Air Freight From China to the US


Written by the team at Guided Imports, the goal of this article is to answer all your questions as it relates to air freight options, cost and timing when shipping to the US.


Table of Contents

Shipping from China to the USA by Air Explained

Air freight is a fast and reliable way to ship cargo from China to the US. It’s the ideal method when you need your goods in 20 days or less, or your shipping volume is between 150 and 500 kilograms.  

WARNING: Coronavirus has caused reduced air freight capacity, leading to volatile pricing. Make sure to get a quote.

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Understanding Air Express vs Air Freight vs. Air Freight Forwarding when Shipping from China to the USA

Air Express from China to the USA

Air express is a door to door courier service from companies like Fed Ex, UPS, and DHL that rely on a single company to collect, ship, and deliver small shipments. It’s ideal for shipments that are urgent and weigh less than 150 kilograms.

Air Freight from China to the USA

Air freight, on the other hand, is an airport to airport service for shipments of larger volumes and requires additional arrangements for pickup from your factory and delivery from the final destination airport. 

Air Freight Forwarding from China to the USA

Air freight forwarding is similar to air freight, except all movement of the goods will be handled by a third-party freight forwarder like Guided Imports. 

The benefits of using a China freight forwarder are that you can request that your air cargo be shipped from your factory door directly to your final destination. 

Likewise, you’ll typically receive a more affordable shipping quote from a freight forwarder than your supplier or a 3rd party logistics company, due to the freight forwarders’ high-volume agreements with air carriers.

So which service should you be using for your next air shipment?

How to Choose Between Air Express, Air Freight, and Air Freight Forwarding when Shipping from China to the USA

Choosing between Express, Air Freight, and Freight Forwarding when shipping from China to the US, there are two primary considerations: load and timing. Let’s cover each one at a time.


When shipping by air from China to the USA, the primary consideration when choosing between available air services is the load or the total weight of your shipment. In general terms:

  • Express shipping is best for loads under 150 kilos, due to its higher cost when compared to Air Freight 
  • Loads between 150 and 300 kilograms are viable for air express or air freight, depending on the seasonal rates.
  • Air freight is best for loads between 300 and 500 kilograms, which are urgent
  • Shipments greater than 500 kilograms will most likely be considered too big and expensive to ship via air.


When shipping by air from China to the USA, the secondary consideration when choosing between available air services is timing. In general terms:

  • Air Express is best for shipments needed in 1-4 days
  • Air Freight and Air Freight Forwarding is best for shipments needed in 2-20 days
  • Shipments that are not needed for at least 20+ days are great candidates for Sea Freight from China to the USA

That being said, these are just guidelines. 

Each shipment via air from China to the US will be different, with unique requirements and restrictions, especially with regards to logistics from your Chinese factory to the airport, and from the US airport to your final destination, when your load is too big to use Air Express services.  That’s why we almost always recommend using an air freight forwarder whenever possible, like Guided Imports. 

Guided Imports has the first-hand experience of hundreds of routes, is aware when rates are high or low, and has negotiated high-volume rates with couriers are air carriers.

Additionally, working with Guided Imports also allows for customized auxiliary services like logistic warehouses in China, US customs broker services, and China freight insurance.

How Much Does Air Freight from China Cost?

China air freight costs vary, depending upon the total volume, and if the rates are “all-included”, such as when you use a freight forwarder like Guided Imports. 

Air freight is almost always less expensive than express, and customers can find significant cost savings if they wish to collect their cargo at the airport. Airport to airport rates vary based on the two airports, with current rates averaging between $4 to $9 per kilogram, due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus on China shipping.

What are All-Included Air Freight Costs?

All-included air freight costs include all costs associated with the shipment of cargo, allowing the shipper to receive a door to door service at a single quoted rate. When a freighting and logistics company like Guided Imports provides a quote that is  “all-included”, it means their rates most likely include the following;

  • China side logistics: from the factory to the airport
  • Shipping from China to destination
  • Customs Clearance
  • US Side Logistics: Airport to Final Destination

Be sure to read your quotation carefully, as some forwarders will include import duty and customs clearance, and others will bill those services separately. This largely depends on what the products consist of, and if a forwarder is comfortable guessing the duty and import fees based on the explanation of the cargo. When in doubt, double-check with your freight forwarder or logistics provider.

