Blog Chinese Importing Shipping & Logistics

All About International Ocean Freight & Step by Step Instructions

In this article I’ll give an overview of Ocean Freight and also the step by step instructions you need to take to arrange for ocean freight and actually receive your goods.

Air Freight is Reasonable When Ordering Samples

The first thing to consider with Ocean Freight is whether you are actually better off shipping via Air Freight. For small orders under 20 lbs (especially samples) air freight, such as through FedEx, UPS, or DHL, is often the cheapest method. If the order size is around 20 lbs or smaller, air freight is your cheapest and best route, although you can expect to pay $200-$500 from China to North America.  While this may sound like a lot, especially if you’ve seen Ocean Freight quotes for much lower than this, Ocean Freight will almost always be close to $300-500, no matter how small the shipment, once you take into consideration many of the overhead fees (see below).

Sea Freight vs Air Freight

For All Other Orders, Use Ocean Freight

For any orders over 20 lbs, Ocean Freight is normally your cheapest option. Ocean Freight has high base costs but it scales very well. For example, your ultimate costs to ship a 20 lbs box via Ocean Freight may be $300, but for 200 lbs you will pay $310, for 2000 lbs, $390, etc. For Air Freight there is almost no scaling. A 20 lbs box will cost you $300 and a 40 lbs box will cost you $600. For some great general advice on Air Freight, see my interview with Will Williams from Freighto here.

Sea Freight comes into two varieties: Full Container Load (FCL, 20’ and 40’ containers) and Less than Container Load (LCL).

Sample ocean freight cost for a container

A quote emailed from a freight forwarder for ocean freight from China

LCL freight simply means you have one or more pallets put into a container along with other companies’ goods. Full containers mean you get the full container to yourself. Simple, right?

Full containers cost anywhere from $2000-$4000 for a 20’ container to North America (always cheaper to the West Coast) and LCL is pretty close to fractionally equivalent to how much of the container you’re using up (if you’re taking up 25% of the 40’ container, you’ll pay around 25% the cost of a 40’ container). LCL is very reasonable- 3 or 4 pallets of goods will only cost you $200-$300 in sea freight going to the West Coast. See the included image for sample sea freight quotes from February 2012.

Sea Freight can be delivered to most major ports. Vancouver (Canada), Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are the big ones on the West Coast.

Be Prepared for a Lot of Surprise Fees

With Ocean freight there are a lot of surprise fees when the shipment comes to your country. On my first several imports from China, I felt I would spend half a day driving around Vancouver paying random fees to random companies with little idea why. I still have little understanding of why, but at least I now know what. These fees include, but are not limited to:

Dock Fees: $50-100
Freight Forwarder Administration Fee: $75-200
Security Fee: $50-100 (normally on Full Container Loads)
Custom’s Clearance Fee: $100-200 (plus applicable duties/taxes)
Final Truck transportation from bonded warehouse to your doorstep: $100+ (unless you pick up your shipment yourself)

 

The last two fees, Custom’s Clearance Fee and Final Truck Transportation, you can escape and do yourself. You might do this on your first couple of shipments but eventually you will come to your senses that it’s just easier to pay someone else for. In my eBook, Importing from China is Easy, I give a handy Estimated Costs Worksheet you can use to get a good idea of the true costs of what your shipment will be.

These are just the fees once your shipment arrives in your home country. They do not include the fees from within China (re: beware EXW) or the actual sea freight itself.

Ocean Freight is Very Different From What You Are Used To (Sort Of)

Most of us are accustomed to shipping things via USPS, FedEx, etc. and other small parcel carriers. Ocean freight at first seems very different from these types of services, but when you think about it more deeply, you’ll realize they are actually very similar.

If you are shipping something via USPS, you know that you have to drop the item off at a post office. With Ocean Freight it’s the same way: someone has to drop it off at the post office! Except in this case, the port is the post office.

If you imagine the United States for a second, you know that Kansas is very far from the ocean. So to ship a few pallets to, for example, the Port of New York, you some how need to have the goods shipped up to New York. The same thing is true if you order something from your supplier in Chengdu (central China) to the Port of Shanghai.

