Costs When Importing from China: A Complete Guide

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Suggestion: Watch the 10 minutes video tutorial before reading this article

Calculating profit margins directly on a unit price is not a wise decision. When importing from China, there are many costs to take into consideration, and I’m not only referring to shipping and import duties. Buying products from Chinese manufacturers is much like flying with a budget airline. No extras included.

You get what you pay for.

They provide machinery, labor and (hopefully) manufacturing expertise. You provide the rest, including things that a buyer would normally take for granted.

Need a customized component or material substance analysis? That’s on you, not the supplier. Businesses importing from China must manage, or pay someone to manage, critical parts of the supply chain, including product development, quality inspections, tooling and laboratory testing. In this article we explain what costs you need to keep track of, when buying from Chinese suppliers.

Importing costs and expenses

#1: Tooling costs

Injection molds are used when manufacturing a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Chinese suppliers do keep molds in storage, often financed by previous buyers. When buying factory designed products, the buyer is usually not expected to pay for the injection mold. However, when manufacturing customized products, the buyer is expected to pay for the necessary tooling.

In many countries, the tooling cost is also part of the customs value, thus resulting in increased import duties and other taxes (e.g. VAT if you’re based in the European Union). If you’re on a small budget, stick to factory components whenever possible.

Click here to read more about injection molds and tooling costs

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#2: Product samples

Buying wholesale products in China is rarely an option, especially for importers base in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. Instead, product samples serve as demonstrators of suppliers’ manufacturing capabilities. Many suppliers hand out factory samples for free, but custom designed and branded samples almost always comes at a cost.

Click here to read more about product samples

#3: Procurement and product development services

Selecting a random supplier online, without any prior knowledge about supplier sourcing in China, is likely to result in disaster. That being said, in order to know what to look for in a supplier, you need to confirm which product safety and labeling regulations apply to your product.

But that’s not all. Different suppliers manufacture products of different quality standards, using different materials and components. At a minimum, you need to draft a product specification. If you plan to have a custom designed product manufactured, you need to create even more material, such as design drafts and prototypes. Never rely on a supplier to take care of product development for you.

What I just described was only for starters. After drafting a product specification and researching legal product requirements, you need to find reliable suppliers capable of manufacturing a product according to these. Keep in mind that the vast majority of manufacturers in China are NOT able to comply with foreign standards. That’s why many importing businesses choose to hire sourcing agents, rather than making a supplier selection on their own.

Nothing of this is free. The costs depend entirely on the complexity of your product, and how much of the procurement and product development process you are able, and have time, to manage on your own. offers this kind of service for an affordable price. Click here to find out about our services.

#4: Social Compliance Audits

Child Labor and horrible working conditions went out of fashion about a hundred years ago. In this time and age, consumers do care about social compliance. However, so far, social compliance is not part of any legal directive, such as CE or RoHS.

That being said, small businesses can improve their image and brand by showing that their suppliers are able to pass a social compliance audit. Retailers (potential buyers) care too, considering they are put under more media scrutiny than smaller businesses. What’s more, a social compliance audit is not expensive these days. The price is about the same as an iPad. It’s a very cost efficient brand investment, and I’ll think we’ll see more small to medium sized businesses using such services in the near future.

Cost: Starting from US$609 at

#5: Quality Inspections

By the time your cargo is shipped from China, you really need to be sure that the items are compliant with your product specifications and quality requirements. The only way to do that is by inspecting the items prior to the shipment. You can either do it yourself, or hire a quality inspector based in China. What you shouldn’t do, however, is to schedule quality inspections until after delivery. By then it’s already too late to send defective units back to the assembly lines.

A quality inspection is well worth the investment. Manufacturing is not a science. It’s not a matter of whether or not there will be defective and damaged units – that is certain. The question is how big a percentage, and how severe the defects will be. You can live with 1.8% of the units coming out of the assembly lines with minor cosmetic defects, but your business will go under if you receive a batch made of cheap, substandard and potentially toxic materials.

It happens. Sometimes quality issues occur due to misunderstandings between the buyer and supplier. Sometimes because the supplier decided to use cheap and substandard materials, without telling the buyer. A quality inspection is the only way to uncover noncompliance while there’s still time to do something about it.

Cost: Starting from US$299 at

#6: Laboratory testing

While a quality inspector can test functions, check weight, dimensions other physical properties, he or she cannot analyze product chemical and substance content, while in the supplier’s factory (however, thanks to this recent development, substance analysis on the site is soon to become reality). In order to verify that your product is compliant with legal acts and directives regulating substances, such as REACH, RoHS and FHSA, a sample must be sent to a laboratory. In fact, third party testing is sometimes mandatory, especially when importing toys and other children’s products.

