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When you purchase wholesale products from China, you will need a method to ship your cargo from China to the United States (or wherever you reside).
Depending on the mode of transport and the weight and dimensions of your shipment, delivery times and shipping rates will vary.
This post will provide you with an overview of your shipping options and answer the following questions about importing from China.
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There are 3 main ways to ship packages from China to the US when purchasing in bulk.
Each method has its own pros and cons and the correct choice depends on how quickly you need your products and how much you are willing to pay.
These 3 methods are applicable when buying from Alibaba or from a private label manufacturer.
Express shipping is the fastest and most reliable way to ship bulk orders from China to the United States and the best express shipping carriers are UPS, FedEx, TNT and DHL.
With express shipping, you can receive your packages in less than 5 days. But the speed and reliability of express shipping comes at a significant cost.
The general rule of thumb is that express shipping typically costs about $2 per pound.
However during the pandemic, prices have nearly doubled to $4 per pound to ship a package via FedEx from Shenzhen, China to California. It’s expensive!
Air freight is the most economical option for shipments that weigh between 400 lbs and 1200 lbs. At prices 30-40% cheaper than express shipping, you get the best of both worlds, fast shipping and lower pricing.
However, air freight is more of a hassle than express shipping because you likely need to hire a customs agent. You also need to arrange for last mile transport from the airport to your warehouse.
But overall, air freight is a good compromise in terms of speed and cost for medium sized shipments.
For shipments over 1200 lbs, sea freight is almost always the cheapest shipping option from China to the US.
You pay a flat rate for a container (20 or 40 ft) and you can ship as much as you can fit. However, the shipping times are significantly longer compared to air.
Editor’s Note: You do not need to fill an entire container in order to ship by sea. Instead, you can opt for less than container load (LCL) shipping.
LCL is when several shipments are consolidated and packed into one container. LCL tends to be more expensive because there’s more labor involved in consolidating and separating out shipments. The shipping times are also slightly longer than full container shipments.
With sea freight, you also have to hire a customs agent and arrange for last mile transport from the port to your warehouse.
But overall, the low price of sea freight is what allows an ecommerce business to achieve economies of scale.
Shipping to the United States from China can take anywhere from 1-35 days depending on the shipping method you choose.
Here are the typical number of days it takes to ship from China to the US depending on the method.
Here’s a table of the average shipping times for Express shipping to the United States depending on the carrier.
The times listed above are approximate and depend on various factors. For example, the global pandemic has caused major delays due to a shortage of staff and shipping containers.
The cost of shipping from China to the US varies depending on the shipping method, the weight and dimensions of your package, and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
Due to the pandemic, prices have increased significantly but you can refer to the table below for approximate pricing and what to expect.
During the height of the pandemic, shipping container costs rose to as high as $20,000 per container. However, sea shipment prices are projected to settle down to normal levels towards the middle of 2022.
The best way to ship from China to the United States for bulk shipments depends on the weight of your shipment and the speed you require.
For all shipments less than 200-400 pounds, you should opt for Express shipping. At this weight, it doesn’t make sense to purchase a full container and the extra hassle of air freight and hiring a customs agent is not worth the money.
For shipments between 400 – 1200 pounds, air freight is usually the cheapest option with fast shipping times. However, you should compare the sea shipping rates because sometimes LCL (less than container load) can be cheaper than air freight.
For all shipments over 1200 pounds, sea freight is almost always the cheapest method but it’s slow.
If speed is your main criteria, express mail is almost always the fastest way to ship. You don’t need a customs agent and your goods will arrive at your doorstep.
If you need to ship small parcels less than 5 pounds from China to the US, there are 3 main options for you to choose from.
These shipping methods are ideal when buying from AliExpress or samples from your wholesale supplier.
Regular post is the most economical way to ship light parcels from China to the US. However, the delivery times can take up to 90 days depending on the method that is chosen.
There are several different options for regular post with different prices and shipping times.
However, the fastest regular post option is China International EMS which takes between 3-15 days.
Overall, regular post is the cheapest way to ship small products. However, as your package size increases, the price of regular post can become on par with express shipping.
As a result, make sure you compare prices between express shipping couriers like FedEx, DHL and UPS before making your shipment if your package is on the heavier side.
Express shipping via an international courier like FedEx, UPS, DHL or TNT is the fastest and most reliable way to ship from China to the United States.
If you need your products as quickly as possible (less than 5 days), express shipping is your best option. However, it is also the most expensive method to ship small parcels from China to the US.
ePacket is a special shipping option that provides a fast and inexpensive rate when shipping small parcels from China to the United States.
Rules of thumbs for lead times (in regular conditions) are 1-2 weeks for regular post, 3 days for air express freight, 8-10 days for air freight, and 30-40 days for ocean freight.
These estimates can be affected by a wide range of circumstances, so it’s worth checking with your logistics provider.
Shipping from China by surface mail takes forever. China Post offers much quicker, cost-effective options in airmail and express mail service (EMS), which are both likely to take between one and two weeks.
US Customs will deprioritize release of parcels if something looks wrong with the paperwork. So, increase your chances of regular post only taking one week, by checking that the supplier gets the paperwork right before sending.
