All About International Ocean Sea Freight & Step by Step Instructions

October 25, 2018 in Blog, Importing, Shipping & Logistics
All About International Ocean Sea Freight
Step by Step Instructions

Sea Freight Step By Step

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.

Related Listening: Episode 165 – Shipping from China Made Easy, Interview with Freightos 

Air Freight/Air Courier is Reasonable When Ordering Samples

The first thing to consider with Ocean Freight is whether you are actually better off shipping via air freight or air courier. There are some significant differences between air freight and air couriers that we discuss in our article here. But the general rule of thumb is that for shipments under 200 kgs or so shipping via some air method opposed to sea freight is almost always cheaper and far more convenient. Air shipping rates generally range from $5/kg-$10/kg but do not have the same high fixed costs common with ocean freight.

air freight vs ocean freight

How Much Does Ocean Freight Cost?

For any shipment over 200 kgs or so, 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 kgs box via ocean freight maybe $300, but for 200 kgs you will pay $310, for 2000 kgs, $390, etc. For air freight, there is almost no scaling. A 20 kgs box will cost you $100 and a 40 lbs box will cost you $200.

Sea Freight comes into two varieties: Full Container Load (FCL, 20’ and 40’ containers) and Less than Container Load (LCL). Further, containers come in three basic sizes: 20′, 40′, 40’hq (40′ high cube).

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? Any freight forwarder can arrange for full container shipping or LCL for you.

ocean freight rates 2018

An Ocean Freight rate sheet provided from a Freight Forwarder in October 2018

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 of 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).  See the above image for sample sea freight quotes from October 2018.

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. Live in a landlocked part of the world like Denver? No problem – you can still ship a container there but your container will simply be put on a train and railed into your city, although prices are slightly more expensive for inland delivery (although still extremely reasonable).

When Should You Ship Full Containers (FCL) and Less than Containers (LCL)?

When should you use LCL ocean freight and when should you use FCL ocean freight? The obvious answer would appear to be that you should ship full containers when you have enough stuff to fill the container and LCL, otherwise. This isn’t quite true.

From a financial perspective, a full container 75% or greater full is normally cheaper than shipping LCL (in other words, LCL has around a 25% pro-rated surcharge). However, there are two other important considerations as well. First, LCL has transit times around 1-2 weeks longer than FCL. That’s because the freight forwarder has to pack your items and unpack your items with other people. Second, LCL cargo is more prone to loss and damage (although it’s very rare) because of this additional handling. If time and care are important for you, shipping even a half empty container can sometimes make sense.

Ocean Freight Has High Fixed Costs and Many Surcharges

With Ocean freight, there are a lot of surprise fees when the shipment comes to your country. When you receive an invoice from your freight forwarder you may be shocked at how many fees exist outside of the actual ocean freight. Below are some sample fees you can be expected to pay:

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

The last two fees, Customs Clearance Fee and Final Truck Transportation, you can technic and do yourself. In reality, no one ever does this themselves.

These are just the fees once your shipment arrives in your home country. They do not include the fees from within China (which can vary significantly depending on what your incoterms are) or the actual cost of the 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 somehow 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 on 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.

Ocean Freight (and Air Freight) Require the Use of a Freight Forwarder

So how do you actually book sea freight? You need something called a freight forwarder (the same goes for air freight as well in fact). A freight forwarder is essentially a broker who buys space on ocean liners for containers. You cannot book this space directly on ships yourself – you need the freight forwarder.

Freight forwarding is HIGHLY competitive and there are thousands upon thousands of freight forwarders. There are now two very popular brokers for freight forwarders (in essence, they’re brokers of brokers) called FlexPort and Freightos. You can get a quote for nearly any shipment. However, the easiest way to ship your goods is to simply have your overseas manufacturer arrange the freight for you.

How Long Does Ocean Freight Take?

SeaRates.com is my absolute favorite site for estimating transit times and also getting freight estimates. In general here are some rough shipping times from China to various ports:

Shanghai to Los Angeles: 18 days
Shanghai to New York: 35 Days
Shanghai to London: 30 Days

These times vary wildly depending on the route and other factors but are good approximations. They also do not consider container loading and unloading times which can easily add many days (and sometimes weeks) onto these transit times.

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 or an email 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 thi,s they will start charging you for 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).