Cost: Starting from US$10 per component to several thousands of dollars, for more complex testing procedures. The laboratory fees are based on the number of different products and standards, each item is required to be in compliance with.

#7: Shipping costs

Getting your products from the factory floor to your warehouse involves a myriad of costs. Below follows a short list of shipping costs:

  • Delivery to port of loading (in China)
  • Export clearance
  • Freight charges (port to port)
  • Document delivery (Bill of lading, packing list and commercial invoice)
  • Local charges in port of destination (unloading and administration)
  • Inland transportation

Shipping costs are based on Incoterms. This means that a supplier can quote a product, including freight to the port of loading in China, to the port of destination in your home country (with or without local port charges) or including delivery to a specific location in your country – for example your front door. Click here to read more about Incoterms when shipping from China.

Cost: Based on the cargo volume when shipping by sea, and both the weight and volume when delivered by air.

#8: Import Duties and Other Taxes

Imports from China are in most cases subject to import duties. Tariffs vary between different products and markets. So does also the customs value, of which customs duties and other taxes are calculated.

Click here to read more about Import duties and other taxes

Product Import Budget Calculation: A Case Study

Procurement Budget
Making a Product Import Budget Calculation is the first step before investing in a new venture, or product. However, it’s far from as easy as simple as counting a profit directly on a quoted FOB price. In this article, we show you what an Import Budget Calculation might actually look like. As costs vary depending on a several factors, such as product, imported quantity, destination and mode of transportation – we have made the following assumptions:

  • Product: Wristwatches
  • Quantity: 3000 pcs
  • Pre-production sample required: Yes
  • Transportation: Air freight
  • Third party service provider assistance: Essential services only
  • Destination: United Kingdom
  • Targeted procurement price: $30
  • Estimated retail price: $220

1. Cost Overview

a. Product Costs

Unit Price

The unit price makes up a majority share of the total procurement budget. In order to obtain a unit price, you must first draft a product specification, which is the basis for your price research. For more guidance on how to manage price research in China, read this article. In this Case Study, we set the unit price at $19.6.

Product Packing

Product Packaging is another cost to take into consideration, when making calculations for an import budget. The product packaging cost varies, depending on the materials and the quantity. However, in this Case Study, we assume a cost of $1.85.

Pre-Production Samples / Tooling Costs

While a product sample, or prototype, is a non-recurring charge, it can still add on significantly to the startup cost of launching a new product. However, as this Case Study is based on Wristwatches, we can assume a relatively low pre-production sample and tooling cost, of $640.

b. Third Party Service Costs

Supplier Sourcing & Due Diligence

Manufacturers in China are not created equal. They all have different track records, qualifications and technical expertise. As explained in this article, there are various ways to assess suppliers in China. You may of course do it yourself, or you may hire an agent or service provider to do so for you. If you choose the latter, there is essentially no maximum amount of money that you can spend on conducting due diligence.

Hence, this may cost you anything from $200, to $2 million – depending on how “sure” you must be. However, in this article, we assume that you’ll be buying a Industry Report, for a total cost of $349.

Quality Inspection

Buying from Chinese manufacturers is a bit like flying with a low cost airline. No extras are included. While many Chinese manufacturers indeed have their own, internal, quality management procedures – you must still pay a third party for an independent quality check on the goods. If you order a Quality Inspection from, it’ll cost you $299. That also includes travel expenses.

Compliance testing

If you are based in the United States, the European Union or any other developed market, your product may be regulated by one or more product safety standards. Third party laboratory testing may, or may not, be mandatory. Regardless, non-compliance is by definition illegal, so you are strongly recommended to submit a pre-production sample for compliance testing. As this shipment is heading to the United Kingdom, we assume the following tests as necessary:

  • REACH: $720
  • RoHS: $420

c. Shipping, Duties and Other Taxes


For the sake of simplicity, we decided to assume that the shipment will be delivered by air freight. The cost of Airfreight is based on the following two factors:

  • Weight (Kilograms)
  • Volumetric Weight (Cubic meters)

Assuming a weight of 369 kgs, and a price per kilogram set at $5, we can add a cost of $1845, to our import budget.