When shipping from China by international courier, allow three days. That includes either picking the parcel up at the Chinese supplier’s door unless the supplier has dropped it off at their depot. If it’s really urgent, there are more expensive premium services which may even be delivered overnight.
Standard air freight between China and the US generally takes around 8-10 days. It’s not that planes are slower; it comes down to the fact that air freight processes are more complicated than for express freight. Express air freight services typically shaves 2-3 days off standard air freight transit times.
At around 30-40 days for a door to door shipment from China to the USA, sea freight has the longest lead time. That’s because ships move a lot slower than planes.
Beyond additional preparation required, ocean liners have also started to move slower to save fuel (and money). For instance, US Customs requires importers using a single entry bond and travelling by sea freight to also take out an ISF bond.
On top of that, port congestion, customs delays, and bad weather condition affects sea freight more than they do for air freight.
Sea freight offers a premium service if you need your goods to move faster. Depending on shipment requirements, expedited freight might be able to really cut down the transit time. In some instances, it might even be competitive with air freight lead times.
Expedited freight works by streamlining sea freight processes and by only tying in with the faster sea services and premium trucking services. This makes expedited freight a great option when shipping from China.
If your package is less than 24 inches and the total length, height and thickness of your packages is less than 36 inches, ePacket shipping is the cheapest way to ship a package from China to the US.
In addition, your package can not weigh more than 4.4 pounds and the merchandise can not exceed $400 in value.
To give you an idea of how cheap ePacket is, sending a package from China to California through ePacket is cheaper than shipping from California to Nevada using USPS.
As a result, ePacket is the preferred shipping method that AliExpress dropshippers use to send their products.
The cost of shipping small parcels from China to the US depends on the shipping method and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
If you need your products as quickly as possible, express shipping is your best choice. Otherwise, ePacket shipping will give you the best bang for your money.
The cost of shipping a small parcel from China varies depending on the shipping method, the weight and dimensions of your package, and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
For the purposes of this example, the prices quoted below are for sending a 2 pound package from Shanghai to the United States.
ePacket shipping is by far the most economical shipping option with a reasonable delivery time when your package weighs less than 4.4 pounds.
However, delivery times can take as long as 30 days.
If you want guaranteed fast delivery, then express shipping via FedEx, UPS, DHL or TNT is your best choice. However, the prices are significantly higher.
All of the shipping times detailed above are subject to delays due to Chinese holidays.
While all major ports in China are open 365 days out of the year, most factory workers and carriers are on holiday.
Below is a list of major Chinese holidays that will cause shipping delays.
Editor’s note: Because China uses a lunar calendar, the exact dates of these holidays will vary from year to year.
During these holiday periods, China shipping is more or less shut down.
Express freight is generally used to transport goods at short notice. It is only cost-effective for shipping small items, so air or sea freight should be used for larger products.
The main reason it is so time-efficient is that it is a streamlined service, completed entirely by one company. Couriers such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL are regarded as express freight carriers.
Countless resources claim to be logistics experts or experienced international trade professionals, but this isn’t always the case.
It’s important to choose experienced companies with proven track records. For timely shipments, goods must be finished, packed, loaded, and delivered on time. The company handling these processes on the Chinese end must be capable of performing these tasks effectively.
In most scenarios, working with experienced companies and suppliers gives you the best possible chance of having your goods imported in a timely manner.
Finding the best shipping company is a challenging task but there are a lot of companies which do it. Here is a list of three best ones:
Most companies have an online system for calculating shipping costs and quotes because every item has a stable cost which is usually said on a per Cubic Meter (CBM) basis.
In order to avoid unexpected charges, it is advisable to ask for a total Under the Delivered Place (DAP) or Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) price according to the weight and volume of goods, departure and destination places and final delivery address.
When the goods are manufactures and packed, the final freight cost should be confirmed which means you have the opportunity to get an estimate . To get a correct quotation price, some detailed information from Chinese supplier is needed:
Previously, it was about 6 to 8 months to get packages from China to the USA but now it is about 15 or 16 days. A noticeable factor is the type of materials.
If general products such as books and clothes are shipped, it usually takes about 3 to 6 days while it may take longer for sensitive products such as foods, drugs and cosmetics.
There is not a fixed method for Shipping from China to USA because it varies based on the weight so time estimation is not easy due to delay in departure or some other issues. Generally, Express shipping for single packages is the fastest method. Air freight for shipping less than 10 tons is a fast way and FCL shipping by sea which is used for transferring more than 10 tons has the longest time period to be delivered.
When the shipping cost from China to USA is considered, FCL sea freight and Express air freight are the least and most expensive methods. Sea freight costs are calculated based on the cargo’s volume, and for air freights, volume and weight should be considered. Therefore, shipping cost will be varied according to the volume or weight of goods and the selected method.
In addition type and value of goods and destination are important to estimate the cost. The importer should know about restricted ports or airports in the US which need additional paperwork leading to more delays. Getting enough information about these points can help calculate the shipping cost exactly and accurately.
For all bulk shipments from China to the United States, hiring a freight forwarder is highly recommended even if your shipment is small.
A good freight forwarder will guide you through your first shipment to avoid common pitfalls and find you the cheapest way to ship your packages.
There are also many forms to sign when importing from China and a good forwarder will help you understand everything about freight.
You should also be aware of the packaging and labeling requirements for your products so that they can pass customs in your country.