Sea Freight & Shipping from China: The Ultimate Guide

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

Shipping by sea is the most cost-effective transportation method when importing from China, and elsewhere in Asia. That said, understanding how the shipping process works is as error-prone as it is tedious and mind-numbing – especially for small businesses without prior experience.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn everything Amazon sellers and small businesses must about sea freight when importing from China.

This is covered

  • Incoterms
  • FCL and LCL Shipping
  • Shipping Insurance
  • Shipping Lead Times
  • Container Types
  • Export Packaging
  • Shipping Documents
  • Freight Cost Overview
  • Shipping Scams

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An Incoterm is a three-letter code (i.e., FOB or CIF), which defines when the cargo is transferred from the buyer to the seller. Incoterms is a pillar of the international logistics system, and without a basic understanding of them, you may end paying a lot more for your shipments, than you should.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn what Incoterms are, and which code you should select, when importing products from China (and elsewhere in Asia).

In addition, you will also learn which Incoterms to avoid, and how the ‘wrong incoterm’ can cost you a fortune.

Incoterms infographic

incoterms infographic

What are incoterms?

Basically, an incoterm consists of two components: a three-letter code and a city name. Let’s begin with the first part.

The three letters incoterm code specifies “how far” the supplier shall ship the cargo. Basically, how much of the shipping you pay the supplier to handle. Based on the incoterm you select, you can let the supplier handle the shipping of products to a nearby port in China or all the way to your front door.

A price quoted by a Chinese supplier is always based on an incoterm. Without an incoterm, you have no idea how far the supplier will ship your cargo. Neither can you compare the pricing between two or more Chinese suppliers if you don’t know which Incoterms the quotes are based on.

For natural reasons a quote based on the incoterm EXW is going to be a lot cheaper than a quote based on CIF.

Why? Because the former (EXW) includes no shipping whatsoever, not even from the supplier’s factory location, while the latter (CIF) includes shipping all the way to the port of destination in your country.

That shipping costs money, and this certainly makes a difference in the price tag. However, in the end, you’ll need to have your products shipped from China to somewhere. If you feel insecure about how shipping works, then you might as well ask your supplier to quote you a price based on a more “far-reaching” incoterm.

Just avoid making the old mistake of assuming that EXW is automatically cheaper than FOB or CIF. It’s time to look into the second component of an incoterm, the location. This specifies where, as in which city, the transfer between the supplier and the importer takes place.

It could be in Shanghai or in New Jersey, depending on where you want the cargo transfer to be made. Keep in mind that it’s up you to order shipping from the location where the transfer has been made, to the final destination.

I recommend inexperienced importers to select an incoterm that takes the cargo as far as possible. This excludes EXW and FOB since the cargo doesn’t leave China. It’s always easier to manage with the shipping if it’s done with people in your own country.

Incoterm Overview

It’s time to dig a bit deeper and actually explain what these strange Incoterms actually means. Below I explain the basics behind five commonly used Incoterms.

EXW (Ex Works)

EXW price is the factory price for the products with no shipping is included. The buyer must arrange transportation all the way from the factory floor in China to the final destination.

  • Export clearance: No
  • Transport to Port of Loading in China: No
  • Sea Freight charges: No
  • Port of discharge charges: No
  • Inland transport: No
FOB (Free on Board)

The supplier in China delivers the cargo to the Port of Loading (Port of Loading) and takes care of the export clearance. The latter is of high importance since the Chinese Customs Authorities have the right to hold cargo that has not been properly cleared for export.

  • Export clearance: Yes
  • Transport to Port of Loading in China: Yes
  • Sea Freight charges: No
  • Port of discharge charges: No
  • Inland transport: No
CIF (Cost Insurance Freight)

The supplier arranges delivery to the Port of Destination in the importer’s country. However, Cost Insurance Freight does not include unloading, LCL charges, CSIF or other fees added by the Destination Agent in the Port of Destination.

  • Export clearance: Yes
  • Transport to Port of Loading in China: Yes
  • Sea Freight charges: Yes
  • Port of discharge charges: No
  • Inland transport: No
DAT (Delivered at Terminal)

The supplier is responsible for delivery from the factory floor in China to a specified, inland or port terminal in the buyer’s country. DAT includes all charges added in the Port of Destination and inland transportation to your nearest terminal. Unlike Delivered at Place (DAP), DAT does not include inland transport to a specified address such as your home or warehouse.

  • Export clearance: Yes
  • Transport to Port of Loading in China: Yes
  • Sea Freight charges: Yes
  • Port of discharge charges: Yes
  • Inland transport: Yes (To port/terminal only)
DAP (Delivered at Place)

The supplier is responsible for delivery from the factory floor to a specified address and unlike DAT, where the cargo is delivered to the freight warehouse within the freight forwarder supply chain network, Delivered at Place (DAP) includes inland transport to a specified address such as your home or warehouse

  • Export clearance: Yes
  • Transport to Port of Loading in China: Yes
  • Sea Freight charges: Yes
  • Port of discharge charges: Yes
  • Inland transport: Yes (To your location)

From time to time new Incoterms are added while others are phased out. If you want to stay informed on this subject I recommend you to visit the official website of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Incoterm Examples

Let’s continue with two basic incoterm examples::

Case Study A: FOB Shanghai
  • The supplier delivers the cargo to Shanghai
  • The cargo is ready for exporting (but not yet exported)
  • The importer must book shipping from Shanghai
  • The importer pays for ALL expenses that occur after the cargo leaves Shanghai. This includes, but is not limited to sea freight charges, customs, VAT, inland transportation and port duties
Case Study B: CIF Amsterdam
  • The supplier delivers the cargo to Amsterdam
  • The cargo is ready for importing (but not legally imported)
  • The importer pays for ALL expenses that occur upon arrival in Amsterdam. This includes, but is not limited to customs, VAT, inland transportation and port duties
Case Study C: FOB Shenzhen + DAP Los Angeles
  • The buyer order the goods from the supplier, according to FOB terms
  • The supplier books transportation from the factory, to the buyer’s freight forwarder in Shenzhen. They also take care of the export clearance process and fill out the documents.
  • The cargo arrives in the forwarder’s warehouse in Shenzhen. The buyer book a DAP shipment, and freight insurance.
  • The forwarder invoice the buyer for the freight cost, port charges in Los Angeles, insurance and inland transportation – all the way to the buyer’s address. Hence, the buyer is aware of the full cost before the goods depart China.
  • The forwarder ships the cargo to Los Angeles, where the goods are cleared for customs. The import duties and other taxes are paid via the forwarder.
  • The cargo is finally delivered to the buyer’s address in the US.

What is the best Incoterm when importing from China?

To simplify the process, while at the same time getting maximum transparency and cost control, order according to FOB terms from your supplier – and then a DAP shipment from your forwarder.

Hence, the supplier will manage transportation from the factory to the port of loading. Further, they are also taking care of export clearance procedures.

Your forwarder handles the shipping from the port of loading and customs clearance and transportation in the target market.

Should I avoid certain Incoterms?

Avoid CIF terms as often as possible, as you don’t get the know the final shipping cost. CIF only includes shipping to the port of destination, but not the local charges.

When shipping FCL, the local charges (or port charges), are normally set around $300 to $600. However, when shipping according to LCL terms, the port charges may be as high as $1000 to $1500.

This may look like a contradiction, as LCL shipping should, in theory, cost less than FCL. LCL does cost less than FCL shipping, however, the administrative workload for the forwarder is the same, regardless of the volume of the cargo.

Hence, the fixed costs are more or less the same, resulting in a much higher average freight cost when shipping according to LCL terms.

Let’s get back to CIF again. Many forwarders deliberately ‘hide’ the port charges from the customer, by not informing them about it.

Technically, they do nothing wrong, as long as the customer requested a CIF quote – which by definition only includes the shipping cost, while it excludes the port charges.

Then there are also kickback rates, which set the freight cost very low, say $200, while the port charges are closer to $1000.

This is what I refer to when I say that you get more cost control when buying according to DAP terms.

Can I save money by ordering according to Ex Works (EXW) terms?

The EXW price is lower than any other incoterm, simply because it includes no transportation whatsoever. It’s up to the buyer to arrange transportation, all the way from the factory warehouse.

In addition, the supplier will not help out with the export clearance process, which is required before the goods can even leave the country.

While many forwarders can arrange transportation from the factory, and fill out the export clearance documents, they will not do so free of charge.

In fact, you may even pay more than you would if you just ordered according to FOB terms from the very beginning.

There are no loopholes or shortcuts in international freight.

Which Incoterms include insurance?

CIF includes insurance by default. That said, you can book insurance when ordering according to any incoterm.

That said, it’s your responsibility to instruct your forwarder to book insurance. Unless instructed to do so, they will not insure your cargo.

What Incoterm is suitable if I ship directly to a fulfillment center? is not acting as the Importer of record, or in any other way taking part in the shipping and customs procedures. That said, you can book a DAP shipment directly to a fulfillment center, regardless of whether it’s located in the United States, Hong Kong or elsewhere.

Shipping directly  to an Amazon FBA Center from China

Today, many Importers ship their products directly from the factory in China to an Amazon FBA warehouse. From there, Amazon manages the storage and distribution of the products.

Amazon operates according to strict principles, and as a seller, you have no choice but to comply with their rules. This is what you must know about shipping to an Amazon FBA center:

1. The cargo must be labeled according to Amazon’s cargo labeling rules.

2. The cargo shall be palletized, for quick unloading upon arrival. Each side of the pallet must be labeled.

3. The cargo shall be forwarded to the Amazon address, according to DAP or DDP terms.

Notice that Amazon does not manage any shipping or customs clearance procedures. This is entirely up to you as a seller to take care of.

However, you can book DAP or DDP shipping from your freight forwarder

FCL and LCL Shipping

Sea freight is the most cost-effective way to transport your goods from the factory floor in China, to your warehouse – especially when shipping larger volumes according to FCL (Full Container Load) terms.

That said, many buyers don’t purchase large enough volumes to fill an entire container with goods. For this category of buyers, the LCL (Less than Container Load) options remain.

In this part, you will learn what LCL and FCL are, and how they differ in terms of cost and process. In addition, you will also learn how you can save thousands of dollars, by consolidating your LCL shipments into one FCL shipment.

What is FCL (Full Container Load) shipping?

FCL is an international ISO standard referring to one (full) container load (20” or 40”) containing cargo for one consignee (one importer). FCL shipping is the cheapest mode of transportation when importing from China.

However, in order to be a viable freight option, it requires the importer to purchase a relatively large quantity of products.


1. Lower price per cubic meter compared to an equivalent volume or weight of cargo shipped by Air Freight or LCL Sea Freight.

2. More convenient to optimize your quantity and export packaging to maximize the space usage inside a 20” or 40” container.

3. Higher level of security and lower risk for damages due to less handling (Loading, Temporary Storage, Unloading) of your cargo.


1. Not cost-effective unless your cargo volume is 15 – 20 cubic meters (Equals 50 – 70% of a 20” container).

What is LCL (Less than Container Load) shipping?

LCL is an international ISO standard referring to cargo owned by different consignees that are grouped together in one and the same container. LCL shipping enables importers to ship smaller amounts of cargo that’s not of a large enough volume to make FCL a viable option. At the same time, it’s generally more cost-effective than Airfreight.


1. Offers an affordable middle way for cargo too heavy for Air Freight, but insufficient in volume or weight to make an FCL shipment a non-viable option.