Freight Insurance

The freight insurance cost usually as low as 0.5% of the freight cost. In this Case Study, that’s not more than $9.5. However, it is of some significance when calculating the Customs duties. As such, we decided it’s worth mentioning.

Import Duties

Customs duties vary depending on the product, and are calculated based on the Customs value – which in turn is based on the total value of Unit price, freight and insurance. This is what’s sometimes referred to as the CIF (Cost Freight Insurance) Price, a commonly used Incoterm. However, the method for calculating the customs value differs, but now the assumed destination is the United Kingdom, which applies the same customs value as the European Union as a whole. As such, we can now calculate the Customs Value as follows:

  • Unit Price (Including Packaging): $21.45
  • Freight (Per Unit): $0.615
  • Freight Insurance (Per Unit): $0.0036
  • Total Customs Value: $22.07

The duty rate in the UK, for watches, is currently 4.5%. Hence, we can now calculate an import duty of $0.993. Let’s just say $1, to keep things simple.

Note: The the value of the pre-production sample and/or tooling, may be included in the first shipment, or divided on later shipments. However, to not further complicate the calculation, we don’t add this cost.

Note: Importers in the United States and Australia, must only declare a customs value based on the FOB (Free on Board) value, which does not include the freight cost.

Value Added Tax (VAT)

The VAT is also calculated based on the customs value, plus the customs duty. In the UK, the current VAT rate is set at 20%. Hence, we need to add on another $4.6. Click here to read more about VAT, when importing to the United Kingdom, and other EU member states.

Note: VAT is only relevant to buyers in the European Union. Different taxes apply in, for example, the United States and Australia.

2. Import Budget Calculation




a. Product Costs

– Unit Price

$19.6 x 3000 pcs


– Product Packaging

$1.85 x 3000 pcs


– OEM Sample & Tooling Cost



b. 3rd Party Services

Supplier Sourcing & Due Diligence



Quality Inspection



Compliance testing

$720 + $420


c. Shipping, Duties and Other Taxes


369 kgs x $5



$1845 x 0.5%



($19.6 + $1.85 + $0.615 + $0.0036) x 4.5% x 3000 pcs



(($19.6 + $1.85 + $0.615 + $0.0036) + $1) x 4.5% x 3000 pcs


Total Investment

$58800 + $5550 + $640 + $349 + $299 + $1170 + 1845 + $9.5 + $3000 + $13800


Unit Cost

$85,462.5 / 3000 pcs


Note: The calculated procurement price, per unit, is below our target price. Hence, we can motivate the necessary investment.

3. Summary

This Procurement budget calculation only considers the most essential costs. That said, there is no universal method for outsourcing production to China, and, as such – the costs vary from case to case. Below follows an overview of additional costs, that you may need to take into consideration, when making calculations for your own import budget:

  • Business travel expenses
  • Social compliance audits
  • Design and engineering services
  • Legal assistance
  • Consultancy fees
  • Licenses and permits
  • Transaction fees

How to Keep Product Costs Down As a Startup


Going from idea to packaged and delivered product is often a lot more complex and costly than one might first thing. There are plenty of failed Kickstarter funders that can testify to that.

As a Startup, with limited resources, time and money are working against you. In order to succeed, you must go the most out of the small funds you have.

In this article, we share our experience, to help you keep costs down as you launch your product. Keep reading, and learn how you can take a more lean approach to importing from Asia.

1. Focus on one or two products. Not more.

Don’t try to start off by launching an entire collection of products – especially if these are so different that they require separate manufacturers.

Every product is an investment, in terms of time and money. Finding the right manufacturers, drafting specifications sheet and buying samples, take a ton of time and quite a bit of money.

If you spread too thin before you even have something to put on the market, chances are that you’ll never get there in the end.

As a Startup or small business in general, your only strength is your expertise. You must be focused on one product.

Look at companies like Daniel Wellington, the Wristwatch that conquered the world. They started off with just one product.

That seems to have worked out pretty well for them, considering that they turned a $15,000 investment, into a business generating tens of millions of dollars – in only 4 years.

2. Keep your design and feature requirements simple

It’s typical that Startups, be in software or e-commerce, run out of money as they try to perfect their product into infinity. As you launch a product, you cannot afford to get hung up on features that don’t really matter.

I’ve seen time and time again, how importers set design and functional requirements, that are either very expensive to reach – or even impossible.

In most cases, this is due to a lack of experience. There are physical limits to what can be done in manufacturing.

Also, too many design details or functions increase the risk of severe delays, or even failure to produce a single product sample.