Actual Weight vs. Volumetric Weight

The cost of air freight from China is calculated by first determining the actual weight vs. the volumetric weight of your cargo. Airlines will take the greater of the two weights to calculate the chargeable weight. 

Actual Weight

The actual weight is calculated the same way it is calculated for air express. Actual weight, also known as gross weight is the total weight of the cargo. 

Volumetric Weight

The volumetric weight of air cargo is calculated using one of the two methods detailed below:

  • LWH/6000: Volume Weight Formula:

The first multiplies the carton dimension and divides it by 6,000, 

If, for example, the dimensions of all sides of an export carton being shipped via air freight are 90cm, then we would multiply the 90 * 90 * 90 and then divide the sum by 6,000. This would give us a total volume weight for air freight of 121.5kg.

  • CMB*167: Volume Weight Formula:

An alternative calculation is to multiply the total cubic volume by 167. Continuing with the example of an export carton with six, 90cm sides, the cubic volume is 0.729 m3. 

If we multiply 0.729m3 by 167, we have a total volume weight of 121.7kg. 

Comparing Actual Weight with Volume Weight: 

Remember, airlines will always choose whichever is higher, the actual weight or the volumetric weight. 

Continuing with the example detailed above, if the actual weight of the export carton weighed 119kg, then the airline would count the volume weight as the billable weight, meaning that the weight would be calculated as 121.7kg. And if the actual weight of the export carton weighed 130kg, then the airline would count the actual weight as the billable weight, meaning that the weight would be calculated as 130kg and not 121.7kg.

Confused About How to Calculate Your Air Cargo’s Billable Weight? 

If reading this has left you feeling like you need a calculus degree to understand the difference between actual and volumetric weight, you’re not alone! 

That’s why our team is here to help. Simply submit a request and get a China shipping quote in less than 24 hours from Guided Imports. We’ll detail every last cost so there are no surprises. And best of all, we offer the best rate guarantee.

How Long Does Air Freight Take from China to the US?

Typically, China air freight traveling from China to the United States takes a little longer than Express Shipping, anywhere from 2 to 14 days, and up to 20 days. It should be noted that the Coronavirus has and will continue to impact these timeframes. Your Best is to get a quote to see how long your shipment will take.

Why does Air Freight timing from China vary so much?

The reason shipment times can vary is dependent on the route and couriers. When shipments are urgent, freight forwarders will find routes that are direct and leave little room for the delay between the legs of the journey. 

The best way to understand how and why air freight can take as little as a couple of days to as long as three weeks is if you use the analogy of air freight being similar to planning a trip from one country to another. 

When planning a trip, one needs to identify an airport they will fly out of, coordinate a way to get to the airport, and then purchase airline tickets from one destination to another. Oftentimes, direct flights to a destination are more expensive, and savvy travelers can find cheaper flights if they opt for a layover. 

There are even some instances where it might be even cheaper to layover in a city and have to travel to a different nearby airport, before arriving at their destination airport. In these circumstances, transportation needs to be arranged to the different airports, and then again to the final destination. 

This same process is done for you when using an air freight forwarder like Guided Imports. Layovers can allow for cost savings, even when accounting for short term warehousing, similar to a traveler spending a night in a hotel before their next flight. 

As a general rule of thumb, when air freight needs to arrive quickly, the cost is usually higher. When time allows, savvy freight forwarders who know all the potential routes from a country can find creative ways to save money when shipping by air. 

  • Under normal circumstances….
    • Shipment to West Coast airports take 1 to 4 days
    • Shipments to East Coast airports take 1 to 5 days

When Should You Use Air Freight from China?