The chances are good that you don’t actually want to pickup your goods yourself from the port. In this case, let your freight forwarder know the ultimate address you want your goods delivered to (ideally before the order actually ships) and they’ll be happy to arrange overland trucking to that ultimate destination. Be warned that overland freight for even short distances can often be almost as much as ocean freight for thousands of miles (I recently paid $2000 for a 20′ container to be shipped from Shanghai to Los Angeles and then $1100 for it to be shipped 30 miles from Los Angeles to San Moreno).

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:

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

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. You  probably want to have your supplier telex release your shipment as opposed to sending you an original Bill of Lading. 

Paying Your Freight Forwarder

The freight forwarder will also ask you for a small payment at this time, which will include the ocean freight costs and various other surcharges. When you pay your money to the freight forwarder, confirm with them the location of the warehouse with your goods, if you shipped LCL and are picking up the goods yourself. 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 will arrive soon, they should forward you a document telling you both the ultimate location of your goods and the 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. 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 all of this 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). Your freight forwarder may also be a registered customs broker as well.

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

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 it, This is the best arrangement. On the other hand,  if you have a small car you could be disassembling the pallet for a while and stuffing your car with boxes.

Want to Ship Your Goods to Amazon?

Are you looking to ship your goods directly from China to Amazon via ocean freight? Good news: we have a couple of articles make your life a bit easier:

Shipping LCL or FCL shipments isn’t particularly difficult but you need to be aware of some of their labeling requirements to avoid having your shipment rejected.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of how international sea freight works. Importing from China can be intimidating the first time (or second time) you do it. But once you understand the nuances of sea freight, it will become second nature. If you’re still struggling, EcomCrew Premium includes access to our full length Import from China Like a Pro course that gives more detailed recommendations on how to save on sea freight time and costs . If you have any other questions about sea freight, feel free to comment in the comments section below.

  • About The Author: Dave Bryant

    Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He's also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.

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120 Comments

  • nowy
    May 13, 2015 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      May 18, 2015 Reply

      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.

      • nion
        September 26, 2015 Reply

        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

        • David Bryant
          September 28, 2015 Reply

          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'.

      • Shukri said
        June 15, 2018 Reply

        Hi dave, i had a container that i was shipping from china to minneapolis mn but unluckily the container ended up in vancouver. And the Bill of lading says point of destination and discharge both as vancouver canada.

        Please can you help me find me a way on how i could get my container not discharged in vancouver and transported to minneapolis mn. Please its urgent i would appreciate your help.

        • Dave Bryant
          June 15, 2018 Reply

          Hi,
          Try contacting PCB.ca. I suspect it won't be a huge issue assuming the ship is on-route, they'll simply have the container put on rail to Minneapolis. Many (Most?) containers going to the midwest of the U.S. go through Vancouver regardless.

  • Edrick Yu
    October 14, 2015 Reply

    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.

    • David Bryant
      October 14, 2015 Reply

      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.

  • Julie Gorman
    October 28, 2015 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      October 29, 2015 Reply

      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)

  • Samuel
    November 5, 2015 Reply

    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!

    • David Bryant
      November 5, 2015 Reply

      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.

  • Kristina
    December 10, 2015 Reply

    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!

    • David Bryant
      December 11, 2015 Reply

      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!

  • Joe
    December 31, 2015 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      December 31, 2015 Reply

      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.

  • Clinton R
    March 13, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      March 15, 2016 Reply

      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.

  • Clinton R
    March 13, 2016 Reply

    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

  • charles
    May 24, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      May 26, 2016 Reply

      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).

  • Mussa Yussuf
    July 8, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      July 11, 2016 Reply

      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).

  • Viktoriia
    August 2, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      August 10, 2016 Reply

      Hi,

      Give Unishippers a try or PCB.ca

  • Zach
    September 16, 2016 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      September 19, 2016 Reply

      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).

      • Zach
        September 19, 2016 Reply

        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?

        • David Bryant
          September 27, 2016 Reply

          Customs Broker.

  • Manoj Jain
    September 28, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      October 11, 2016 Reply

      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.

  • rolland elliott
    October 7, 2016 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      October 11, 2016 Reply

      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.

      • rolland elliott
        October 12, 2016 Reply

        thanks

  • rolland elliott
    October 16, 2016 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 Reply

      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.