Shipping from Chongqing to Shanghai

Shipping from Central China to Shanghai

Thankfully, you don’t actually have to arrange with some random Chinese truck driver to pick up your goods. Most freight forwarders are happy to arrange to pick up your goods from your Supplier’s factory. But it will cost more money. That is why things called Incoterms are very important. For example, if you and your supplier agree to the shipping terms FOB Shanghai, this means your Supplier will pay for the cost of having your goods shipped to the Port of Shanghai. If you agree EXW Chengdu, you will pay for it (see my warning on EXW here). Shipping goods hundreds or thousands of miles via truck isn’t cheap, no matter what country you are in, so always be aware of this!

Once your goods are shipped to the port, they get put on a container, and the next time you hear of them should be when they arrive in your home country. How long does it take to deliver goods from China to your city? See this excellent website here for an idea of how long.

When Your Shipment from China Arrives to Your Country

When your goods are close to arriving in your city, your freight forwarder will give you a call to let you know how much you owe them (more on this later), an ETA, and where to pick your goods up.

Keeping with the USPS example, you know that if you’re not home when the mailman tries to deliver your package, you will have to pick it up at the post office. The same thing is true for ocean freight except they won’t ever try to deliver your package to your home. You always have to pick it up from either the port or a nearby warehouse.

If you ordered a full container, you will almost certainly pick your container up at the port. In my case, this is the Port of Vancouver.

Port of Vancouver containers

Container at the Port of Vancouver

If you ordered LCL freight, then remember you have only a fraction of that container with a bunch of other people. Your goods could be at the very back of that container, so somehow they need to facilitate a way for you to get those goods. Time at the port is very expensive so they’ll move your container to a nearby warehouse (nearby could mean 30 miles away) and destuff the container, in other words, they’ll take your goods out and put them in a warehouse to make for easier and cheaper pickup. In the graphic below, you can see that the goods are moved from the Port of Vancouver (where the container gets unloaded), moved to a nearby city (Richmond) and then moved to a warehouse.

Goods from China at Bonded Warehouse

Goods from China at Bonded Warehouse

Continuing our post office example, you know that the post office will not hold your package forever. Eventually they’ll simply return it to the sender. The same is true for Ocean Freight. You generally have five free days of storage. After this they will start charging you storage (for a container it’s about $100/day and for LCL Freight it is around $50 a day, depending on the size of the LCL freight).

Your Goods Are Being Held Ransom at This Point

So your goods have arrived in your home country (great- you know the boat didn’t sink!), however, they are now being held ransom in a sense. Three parties need to be paid, and the warehouse or the port will not let you pick up your goods until you have paid these three parties. These three parties are:

  • Paid Your Supplier
  • Paid your freight forwarder or shipping agent
  • Paid Customs

Below is one of the “In-Bond Manifests” I’ve received. It has all sorts of good information like the name of the freight forwarding company, the cargo control number (more on this later), etc. You’ll be referring to this lots.

Paying Your Supplier

At this point, you should have already paid your supplier. However, your goods are like a car: you need to have the title for them in order to claim ownership. An original Bill of Lading is essentially a title to the goods. Your supplier will mail you 2 or 3 physical copies of this (photocopies are not permitted- they must be original) and you must give one of these Original Bill of Ladings to the freight company in your local country (normally in the city of the port, but not always). Your supplier may also Telex Release the goods to you, which basically means they telephone the company and say “Please release the goods to Dan’s XYZ Company” and forgoes the need for an OBL. Ask your supplier which way they prefer.

Paying Your Freight Forwarder

The freight forwarder will also ask you for a small payment at this time, normally in the range of $100-200 (they will also ask the Sea Freight costs if they were not already paid for by your supplier). The $100-200 is basically their administration fee. Yes, it sucks, but there’s nothing you can do but pay it.  When you pay your money to the freight forwarder, confirm with them the location of the warehouse with your goods. Also ask them for something called the “Cargo Control Number”. This is basically the unique ID of your package. The warehouse will not be able to find your items without it. When the Freight Forwarder initially contacts you to tell you that your goods have arrived, they should forward you a document telling you both the warehouse location and cargo control number, like seen below.