China air freight is the preferred shipping method when any of the following conditions apply:

  • Cargo needs to arrive between 2 and 20 days.
  • The billable weight weighs anywhere from 150 kilograms to 500 kilograms.
  • The cargo is sensitive or valuable, such as electronics, jewelry, or precision instruments.
  • Cargo that is perishable, such as medicine and food.
  • The cargo is needed in an emergency situation, such as personal protective equipment.

Advantages of Using China Air Freight

Shipping via air freight from China is by far the most advantageous mode of transportation when urgency or security is a primary concern. The reason being is the significant level of customization a freight forwarder can offer, based on the unique requirements of each shipment. 

Unlike air express, air freight has the flexibility to offer logistics options that focus on speed, cost, or security. Shippers can arrange for the cargo to be delivered anywhere, consolidated, deconsolidated, and transshipped in ways that air express does not offer. 

While it is agreed upon that sea freight is the most economical way to transport large volume internationally, air freight allows for the greatest level of diversification and customization. 

If cargo needs to be shipped from China to two cities that are not close to one another, air freight offers a significantly greater amount of options than air express and sea freight. This is especially true when the volume is less than 500 kilograms, or when the cargo must arrive quicker than 30 days. 

For example, if an e-commerce company wanted to ship inventory urgently from Guangzhou, China to two fulfillment warehouses, one in Dallas, Texas and the other in Newark, New Jersey, air freight gives them any of the following options: 

  1. The shipments could be deconsolidated in a warehouse in Guangzhou by the third-party logistics company and shipped individually to each city, in as little as 5 days.
  2. These shipments could be shipped to a central location between Texas and New Jersey, such as Nashville, Tennessee, and trucked to both locations. 
  3. The shipments could be shipped to either Texas or New Jersey, deconsolidated, and trucked to the closest city, and flown or trucked to the more distant location. 
  4. The cargo could be shipped to an airport in the United States where a carrier is offering special low rates, and then the cargo is deconsolidated and further flown to the final destinations. 

The possibilities are endless, and the above scenarios are not possible for either a door to door air express shipment or an ocean shipment.  

Disadvantages of Using China Air Freight

The most significant disadvantages of air freight are that they are not perfect in either extreme. Meaning, when urgency is paramount, it will almost always be faster to use air express, and when the cost is the primary concern, it will almost always be more expensive than sea freight. 

Anytime you are planning on shipping products from China, you will greatly benefit from sharing your shipment details with a freight forwarder who can help you choose the best option to move your cargo. To start this process, tell us your shipping details, and we will create a quotation and shipping plan that works for you.  

What are the Best Air Freight Companies in China?

Ultimately, the best airlines offering air freight services in China are the ones with routes and rates that are right for you. In general, most airlines can be considered to be reliable carriers, and worthy of consideration. However, we find that the best carriers are the ones with consistent routes and those who maintain stable shipping rates. 

At Guided Imports, we work with only the best China Air Freight companies, including

These companies are among the best because of their track record of:

  • Daily flights
  • On-time shipment
  • Logistical capabilities
  • Low prices
  • Good service

What are the Cheapest Air Freight Companies in China?

If you’re looking for affordable air freight costs, it’s in your best interest to work with a China freight forwarder, like Guided Imports.

Freight forwarders have the distinct advantage of leveraging their high-volume rates while staying brand agnostic. This allows them to select the cheapest carriers, regardless of the airline. 

It is known across the industry that China Southern, Air China, and China Eastern consistently have the lowest prices for air cargo shipments to the United States. However, other carriers such as Cathay Pacific, ANA, and Asiana routinely offer promotional rates sporadically throughout the year, which can at times be significantly less than the state-owned, Chinese carriers. 

The answer to the question of which carriers are the cheapest in China always depends on the season and which carriers are offering special rates. 

Get Help from Guided Imports

At Guided Imports, we focus on staying up to date with all potential air routes and have discounted high-volume rates that we can pass on to you. This has allowed us to maintain some of the lowest rates in the industry. Don’t believe us? Get a shipping quote from China now with a best-rate guarantee.