2. More convenient for Cargo Inspections & lower packaging material costs in case a repacking is necessary.


1. Higher price per cubic meter compared to FCL shipments

2. Often a non-viable shipping option for cargo volumes above 15 cbm (cubic meters) due to higher loading, unloading, handling & freight costs per cubic meter compared to FCL shipping from China.

Why LCL shipping is riskier than FCL and requires better export packing

It should be obvious to the suppliers that cargo worth thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars, need protection during the long journey from the factory floor to the importer’s warehouse.

However, many suppliers in China and other low-cost countries tend to neglect this and provide the buyer with low quality export packing that can result in damaging the cargo.

When shipping LCL from China, your cargo shares container space with cargo from other buyers. Sometimes as many as five or six different importers.

You have no control over the nature of the cargo which is loaded into the same container. LCL cargo must be prepared to withstand liquids, heavy weight, chemical fumes, and sharp objects.

What is considered as “insufficient export packing”?

1. Damaged or Low-quality cardboard boxes.

Only use boxes with a minimum of 5 layer cardboard or plywood boxes.

2. No freight pallets

Freight pallets are not always essential, but in events where an LCL shipment is requested, it is strongly recommended as a means to minimize the risk of separation of cargo during the different stages of transportation. It could also be that the cargo is simply too heavy to be loaded and unloaded by hand.

3. Damaged or Low-quality freight pallets

Freight pallets come in different dimensions, qualities, and materials. Loading 5 tons of cargo on a pallet made with transporting bananas in mind is rarely a good idea. A damaged freight pallet is also dangerous for the cargo itself since shards of wood or plastic easily cut through the cardboard boxes loaded on top of it.

4. Protective plastic missing

Many products are sensitive to damp and the month-long journey from China to Europe or the United States is more than enough for mold to grow and spread.

Can I consolidate multiple LCL shipments into one FCL shipment?

Yes, and this is one of the few really good ways to save on the shipping costs. LCL is a lot more expensive, per shipped unit, hence, ‘converting’ to FCL shipping can save you thousands of dollars.

Buyers that order goods from multiple suppliers, and are currently importing individual LCL shipments, can buy to FOB terms and instruct the supplier to forward the goods to one and the same port of loading (i.e., Shanghai or Shenzhen).

From there, the forwarder can load the cargo in an FCL 20’’ or 40’’ container.

That said, this strategy requires a lot of coordination between the buyer and the suppliers, as one supplier running late results in all shipments being delayed.

Why is LCL shipping so much more expensive than FCL shipping?

The administrative workload is roughly the same, regardless of the cargo volume. Hence, the fixed cost is the same for both LCL and FCL shipping.

This is primarily reflected in the port charges price difference. A few examples follow below:

  • FCL 20 Feet: $500 (Equals $13 per cbm)
  • LCL 10 cbm: $1400 (Equals $140 per cbm)
  • LCL 2 cbm: $600 (Equals $300 per cbm)

Hence, LCL shipping is still more cost-effective for small shipments, as compared to FCL – but the cost per unit is far higher.

How can I better control the costs when shipping LCL from China?

As LCL shipping results in high port charges (as explained above), you need to confirm the port charges before shipping the goods.

If you ship according to CIF terms, the port charges are not included. To avoid an unpleasant surprise in the port of loading, order LCL cargo according to DAT or DAP terms, both of which include the port charges.

Is FCL faster or slower than LCL?

In my experience, FCL can be a bit faster. I am not sure if that is established, but I would assume it is due to the following factors:

a. It may take longer to book LCL cargo, as several consignees are needed

b. LCL may receive a lower priority

When is LCL shipping the best option?

LCL is the best option for cargo that is too bulky and heavy for air freight, yet not large enough to make FCL shipping a viable option.

LCL is the best option for shipping cargo with a volume between 1 to 10 cubic meters.

When is FCL shipping the best option?

If the LCL cargo exceeds about 12 cubic meters (cbm), the total price (the sum of the freight cost port charges) are on par with an FCL 20 feet container.

This is despite the fact that the FCL container would be 70% empty.

Can all suppliers and freight forwarders offer LCL shipping?

That depends on the forwarder they’re working with, but most forwarders in China and elsewhere can offer LCL shipping.

Shipping Insurance

Insurance is included, by default, when you select the incoterm CIF, standing for Cost Freight (and) Insurance. If you order shipping according to DAT (Delivered at Terminal) or DAP (Delivered at Place), you must inform your shipping company that the cargo must be insured.

Shipping insurance is affordable and rarely costs more than US$50 to US$100 per shipment. Normally, shipping insurance only covers the value of the cargo, in case of transportation damage. It will not cover lost sales or product development costs.

Why sea freight insurance is critical when buying from China

Transportation damages are more common, when shipping from China than many business owners might actually think. Cargo is not handled gently, be it on the factory floor, the port of loading in China – and the port of destination.

Whenever they do occur, transportation insurance, covering damages, is the only thing that will keep your business above the water. If you don’t sign up for a shipping insurance policy, you cannot claim compensation.

How to get shipping insurance

There are various ways you can get your cargo insured. The table below explains two ways you can obtain insurance:

a. Order a CIF shipment

The CIF incoterm is shortening for Cost, Freight and Insurance. By definition, when you buy cargo according to CIF terms (which includes transportation from the factory to the Port of Destination), your cargo is insured.

However, you should ask your supplier for a copy of the insurance policy.

b. Book insurance through your freight forwarder (Recommended)

Buying insurance through forwarder offers more transparency and control. First, you can request the insurance that specifically covers everything from inland transportation in China to loading, sea freight, and unloading.

Insurance is, as mentioned, ‘by default’ included in the CIF. If you choose any other incoterm, you must communicate, either with your supplier or freight forwarder (or both, depending on your shipping arrangement), that your cargo must be insured.

Freight insurance cost calculation

There’s no valid reason why you should ever consider opting out of freight insurance. All you need to do is to basically tell your forwarder that you want your cargo insured, and pay a small fee, based on your order value.

Normally, the cost of the insurance is set at around 0.5% to 0.6%, of the cargo value. Below follows an example:

Insurance Cost = ((Cargo Value + Transportation Value) x 10%) x 0.5%


Insurance Cost = (CIF Value + CIF Value x 10%) x 0.5%

How to file a freight insurance claim

Assuming you are buying regularly from China, the risk is quite high that you will, at some point, need to file a compensation claim.

The good thing is that it’s relatively simple and straightforward to file a compensation claim. In addition, insurance companies normally offer quick payments.

Now, the first thing you must do when receiving your cargo is to check for potential transportation damages. If any damages are found, you must quickly, preferably within 24 to 48 hours of receiving the cargo, provide the following information to your freight forwarder:

  • Images and video, documenting the damaged units and packaging
  • A list of damaged products, quantity and the value of each damaged unit
  • Proof of value (i.e., Proforma Invoice and Commercial Invoice)
  • Proof of receiving the cargo (i.e., a receipt)

As such, you may receive compensation for a certain amount of damaged cargo, or the entire shipment – depending on the damaged quantity.

Normally, the freight forwarder can help you handle the claim, which means that you don’t need to deal with the insurance company. Once they’ve filed the compensation claim, you can expect a payment directly to your business bank account, within 1 to 3 weeks.

However, this can prove to be more complicated, if you allowed the supplier to book your shipment, as they may not be accustomed to managing insurance claims. I’ve seen plenty of situations where Chinese suppliers simply tell their customers to sort it out themselves.

Insurance does not cover quality issues caused by the supplier

Transportation insurance only covers damages occurring during transportation. While it may be obvious to many of you, I still want to highlight that insurance don’t cover quality issues and damages, caused by the supplier.

As such, insurance is not a replacement for a proper quality assurance strategy, including pre-shipment quality inspections.

Worth mentioning is also that transportation insurance may not cover the freight cost. Hence, you will only be compensated for the damaged cargo value (i.e., FOB price). Hence, you’ll lose the money paid for shipping.

However, that’s not the worst thing. A damaged shipment, in full or part, can ruin any business. As you’ll lose out on months of sales, until you can get a replacement shipment, it may spell the end for your business – even with an insurance payout.

Why you should invest in high-quality export packaging

The best way to avoid the situation described is to prevent transportation damages, to begin with. While I still insist that you should get shipping insurance, what truly matters is that your cargo is protected by high-quality packaging from the very beginning.

Many Chinese manufacturers lack internal guidelines for export packaging. As always, this means that you are responsible for providing explicitly clear export packaging requirements, and verifying that these are followed.

So, what is high-quality export packaging? As always, it depends. That said, it often looks something like this:

  • Inner Cartons: 5 layers
  • Outer Cartons: 5 layers
  • Protective Plastic: Yes (Outer Cartons)
  • Pallets: Yes (ISPM 15)

Protecting your shipment is even more important if you, like many other importers, ship the products directly to an Amazon warehouse – without checking the cargo before distribution.

Shipping Lead Times

The port to port lead time depends on the distance. Below follows a brief overview:

  • Hong Kong – Los Angeles, USA: 20 days
  • Hong Kong – New York, USA: 32 days
  • Hong Kong – Felixstowe, UK: 29 days
  • Hong Kong – Hamburg, Germany: 30 days
  • Hong Kong – Singapore: 5 days
  • Hong Kong – Sydney: 12 days

However, keep in mind that it can take a few days, sometimes up to a week,
before your cargo is loaded in the port of loading in China.

The same administrative delay applies in the port of destination, which in many cases can be even longer. In extreme cases, you may face delays as long as two to three weeks, in the port of destination.

Shipping by sea is, in terms of lead times, both slower and more unpredictable than air freight. As such, companies importing from China by sea must do a lot of planning, and have serious margins for delays.

If you need your goods in time for the Christmas season – place your order in July, not in September.

At a minimum, you should place your order 4 months before your ‘hard deadline’

Shipping Containers

The shipping container revolutionized international trade when it was introduced back in the 1950s. The world wouldn’t be the same without them. In this part, we introduce you to shipping containers types, how they can help you to save money and how to track containers online.

a. Container Volumes

In case you decide to import full container loads you have three options:

20” Container
  • Internal volume: 33.1 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 5.71 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 28,200 kg
40’ Container
  • Internal volume: 67.5 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 12.192 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 26,600 kg
40’ HQ (High-Cube) Container
  • Internal volume: 75.3 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 12.0 m (L) x 2.311 m (W) x 2.650 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 26,580 kg

The container volume may differ slightly between different shipping companies. The volumes above are valid for Maersk containers. However, the difference is very small (+/- 0.1 cbm).

There is still one way to save quite a lot of money based on the sea freight cost that’s related to the container volume. That is to place orders based on the units that fit in a specific container size rather than a predetermined quantity.

This way you can avoid situations where you pay for empty space or have to order one FCL container and one LCL container. The latter situation can become rather costly since LCL comes with higher port charges and ‘per shipment administrative fees than FCL shipping.

b. Ordering by ‘container volume’

When importing from China, the shipping cost is often a lot easier to reduce than the product price. While a reduction in the product price is often accompanied by a quality reduction, the shipping costs can be lowered without such a compromise. The easiest way of doing this is by ordering full container loads. While it’s possible to ship smaller volumes, using LCL shipping, the shipping companies often charge 2 – 3 times as much per cubic meter, compared to FCL shipping.

