, we will only discuss one part of a product sourcing process from China, that is shipping. Below you will find different shipping methods that are being used by suppliers, buyers and agents. When the time comes for you to decide which method is best, you can use our guide to making the process for yourself a bit easier.

1. Shipping by Sea

This is the most common way of shipping your goods from China to well pretty much anywhere around the globe. This method can be used for multinational corporations as well as small companies that are selling only in their one local store. First things first, when it comes to any shipping you need to decide how are you going to do this and here you will have several choices.

● First, you can find an agent in your home country that will deal with your supplier and will arrange for everything, though you need to understand that will be a bit more costly for you.

● The second choice is to find an agent in China, and yes you can do that without speaking Chinese. You can use Google to find the shipping company, or you can try and find one on Alibaba (just type in shipping agent in a search bar).

● The third choice to mention is to ask your supplier to arrange for the shipping, and this is the method that I would recommend the most.

Your supplier is in the business of “knowing things” sort of speak. What I mean is that they have most probably shipped goods before and dealt with agents that work with certain countries, so they have that experience and knowledge that you most probably are lacking. So if you trust your supplier enough to buy from them, trust them to arrange shipping for you. Now let us get back to the sea shipping. As mentioned above it is one of the most popular ways to get a hold of your products. Why? Because it is cheap! Mind you that delivery might take up to 45-60 days depending on the country of the final destination. There are horror stories out there where shipping took four months. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting your products. It is a safe method, that does take the longest (in comparison to all the other methods), but is the cheapest for those products that are bulky.

What about smaller goods that do not take that much space?

Well, you still can place them on a big shiny ship or rather in the container that will go onto the ship. If you have a small order, you do not need a whole container for yourself (FCL which is Full Container Load). You can share the container with others (LCL which is Less than Container Load), and that will save you money as you will only pay for the cubic meters that your goods occupy. And don’t worry, you do not need to find those “people” who will share the container with you, that is the job of the agent from the logistics company that your factory can communicate with. You need to remember that international trade is not as easy as it might sound, it involves preparation of many documents, and yes for that you need a very particular knowledge too.

If you do not possess it, I yet again suggest to fully trust your factory, because well that’s what most of the clients do. Documentation preparation can cost you as little as USD 30 and go up to a couple of hundred dollars depending on the company.

To surmise, this shipping method can be cost saving for you and time-consuming. I suggest asking your factory to arrange for door-to-door shipping where you will receive the goods at the location you indicated without you having to deal with any customs issues. Ask your supplier to present you with several shipping rates from competing companies, make sure they provide you the shipping times as well. In regards to the rates, it is hard to give an average simply. Because the cost of the shipping is compiled from several different factors such as what product do you want to ship, how many cubic meters, what is the weight, HS code (harmonisation code used all over the world to classify the products and taxes on them), extra packaging, shipping time. But shipping rates start at around USD 30 for a cubic meter.

I just want to repeat myself one more time, shipping by sea is the most popular way of transporting once goods and it will save you money but not time.

2. Shipping by Air

Your goods are all packed and are ready to go, and you have a full mind to arrange for air shipping. Tell you what if you have a shipment that you need to arrive as soon as possible and you can afford to spend some extra money then this is right up your alley.

Air shipments are not the cheapest, but they are the fastest. You want to make sure to use reputable companies. Shipping by air can take as little as a couple of days and get up to several weeks. Why? Because remember you still have customs that your products need to go through. My recommendation is to use Air freight when you do not have the time to wait when you have extra money, and your shipment is not under 200kg for cost efficiency.

3. Ship by Post

When you are not in a hurry, your shipment weight is under 200kg, and you want to save some money shipping by post might be just what you are looking for. In China, we are talking about China Post or Post of Honk Kong. Depending on where you are sending your goods, or it even might be sampled, it might take up to 6 weeks. Tracking with these two is a bit complicated, meaning your parcel will arrive and your tracking information will still not be updated. Costs start from 2.5 RMB per kg (USD 0.36).

Need cheap but fast for a small quantity. No problem, we have an offer for you too! Express post is at your service. From China I would suggest using DHL, FedEx, TNT, they have decent delivery times from a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on destination and customs. Remember for speed you will need to pay, for example, small parcels from China 500 grammes go for about 400 RMB (USD 57). It can be good to use express service for receiving samples, but maybe not 200kg of goods.

4. Shipping by Train

This is not a very popular way for now, but I think it will gain some popularity especially considering that the first freight train from China to London made its maiden voyage in January 2017 and it took only took 18 days to reach the UK. This method is three times faster than sea freight and costs will not be much higher.


I hope all of this information above is not going to overload you because truth be told there is a lot more to shipping than what you can see above. Here I just tried to introduce you to the basic choices that you have to get your products on the market that you want.

You will realise what shipping method to use when you come to it. It depends on your circumstances. If you have planned everything ahead and you are good on time of course use the sea freight because with that you will save a lot of money in comparison to air freight or express post. If you urgently need your goods, because you are selling out send portion of your products by air or express and the rest of post or sea freight. Remember you do not necessarily need to use just one method of shipping, sometimes you can combine.

In the future, we would talk more about FCL and LCL shipments, different prices that factories can offer you, for example, EXW (Ex Works) and answer all questions you have regarding shipping your goods from China. Make sure to leave your comments and spread the word. We are happy to be of help to those who need it.

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee is the Co-founder of Asianconn. He writes about global sourcing trends and advise on Asianconn Blog. Kevin lives in Hong Kong and Nanjing, China since 2003. For further questions, you can contact him on Twitter and Linkedin.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I don’t understand why, in this day and age, it can still take 60 days for a package from China to arrive to the US by sea? I mean, you would think that we can do this a lot faster, no? Why does it take that long?

    I could accept 10 or even 15 days but 60?! Come on! Why does it take so long? Is there something I don’t understand here? Sorry for the rant but I’m very curios why this takes this long.

  2. It looks like the Express post is the best option if you have a small package (maybe a sample) and you want to receive it shortly. Paying $57 for something to arrive within the week is a good deal for me especially if there’s a sample I want and need to see. Time is of the essence and 57 dollars is a reasonable amount.

    If wonder who ever uses the train as a means of shipping? Maybe companies that need large shipments?

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