Document-ManifestPaying for Customs

The final thing you will have to pay for is customs. This actually isn’t quite true- you may not actually have to pay for customs (if your goods have a 0% tariff) but you will have to clear customs.

Customs clearance is a complex topic (although it’s not that hard to clear customs yourself). Basically, countries require a record of all goods entering the country. Most goods, especially those from China, have some percentage of tariff/duty associated with them, normally in the 1-15% range, although many actually have 0% tariff/duty. Regardless of the amount of duty owed, you have to fill out a customs declaration form. A customs broker can handle this all for you, for approximately $150-200 + applicable duties. There are literally thousands of customs brokers, but the one I use is Pacific Customs Brokers (they can handle Canadian and/or U.S. Clearance). For new importers I always recommend to use a customs broker (even if it doesn’t make economic sense for your first small order) as they can also help to answer any questions you will inevitably have.

Once you have cleared customs, they will notify the warehouse holding your goods something along the lines of “Dave Bryant has cleared customs- you can release these goods to him”.

The steps above might sound complicated but after one or two times, it takes very little time and is effortless.

You’ve Paid Your Ransom- You Can Pick Up Your Goods!

Once you’ve paid your three ransoms, you can finally pick up your goods. You simply go to the warehouse (in the case of LCL freight) or the port (for containers) where your goods are and pick them up.

If you are picking up LCL freight the warehouse may charge you $25-50 for a dock fee which is often only payable in cash, so bring cash with you just in case. Remember that your goods will likely be on a pallet. If you have a vehicle, like a pickup truck, that you can simply load the pallet onto, that is the best. If you have a small car, you could be disassembling the pallet for a while and stuffing your car with boxes.

Conclusion

Hopefully this gives you a good overview of how international sea freight works. The first time or two importing from China sea freight can be intimidating but once you understand the nuances of sea freight, it will become second nature. If you’re still struggling, in my Importing Course I give some more detailed recommendations on how to save on sea freight costs and recommend freight forwarders who will make your life easy. If you have any other questions about sea freight, feel free to comment in the comments section below.

 

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64 Comments

  • Reply
    nowy
    May 13, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    My question is on the container. When u want to ship your goods let’s say in a 20′ container do u actually buy the it or maybe when your goods are offloaded there is a a way to return it

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 18, 2015 at 4:49 am

      No you don’t buy the container. When your goods arrive you truck driver takes the container to wherever your goods need to be unloaded and then the container is returned to a specific location by your truck driver. This is all built into the freight cost.

      • Reply
        nion
        September 26, 2015 at 8:42 pm

        david
        i am from bangladesh i used to import urea molding powder from cn to bd ctg port the information you gave i already know this stuffs what my question is
        you already know about the hs codes right?
        in my country this product has 62% tax before the importers used to change the hs code and import which could save them .5% but now a days the customs keep an close eye in that hs code for phenolic molding powder 3919…….
        but still the importers can sell the product at the same range of the price
        do you have any idea how ?
        2253886592 ………..this is my id of most popular chinese chatting web as you know china i guess you will understand

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          September 28, 2015 at 5:44 pm

          Hi Nion,

          This is a pretty specific question about customs classification for India which I’m really not qualified to answer. With that being said, as you know, individuals and companies purposely classifying products incorrectly to save on duties is common practice. Most countries only randomly audit shipments, so I suspect some are simply ‘sneaking through the cracks’.

  • Reply
    Edrick Yu
    October 14, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Hi Dave,

    I am new to the Amazon business, and I have certain goods that are sitting with the supplier in China, and I need to ship them to 3 different locations of Amazon FBA. There are about 17 cartons in total, with each carton weighing about 5.5kg.