  • Jennifer Higgins
    October 24, 2016 Reply

    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

    • David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 Reply

      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 :)

  • Winnie
    October 25, 2016 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      October 25, 2016 Reply

      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).

  • JOG
    October 29, 2016 Reply

    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.

    • David Bryant
      October 30, 2016 Reply

      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.

      • JOG
        October 30, 2016 Reply

        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

        • David Bryant
          November 6, 2016 Reply

          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.

  • Rob Park
    April 3, 2017 Reply

    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!

    • David Bryant
      April 4, 2017 Reply

      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.

  • Karla Solis
    April 4, 2017 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      April 4, 2017 Reply

      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).

      • Karla Solis
        April 4, 2017 Reply

        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

        • David Bryant
          April 6, 2017 Reply

          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.

  • Samantha
    April 24, 2017 Reply

    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.

    • David Bryant
      April 25, 2017 Reply

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

  • Will
    May 4, 2017 Reply

    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?

    • David Bryant
      May 9, 2017 Reply

      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.

  • Ravin Mangtani
    May 11, 2017 Reply

    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.

    • David Bryant
      May 15, 2017 Reply

      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.

  • Amy
    June 21, 2017 Reply

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

    • David Bryant
      June 27, 2017 Reply

      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 :)

  • danny trichter
    September 6, 2017 Reply

    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

    • Dave Bryant
      September 10, 2017 Reply

      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.

  • ray
    September 14, 2017 Reply

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

    • Dave Bryant
      September 23, 2017 Reply

      Hi,

      You can checkout PCBUSA.com.

    • Mark B.
      August 1, 2019 Reply

      I have limited room in my pickup to move goods from an lcl container. Is it okay to make two or three trips over a day to move my goods from the warehouse, or do I have to move all my goods in one trip?
      Also, what protects LCL goods from being stolen by someone else who has goods in the same container? Can they easily grab my stuff at the same time they are picking up their own stuff?

      • Dave Bryant
        August 15, 2019 Reply

        The warehouse is likely going to want you to pick everything up in one trip. Consider renting a trailer from Uhaul or getting a trucking company to pickup for you.

  • Rehan
    October 8, 2017 Reply

    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

    • Dave Bryant
      October 10, 2017 Reply

      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

  • Larry Weaver
    October 10, 2017 Reply

    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.

    • Dave Bryant
      October 11, 2017 Reply

      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.

  • Reef
    October 20, 2017 Reply

    Awesome article & so very informative. Wondering if you could break it down for me as far as my responsibilities after my container is on its way. Ive a 20ft container coming from Surabaya (Bali) to San Francisco or Oakland port (not sure which, if i have a choice or if one is more ideal than the other. Both are equal in distance to where i am (approx 25 miles).
    Im all for paying someone (Custom broker, freight forwarder...?) to handle things for me on my end when my shipment arrives. Who exactly do i look for? And what can i expect to pay overall to get my products delivered to me (if thats possible or ill rent a couple trucks & pick it all up myself) Not at all clear on my options & more importantly what my best choices would be. Any help would be so appreciated! Thanks!

    • Dave Bryant
      October 22, 2017 Reply

      You should contact a customs broker like PCBUSA.com and let them know you have a container delivered and also that you need to have it moved to you. The container delivery from the port to you will likely be around $500-1000.

  • Jean-Luc Vitiello
    December 8, 2017 Reply

    These are all things I can do at the port/warehouse or are all these fees paid in advanced? Is there a way to clear customs on site?

    • Dave Bryant
      December 9, 2017 Reply

      Customs is almost always done offsite and isn't very convenient. This is why most people tend to use a customs broker.

  • Kim Kuenzel
    December 11, 2017 Reply

    Hi Dave, Thank you for the very informative material.
    Would you be able to recommend Shipping companies and/or Brokers for export of goods, US to China? The initial shipment should be 3-4 pallets, due in China by May 2018

    • Dave Bryant
      December 12, 2017 Reply

      Hi,
      Unfortunately I only know about importing the other way around.

  • Larry Best
    January 19, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave this is very informative, if I have a 20' FCL delivered to the Vancouver Canada Port will it be unloaded there so I can have trucking company pick up contents? I am in Edmonton and do not want to ship the container back to Vancouver.