It makes sense. The workload is actually higher, for the shipping companies, when managing LCL shipping. While FCL shipments can be unloaded and delivered directly to the buyer’s location, LCL shipments must be unloaded at the Port of Destination – before being loaded once again prior to the final delivery.

Alright, I think you get the point. In practice, this means that you should ask your supplier to quote you a price based on a full container load of products, instead of a predetermined quantity (which is often the case when importing from China). However, the supplier should still calculate how many product units fit inside the container.

Even if you can’t reach a full container volume, FCL shipping might still make sense. As a matter of fact, LCL shipments larger than 15 cubic meters cost more than an FCL 20’ shipment (even if half the container is empty).

There are also situations when you need to go even bigger than a 20’ container. A 40’ container is more than twice as long as a 20’ container, which makes a big difference on the bottom line when ordering large volume items (i.e. vehicles, machines, and furniture). Let’s assume that you’re importing banner printers. Those things often have a length of around 4 meters. While only one unit fits inside a 20’ container, three units can be loaded inside a 40’ container.

c. Container Tracking

Most international shipping lines, such as China Shipping, Maersk and MSC, offer online container tracking. This means that you can track the location and estimated arrival date of your container shipment from China. While most companies have their own container tracking system in place, tracking websites, such as, helps you track containers shipped by several companies.

However, small businesses importing from China are not dealing directly with the shipping lines.

Instead, the shipping is outsourced to a freight forwarder, which in turn orders the shipment from the shipping line. In my experience, most Chinese freight forwarding companies don’t offer online container tracking. This means that you need to go through the back door.

In order to track a container, you need to know which shipping line is transporting your cargo, and the container number, booking number or document number (any of them is usually good enough). You should find both on your Bill of Lading, which might look something like this:

bill of lading sample

See that big logo in the top left corner? That’s the shipping line (Yang Ming). If there’s no such logo your Bill of Lading (or one which is not the shipping line) you’ll find it elsewhere in the document. Possibly under “shipper” or “freighter”.

Apart from the name of the shipping line, we also need the container number. However, in this example, there’s no such number. Instead, you can use the Bill of Lading number, which you can find in the top right corner (B/L no) of the sample document.

Export Packaging

Your cargo must be sufficiently protected, from the dusty factory floor to a damp warehouse in Shanghai, and finally stacked in a container for up to a month.

A lot can happen in this time, and you need to be sure that your export packaging is up for the task.

One might think that the supplier could be trusted to manage this on their own. That is not the case.

Chinese suppliers have a tendency to use cheap and substandard export packaging materials.

To ensure that your cargo is protected during transportation, you can use the following checklist:

  • Inner cartons: 5 layers
  • Outer cartons: 5 layers
  • Plastic wrapping: Yes (on Outer carton)
  • Pallets: Yes (ISPM 15 EU Standard)
  • Freight remark: Yes (Printed on outer carton)

For example, Amazon requires palletized cargo, as unloading one carton at a time is very time-consuming. This is rarely understood by Chinese factory managers and sales reps, as labor is far cheaper than in the west.

Be sure to provide your supplier with explicit and clear export packaging specifications. Do not leave anything to their interpretation, and provide graphical examples whenever possible.

But there’s more to export packaging than protection. There are various export packaging regulations to take into consideration, such as ISPM 15 and Lithium battery restrictions.

Before shipping from China, you need to confirm which shipping regulations apply in your market, and to your product.

How can we find the cheapest freight rate from China?

This is a question we get all the time. However, freight rates are set based on market prices, that change on a weekly basis. There are no ‘cheap forwarders’ that offer discounted shipping services.

That said, it’s easy to be tricked by forwarders to claim to offer low-cost shipping, which they can only do by quoting based on CIF terms.

In the end, you will still need to pay the same port charges and transportation fees as if you’d request a DAP or DDP shipment from the start.

How can we make sure that our shipment is delivered on time?

The delivery time is always fixed. At most, the delivery may differ with a day or two. Just as with freight rates, no forwarder can offer faster shipping than others.

Still, there are a few things you can do to avoid getting your shipment delayed:

a. Make sure that the declared customs value is correct, and matching your commercial invoice and bill of lading

b. Order according to FOB terms, and ensure that the supplier prepares all export clearance documents on time

c. Ask your forwarder to contact your supplier a few days before the goods are ready for shipment, rather than waiting until the last day

d. Buy a customs bond at least one month before the goods arrive in the port (US)

e. Apply for an EORI number at least 2 weeks before the goods arrive in the port (EU)

f. Instruct your supplier to use high-quality export packaging (and be specific) to prevent repacking, before shipment

g. Pay the balance and freight cost on time, so the shipping documents don’t get delayed

If you’re really running late, you might also want to consider splitting up the shipment in two. One part (say, 20%) is delivered by air, while the rest is shipped by sea. Thus, you can stock up just one week after the production run is completed.

Should we find a freight forwarder or let the supplier manage the freight process?

You basically got two options, either the supplier administers the shipping process, or you do it via a freight forwarder.

Letting the supplier administer (i.e., book the shipment) the shipping process gives you less transparency. You don’t select the shipping company, and you don’t know if the supplier quotes the actual market price.

In fact, they often do add a few hundred dollars on the shipping fee. Personally, I don’t think that is wrong, as the supplier is then forced to put in the extra hours of booking and overseeing the freight process.

In fact, when shipping sensitive cargo, such as Li-Ion Batteries, it might even be to your benefit. However, in most cases, the buyer is far better off working directly with a reputable freight forwarder.

Freight forwarders are normally part of an international network, but many have their own offices in major Chinese port cities, such as Shanghai and Hong Kong. A freight forwarder can normally offer a wide range of shipping services, including FCL, LCL, and air freight.

In addition, they provide you with a designated contact person that keeps you informed and answers your questions. That said, most people who work in logistics expect the Importer to under the procedures.

As such, don’t expect to get free lessons. Read up on the procedures before you engage the forwarder. On another note, a new breed of digital freight forwarders has sprung up in the last few years.

One such company is, a San Francisco based company, that enables importers in the United States and Europe, to book and manage all parts of the shipping process from their computer.

This is a very big deal for those of us who have spent years dealing with arrogant and unscrupulous freight forwarders. As many of you know, this is an industry that has desperately needed to be disrupted.

Do we need to pay any taxes in China?

No, you don’t need to pay any “export tax” when importing from China.

However, you will need to pay for transportation to the port of loading in China and the cost for export clearance papers.

Both of these costs are included if you order shipping according to the following terms: FOB, CIF, DAT and DAP.

However, export clearance is not included when buying according to EXW (Ex Works) terms.

What happens after the cargo arrives in the port of destination?

You will be notified a few days before the arrival. After the container vessel arrives, the containers are first unloaded. Some may be inspected by the local customs authorities, but most are not.

Regardless of whether you or the supplier managed the freight, your forwarder or customs broker starts customs clearance procedures.

This process normally takes 1 to 3 days, depending on the cargo and the applied process,

Read more about customs procedures when importing from China

How can I access the cargo after arrival in the port of destination?

You got two options; either you pick it up yourself or you ask your shipping agent to load it on a truck and deliver it to a specific location. It’s not harder than that.

When the cargo arrives at the Port of Destination you will likely be notified by the port agent. In most cases, you can book the transportation directly through the port agent.

If you are ordering a full container load this is certain to recommend. Upon delivery, you can expect to have somewhere between 30 minutes up to an hour to unload the cargo. Beyond that, the freight forwarder normally charges the importer on a per hour basis.

What happens if the cargo is damaged on arrival?

This actually happens a lot more often than most importers assume. This is also the time when that insurance turns out to be a pretty good investment. If your cargo is damaged, I advise you to follow this process:

1. Take photos and videos of the damages

2. Estimate the total number of damaged cartons and products

3. Make a calculation of the total value loss. Keep in mind that this should be supported by
the value stated on the commercial invoice.

4. Send the material to your insurance company

The last point is not always that easy if you let your supplier manage the sea freight and have no clue of which insurance company they selected.

Therefore I suggest that you ask your supplier for a copy of the sea freight insurance policy before the cargo is shipped. Then you’ll know who to contact in case your cargo would be damaged during the transportation.

In addition, it does happen that suppliers fail to get the appropriate insurance. If you really want to be sure that your cargo is insured, you need to book it yourself, via your freight forwarder.

If you have a valid claim it’s usually a rather quick and painless process to go through in order to get your money back.

However, keep in mind that most sea freight insurance only covers the value of your products, not the shipping costs.

Shipping Documents

One could think that we live in a digital era. However, the 19th century is still well and alive in the world of international freight. Keep reading, and learn what every Importer must know about shipping documents.

Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading (B/L or BoL) is issued by the freight forwarder and sent to the Importer. The Bill of Lading serves as a receipt for the shipment, and includes the following information:

  • Shipper (i.e., the supplier)
  • Importer
  • Delivery address
  • Special instructions
  • Bill of Lading number
  • Carrier Name
  • Freight charge terms (i.e., FOB or CIF)
  • Commodity description
  • Quantity
  • Number of packages
Why do I need a Bill of Lading?

Depending on the payment terms agreed upon by the supplier and the buyer, the Bill of lading may serve as a document that either:

a. Confirms the release of a Letter of credit (L/C)

b. Or, serves as proof of shipment, which requires the buyer to wire the balance payment

The second option is common when paying by Telegraphic Transfer (T/T). However, most suppliers only provide scanned copies of the Bill of lading – not the original, which is required to get the shipment released in the port of destination.

The original is normally delivered by post, around 1 week after the supplier has received the balance payment.

Bill of Lading Checklist

Before you wire that payment, there are a few things to look for on the bill of lading:

a. Is the correct shipping terms (i.e., Incoterms) specified?

b. Is the insurance specified?

c. Are the details of the Importer, shipper, and carrier correct?

Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice (C/I or CI) states the value of the cargo and is used to declare the customs value.

The customs value is used to calculate import duties and other taxes (i.e., VAT in the European Union or GST in Australia).

When you receive your scan copy of the Commercial Invoice, there are two things to look for:

a. Is the product value declared properly?

Some suppliers deliberately undervalue the products – sometimes even without instructions from their buyers to do so.

Reduced customs value results in lower import duties and other taxes. This practice is, of course, illegal, and the Importer – not the supplier – is always held accountable.

b. Is the customs value correctly declared?

There is a difference between the actual product value and the customs value. As mentioned, the customs value is the amount from which the import duty and other taxes are calculated.

For example, in the United States, the customs value is based on the FOB (Free on board) cost, which essentially reflects the product cost.

In the European Union, on the other hand, the customs value is based on the CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) value – which includes both the product cost and shipping to the first post within the EU.

Don’t assume that your supplier knows how the customs value is defined in your country or market. Do the calculation by yourself, and simply tell the supplier what they should declare. In addition, the customs value (in both the EU and the US) may include costs such as tooling, samples and other fees paid to the supplier.

Packing List

The Packing list (also referred to as shipping list, way-bill or delivery list) includes information of the parcels, quantity, and type of products.

It helps the shipping company to keep track of the shipment, and the customs authorities assess if the cargo is correctly declared – in terms of commodity type and quantity.

Country of Origin Certificate (or Form A)

The Certificate of Origin (Sometimes called Form A, C / O, COO or CoO) refers to the origin of the manufacturing or assembly country.

The country of origin certificate may be required by the customs authorities, upon arrival in the port of loading, for the following reasons:

a. Confirm the country of origin, which may affect the applicable import duty rates.

b. Confirm if the product is correctly labeled. In the United States, and many other countries, a country of origin is required (i.e., Made in China).