    1. I suppose that ocean freight would be the option?
    2. Do you have have any agent in China that you can recommend? I’ve been struggling with this.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 14, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      Hi Edrick,

      1. If the items are only 5.5kg ocean freight is probably a very bad option. You’ll pay well over $500 after all fees (per box). Air freight will be your best option but you want to be VERY careful your items arrive to Amazon with all duties and other fees paid. I would strongly recommend having your items shipped directly to your home and then reship them to FBA as Amazon is very quick to reject air shipments directly from China if there are any fees.
      2. I would ask your Supplier to refer a couple of agents or simply good a couple in your area and get a couple of quotes.

  • Reply
    Julie Gorman
    October 28, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Hi
    I live in NZ and the product I have ordered will be ready on the 5th of November to be sent to FBA in the US. I am a little confused and having difficulty sorting out in my head the steps I should follow and what directions I should send to the company in China to make it easy for them to do. My product is branded, has a barcode on the packaging and I have registered most details with Amazon Seller Central. This is a learning curve for me and I realise the first time will be the hardest. I would appreciate any assistance you could give me.
    Kind Regards
    Julie

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 29, 2015 at 5:58 am

      Hi Julie,

      I hate giving any specific advice on Amazon, especially when it comes to shipping direct from China to FBA- I’ve seemingly followed all the steps prescribed by Amazon and had shipments rejected by them. With that being said, it sounds like you have a lot of your bases covered- my only recommendation I would make is to ensure that all charges, specifically duties and taxes, are being charged to you upon entry into the u.s., and not Amazon (other wise they’ll reject the shipment)

  • Reply
    Samuel
    November 5, 2015 at 5:49 am

    The article mentions “The last two fees, Custom’s Clearance Fee and Final Truck Transportation, you can escape and do yourself.”

    Question: How can I “do” away with the Customs Clearance Fee? In particular, what exactly do I need to do to escape the Customs Clearance fee?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      November 5, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      Hi Samuel,

      Speaking from a Canadian/US perspective, you go down to your customs office with all of your paperwork (typically commercial invoice, arrival notices, etc.) and fill out the paperwork yourself. You still pay duties of course, but you do not pay a customs broker $100-200.

  • Reply
    Kristina
    December 10, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    This was a really useful article, thank you for sharing! Quick question about what happens once the containers arrive at the port if I don’t live in Vancouver. I have a shipment arriving from China via sea but I live in Alberta. Are there specific trucking companies that would pick up my goods and deliver them to my door or what do recommend I do? It’s about 13 CBM. Just not sure what the most cost effective way to do this is. Please help!

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      December 11, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Do you have a freight forwarder you work with or did you ask your Supplier to arrange? And if so, did you have them ship to Vancouver or Calgary? (hint: in the future, you don’t need to ask them to ship it to an ocean port- you can ask them to arrange to a major city like Calgary and they will simply charge you extra to ship to Calgary).

      You’ll need to contact a freight forwarder to move this for you. PCB.ca (they have a freight division) is a good one in western Canada. If you’re shipping it to a residential delivery, you’ll need to be clear with the freight forwarder about this as the truck won’t be prepared for this when it delivers (and you’re probably going to pay a bit of premium for residential delivery). Keep in mind 13 CBM is quite a bit of product (about 1/2 a 20′ container) so hopefully you have a big garage!

  • Reply
    Joe
    December 31, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Hi David, Great website! Just a quick question if I may,
    So once you get the final FOB price from the supplier.. where do they drop it off /or who collects it at the port. Is it the freight forwarder, not sure how the dots join up once you agree with the seller to drop to Shanghai port for example? any guidence would be appreciated.
    Many thanks
    Joe
    London

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      December 31, 2015 at 10:45 pm

      Hi Joe,

      It confused me for the longest time as well how the dots connect. It goes to a warehouse operated by the freight forwarder/shipping company near the port of Shanghai until it’s time to get on the ship. Your freight forwarder forwarder (if using one) will simply contact your Supplier with this information. That’s also why the FOB Shanghai (opposed to EXW some small city 2000 kms from a port”) makes so much of a difference – your supplier pays the overland transport to get the shipment to this warehouse, which can be expensive.