    • Dave Bryant
      January 31, 2018 Reply

      Have it delivered to Edmonton direct (it'll go to Vancouver first and then on rail to Edmonton). The container is then returned to Edmonton.

  • Jozef
    February 6, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    very good article!
    I am importing LCL from China to European Union (EU) by train (2CBM of samples). The shipment is on the way and it is my first import from outside of EU. So I have 3 questions.

    Is it OK if I made booking at one chinese freight company and on the copy of B/L is another company?
    In the copy of B/L is stated FREIGHT REPAID, probably by company at which I have booked a space.

    When should I pay for transport service to chinese freight company? in order to obtain original of B/L on time. Do I contact them or they will do?

    Thanks.

    • Dave Bryant
      February 12, 2018 Reply

      I'm not sure exactly what you mean by the first question. Yes, the freight prepaid is presumably prepaid by your supplier. You should pay them when you pay for the final payment of your goods (and they'll add it on the invoice). You can simply have your supplier telex release your goods instead of sending you an OBL.

  • Jozef Klimo
    February 7, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    thx for the article!
    I am in the process of importing from China to Europe at this period. Actually it is my first import ever. So I am very glad to ask you few questions.

    My LCL rail cargo is on the way for 6 days and the freight company do not ask me for payment yet.
    Will they ask me few days before it arrives to warehouse? or I should contact them?
    From who I should ask for B / L, from supplier of goods or from freight company?
    Do I need physical original document of B/L to pick up my goods?

    Thanks!

    • Dave Bryant
      February 12, 2018 Reply

      They will normally send you an invoice a few days before it arrives. You can contact them beforehand just to make sure though they have your contact info up to date. You will need either a physical original bill of lading or (easiest) to have your supplier telex release the shipment.

  • Jim Bell
    February 16, 2018 Reply

    Dave,
    Great article! I clicked on the link for your course but it gave me an error? I'm interested in taking your course, can you point me in the right direction?

    Quick question. If my supplier doesn't place the shipment on pallets himself will the Freight Company place it on pallets? Who is in charge of placing the shipment on the pallets?

    • Dave Bryant
      February 16, 2018 Reply

      Hi,

      Try this link: registration is currently closed but opens up again soon: https://www.ecomcrew.com/course/
      If you're shipping LCL your supplier will place them on pallets.

  • Mary Rix-Miller
    March 21, 2018 Reply

    Hi thère. Your explanations have cleared up so many questions but forgive me if I ask more! This is probably a one time operation.
    1. My supplier from China is taking care of sea freight to port and will send me all necessary documents.
    2. I can pick up the trailer(sole container use) myself with my vehicle if that is accepted without an agent
    3. Is it the Chinese supplier/freight organiser s job to select a freight forwarder or does the container just get dumped on arrival in a warehouse at the port waiting for clearance by myself?
    4. I understand I can do the customs bit myself? (There is no food or any sensitive material). Can I pay fees with a credit card?
    You must think we are all dumb after all your explanations but I notice others are as dumb as I am as to exactly who does what and in what order
    Thank you so much for your patience and generosity in sharing your experience.

    • Dave Bryant
      April 3, 2018 Reply

      2. Yes normally this is fine. 3. Normally they have an agent in your local market to organize all that. 4. You can do customs by yourself but not recommended as it'll make you cry and it'll only cost around $200 or less to use a broker.

  • Ella
    May 24, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave:

    Great article! I'm from Australia. We have about 25cartons(Boxes) of goods from China to Sydney and supplier has given the option to ship by sea to port only with the cost of $160USD. If its door to door services the cost is $920USD. We never pick up goods from the port before, what is the process?

    Thanks
    Ella

    • Dave Bryant
      May 27, 2018 Reply

      Hi Ella, this guide addresses the process for picking up. If you have any specific questions about the pickup procedure let me know. Short story, your goods will get moved to a warehouse near Sydney and you will simply go pick up the goods there.

  • Eric
    July 13, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave
    My container will be shipped to Port of Philadelphia. I already paid CIF (Phila Port) for 20 feet GP container. I do not have truck to pick up the container to my warehouse to unload the container and return the container. This is the first time I ordered stuffs from China. Do I need to pay for renting the container? Does the sea port arrange truck to delivery to my warehouse? Can you give me any trucking companies who can do this service?