The Certificate of Origin is normally issued by the supplier.

Shipping Documents FAQ

Do we need to submit test reports or product certificates to the customs authorities?

While test reports and other compliance documents are not always required, certain categories are more strictly controlled than others.

This includes, for example, toys and other children’s products, medical devices, food and beverage, electronics, plants, chemicals, and agricultural products.

In some cases, product compliance documents are part of the customs document submission procedure. However, in most cases when such documents are requested, it’s a matter of random checks on ‘high risk’ shipments.

For example, several European countries check shipments of Hoverboards and refuse clearance for any importer that fail to provide the necessary compliance documents.

The short answer is therefore that compliance document submission is not necessarily mandatory – but you face severe risks if you don’t have time by the time your products arrive in the port.

When shall we expect to receive the documents?

Normally, the shipping documents are sent by airmail, one week after the shipment. However, this assumes that the supplier has received the money, as they rarely agree to send the shipping document originals until the cargo is paid for in full.

They have valid reasons for this, as the buyer can unload and clear the cargo, once the original documents are obtained.

Who issues the freight documents?

It can be either the freight forwarder or the supplier.

Do we need to pay for these documents?

Yes. These shipping documents are part of the export clearance process, which is included in the FOB price, but not EX Works (EXW).

In addition, you need to pay the airmail fee for delivery of the originals, which tends to be around $30.

Import Licenses

Normally, an Import license is not required in the United States, the European Union, and other developed markets.

There are, however, a few exceptions:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Certain types of chemicals
  • Live animals and plants
  • Food and agricultural products

Product Certificates and Other Compliance Documents

Most products are regulated in the United States and the European Union. Other markets, such as Singapore and Australia, base their product regulations on those developed and implemented by the US and the EU.

At the time of writing, there is no standardized “product certificate submission system”. Hence, you may not be required to provide any product certificates or other compliance documents to the customs authorities.

Such checks are normally carried out by other market surveillance authorities. However, it’s not black and white. Many countries do carry out spot checks on everything from product samples to container.

We even received a report from a German importer, whose Wristwatch sample was confiscated by the German customs authorities, due to the lack of product certification.

In addition, the US customs can even return cargo, that doesn’t comply with mandatory labeling requirements. The trend is pointing in one direction. Enforcement is being stepped up, and it’s only a matter of time before the authorities will streamline and standardize document submission procedures.

There are even talks in the United States to make CPSIA document submission mandatory in the near future. This will mean that Importers will not even be able to get the products into the country, without proof that the products comply with all mandatory safety standards and other regulations.

Sea Freight Costs

Shipping from China involves a multitude of different fees. The cost is closely related to the selected incoterm. Below I list a number of costs that you should keep in mind when shipping from China:

  • Transportation to Port of Loading (included in FOB)
  • Export clearance (Included in FOB)
  • Sea freight charge (included in CIF)
  • Insurance (Included in CIF)
  • Port fees (Included in DAT)
  • Customs clearance fees
  • Custom duties
  • Other import taxes (i.e., VAT in the European Union)
  • Transportation from the Port of Destination

Shipping Scams

There are two types of shipping related scams. First, you need to look out for scam companies loading containers with junk materials, or any other type of goods than what is ordered by the buyer.

The only way to prevent such scams is to perform the proper due diligence when selecting a supplier and verify the cargo before shipment – for example by sending in a quality inspection agent.

These scams are relatively easy to prevent.

There’s a more viscous type of shipping scam. The Bill of Lading scam

The Bill of Lading is mandatory. Without one, you cannot access the cargo. Now, what if somebody decides to hold your cargo ransom, by withholding the Bill of lading?

That is exactly what is happening, with increased frequency. The shipping company actually ships the cargo to the Port of loading. However, upon arrival, they demand a large sum of money to release the Bill of Lading.

Meanwhile, the authorities in the Port of destination pressure the Importer to quickly claim the cargo – by charging a daily port fee – which is often set at around $50 per day.

So, as the port fee bill keeps growing, and the Importer is losing sales every day – the scammer is waiting for their victim to give in.

The price is normally high. We have received reports with ransoms between US$12,000 to $40,000.

And, the port authorities? They can normally do nothing, as this is an old and slowly evolving system.

That said, we have received far more reports from Importers in developing countries, as compared to those in developed markets, like the US and Europe. There is a really simple way to avoid this situation though: Never try to buy international freight for less than the current market rate.

What we have found is that all buyers that got scammed this way, got contacted with incredible offers – or found the “freight forwarders” on their own.

You’ll get what you pay for. Always.

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  • 161 Responses to “Sea Freight & Shipping from China: The Ultimate Guide

    1. Hanson at 2:18 pm

      All the information which have you shared with us is really very useful for us. Thanks

    2. KHALID at 7:43 pm

      hi Fredrik
      I need to get few items from 5 or 6 different suppliers from china, so that I can get it all in 1 time, how can I manage that process.

    3. Jonathan Davies at 10:43 pm

      Hi There,
      I found this page really interesting, my Transport Manager is saying i have to wait for goods to leave Chinese Waters on an FOB shipment, before we can invoice the customer – is that correct?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 11:05 am

        Hi Jonathan,

        That sounds a bit strange.

        Are you shipping the cargo directly to the customers?

      2. SUE at 1:49 pm

        If you are in Australia or NZ i can tell you that this is not true. We invoice our customers before the goods leave the factory so we pay the factory before it leaves.

    4. Bj at 6:41 am


      I am registering business in hongkong where I will buy goods from china factory and sell to retailers and wholesalers directly at the various parts of the world. However I don’t want factory to have contact with clients. I can see problem arising if clients uses his freight forwarder service. Is there any way that I can have goods run through Hongkong port without importing to Hongkong. E.g goods going to UK, USA, AUSTRALIA, AFRICA factory sends up to HK port and from there our or client fright forwarded takes to destination and I can give FOB Hongkong port. Is there any solution to this as? If yes would I need import/export licence in hongkong even products destination to and from is not hongkong?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 1:14 pm

        Hi Bj,

        If you sell the products through your Hong Kong company then the original manufacturer will not be visible on the invoice or any of the documents.

        No, I don’t think you need an import/export license in Hong Kong.

    5. Philip at 3:47 pm

      Hi I import from China using a shipping agent in the UK .
      My question is my supplier offers delivery to port included in product price but my shipping agent uses a agent in China to arrange this so I am obviously paying twice .
      When asked my shipping agent has told me that although my supplier offers this it may actually work out more expensive as it may not include everything .

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 7:13 pm

        Hi Philip,

        If you ordered according to FOB terms, then your supplier will arrange transportation to the port of loading. From there, your UK forwarder can then help you book a DAP shipment to the final destination.

    6. Saveon Logistics at 4:51 pm

      Welcome to Saveon Logistics UK, perceived as one of the main outsider Logistics (3PL) suppliers inside the UK. Our slogan ‘Driven by You,’ is our duty to our customers – we drive towards inventory network greatness, because of the requirements of our customers.

    7. Charles at 11:09 am

      I’m in the process of placing a order for FCL 20ft. The manufacturer will ship to destination port, however they say that I have to obtain clearance. So my question is, how to I go about obtain clearance?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 9:32 pm

        Hi Charles,

        Did you buy according to EXW, FOB or other incoterm? This should be stated on your invoice.

      2. Sue at 1:51 pm

        Your freight forwarder in the country you are delivering to will invoice you for the clearance cost.

    8. Joe Shields at 4:09 pm


      Can you recommend a link to a seafreight shipping carton template? i.e. what information do I need to include on the labels on outer cartons (209 cartons, LCL shipment) Thank you

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 5:50 pm

        Hi Joe,

        Normally you include the following information:

        Importing company
        Product name
        HS Code
        Destination: City, Country
        Made in China

    9. Wong Michael at 8:51 pm

      One of the concerns buyers have while importing goods and components from China is which mode of transport to use. Ocean shipping may seem like the obvious answer for those dealing with large volumes as it is way cheaper, while others may consider air freight because of the time advantage it has over sea freight. You need to consult with a reliable Chinese sourcing agent for the best mode of transport as each mode of shipping has advantages and disadvantages.

    10. Independent Freight Solutions Ltd at 5:13 pm

      Thanks a lot for sharing this shipping guide. It’s really helpful. You have a really nice blog.

    11. Willerd Sánchez at 9:33 am

      Excellent article, it serves as a basis for making the next decisions in my import business.

      I usually use the services of a company called King ocean (, but they do not reach China and I want to evaluate the possibility of importing from there because the costs in raw material and production are much lower.

      Will you have that information?

    12. Willerd Sánchez at 11:54 pm

      Very good article.

      I usually use the services of a company called King Ocean (, so far they have shown excellent work, but I need to bring goods from China to America, do you have that service? How could I contact you?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 7:40 pm

        Hi Willerd,

        You can request a quote for China – US shipping here:

    13. george ticehurst at 11:30 pm

      Excellent information needed this information as I was planning on importing pc cooling fans to the UK.

    14. Najma Qureshi at 8:39 am

      Thanks you so much for sharing the above information. China is developing as business hub. Opportunities in freight forwarding are also growing. Sea freight shipping is a good mode of transportation but there are certain challenges. Major challenges freight forwarders are facing in customs rules and country specific policies.

    15. Robert at 11:07 pm

      Hello all,

      I needed some help on sea freight . I am not purchasing any commercial items. My family and I will be migrating to another country, therefore, we are looking into sea freight shipment to send our households items and lots of books. Ive been looking around, some charge expensive and some charge very cheap. One of the company stated

      ” The above costs are up to arrival at the port / depot only. They do not include ANY charges which may be incurred in Brunei such as (but not only) terminal handling, documentation, customs clearance, examination, quarantine or inspection fees, customs duties, taxes or storage costs.”

      What does this mean? They quoted me with 100kgs weight for £375 only, collection at the port destination. Do this mean , there is chargers incurred to me when the shipment arrives Brunei? If so, how much extra would it be roughly?

      Greatly appreciate any advice. Thank you in advance.

    16. Bryan at 8:45 pm

      Great article but I’m still a little unsure of a few things:
      1. Insurance, will their forwarder provide or do I need to secure on my own?
      2. What to do once the products arrive…how do I arrange delivery to my location from the destination port?
      3. Is it typical to pay in full before shipment leaves? They want a 30% deposit before manufacturing, and the remainder paid after ready to ship (photographs provided). This will be around 40K which is a little scary with no history with this company. Are there any other steps we can take for protection?

      1. ChinaImportal at 4:26 pm

        Hello Bryan,

        1. You must book insurance via the forwarder

        2. If you book according to DAP terms, you can order delivery to a specific address from the start

        3. Yes, normally you will pay the 70% balance after production, but also after quality control and lab testing.

    17. curt haigler at 4:52 am


      Wow, so many horror stories makes one reconsider attempting a start-up of a brand, I know it can be done, I have friends that do it but that doesn’t guarantee a scam won’t happen to me. So my questions are these:
      1. I only deal with suppliers with a gold level of 3 yrs, how much does that really mean in terms of getting scammed by them versus say one that is only 1 yr or one that is 6 yrs? I would like to think that the longer they have been a gold supplier the less your chances of things going badly but this is china we’re talking about.
      2. As a first time importer/buyer what is a good starting amount money wise for product and shipping costs?
      3. Can you recommend a good freight forwarder?