  • Reply
    Clinton R
    March 13, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Hi David,

    Is there a useful website to approximate the costs of air freight, air courier and ocean freight?

    Also, i’m trying to import stuff from china and the products itself costs approx USD$1200.

    They’re telling me that by ocean it’ll cost around USD $125 and by air, it’s costing USD $1000 – USD $1300 (i’m skeptical of the air cost. is it really that high?)

    My concern is that i need the shipments by around 12 April 2016 and i’m concerned if the ocean freight will reach on time. Should i maybe split the shipments (USD$300 worth of goods that i need it urgently – by 12 April 2016, shipped by air and the rest – not too urgent in time, by ocean freight?) Can you provide suggestions?

    Thank you

    Thank you

    Clinton

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      March 15, 2016 at 3:41 am

      Hi Clinton,

      Yes, $1200 for 250kgs via air freight seems completely reasonable. Keep in mind they are likely quoting you AIR FREIGHT opposed to AIR COURIER. The big difference is that with Air Freight you are going to be responsible for paying a customs broker ($200~), some ‘invoice fees’, and you’ll have to pick up your cargo from a warehouse near the airport (they won’t deliver to your door). And yes, it’s probably impossible to get your goods by April 12 via sea.

      You’re probably going to pay $300-400 for sea freight after the smoke clears with all of the paperwork (plus a customs broker and lpicking up the goods at a local warehouse, just like air freight). So it sounds like you’ll save about $800. Keep in mind, your price is for sea freight will be more or less the same even if you imported 500kgs and 3cbm so you might considering increasing your shipment size. It sounds like a good idea to split your shipment between air and sea (I often end up having to do this as well) and if you do this, make sure you get it shipped via air courier like UPS or DHL and not air freight, other wise you’ll get killed on the customs brokerage and it’ll be way more convenient.

  • Reply
    Clinton R
    March 13, 2016 at 9:19 am

    In addition to the previous comment,

    The shipment weighs about 250 Kgs and is around 1.5 CBM. It’s coming from China to Vancouver, Canada

    Thank you

  • Reply
    charles
    May 24, 2016 at 7:56 am

    I’m so confused. If i purchased an item (200lbs) that ships from china to Minneapolis, MN sea port. What is the process for pick up? Do i have to worry about ISF? Does it just arrive to the port and then they call me to pick it up? Do i bring the B&L and just pay the customs fees? Can i do this without a broker or shipping agent? Please help me out as my package is due to ship in a week. thank you

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 26, 2016 at 5:08 am

      Hi Charles,

      There should be a name of the freight forwarder on the BOL you received. If they haven’t contacted you yet, contact them and email them a copy of their BOL. They’re going to want some money for admin fees (probably around $100). They’ll also want a copy of your Bill of Lading. You then need to clear customs for your goods. There’s likely a government office somewhere in Minneapolis (try here: https://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/minneapolis) where you can do the paperwork yourself…although it’s muchhhhh easier to pay a broker $100-200 to do it for you. After that, you can pick up your goods from a warehouse (the freight forwarder moves the goods from the container to a nearby warehouse).

  • Reply
    Mussa Yussuf
    July 8, 2016 at 3:57 am

    Hi. It’s the first time I’m getting a shipment from China and it’s arriving by seas to Vancouver. I live in Edmonton
    My question is what is the best way to arrange my package from vancouver to Edmonton without me going to vancouver. Are there companies that do that and how would I go about doing so.
    Or do I have to go to vancouver and pick up myself.
    Thanks

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      July 11, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Mussa,

      You’ll probably have to have it trucked in or train freighted in. You can contact the freight forwarding division at PCB.ca and they’ll give you a quote. In the future, ask your Supplier to ship it to Edmonton opposed to Vancouver (the freight forwarded will arrange the train freight to Edmonton for you then).