    Thanks

    • Dave Bryant
      July 13, 2018 Reply

      Hi Eric,

      You'll have to find a trucking company to deliver it for you. There's probably hundreds in philly. You can ask the freight forwarder who shipped the container to also help arrange. Normally you will have a few free days to return the container. The port will not help at all for this.

  • Kyle williams
    November 21, 2018 Reply

    Hi, I am ordering a piece of machinery CIF from
    China to the port of Los Angeles, the supplier is asking me to provide the list of documents to provide with the shipment. So far, bill of landing, invoice, packing list, certificate of origin.. anything else I am missing? So the freight forwarder I am assuming is chosen by the supplier so they will contact me?

    • Dave Bryant
      November 21, 2018 Reply

      That sounds like all of them. Yes, the freight forwarder will contact you when the shipment gets close.

  • CH VISWANATH
    November 24, 2018 Reply

    We booked one LCL Cargo of 9.5 CBM from India ,Mumbai to Nigeria Lagos on CFR basis (Ocean Freight paid).
    While releasing the cargo to the consignee by the Local Shipping AGents they are charging 2360 Dollars (on Documentation charges, DE Grouping charges, Handling Charges, Transfer Fee and VAt on the total). We presume the local charges at Nigeria is EXHORBITANTLY HIGH, please clarify if you can. I NEED THE REPLY IF POSSIBLE BY RETURN

    • Dave Bryant
      November 29, 2018 Reply

      It depends how much the VAT charges are. If the non-vat charges are ~$500 or less then this is about normal.

  • Joy Butler
    November 26, 2018 Reply

    It's interesting to learn about how they transport many different goods and the different means they use. I found it especially intriguing that ocean freight has so many extra fees and charges. I never realized how expensive it can get. Moreover, if I would ever had to transport goods, I would be sure to use what is the least expensive and the most effective to safely transport the goods.

    • Dave Bryant
      November 29, 2018 Reply

      Yep - it gets expensive!

  • Maddie
    December 26, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave

    I have questions regarding customs clearance, holds, examinations.
    We moved from UK to US using a relocation company. Our container showed status of
    1C: Entered and released: General examination.
    After this the company stopped showing any status
    and currently it is at the Local US railway station.
    The local relocation company in US have sent us a bill for storage and are refusing to send us any bill which shows that the storage costs were because of customs holds.

    I was in touch with the relocation agent as soon as I had seen that the container was in my town in the US.
    However the agent has not been responsive and is now making me pay for their oversight in making arrangements to get the container delivered to me.

    Please advise on :
    - is it possible to directly contact customs and find out if they had our container on hold till a date, if yes where to find the contact numbers, email Ids.
    - Any advise on this situation .

    Many thanks,
    Maddie

  • Maddie c
    December 26, 2018 Reply

    Hi Dave

    My local freight company is charging me for storage costs.
    My customs clearance status showed as
    1C: Entered and released : General examination
    about 5 days before the ramp free date of the container.
    The agent is not ready to show any invoices from the customs which would prove that the storage costs are due to customs .I feel that the agent is being unfair and asking me to pay a price for storage costs when it was an oversight on his side in arranging and getting people to deliver the container to e.

    Can I get information from customs on US directly?

    Please advise

    • Dave Bryant
      December 27, 2018 Reply

      Hi Maddie - customs storage costs are an unfortunate biproduct of examinations. We've been hit with thousands of dollars before in storage costs. I suspect there's nothing fishy going on but they should be able to provide some proof of examination.

  • Valerie Kay
    January 3, 2019 Reply

    Hello. I am shipping organic certified OMRI listed potting soil 40 cu ft ( FCL ) from the states to port ( china or Thailand border port ) and from there I need a shipping courier to ship me that container to Myanmar by Truck route. Do you guys provide that service?

    • Dave Bryant
      January 8, 2019 Reply

      No.

  • Greg Whiting
    January 5, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I am hoping to purchase some pro audio speakers from china for my business. As these speakers are large and heavy (approximately 200 lbs each) shipping by sea is the only reasonable option. The manufacturer quoted me the shipping cost, and it is quite good (less than $500. for the 8 cabinets I wish to purchase) but these other costs and steps are scaring me.
    Would it be worth while to try to find and import company to jump through all of the hoops, or is that event possible/cost prohibitive?
    My hope is to make a few purchases of equipment for my business over the next couple of years, but it is for my use, not resale.
    Thanks for your info!!