      Thank you for your service in this blog…..


      1. ChinaImportal at 9:11 am

        Hello Curt,

        1. It means nothing more than that the company is a paying member. You need to look at registered capital, product compliance, quality management systems and factory audit reports when selecting a supplier.

        2. Depends entirely on the product, but I’d say anywhere from $5000 to $20,000

        3. We offer that as part of our Starter Package:

      2. Sue at 1:55 pm

        Unfortunately you will need to do the homework to calculate the extra costs dependant on the actual destination. You will find this information on the destination country customs website. You will save a lot more money if you leave the job to a removalist company to collect from your door and deliver to your door. Then you will have no surprises on arrival.

    18. John M at 5:58 pm

      Hello, i have a small business in the uk, transport containers, but i work as a subcontractor, doesnt pay that well, and i was wondering if you have any ideea how can i find the jobs directly by myself, i cannot find anything online, and the big companys have a closed system and of course i cannot access. Thank you

    19. Brandi Riviera at 7:06 am

      Thanks for the guidance!

    20. Herman P. Ochoa at 9:01 am

      Are wires, batteries and diesel fuel tank of a wood chipper not allowed for shipment in China to Philippines based on shipping restrictions?

    21. Shil at 2:59 am

      All of these questions and posts are very helpful. Thank you. My question was around local import taxes in the US for products purchased and shipped from China. This is the first time we are buying a processing machine from Qingdao, and it will come to the US via ocean freighter. At what point during the import process will I be expected to pay taxes on my purchase? Any information on this would be very helpful.

      1. ChinaImportal at 2:58 am

        Hi Shill,

        You will only pay taxes once the cargo arrives in the US.

    22. Matthew at 10:25 pm


      I’m a first time importer working with a company to manufacture and package my product from Shanghai, FOB Shanghai port. The supplier has stated shipping plus clearance to California at $2,500. Is this an average price?

      I will have to handle all taxes and facilitating product after landing at California port. As a first time importer do you recommend working directly with a customs broker/freight forwarder that can handle the complete process?

      Lastly I am really hoping to finalize a cost per unit. Is there a reliable way or online tool to calculate all associated cost to get an accurate assumption for COGS.

      Product Information:
      Unwoven material
      Dimensions: 36(Lcm) x 26(Wcm) x 25(LHcm)
      Units: 1,100 cartons (20GP container)

      Thank you,

      1. ChinaImportal at 2:54 am

        Hi Matthew,

        Did you get a CIF, DAT or DAP quote?

        I think you should find a freight forwarder instead.

      2. Sue at 1:56 pm

        The average cost for a full 20f container is $USD 3000 . Don’t forget there will be other costs on arrival. Best you use a freight forwarder. FOB or CIF.

    23. KK at 8:46 pm

      Hi, it’s my first time of importing material from china to USA, and because of the dimensions the air freight is costly, so I have decided to do the ocean freight, but I cannot take any freight forwarders for door to door service, as we bought this product with trade assurance, and supplier has to use its own documents to do custom clearance at china, and my supplier is giving me only door to port service. No I am looking for custom clearing agent, but not sure what to look for! Can you please help me!

      1. Sue at 1:58 pm

        Your supplier in China will always offer EXW or FOB. Which did you get?
        If it is FOB your quote includes delivery to Port. You then have fees to pay on arrival at destination port.

    24. Thomas at 8:15 pm


      Quick question. If the freight forwarder gets a hold of the commercial invoice, wouldn’t that automatically give our sensitive information that is vital to my company? Freight forwarders will know my landed cost, is it not? Do people just go with it because that’s what the system requires?


      1. ChinaImportal at 2:50 am

        Hi Thomas,

        Given that the landed cost is part of the customs value, which must be communicated to the customs authorities (or else they cannot tax you), the answer is yes.

    25. Joe at 3:01 pm


      This is my first time importing a 20ft. Container from China to the US and am looking to find a reliable freight forwarding agent. Also what costs am I looking at price range so I know I am getting a fair deal? The total on the shipment is around USD$14,000.00.


      1. ChinaImportal at 2:04 am

        Hi Joe,

        We can send you some suggestions.

        Do you mean that the total cargo value is $14,000?

    26. Nana at 11:40 am

      I am doing a research about exporting LED Tvs from China to Australia and the transport process of the products. I would like to ask a few questions regarding the transport process.
      1. What type of transport do you reckon from the manufacturer all the way to door-to-door service and why?
      2. The port in China to export the tv?
      3. Type of packaging used
      4. Duration for the transport process to arrive in Australia
      Hope anyone of you could help by answering these questions. What other information you reckon I should find? Cheers.

    27. Natascha Neus at 8:35 pm

      Dear Sir,
      We have imported 2 mini combine harvesters from China. The CIF price was U$ 5400 till Paramaribo Suriname. The shipment went through Panama.
      Now the clearence officer of the shipping company that received the goods in Suriname gives us the following list of costs (except the import duties)
      COLLECT FEE USD 10.86
      VAT PAYABLE USD 14.88
      Totals: USD 754.58

      We have questions about the Panama agent fee. These were first presented to us as freight costs. When we indicated that the goods are CIF the local shipping agent told us that they will look into this. Now the costs are Panama Agent Fee. Can you help me to understand what is going on?

      Kind regards,
      Natascha Neus

      1. ChinaImportal at 9:26 am

        Hi Natascha,

        This looks like typical port fees. CIF doesn’t include those. Hence, CIF might look very cheap… but in reality it is not, as you will need to pay additional charges in the port of arrival.

      2. Sue at 2:00 pm

        You need to pay someone to do the paperwork on your imports hence the agent fee. If you engage a freight forwarder the fee may be less.

    28. Alex Lavie at 5:23 pm

      Hi, I need to quote an LCL sea freight cargo from China to Miami , but to be inbound (in transit) as The final destination will be another country.
      I am doing this because there are more options for delivery dates from China to Miami, than to my country. Once in Miami, the options from there to my country will be also better. I have a forwarder that will be able to deliver it to me. So what do you suggest I should do, do you recommend a special company? I do not wat to pay local taxes in USA as the final destination for the goods I am bringing is different.

    29. hihi at 3:59 pm

      Hi, i am charge 4100 for LCL, goods is 12 cubic meteres ,1000kg. This is all inclusive including documenting etc.
      It ships from Shen Zhen China to my door steps in Michigan. Is the price fair? Or am i being scam?

      1. ChinaImportal at 8:28 am

        Impossible to say without having recent pricing data for the same route.

      2. Sue at 2:01 pm

        If the price includes all port arrival fees then it is an okay price.

    30. ilyass byström at 10:23 pm



      i bought a ice cream machine from a retailers in china, and i was expecting to get it delivered in morocco by 10 of august, however now the retailer says the next ship is not leaving until next sunday 24th july and it will take around 1 month or more.
      now i am looking for another air shipping method by plane to ship it from china to morocco.

      the machine is 170 kg and 177*67*102 cm.

      could someone give me any advice or info about companies i can ship it with from china to morocco and prices please if you can.

      thank you sooo much in advance.

      1. Sue at 2:03 pm

        Get your pricing directly from a freight forwarder. Then you will know you are paying what you should be. 1 month shipping by sea is very good. Some airfreight is taking much longer and costs 5 – 7 times more the price unless it is under a pallet size.

    31. Tosin at 4:16 pm

      Please I need someone to help me with the following questions;
      How do I get freight rates for vessels that load petroleum products (Jet A1, aviation fuel to be precise) of a minimum of 10,000 MT.
      I know the cost but insurance and freight is a challenge. I need the product from FOB Rotterdam to West Africa.
      Is there a table online where one can check these rates?

      1. ChinaImportal at 4:48 am

        Hi Tosin,

        No, I don’t think any online freight table like that exists. The prices change on a weekly basis.

        You need to contact a forwarder and get a quote.

    32. Ed at 11:52 pm

      Hi Fredrik,

      Thanks for this fantastic post. It is easily the most comprehensive guide to sea shipping around. I’m looking at my first foray into importing and would appreciate your insights.

      I’m importing on FOB terms from Shenzhen to the States and specifically to Amazon for FBA. So I just want to be sure I have this right – my supplier takes responsibility for getting my goods on board the vessel in Shenzhen and sends the Bill of Lading to my freight forwarder who is based in the States.

      I heard there is something I need to notify US customs of 72 hours before the vessel leaves China. Can you confirm what that is, and typically, does a freight forwarder / customs broker arrange that?

      What are the compulsory shipping marks that need to go on the master cartons and container? I am planning to import a 20′ container.

      What information do I need to send to the supplier to ensure that they provide accurate information with the shipment, i.e. for Commercial Invoice, Packing List etc? I have a broad understanding of this (I’m aware of it) but unsure of the specifics.

      Is there anything else I need to request off the supplier or ensure they do before the vessel leaves China?

      Thanks so much for your advice.


      1. Ed at 8:16 pm

        Couple more things… I’m based in the UK but have a US mailing address through USAMail1 and also a foreign EIN… does this mean I can act as the Importer of Record and Ultimate Consignee? Thank you.

      2. ChinaImportal at 5:18 am

        Hello Ed!

        Glad to hear that. We just replied you by email.

        For the rest of you who read this, I suggest you check out our new Buyer’s Guide: Shipping, Taxes & Customs

        You can all find it here:

        (or here, if you want the EU version:

    33. Luis at 12:36 am

      Hello Fredrik, Thank you so much for your information, i currently have a question, i am in the tires industry and have been exporting tires from China to the USA, currently, i am thinking in changing a supplier but the only sell FOB in Qingdao China, this means i would have to do the transportation myself all the way to Las Vegas NV. The savings of changing from the provider i a currently with would save $7000 per container, so we could spend up to $6000 in the transportation of it. But how can i start since i will go to china to review the product, yet i don’t have any idea how to use a transportation company that could ship the product all the way to Las Vegas, they all would ship it to LA. Please advice, i appreciate your help, just want to make sure this would be a good move for my company, and after doing some research your website was the best informed. Good Job and Thank you

      1. ChinaImportal at 5:41 am

        Hi Luis,

        You need to find a US based freight forwarder with an agent in Qingdao. That should not be hard. could be one option.

        Once you have that, you simply instruct the freight forwarder to arrange transportation according to DAP (Delivered at Place) terms, directly to Las Vegas.

    34. Mitch at 12:52 am

      Hi Fredrick!

      Thank you so much for all the insightful information on this blog. I’ve done a lot of reading and your site is one of the bests by far.

      I am (or will be soon) a first time importer and entrepreneur, in general. I’ve designed a glass meal container and will be having the glass containers, lids, and some accessories manufactured in China by 3 different companies. I will be importing the containers FOB from Qingdao to Long Beach and then to a warehouse in San Diego before sending pallets to Amazon FBA.

      The supplier for the containers gave me the HS code (22.5%) and the supplier usually ships them with their own lids. My first question is, does that HS code apply to both parts of the item or will I be charged a separate duty on the lids, as well? What about the accessories, if they are packaged with the product?

      Secondly, I have read that if the value is under $2500 (increased from $2000) then it does no customs duties are required. Is this true? And if so, since my cost for the glass containers (5000pcs) will be just $2200, my lids from another supplier will be around $2500, and the accessories (wooden spoon/fork) from yet another supplier will be less than $1000, would it be smarter to ship them all separately from each manufacture and then package and assemble them in the US? Will this save me the expense and frustration of all the customs requirements on orders more than $2500? Or is the shipping cost added to the value at customs which would put me over the $2500 anyway?