  • Reply
    Viktoriia
    August 2, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Hello, I want to deliver the goods from China to Amazon warehouses in the US. Please advise reliable and trusted freight forwarder. Thank you in advance

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      August 10, 2016 at 4:24 am

      Hi,

      Give Unishippers a try or PCB.ca

  • Reply
    Zach
    September 16, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    I just wanted to make sure I have a full understanding of the entire process. Here’s how I understand it, please correct me where I am wrong.

    -Contact Alibaba seller (or whomever from China).
    -Negotiate the cost of your good with shipping included.
    -Verify if that quote is to your door or to a dock.
    -Here’s where things get fuzzy for me. Say I wanted the goods to ship to a port in Louisville, KY (USA), they would arrive at the port and if I wanted to pick them up myself I need to pay a few small fees, clear customs and then pick up the goods (I wouldn’t be using a forwarding service for land delivery)? And in order to clear customs I can pay someone $100-200 to do so?

    Is that pretty much it or am I missing something?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      September 19, 2016 at 2:33 am

      Hi Zach,

      Yes, you’re right on for all of that. When the goods get to Louisville, US Customs will demand you pay the duties before they allow the port or warehouse with your goods to be released. Once you’ve done that, you simply go to wherever your goods are and pick them up (or use another trucking company to pick up the goods and ship them to your home).

      • Reply
        Zach
        September 19, 2016 at 2:54 pm

        Great, thank you. One last question. What do the customs clearing companies call themselves? If say I wanted to look them up on Google, what would provide the best search results?

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          September 27, 2016 at 11:06 pm

          Customs Broker.

  • Reply
    Manoj Jain
    September 28, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Hi David-

    Great info in your articles .I was wondering can you please tell me whether freight forwarder delivers the goods to your home and will they also unload (if i want the goods in my basement) or do i have to unload myself.
    Also if i pick up the goods myself is there any help in loading the goods from warehouse to my uhaul etc?
    Thanks

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 11, 2016 at 4:01 am

      Hi Manoj,

      When the goods arrive in your country, if you want them to delivered to you your freight forwarder will arrange with a local trucking company to do so (almost all freight forwarders can do this). They’ll be able to accommodate pretty much any request but you’ll pay slightly more if you don’t have a loading dock and are just delivering to your driveway. Make sure you specify this to your freight forwarder though.

  • Reply
    rolland elliott
    October 7, 2016 at 3:09 am

    I got a few quotes for getting goods shipped from China to Charleston SC port and the custom brokers were quoting me double what you are saying around $700 PER SHIPMENT!!! My question is this: If there are 3 companies in china I want to order a two palettes of goods from each for a total of 6 palettes, is there a company that would consolidate the 3 orders so they arrive on one container so I would onlyu have to pay the $700 fee once? does your ebook go over this situation?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 11, 2016 at 4:08 am

      Yes, nearly any freight forwarder can consolidate your shipments. However, whether this makes economic sense or not depends on where your suppliers are located. If one is located in Beijing and one in Guangzhou you are going to have to consolidate the freight in one of those two locations and also pay to have your goods shipped to that location/ Overland freight is expensive, even in China. If the two locations aren’t within a few hundred KMs of each other, it’s normally not worth it.

      • Reply
        rolland elliott
        October 12, 2016 at 11:17 am

        thanks

  • Reply
    rolland elliott
    October 16, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    for one or two pallets of goods that are going to the east coast is it cheaper to have it shipped to west coast ocean port and then LTL trucked to the east coast? I know it is faster since trucks move faster than boats, just wondering if the price is also better?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 at 3:42 am

      Hi,

      I’m not sure the exact differences in freight as all of our stuff goes into the west coast. I suspect sea is still cheaper though.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Higgins
    October 24, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for all of the great info. I’m just getting started sourcing from China to sell on Amazon FBA and trying to understand all of the shipping methods/costs. The website you provided searates.com, is that something I can use to use and schedule myself or does the supplier or freight forwarder use to ship my product? I am looking for the most cost effective way to ship my product by air express from door to door (At least for my first shipment) Should I let my supplier set that up (like I did with the sample) or is there a way for me to get a better deal. The shipment would be about 80kg and 19cft. Do I need a freight forwarder for air express door to door shipment? Thanks again for your feedback.
    Jennifer

