Shipping from China to the US


Written by the team at Guided Imports, the goal of this article is to inform our customers about everything related to sea freight from China to the US. We’ll cover everything from what it is, how much it costs, how long it takes, and various carrier options.


Table of Contents

Shipping from China to the USA by Sea Explained

China sea freight is the movement of cargo from China to the US via container ship. 

When opting to ship to the US via this method, the buyer has some flexibility to customize their shipment in order to meet their unique needs. The primary consideration is the container load size,  and whether your shipment is “Less Than Container Load” (or LCL), or “Full Container Load” (or FCL). 

LCL Shipping from China to the US

When cargo shipped by sea is not enough to fill an entire container, buyers often opt to share container space with other shippers. This type of shipment is called “less than container load”, or LCL for short. 

Generally speaking, LCL is a good option when sending loads greater than 1 cubic meter and smaller than 15 cubic meters. 

When a buyer opts to ship cargo via LCL, a freight forwarder will typically assist them by collecting their cargo and transporting it to a local warehouse. At the warehouse, the cargo is consolidated with the other buyers’ cargo that will be stuffed into the same container. 

Once all cargo arrives at the warehouse it is loaded into the container. The logistics company is then responsible to truck the shipment to the port and begin the freighting process. 

LCL has the benefits of allowing smaller sized shipments that otherwise would not be able to be shipped via sea to take advantage of the low-cost options of sea freight. The disadvantages however, are that LCL is always going to cost more per cubic meter than FCL. 

FCL Shipping from China to the US

A “full container load” shipment is one that uses an entire container, and the cargo is not shared with other shippers.  

FCL does not require that a container is filled to capacity, but rather, designates that the container space is not shared between multiple buyer’s shipments. 

When the volume of a cargo load is around 15 cubic meters, or more, FCL can be considered, and the cost can be compared to the costs of an LCL shipment. 

Because FCL shipments only contain a single consignee’s cargo, there is greater flexibility as to how the products are loaded into the container. 

In most instances, when buyers are purchasing products from Chinese suppliers, the container will be trucked to the supplier’s warehouse and the cargo will be loaded onsite. 

In the event a buyer wishes to consolidate multiple products, they have the option to have all the products shipped to a centralized warehouse and then load the goods into the container, or they could request that a single supplier collect all cargo and load the container at their warehouse. 

FCL can also be shipped directly to a buyer’s warehouse, once it arrives in the United States, or shipped to a warehouse first, before it is deconsolidated. 

When using FCL, it’s best to work with a China Freight Forwarder who has experience moving freight from Chinese factories to the United States. 

Specialized forwarding companies, like Guided Imports, can provide the following benefits: 

  • Pass along high-volume rates
  • Organize the collection of cargo and communicate directly with your supplier
  • Identify any potentially missing documentation or compliance requirements needed to both import and export the cargo
  • Customize the shipping process to meet each shipment’s needs. Additional services allow for quality inspections, repackaging, relabeling, consolidation, deconsolidation, and warehousing. 
  • Managing the customs brokerage process
  • Deliver the cargo anywhere in the United States, regardless of whether it is a warehouse, Amazon fulfillment center, business address, or even residential address. 

Container Options

Various container size options exist when shipping from China to the US by sea.

A standard ISO container is typically:

  • 8 feet wide
  • 8.5 feet high
  • Comes in either 20 or 40-foot lengths
  • Additionally, there are “High Cube containers” which are typically 9.5 feet high.

How Much Does Sea Freight from China to the USA Cost?

Given the current coronavirus pandemic, sea freight costs are a little higher than usual, though certainly not as impacted as air freight rates. The current rate for a 40 foot container to the East Coast from China won’t cost more than $3,900 and to the West Coast, no more than $3,300. This rate is just for the container freighting and does not include landed costs which we’ll detail next.

Additional Landed Costs

Landed costs typically include:

  • Delivery to Port of Landing (POL)
  • China Export Requirements 
  • Origin Port Handling Fees (OPHF)
  • Freight Rate
  • Freight Insurance (when requested)
  • Destination Port Handling Fees (DPHF)
  • Warehousing (when necessary)
  • Import and US Customs Brokerage
  • Delivery to Final Location

The party responsible for covering these costs will depend upon the type of contract agreed upon by the buyer and seller, whether that’s a FOB, CIF, EXW, DAP, DDP, or some other kind of Incoterm agreement. 

When requesting a quotation from a logistics provider, it is always beneficial to define the Incoterm agreed by the buyer and the seller, in order for an accurate quotation to be provided. 

Major Shipping Ports in China

14 of the 50 largest ports in the world are located inside of Mainland, China, and another 2 are economically tied to China in one way or another. This means that 15 of the largest ports in the world are shipping cargo from China to all over the world. 

Below, we have created a list with each of these major shipping ports in China.