      I hope that made sense…

      Thanks again for all your hard work!

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:21 am

        Hi Match,

        1. Normally, you pay a duty rate according to the HS code that applies to the “final product”, not individual components. However, these are only general guidelines. There may be different procedures for products like this one. Without a classification from the customs authorities, I can only speculate.

        2. No, that will still result in the shipping costs exceeding the costs you may save. LCL freight is expensive, as the costs are counted per shipment, not only volume.

    35. Pamela at 1:27 am

      Hello Fredrik,

      I’m attempting to purchase some items from a company in China. Is there anyway to determine if it is a legitimate company? My second question is if it is a legitimate cmpany, how do I find a consignee, port of destination and final destination?

      Any assistance is appreciated.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:27 am

        Hi Pamela,

        Yes, there are many methods to assess suppliers. I suggest you read these articles:

        The consignee is the importer, and the port of destination is selected by the same.

    36. Anna at 7:27 pm


      I am a small business, first time buyer from China.
      Ordering 100 products, each weighs about 500g.
      The Chinese manufacturer quoted $500 for sea freight shipping.
      Is it about right? Find it very expensive. Shipping per product cost as much the product itself. I would really appreciate your help.
      Thank you

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:33 am

        Hi Anna,

        Shipping companies don’t consider the value of the cargo. Freight charges are entirely calculated on the weight and volume of the cargo.

    37. Olia at 1:41 pm

      I have also a question about CIF LCL shipments and would like ask about regulationg documents about it. Recently we face situation when supplier provides small cargos on CIF LCL conditions for small delivery charge. But upon arrival they bill amount for local charges which often is very enourmous especialy if you have real number to compare with.

      How those local fees could be regulated?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:37 am

        Hi Olia,

        This is a typical problem. Local charges are high, so I suggest you request a DAP quotation next time. That way you will get a full quotation from start.

    38. Irsh at 4:29 am

      Hello Fredrik,
      I noticed you haven’t posted anything since May 2015. I do not know if this post is still valid but I will still go ahead and ask my question. I am planning to buy articles from retailers in China and export them to my country. It might seem strange but I am already in China and this way I can check the quality and the prices are still competitive. I will be having only receipts from the sellers and quite a lot of them. My question is, will this be a problem to obtain the B/L and C/I and will there be any problems for shipping and custom clearance using this method of buying?
      Thank you.
      P.S: Your site is really great.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 7:25 am

        Hi Irsh,

        No, we publish weekly without interruption. However, we may not have posted in this category for a while.

        What you need is to obtain export clearance documents… and I cannot go into the specifics of that. You need to find a reliable freight forwarder.

    39. Subchak at 5:55 am

      I am negotiating price on some wrought iron decorative panels with 400kg in totral weight and 1cbm vol. I am asking the manufacturer in China to quote me a door to door delivery to my address using sea freight. Is there some things I should ask them to clarify? would the quoted price be reliable and without any further problem? I will go through Alibaba Trade assurance site to make the payment.


    40. KMM at 5:26 pm

      I move several standard 40″ containers a month consisting of the same product from China to US. I have come across, which appears to be a “DIY” booking / shipping company. Does this type of service exist legitimately? I am quite skeptical of this particular organization and appear to be a scam considering they only ask for a credit card to sign up for $299, their US customer service contact number does not work and their one single on line help chat rep could not explain why it doesn’t work or provide another number,…. But this type of service being offered is very appealing to me, I would definitely try to move one on my own if it allowed a big enough savings and was a reputable company. I appreciate your time in advance with any comments on this.

    41. youcef at 6:52 pm

      HI Fredrik,
      I have a question about international sellers that want to sell for FBA (amazon)
      I live in Dubai but want to ship to FBA from supplier in china, I know that is risky without inspection, you can’t trust 100% a supplier to have a perfect production, so do you recommend to ship fisrt to UAE then inspect it here my self then ship to USA? and if so, what is the best way to avoid paying double fees for shipment , is there a way for that?

    42. Lesley at 1:31 am

      Thank you for the great info. Quick question…
      I am setting up my first shipment by sea. It sounds pretty straight forward as my supplier in China says he is arranging everything right to my US mailbox in WA.. But is there anything I should be asking him??
      So you do not need pay any other fees for the shipment”
      i know I need an ISF form before it ships, are there other costs or paperwork I should be aware of??
      Thank for the great info, Lesley

    43. wade koenig at 3:27 pm

      I ordered a small food trailer from china. Came in a large crate.My shipping agent emailed me this info saying I will be responsible for the costs of inspection. X rays and intensive inspection. First I need to know why my shipment was flagged and if I’m responsible for costs and why….please help asap. Thank you. Please email

    44. Michael at 10:07 am

      I am looking to ship two of my products from China to USA but am rather confused and want to make sure that I am 100% protected every step of the way. Can you please help me with this.

      Both product’s CBM are 57.25 (56 + 1.25)

      Product 1 = 56m3 = L 70 W 62.5 H 62.5
      Product 2 = 1.25m3 = L20 W 35 H 35

      Can you please tell me what the easiest way to ship, costs and what company I can use to do all the shipping.

      Please and thank you!

    45. Stuart at 6:04 pm

      Our company is looking at ordering and sourcing products form China Building Industry Items) Prices are very cheap, as we all know, BUT this quickly melts away with customs, taxes, shipping and ? So we have been using DHL, FedX and UPS, also China Post. The beauty of China Post no fee’s vat IVA Customs, you just get it, if you live long enough and it is not damaged.

      But we pay through the nose for DHL and the others except China Post. We now need to order MUCH larger and heavier items, companies are quoting prices to cheap to belive, to our local port, which is in Mexico, BUT the quotes are “CIF”, until I found and studied your site, I thought we were fine, so I almost order this very large crate, 2.5 meters high at the 200 USD CIF quote, to our port. AN ABSOLUTE STEAL, (This is Bulk Freight) OK so now I know with this we must pay all fees our end, this being Mexico, the only way things work is with bribes, corruption, corruption, corruption is the rule, and customs, taxes, duty can be ZERO one day to a house payment the next, depending on the needs of the official at that hour ! So I do not want to enter that world, from what you say “DAT” sounds like the way to go, BUT I can NOT get them to quote this way, only “CIF” this raises my suspicions as to “THE REAL COSTS” to get the product. Maybe the supplier wants to hide the true cost, which takes away any price advantage ? OR ? Or maybe they can quote this way. ALSO some suppliers for the same product say “we can not ship that port you say” (Chinglish) others say yes and quote it ! ADVICE HERE PLEASE !

    46. David at 9:05 am

      Hi Fredrick,

      I am currently ordering from a manufacturer in mainland. I live in the US and my parents live in Hong Kong, where I will be for the next 5 weeks. Before finalizing the shipping of my product, I wanted to do some research to make sure I knew what the risks were and what to watch out for. It would mean a lot, as you are experienced in this department, what would be the best way and cheapest way (and safest way) for me to get my shipment to the US. Should I ship here to hong Kong and then ship it myself? They have given me a FOB shipping price but I want to make sure I don’t get scammed as well. Should I get a Freight agent / forwarder? In other words, now that my item is manufactured, what should be my next step to havve it delivered successfully to the US.


    47. Brian at 4:06 pm

      Not sure if this topic is still active but I’ll ask anyway. To start out I know nothing about shipping or importing. We purchased some items form a company based in China. We’ve paid for the order in full including shipping from China to Los Angeles. They tell us that the items are ready to ship but they need the Consignee info and Notify Party info. Is that us? The LA to KY shipper? Who? Thanks.

    48. Taha at 8:08 pm

      Hi Fredrick,

      Im from spain, and my company made me responsible for an environmental project in the UK. I have to import 2 containers from China, one is 40-foot and the other is 20-foot. Those 2 containers will have inside of them special building materials that the company is developing to make a container house out of them. Long story short, they will be practically empty.
      How much would it cost to bring them from Shanghai to the UK? Will this fact that they are almost empty affect the price of transportation?


    49. andres at 11:54 pm

      Hi fredrik,

      im in cebu philippines. I experienced before having shipment from china cif, prepaid. The goods arrived in cebu port. but i was charged by shipping agent with p15,000.00 a cost higher than sea freight. I paid since i have no idea of the procedure.

      But I realized, perhaps i was wrong. I think my only at port of destination is terminal handling fee for the government consist of arrastre and stevedoring…and transportation cost.
      I should not pay the shipping agent as i dont have a contract with is the shipping agent who is paying him per transaction.

      I think the customs brokers is in collusion with the shipping agent.

      pls comment on my case. thanks,


      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 2:46 pm

        Hi Andres,

        Local charges are never included in the CIF price, and yes, many times the local charges are several times the cost of the freight itself. Order DAP in the future, to avoid such situations.

        1. Boris C. at 8:31 pm

          I thought DAP always involved air courier shipping which is past airport and up to the door. Is it not? Is it pertinent to sea shipping too? Or maybe you meant DAT?

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:24 am

            DAP also applies when shipping by sea

            1. Boris C. at 11:24 am

              And it can be up to the point of customs but not after since duties are not included in contract in scenario with sea shipping?

    50. Andy at 6:34 pm

      Can you tell me the difference between FOB and CIF shipping. Which one is cheaper for the buyer?
      I am buying 1/2 ton of aluminum from China from website from verified companyings who have trade insurance. I would like to have only one invoice payment to the seller, and have them handle all of the shipping costs and arangements. With FOB, does the buyer need to do any of shipping arangements or pay any additional fees or costs to the shipping company? Also, I live in the Sacramento, CA area within the united states and I would like to know if the West Sacramento Port has a higher shipping cost than Stocton, CA Port or Oakland port?

      Thank you!


      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:05 am

        Hello Andy,

        FOB is cheaper than CIF, as the former only includes forwarding until the port of loading (e.g. Shanghai), while the latter includes forwarding to the port of destination (e.g. LA). However, ultimately you will end up paying freight costs in full regardless. As for your question, you should request a DAP (Delivered at Place) invoice. However, I don’t think it includes customs brokerage fees, duties and other local charges / taxes.

        Read more here:

        1. Andy at 7:44 pm

          Thank you for the info. Do you know about what a typical unloading “Handling” fee would cost once the container arives at the port of destination? I will have a less than full container and so I read that I will also recieve a less than full container fee. Is $10 USD/(cubic meter) a reasonable assumption for cost of less than full container fee?

    51. Arjun at 12:39 pm

      Dear sir
      we are freight forwarder from india and we booked one air import from chiana to india ,one of agent freight forwarder in china we told to do shipment and he picked the cargo from shipper place and kept in warehouse and asked for air feright cahrges and we also remitted same and now we ask to fly the cargo he say shpt was cancel by airline so again you have to pay totla airfreight then only it will airlifted , also not giving exact status of shipment , is it possible to sor this matter out and want our cargo to be airlift from chian soon..
      pls advise how to cliam or proceed

    52. Mike at 6:03 pm

      Fredrik greetings, extremely informative posts…question my company is an upstart fitness company and we recently have purchased steel parts from Chinese supplier in the amount of $12,200. The weight and dimensions of the materials were N.W/G.W:11.5/12.5KGS, Carton Size:69.5*26*12CM. On our ISF form I see there are two separate Chinese companies listed as Container Stuffing and Consolidator . We paid our supplier $950 for shipping freight FOB. When the shipment arrived to our port in NJ, we incurred $1791 of total cost, including $656 Collect Charges-Shipco and $621 Custom duty. This seems exorbitant, is it reasonable? And how can we reduce our costs in the future. We have a Customs Broker, no forwarder

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 9:39 am

        Hi Mike,

        Such small volumes are rarely viable to ship by either sea or air. The only way to reduce the freight cost is by purchasing full container loads.