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 at 3:50 am

      Hi,

      Yes, you’ll want a freight forwarder. I’d recommend checking out fleet.com to find a forwarder. They’ll get you better better rates and make your life a lot easier :)

  • Reply
    Winnie
    October 25, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Hi David,
    Great info on your site! Thanks.
    I have LCL coming from Shenzen to Vancouver, door to port. We have a mixture of goods including some fruit powders. We are trying to do the custom clearance ourselves as that is the best way to learn. Would you advise us on the process and the documents required? The Bill of Lading has to be original, right?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 at 3:52 am

      Hi Winnie,

      This would be too long of a response but if you have specific questions I can try and help. With that being said generally you need a commercial invoice and your cargo control number and other ‘arrival notice’ documents. The shipment should be able to be “telex released” opposed to your Supplier giving you the Original Bill of Lading (OBL).

  • Reply
    JOG
    October 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Hi,
    I found you your article very informative thank you. I still have some questions if that ok. So I bought some bamboo from China a very small quitity, and there asking me to pay a destination fee. I was wondering what that is? Also if I decide to clear customs my self, how can I know when the shipment arrives? Once it does how do my things get put of the container? Can you clear that up for me a bit? Once I clear customs, who gets my things out of the freight? Do I have to pay them? Even if I pick them up myself at the port? Can I pick them up myself at the port?
    Thank you for you help I clearly got myself into more than I can handle.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      October 30, 2016 at 4:12 am

      There’s a bunch of fees that freight forwarders charge you with a bunch of ambiguous terms. I have no idea what they mean, but they’re standard :) A few days before your goods arrive, the freight forwarder will contact you (if your supplier arranged shipping he should have given the freight forwarder your phone number and or email) and let you know. When you’re shipping LCL the freight forwarder unpacks the container and moves all the goods to a warehouse away from the port (0-30 miles away generally) and you pick them up there. Again, they’ll give you the location of that warehouse.

      • Reply
        JOG
        October 30, 2016 at 6:03 am

        Thank for your reply and if I decide to do it myself?
        I kind of into a little problem with my supplier, and now they said they’ll export it and give me the documents but I have to take care of business on my side.. they said “this is international business” and yeah
        How can I find out when it arrives and do it myself?
        Thank again for your time

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          November 6, 2016 at 10:33 am

          Yes, your Supplier doesn’t do anything except pick a freight forwarder. On the bill of lading (even the copy) it will list the name of the freight forwarder they’ve used. You can contact them and they can give you an ETA. You can email me [email protected] if you’re still confused.

  • Reply
    Rob Park
    April 3, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    Hi David, I came across your site and wanted first off thank you for all the invaluable information. I’m planning to buy some shaker bottles from a Chinese supplier via Alibaba. I’m giving them away as a promotional piece with my logo on it. They look and feel just like the BlenderBottle branded bottles. My concern is that BlenderBottle has worldwide patents on them and although the supplier said there is nothing to worry about, I read that BlenderBottle aggressively defends their patents. Do you know how I can verify whether the patents will effect my ability to get those bottles passed customs or liability? Thanks in advance!

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      April 4, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Customs does not typically enforce patents (only grossly obvious counterfeit goods). Your Supplier could be selling you candy with razor blades in it and would most likely tell you “there’s nothing to worry about”. What they say means nothing. If you’re considering important these bottles because there’s very little competition for them, it supports what you’re saying that Blender Bottle aggressively defends their patents – I’d find something else to import.

  • Reply
    Karla Solis
    April 4, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Im really gettinf so frustrated because I did not know about so many fees I have to pay.

    Im paying FOB fee $180 dlls and shipping fee of $180 dlls to the supplier.
    Then I have to pay more fees in the port, but I dont know how is the process of estimated fees.

    Could you please advice me?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      April 4, 2017 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Karla,

      Unfortunately these are all flat fees that you’ll pay whether you are importing 1 product or 1000 products. The bad news is it sucks if you’re importing a very small quantity. The good news is that these costs are negligible once you start importing larger amounts. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do – the fees at the port shouldn’t be much more than $100 or so (excluding duties/brokerage).