Indeed, you should not compromise on design requirements and functions that are core to your business model. That said, keep things as lean as possible – and further develop your product once it’s proven on the market.

3. Don’t spend too much on new tooling

Every custom designed piece of metal or plastic requires an injection mold. The more custom designed pieces of metal and plastic needed to assemble your product, the more money you’ll end up spending on tooling.

If you want to keep costs low, you should try to use existing tooling to the extent possible. For example, you could put off a new product packaging design until the next order.

Then again, it’s rarely possible to develop a product without investing a single dollar into tooling.

4. Start out with just one target market

The United States and the European Union has different sets of regulations. So does Korea, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Nigeria and India.

For every market you attempt to enter, you need to provide a new set of compliance documents and test reports.

This takes time and costs money. Third-party laboratory testing is not free. In fact, it’s a major expense on many importers balance sheet.

Testing costs are charged based on the number of products, or materials, and the number of different regulations (to which a product shall be checked).

In short, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money if you decide to focus on one market to begin with.

5. Manage the process yourself, instead of hiring an agent

A reliable procurement agent, based in China, is invaluable. But, if you are bootstrapping, and you must choose an agency based on their low cost, you are far better off getting it done by yourself.

Why? Because:

a. They’ll make sure to squeeze money from you using supplier kickbacks.

b. They’ll select the supplier offering the highest kickback, not the one that is able to provide the product you want.

c. They don’t consider product compliance, quality management systems or CSR when they select manufacturers. If you don’t know why that could spell the death for your brand, then read this article.

d. There’s no transparency in your supply chain. You don’t have a clue who you are dealing with.

Most of these low-end agents offer no value whatsoever. It’s rather the opposite. They are a liability.

But importing from Asia is a lot more than just sourcing and price negotiations.

You need to consider IP protection, product certification and testing, labelling requirements, quality control and social compliance audits.

There’s no single person, or even company, that can cover every single part of the process. If you come short of anything below three or four million dollars, you don’t have enough to simply outsource all this.

You will need to learn how these things work. Nobody will start a business for you, and especially not your supplier.

It’s not their job to know which standards apply in your market, or how a product shall be labelled. Neither is it their job to patent your designs or design your packaging.

There are no shortcuts. Those who expect an easy ride, and others to do the job for them, should not even consider getting into hardware.

But for the gritty Startup founder, opportunities in the e-commerce space (and not only on Amazon) are plentiful.

  • Free Webinar

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    • 2. Finding suppliers in Asia
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    • 4. Quality control, lab testing & shipping


  • 14 Responses to “Costs When Importing from China: A Complete Guide

    1. Bishar Ahmed at 11:09 pm

      Very helpfull overview for all thanks

    2. Hernán Stewart Benítez at 8:03 pm

      I need to import from China 100 units of laptop already I do import and use DHl for the delivery, but how can I make to import 100 units with a much better price than DHL Express it doesn´t matter if the cargo arrive a month later. I need to save in frieght to be competitive with the bigest companies.

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 12:40 pm

        Hi Hernan,

        I don’t think you can compete on price with the biggest companies while selling a commodity product like laptops.

    3. Moria at 4:57 am

      We are a start up company in NL and we’ve been buying several products from China. The recent offer we got for our 250 pieces product that costs 930$ with the shipping offer of 1300$… how is it possible that they charge us so much shipping costs that become much more then product self. ?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 5:18 pm

        Hi Moria,

        The shipping cost has nothing to do with the product cost. It all comes down to weight and volume.

    4. Vicky Liu at 2:31 am


      I want to add more about the shipping cost estimation:

      When we are planning to come up with some new products, we need to take the shipping cost into accunt. But how to estimate the cost to get all the products to your door? As per my experience in China custom plastic injection molding industry for more than 6 years, below are some guidelines:
      1, Carton size: If no samples or prototypes at the beginning, you can estimate the packaging arrangement as per the 3d drawings. Say the general dimensions of the parts is about: 11.2cmx4.3cmx6CM, how many rows, say 5 and how many pcs per row, say 6, then 30pcs per layer, and how many layers is good as per the height, say 6 layers, then 30×6=180pcs per carton. Then calculate the general dimensions of the carton: 11.2×5=56CM, but as there must be gap between, say totally about 2CM, and to add the thickness of 1CM of the carton each side, 2CM for the carton thickness. To add up: 56cm part size+2cm gap+2cm carton thickness, then 56+2+2=60CM, this is the length of the carton. In the same way, 4.3×6+2+2=29.8CM about 30CM, this is the width of the carton. For the height: 6CMx6 layers=36cm for the parts, but the gap between is usually bigger than length and width side, say about 4CM, 2CM for the carton thickness, then to add up: 6×6+4+2=42CM. Then the estimated carton size is: 60x30x42CM.
      2, Gross weight per carton It is easier. You can ask the manufacturer to get the estimated unit net weight of the parts. They can weigh the weight by software with basic calculation. Volume x density of the plastic type=weight. Say the unit weight is about 80grams. Then 180pcs per carton, so 0.08×180=14.4KGS for the parts. As per our experience, unit weight of the carton itself is about 1KGS for a 5-layer corrugated carton with medium size like 60x30x42CM. So the gross weight per carton is: 15.4KGS/Carton.
      3, Light goods or heavy goods? Light goods: the actual weight is smaller than the carton size(in unit: meter) x167(actully 166.6) Heavy goods: the actual weight is bigger than the carton size(in unit: meter) x167(actully 166.6) The Criteria is: If they are light goods, the shipping company charge as per the volume(the carton size(in unit: meter) x167(actully 166.6); if they are heavy goods, the shipping company charge as per the actual weight.
      Because in this way, no matter what kinds of goods, the shipping company can charge the most. Say, cotton is so light, but it takes too much space. If just to ship the cotton, but charge as per the actual weight, where is the profits for the shipping company?
      If the carton size is 60x30x42M, the actual final weight is 15.4KGS just like our estimation: 0.6×0.3×0.42×167=about 12.6KGS, then the shipping company will charge as per 15.4KGS But if the carton size is 60x30x42M, the actual final weight is 11.5KGS (that means the estimated weight is not precised): 0.6×0.3×0.42×167=about 12.6KGS, then the shipping company will charge as per 12.6KGS
      4, To door or To sea port? Usually, if to ship by air or by sea, the forwarder would ask you how you want the goods be delivered? To door? or just to the sea port, and then you can arrange the pick-up by yourself at the sea port. So it is important to tell the forwarder where you want to ship, the detailed address if To door, the destination sea port if just to sea port.
      Above is just to estimate the shipping cost/(ocean freight if by sea), but for import, there are also some other charges, like documents fee(D/O), AMS, ISF(if ship to USA), Customs clearance,etc.

    5. Avishruti at 12:35 pm

      I’m looking forward to importing some jewelries from China to Nepal. Would you please be kind enough to let me know about the charges other than item cost and shipping charge?

    6. Dalenda at 1:02 pm

      Hi there,

      I am planning to buy some goods from China (via with several companies who use various couriers, DHL, Chinaairpost etc
      Do I need to do anything after placing my order or do I just wait for someone to contact me via post/phone to pay the neccessary fees..?

    7. Ahmad at 8:45 pm


      After a lot of online search, I have found your company to be the best in helping startups with getting information about production and supply in China. I have a startup in US and Nepal and we are trying to find a custom manufacturer in China for our designed Chair. It has been difficult to find a manufacturer who can take a design and make the product, since everyone makes their certain chairs. How can we find such custom manufacturers? What shipping companies are good enough to ship product to Nepal?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:34 am

        Hello Ahmad,

        I’ll send you an email with a few questions!

    8. Renaud at 1:18 pm

      That’s a great overview! I had missed it. I am adding it to the list of good articles I found in July.
      I didn’t know the tooling cost was to be included in the total product price to be declared to EU Customs. I guess many importers fail to respect this without even knowing it.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:29 am

        Glad to hear you liked it! Yes, it’s true that tooling costs are part of the declared value in the EU. The importer can either pay it all at once (one the the first import) or split it up over the course of many orders (using the same). However, if the buyer would not reach the maximum number of units that can be made by a mold, or other tooling, they need to pay the final VAT and import duties on the last import. Thus, it’s not possible to get around this.

        However, sourcing, quality inspections, and other related services, are not part of the customs value. But only under the condition that the agent / consultant / inspector is selected by the importer (e.g. not a sales representative of a supplier).

        1. Abdelhak at 9:02 pm

          Great post Frederik. Thanks for that. I have a question: Have you ever encountred cases where the final customer asks for the mold to be shipped to him with the last order delivery? Since he’s paid for it, he can claim property over it.

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 5:48 am

            No, we have never had such a case. In cases when the mold was shipped, that was also the initial purpose and the mold was shipped right after production.

    Comments are closed.

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