    53. Billy Miller at 3:26 pm

      Hello I want to thank you for the wealth of information you have provided. This 1 article has more information then all other sites that i have looked at combined.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 5:36 am

        Hello Billy,

        Thank you! Subscribe to our newsletter and you’ll get our articles delivered to your inbox every Monday.

    54. franco at 11:01 pm

      Scare tactics… I am sure the above holds water in most cases… but look at the source of the website… these guys want you to see the horror stories… to scare you into doing business with them?? this is on the scummy side of doing business!

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 4:20 am

        Hello Franco,

        Which part are you referring to? Yes, we do bring up ‘negative topics’, but then again, this blog is about risk management in international trade. I also know that we can back this up – partly based on our experience, but also on experiences of other importers. For your information, we are not a shipping company, so we have no direct interest, other than to inform our readers. But sure, we are not a charity, and the primary purpose of this blog is to drive visitors to our website.

    55. Frank at 5:38 pm

      Do I need special documents for exporting wood furniture form China to North America?

    56. Bill at 6:30 am

      Hi, If I go to China and buy a container than fill it up with my personal shopping , i’ll have to pay tax on the imports but I have to pay tax on the container as well, if it’s one that I bought there/

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 3:20 pm

        Hello Bill,

        That depends on whether the customs value is based on the FOB price, or the CIF price. Different countries base their customs value on different incoterms.

    57. Solomon at 8:29 pm

      Is it possible to do sea freight for something around 20Kg to South Africa

    58. Carlo at 4:36 am


      I’m ordering furniture from China to Miami for 20 ft container they asked me 4.398 us dollarfor the shipping…I think is expensive or not?Please let me know before i order…

      Thank you

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 1:34 pm

        Hello Carlo,

        That depends on the Incoterm. Are local port charges (in Miami) included? Send me the quotation by email to and we’ll have a look at it.

    59. Ritta at 8:50 pm

      Hello Fredrik,

      Thank you for this important information you are sharing with us.

      I have purchased some building material from a supplier in china FOB terms and we managed to sell it to our Client. Now the client is going to do the custom clearance and I need the documentation to show only my shipping invoice with my selling price not the factory.
      I am going to send the shipping documentation to the forwarder agent in china. However how can I make sure that the factory invoice will not be exposed to the client?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 9:31 am

        Hi Ritta,

        Yes, then you must provide them with an invoice, and obtain a Commercial Invoice based on the price paid to you, by the importer. If you are acting as a trader, then you are the seller, and the customs value is thus based on the value charged by your company – not the manufacturers.

        1. Ritta at 5:19 pm

          Thank you Fredrik,

          Do you recommend any Forwarder in Shanghai

    60. Doug at 12:41 am

      Just to clarify the shipping from China to Boston is 100$ + 735$, so 835+ for a single box worth 600$

    61. Doug at 12:38 am

      Hi Fredrik thank you for the blog.

      I’m looking to import some printed plastic tubes from China to northeast USA. The tubes are 600$ FOB and the company told me 100$ to port. The box is about 1 cu meter and 60 kgs.

      I talked to an American freight forwarding company and they gave me a quote of 735$ not even counting duties, and I have to go pick it up at port.

      I am I doing something wrong here. How can a single box from China cost all total close to 1000$ to ship? Should I be trying to use fed ex or UPS from China? I can’t risk this much money on something that might not pay off. Please help.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:10 am

        Hi Doug,

        This is simply because your Chinese supplier quotes you a CIF price, which excludes all local charges in the Port of Destination, while the American freight forwarder is quoting a DAT price, which includes freight to the US, but also the local charges. For natural reasons, the price is therefore different.

        Get a DAT quote from your Chinese supplier, and you’ll see that the price is most likely almost identical to the figure you got from the US company. There’s no way to bargain on freight when shipping small volumes, and the cost depends entirely on weight and volume, not the order value.

        1. Doug at 12:57 pm

          thank you, I just didn’t realize it was that expensive. I know other businesses that order smaller packages from China and the shipping is very cheap.

          Is UPS or a courier service going to be in the same 900$ range?

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:12 pm

            Hi Doug,

            It depends entirely on the weight and volume. If the order value is too low, and the items to heavy / large, it’s likely not viable. Buying $600 worth of products from China is rarely viable, compared to buying the same products domestically.

        2. Johny at 2:56 pm

          I don’t understand prices, I remember when I was moving from The US to China I shipped my stuff and it was 100 Kg and 1 cubic meter and they brought it to my house and I paid in total 100 USD from Washington DC to Beijing. Why is more expensive shipping from China to the US?

    62. Stoyan Ialamov at 9:19 am

      Dear Sir,
      We intend to load two Jack up barges to a heavy lift vessel at the port of Qingdao. The barges have to be transported from the HHMC jetty, they are currently at, to the loading side within the port limits. We have been given the following prices for the port services and clearance charges:
      1. loading area permission: we will apply with MSA n have a safey meeting for approval.: Rmb 250000
      2. clearance out for cargo
      A:port struct fee: rmb40000
      B:tally fee: rmb100000(base rate: cargo cbm x 0.83,if loading in holiday, 100% surcharge)
      3. tug boats assitance during loading operation:
      A: 8 tugs for towing two QMS n assistant to load dry vsl within one day for finishing all the work: rmb 2650000
      B: CCS towing certificate fm terminal to inner anchorage:rmb60000
      C: 4 pilots for instructing towing: rmb80000(if in holiday, 50% surcharge)
      4. agency fee: rmb 100000

      Would you please be so kind as to advise whether the above costs have been excessively inflated.

      Kind Regards
      Stoyan Ialamov
      Vessel Manager
      Zakher Marine International
      Mob: +971506589804

    63. Anjali at 12:57 pm

      I purchase some 60 pcs LED TV from China. And i asked them to send it to Cochin port, India but they send it to Chennai port. They informed me From chennai they arrange the truck to send the goods to cochin port , now it’s more than 1 month till now the goods not yet reach cochin port.
      Now they are telling if we want the goods we need to pay for truck & they will sen it to cochin port.
      Now what to do ? what action i can take against to supplier.

      1. Oskars at 10:57 am

        I had a similar situation, but with shoes, and at the end I just quit talking to them, because, just like in your situation, they wanted more money for some deliveries, which they didn’t tell me at the beginning.

    64. Sudhir at 9:05 am

      Hi Fredrik,

      Need your help. I m planning to import a HD 20″ feet container from china for first time. I require a process flow to source the goods to india. Can u help me on this ??

      Awaiting for your reply,


    65. Boris at 7:45 pm

      Since you are outside of US Fredrik, I wanted to bring up issues that many non-US importers have to deal with when shipping small orders via air courier through billing accounts of suppliers to avail of their discounted rates.

      I often read that because suppliers do not provide DDP and because most service providers in US don’t act as importer of record when it comes to paying customs duties on their behalf, importers end up stuck unable to pay customs duties. In this scenario they are considered 3rd party to pay customs duties but can’t do that due to unable to open billing account in US for that freight company supplier used to ship with.

      Did you ever have this issue?

    66. M. Floyd at 12:01 am

      I’m a first time importer.
      I ordered 2 pallets of printed books, valued at $3,500 from CHINA to NY PORT
      on CIF terms. My shipping charges from the printer were $450.

      I am picking up the shipment myself. (no trucking to my door)

      The forwarder has billed me additionally $704 as follows:
      Customs Entry $145
      Document Transfer Fee $65
      Destination/Due Carrier’s Charge $65
      Courier/Messenger $20
      ISF Bond Fee $65
      Chassis Usage $4.
      In/Out Warehouse Handling $339.90
      TOTAL: $704

      Do these charges look legit?
      The In/Out Warehouse Handling for $339 really seems like a lot.

      The forwarder claimed they don’t know what those fees are, so I asked my supplier to break down that fee and they listed the following:

      Warehouse charges
      Loading fee:
      USD 0.0502/LBS (MIN USD 97.10) OR USD 22.34/PLT(Pallet / Skid / Crate / Case cargo) (MIN USD 223.40)
      Dad: USD 33.00
      Doc. Fee: USD 23.50
      CFS inbond filing fee: USD 20.00
      Equipment surcharge : USD 3.25/CBM (MIN USD 10.00)
      Terminal Fuel: USD 2/CBM (MIN USD 10.00)
      Insurance Fee: USD 20

      If this is what it costs fine, but I feel like either my supplier or the forwarder are padding the bill here and I don’t want to get taken advantage of or spend more then I need to.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 7:44 pm


        It’s impossible to say if its legit only based on the price. There are plenty of scams going on in the shipping industry, as explained in this article:

        I suggest you purchase accoding to FOB terms and instead work with a US based freight forwarder. Send me an email and I’ll give you a suggestion.

        1. Boris at 7:35 am

          Often on your blog Fredrik I see people incurring questionable charges when it comes to using supplier’s freight forwarders which usually come under CIF incoterm, that us to the port of destination. What I don’t understand is why they don’t get their quotes for charges after port of destination because I noticed this is when surprises tend happen. Why not get quote from supplier’s freight forwarder, quote from few freight forwarders of destination country first to see their charges for CIF and FOB incoterms before making informed decision? What if China based supplier and freight forwarder try to hide their affiliation and collude to make profit from unsuspecting buyer, especially if it’s small time importer?

          To know if prices are true to their nature that above commenter specified, I think one needs to be long-time sea freight importer who knows market prices as well as all the terms freight forwarders charge for.

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:34 pm

            Hello Boris,

            I think it’s very rare that freight forwarders in other countries collaborate with Chinese suppliers and shipping companies, in order to squeeze the importer. Instead, I think that the main cause of this issue is simply that too many importers are not even aware of the meaning, sometimes even the existence, of Incoterms. They assume that the CIF freight cost is all there is to take into consideration, which is very wrong.

    67. Tren Long at 10:28 am

      How difficult is it to pick up your own shipment in port? I am ordering a LCL from China and I would like to get it shipped to LA. Is it feasible to just go in and pick up the load (it would be easily loaded and unloaded)? How daunting of a task is that for a first time sea shipper?
      Great blog

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 1:00 pm

        Hello Tran,

        In general, it is possible to pick up cargo in a warehouse operated by the assigned Freight Forwarder / Customs Broker.

      2. Boris at 2:01 pm

        Hey Tren, read this about how unloading of LCL shipments is done (at least in UK):

    68. sharda at 7:33 pm

      Dear Sir, I recently made a shipment from china to Jamaica. My B\L said that the port of discharge is colon free zone, place of delivery is kingston. My shipment has now arrived in Jamaica with an additional charge of 486 dollars by an agent which I had no arrangement with as collect.
      The logistics company was paid in china and the freight is prepaid. I cant understand why I am being charged by an agent in china through my Jamaican logistics company for a service which should not be applicable as my shipment was a transhipment.
      The agent has not responded to my inquiry and consequently I cannot collect my goods without the money being paid. Please advise, I can send my Bill of Lading via email for your perusal.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 8:30 pm

        Hello Sharda,

        Which Incoterm was specified on the Proforma Invoice, issued by the supplier?