      • Reply
        Karla Solis
        April 4, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        Thank you so much David.

        And duties and brokerage fees are to high too?
        Will I have to hire someone to deal with these?

        Thank you

        • Reply
          David Bryant
          April 6, 2017 at 2:53 am

          If it’s going via sea, yes, you’ll need to hire someone. Search “customs brokers [your city]”. Duties are cheap – should be 10% or less of the items value. Brokerage fees should be about another $100-200.

  • Reply
    Samantha
    April 24, 2017 at 2:48 am

    I have purchased an incubator from China. On the 13th the shipping company sent me an invoice for $152.50 for things like administrative fees , a gas fee and some other things. Is this the customs thing or am I going to have to fill one out. I am so confused on what is going on and I’m having a hard time communicating with the rep from China.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      April 25, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      Unfortunately these are just miscellaneous other charges in addition to the customs charges. For better or worse, these types of charges are fairly common.

  • Reply
    Will
    May 4, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Hi David I am looking to import a single kayak from china to Port of Charleston SC. I like most people here want to handle as much as possible myself. Reading on the CPB website it talks about a ISF form “importer security filing”
    that must be filed with customs 24 hours before my items board the ship for the U.S. Also says failing to do so results in a 5000.00 fine.
    Do I have to handle this or will my shipping company?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 9, 2017 at 2:08 am

      I’ve never filed this myself, but I’d be shocked if the shipping company isn’t as I’ve never had to do it nor have I been fined. You can double check with your shipper though.

  • Reply
    Ravin Mangtani
    May 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Hi David,
    My company is importing items from a Factory in Shanghai based on FOB terms. Here, I would like to know that who books the sailing date and vessel booking for shipment. Sorry, I do not know much about the import / Export procedure.

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      May 15, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Normally you would through a freight forwarder. You can ask your Supplier to do it as well, they’re just going to charge you more for it.

  • Reply
    Amy
    June 21, 2017 at 1:05 am

    how do you determine – who is arranging delivery for a lcl or fcl shipments?

    • Reply
      David Bryant
      June 27, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      Hi, if it’s FOB normally they assume you are arranging delivery. But you can simply ask your Supplier to arrange for shipment and bill you for the charges :)

  • Reply
    danny trichter
    September 6, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Hi guys,

    I’ve been following you for a while now. Quick question not related to this article – Do you guys have a software to manage all the suppliers that connects to a shipping software and to cashflow/accounting systems? Since all these are connected…

    Thanks!
    Danny

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      September 10, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      I use Linnworks for Supplier management and Quickbooks for all the accounting stuff. They don’t integrate though so there’s a lot of manual entry.

  • Reply
    ray
    September 14, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Can you recommend someone in the USA we can use to just take care of all this for us?

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      September 23, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Hi,

      You can checkout PCBUSA.com.

  • Reply
    Rehan
    October 8, 2017 at 4:27 am

    hello dave, how are you ? .I Want a advice from a career point of view i have done my bachelors but now im looking to change my field to supply chain & Logistics OR freight forwarding & shipment .someone advice me to go for the 3 months course for supply chain where they cover the Frieght Forwarding & shipping and then you can decide what i can do . soo i just need your advice on this one . As im looking to start my business later when i have experience in this field.

    Kind Regards
    Rehan

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      October 10, 2017 at 7:04 am

      I’ve actually debated doing a freight forwarding course part time out of interest. I can’t give any personal experience but I think it would be invaluable for anyone considering an import business

  • Reply
    Larry Weaver
    October 10, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    I didn’t know that you normally get five free days of storage until you start to get charged for storage. Barge unloading services might be something I would try to look into if I ever had to deal with freight. Having to pay $100/day for a container would be something I would want to keep to a minimum.

    • Reply
      Dave Bryant
      October 11, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      You normally get a few free days with full container shipping as well – but YES, $100/day storage for containers sucks- been there many times.

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