    • Dave Bryant
      January 8, 2019 Reply

      Manufacturers rarely take much or any commission on freight and this sounds reasonable. Probably easiest just to go with your supplier's quote.

  • Caden Dahl
    January 29, 2019 Reply

    I have a few things that I need to get shipped out here soon. They are going international and I don't have much an idea of who to go with. I might go air as I do think it would get there quicker than by boat.

  • Premla Mahadevan
    March 7, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I know that this is a long shot but I need some advice on starting a sea freight forwarding company and trading company in two different countries. Would you be able to help with some advice and answer some questions that I have. I would really appreciate it if you could help. My email address is [email protected]

    • Dave Bryant
      March 7, 2019 Reply

      Hi Premla, our private 1 on 1 support is only for EcomCrew Premium members - feel free to check it out at EcomCrew.com/Premium or I'm happy to answer anything publicly here :)

  • Evidence
    May 5, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave please can you tell me the requirements that is needed to go receive a container

    • Dave Bryant
      May 9, 2019 Reply

      BOL, appointment time, and customs release normally :)

  • Ruth L
    May 12, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,

    Is there such thing as a shipping director getting tax as high as 150,000 once they get the goods to its destination? I find it hard to believe but then again I'm not familiar with these things.

    • Dave Bryant
      May 19, 2019 Reply

      I need more context.

  • dave
    June 14, 2019 Reply

    Hi dave :) my name is dave too :D

    i would like to ask you how much does it cost to start a freight forwarding business from scratch ?

    i do work in the industry i thinking about starting a business on my own

    thank you

    • Dave Bryant
      June 20, 2019 Reply

      I have no idea unfortunately.

  • JZ
    June 30, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,

    I would really need your advice regarding this matter.

    The shipper (China) has shipped a container to Dubai to a consignee that has not yet completed the registration of the trade license. Is there any way the shipper can recall the container back to shipper (China) origin. i.e. procedure etc?

    Thank you

    • Dave Bryant
      July 24, 2019 Reply

      If it's already on the ocean then it would need to reach its destination and then be shipped back.

  • Krystin
    July 2, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave- I work for an importer of wine beer and spirits. Is it true that we cannot ship direct with an ocean carrier and that we HAVE to go through a freight forwarder? Is there a law?

    • Dave Bryant
      July 24, 2019 Reply

      99.9% of people use a forwarder. Normally the ocean liners require you to book a lot of space with them directly.

      • Travis
        August 30, 2019 Reply

        Hey Dave,

        I would love to pick up for any small companies in Los Angeles or Long Beach for people who don’t wanna use all service of there freight forwarders but clear customs and we can take it straight to their door drop or live unload.

        • Dave Bryant
          September 3, 2019 Reply

          Anyone interested - feel free to contact Travis with his contact info listed here :)

  • John
    August 13, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I wanted to check if it is possible to pick-up a container without an OBL.
    My case is particular: I hired a freight forwarder who in turn subcontracted another forwarder. My container arrived at destination port but I cannot release it because the OBL is with the sub-contracted forwarder (who does not want to provide the original nor agree to release). I paid all shipping fees to my forwarder but apparently, there is an issue between the forwarder and the sub-contractor as the forwarder did not pay the sub-contractor.

    Many thanks!
    The OBL has the subcontractor as shipper and the forwarder as the consignee. However, I have proof through other means of the items inside the container.

    Is there any way in your opinion in which a carrier would accept to release the container without the OBL? Any indemnity letter or other representation?

    • Dave Bryant
      September 3, 2019 Reply

      This is a bit above my paygrade, but normally you need either an OBL or telex released to your name.

  • Charles Manns
    September 27, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I am looking to purchase a wrought iron double door from a manufacturer in China. They will ship the doors to the Port of Baltimore. I need to hire someone to handle the delivery to Northern Virginia near Washington DC. Is there a company who can take care of all the details and make this happen?

    • Dave Bryant
      October 3, 2019 Reply

      Any freight forwarder will do this :)

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