  1. Shanghai, China
  2. Shenzhen, China
  3. Ningbo-Zhoushan, China
  4. Guangzhou Harbor, China
  5. Hong Kong, S.A.R, China
  6. Qingdao, China
  7. Tianjin, China
  8. Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  9. Xiamen, China
  10. Dalian, China
  11. Yingkou, China
  12. Lianyunguang, China
  13. Rizhao, China
  14. Dongguan, China
  15. Fuzhou, China
  16. Nanjing, China 

Major Shipping Ports in the US

The United States has approximately 360 ocean and inland waterway ports. Finding the right port for cargo to be shipped from China requires identifying which of the larger ports are closest to the final destination. Mileage on water is oftentimes much cheaper than mileage on a road, so it is always beneficial to consider multiple ports and calculate the all included cost from each. 

An experience China freight forwarding company like Guided Imports should be able to create this assessment for you, however, it is always helpful to have your own understanding of the top US seaports.

Major West Coast shipping ports:

  • Port of Los Angeles, California
  • Port of Long Beach, California
  • Port of Seattle-Tacoma, Washington
  • Port of Oakland, California

Major East Coast shipping ports: 

  • Port of New York & New Jersey, New Jersey, New York
  • Port of Savannah, Georgia
  • Port of Virginia, Virginia
  • Port of Charleston, South Carolina
  • Port of Miami, Florida

Gulf Coast shipping ports:

  • Port of Houston, Texas
  • Port of South Louisiana, Louisiana

How Long Does a Container Ship Take to Arrive from China to the US?

Container shipments from China to the United States can take between 12 and 33 days, depending on where in China your goods depart from and where they are being shipped to in the US. Containers shipped to the West Coast take 12-25 days, and 24-41 days to the East Coast. To get the most accurate assessment, get a quote from a China Freight Forwarder.

China to US Container Shipping Timetable:


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

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When Should You Use Sea Freight from China?

In short, China sea freight is the preferred shipping mode when:

  • Your shipment can take 20-35 days in transit before it arrives at the final destination.
  • The total weight is greater than, or close to 150 kilograms.
  • When the cubic volume is more than 1 cubic meter. 

When choosing the best shipping method for your shipment from China to the US, other considerations should include:

  • You are shipping cargo that otherwise could not be shipped via air, such as dangerous and potentially hazardous materials.
  • You are looking for the least expensive option to move your cargo. 
  • You would like to minimize your carbon footprint as much as possible. Sea freight is still less harmful to the environment than air freight. 

What are the Advantages of Sea Freight when Shipping from China to the USA?

The advantages of using China sea freight include the ability to ship a large volume in a more cost-effective manner than that provided by air freight and air express. 

Likewise, sea freight offers maximum customizability, with options to ship, store, route, and fulfill cargo of any size, to any destination. China sea freight is inexpensive and optimized to move cargo to anywhere, from anywhere.  

There is a reason virtually every business that imports products from China into the United States does so via sea freight. It is the same reason why there are an estimated 360 waterway ports in the US. Sea freight is a cost-effective and simple solution when moving cargo across large distances. 

When working with a freight forwarder, importing from China via sea freight is incredibly easy, it is punctual, and is low risk.  

What are the Disadvantages of Sea Freight?

The disadvantages of using sea freight mainly revolve around the time it takes. 

In general, shipping cargo by sea to the US takes 20+ days, meaning, if cargo is urgent, sea freight is less than ideal. Other disadvantages included the added steps involved, as multiple carriers must work together to fulfill a shipment from A to Z. 

In most instances, a China freight forwarding company like Guided Imports will handle all aspects of a sea freight shipment on behalf of the shipper. While forwarders can offer seamless services so the customer does not need to worry about their shipment, the process is always going to be a bit more complex than air express, which is the most streamlined logistics service available. 

Other disadvantages to sea freight are the risks of shipping cargo via sea. Because a shipment requires multiple carriers to handle the freight, there are increased chances of loss, damage, and theft of cargo. While these instances are rare, they do happen. 

This is why we encourage all of our to obtain China freight insurance whenever shipping by sea.

Lastly, there is always a risk that cargo can catch the attention of US Customs agents, which can lead to customs examinations as well as warehousing fees, which are the responsibility of the consignee. Even when products imported into the United States are compliant with all rules and regulations, these examinations are always a risk that needs to be taken into account.


What are the Best Sea Freight Companies in China?

The best China sea freight company for your shipment will depend on the volume, place of origin, and final destination in the US.

Three of the ocean carriers we recommend the most include:

In general, it’s best to work with a reputable China Freight Forwarder who will:

Get Started with Guided Imports Now

Whether you’re a first time shipper or looking to get a better quote, look no further. Get a China shipping quote from Guided Imports with a best rate guarantee. This offer is valid for both sea and air freight from China to the USA.