        1. sharda at 9:12 pm

          Total EXW price : xxxx
          CIF kingston: xxxx

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:18 am

            Hello Sharda,

            Notice that CIF is not including costs that arise in the Port of Destination, thus it is expected that you are charged for port fees, and local taxes (if any). What I don’t get is why the cargo ended up in Panama if you ordered CIF Kingston?

            1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 11:34 am

              Hello Sharda,

              Yes, that is a very good question. The place of discharge should be Kingston, not Panama. I think your supplier declared incorrect information to the freight forwarder.

            2. sharda at 10:24 am

              That is my major concern now.Why are these charges being generated in Panama if my destination is kingston

            3. sharda at 10:25 am

              No explanation provided

      2. sharda at 7:35 pm

        In the previous post I said china, I meant panama which is the place of discharge

        1. sharda at 9:10 pm

          Recently received an update from the agent in panama stating that they were advised to collect the following charges by their agent in origin although I have paid the supplier to ship and the bl stated CIF prepaid.
          BUNKER ADJUSTMENT FACTOR: USD 100.00 / SET x 1 USD (100.00)
          CISF: USD 55.00 / R/T x 3.690 USD (202.95)

    69. Vivek Pandey at 3:44 pm


      I have booked FOB shipment with my Chinese supplier and shipping freight through Alibaba the Easy Shipping Company. They provided me the most competitive freight of US$ 1200 / 20 ft HD container and I paid the amount on seeing the BL on mail.

      Now Easy Shipping is not sending me the original BL for the reason the the Chinese local supplier has not paid the Local Chines Charges ($ 872) and thus the BL is not getting released to me.

      I am not clear whether the Easy Shipping company is reasonable in demanding the local charges from Chinese supplier and the deal where I was not involved they are holding my original BL even after I paid the complete sea freight.

      Please support.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 5:41 pm

        Hello Vivek,

        What is your supplier saying? How much is the freight forwarder demanding? This could indeed be a freight scam. We are receiving reports on a regular basis and we covered it as late as last week.

        You find the article here:

        Things that seem too good to be true usually are. As of today, we have not heard of a single case being resolved. For the future, only work with verified and legit freight forwarders, not the one offering, what seems to be, the lowest price.

    70. Peter at 10:07 am

      Hi sir, thank you so much for your article. i have being looking for such a comprehensive explanation of shipping by sea. i am new to shipping and i am unclear about something. i have a shipping agent for my country in china. i have read about them online and they do have good reveiws. I opened an account with them and they have given me a Chinese address to that my supplier can send my goods to them. Now, the problem i have is that how do i make the supplier send the goods to the address so that they can handle my shipping? when trying to place an order, in the shipping method, no option to send to a shipping agent and in this case, which shipping terms should i choose. please explain how i should go about that. thank you.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:50 pm

        Hello Peter,

        Are you buying the items from a website or directly from a manufacturer?

        1. Peter at 9:53 pm

          hello sir,

          thank you for your quick response. i am buying from a seller from alibaba.
          the issue that i dont know how to make the seller send the item to the shipping agent when making the order. there are only options for DHL and other shipping companies.

          thank you.

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:56 am

            Hello Peter,

            I see, you are purchasing the items through and not directly from the supplier. Well, I am not familiar with Alibaba’s payment and shipping system, but if you want to use your own shipping company, you need to purchase the products as FOB (Free on Board) to the port of loading. I think you need to pay the supplier directly in that case.

            1. Boris at 12:31 pm

              Hi Fredrik

              Is buying from Alibaba not same as buying from supplier that trades on Alibaba? What do you mean by their payment and shipping system? Judging by what you say, this sounds like Alibaba are suppliers by themselves.

    71. Boris at 3:59 pm

      Frederik, can you tell me the difference between freight forwarder and freight company? Oddly, I considered both to be the same but now it appears to me that forwarder is just a middleman?

      I see that customs clearance is not included in any incoterm specifying at least DAT?

      When shipping by air, it is same Bill of Landing or now it’s Airway Bill?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 8:48 pm

        Hello Boris,

        First of all, “freight company” can mean many things. It’s a very general term that may refer to the shipping company that actually own the vessels (e.g. Maersk, MSC and China Shipping), or a freight forwarder (e.g. DSV). However, a freight forwarder is a service company that manage local transportation, administration, unloading and storage.

        That is right. Customs clearance is not included in any Incoterm because it would not make sense. That said, you can purchase customs clearance as a service from most freight forwarder, but also hand in the documents (or do it online, which is possible in many countries now). Thus, including customs clearance would require a new set of Incoterms.

        Yes, Airway bill would be the proper term in that case.

      2. Worldwide Freight Shipping at 8:40 am

        Dear Boris,

        Freight forwarders handle the shipping part. Customs brokers do the customs. They are two separate functions, but you might have companies which offer both.

        Hope it is clear for you!

    72. Brett Lewis at 3:30 am

      Hi Frederick,

      I’ve been checking online to see the advice people give regarding China shipping. Yours is the best I’ve found so far. You’ve made it very clear and delivered it in a very friendly manner. We have published a similar content, but after looking at yours I think we better make it a bit friendlier. I’ll be most happy if you can provide feedback of it.

      I hope you don’t mind if I use some of the insights you’ve shared in this post. I believe the freight forwarding industry would very much appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:14 am

        Hello Brett,

        Thank you! Our aim here is to provide practical and actionable advice. I will send you an email with a few question.

        1. Brett Lewis at 1:04 am

          Sure. It’s great to exchange thoughts with someone in the industry. :)

    73. bel marí at 9:35 pm

      My name is Bel Marí, I am writing from Spain.
      My request is a bit awkward, I guess, as I am sure this the first time such situation is presented to you.

      We are family living in Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, we just moved into the island a few months ago.
      We are planning to build a house in a plot we just bought by the sea, in the city of Palma de Mallorca.
      The construction firm that will make our house -a modular prefabricated concrete house- operates in mainland Spain, near Barcelona, where our future house will be entirely built.
      However, the house modules, once finished, will have to be brought by sea to Mallorca island.
      Each module itself is like a container, unpacked, as it is made of concrete, it needs not much protection. Its dimensions are 7m*5,5m*3m. I would have to ask the architects about the weight as I am not very sure. The house will be made out of 8 of these modules.

      The transportation costs are very high, as quoted by a Spanish sea freight company. We’ve been told that many Chinese sea freight companies bring their ships to Spain full of many goods, as China is a leading export country, but send their ships back to China not so full because there isn’t much to import from EU to China.

      I’d would like to know whether that is correct and if so, if we could arrange transportation from Barcelona’s port to Palma de Mallorca’s port ( approx. 90NM) on one of your ships that would then continue on their journey to China.

      Please let me know whether this is feasible and at which cost.

      I would give further details on weight and exact dimensions of the cargo if you answer positively.

      Thank you very much in advance.

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 9:59 am

        While it’s possible that the vessels unload on the Spanish mainland and then move on to Mallorca (great place btw, been there a few times), I don’t think that will have any effect on the price. Shipping costs are set by market prices, and the shipping companies are not keen to make exceptions.

        Besides, most shipping companies are not Chinese. I’m quite sure European firms such as Maersk and MSC ships the majority of the cargo between China and Europe.

    74. Carib at 6:39 pm

      I had hired a freight forwarder for the shipment of an container.
      I have paid according to the invoice. ($5103)
      Now the container has arrived, but the freight forwarder demands more money ($11.000) before I can get the original B/L.
      The Freight Company (CMA-CMG) will not release the cargo untill I have the original B/L.

      What can I do now?
      Any help?

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 10:31 pm


        You paid US$5103 for one container? That’s expensive! This sounds very strange. I have a few questions for you:

        1. Have you paid your supplier in full yet?
        2. On what basis is the freight forwarder requesting more money?
        3. Did you purchase according to FOB terms? (if yes, your supplier shall issue the B/L after they’ve received the final payment)

        I’ve never heard of anything like this before. Hopefully we can help you resolve the situation.

        1. Carib at 11:52 am

          Dear Fredrik,

          I have paid my supplier the total ammount.
          I have purchased the vehicle according to FOB terms.
          I had hired a freight forwarder to ship the vehicle in a container to Suriname for me. Now after the total payment for the freight to the freight forwarder, he demands a total of $11.500 to be exact.

          He gives me the following calculation:
          PSS Peak Season Charge : USD2300
          Bunker adjustment factor : USD1700
          Container in balance charge : USD2700
          All total amount : USD11500

          I have received the B/L from the freight forwarder only by e-mail. They did not send the original to me.
          The supplier says, they have nothing to do with the freight.
          The freight forwarder : QINGDAO WANLIN SHIPPING SERVICES CO.,LTD

          An internet search shows that it is a fraud company.

          How can I get my container?

          1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 6:10 pm


            I also did a search on their company name and this clearly a fraud. I have few more questions for you:

            1. According to which Incoterm did you buy shipping from this company? CIF?

            2. Is there any local port agent specified on the B/L from your supplier? (this is the company that manages the unloading in the Port of Destination). Since the cargo already arrived, there must be someone that keeps the cargo.

            3. Since you ordered FOB, the supplier should issue the B/L. Why don’t they send the original to you? Are you sure they are not working with shipping company?

            I also suggest that you contact your local port authorities. Did this scam company give you ANY reason whatsoever for requesting more money?

            Just wondering, what made you choose this company from the beginning?

            1. Carib at 4:24 am

              Dear Fredrik,

              The shipping was CIF.
              The local port agent is CMA-CMG. They refuse to release my cargo. I also showed them the original payments. But they refuse to release my cargo. They keep telling me that I must sove this problem with my freight forwarder.
              I also have a feeling that the supplier is working togehter with the shipping company.
              The supplier is on the B/L as shipper.
              Do you have an e-mail addr where I can send you the documents?

              They request more money and the reason is that the $5103 was not enough to pay the shipping costs. So an extra $11500 is needed…

              This company was recommended by, but now alibaba can’t help me because the shipping company has left alibaba also.

            2. Fredrik Grönkvist at 5:52 pm

              Yes, you can send the document to I’ll take a look, but that’s about all we can do.
              It sounds very strange. If you purchased according to FOB terms, your supplier should send you the B/L directly. If they are not, then I think they are working together with the shipping company.

              It’s an outright fraud and nothing else. The shipping industry don’t work that way. The price that is confirmed before shipment is not changed, unless the importer delays the shipment (which requires a new price).

     don’t recommend any company. It’s a supplier directory and there are too many suppliers for them to keep track of. I suggest that you read this article on the subject:

    75. North Ocean at 3:42 pm

      We provide a full range of Sea Freight shipment services including options ranging from smaller consolidated LCL shipments to FCL and project shipping with streamlined.

      See Here :)

      1. Fredrik Grönkvist at 1:19 am

        That’s great. Do you have any advice to give our readers regarding shipping from China?

      2. ALEX OLIDEN at 8:12 pm

        are you locate in Miami Florida?

      3. don at 8:44 am

        Please quote 48′ HC container Shanghai to Newark New Jersey. Tank is 96″x 96″ x45’is why we need 48″HC

        1. Ivan Malloci at 10:18 am

          Hello Don,

          in order to get a freight quotation, you can get in touch with Freightos:

    Comments are closed.

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