What is the best method of transport between China and UK?


In this part of our guide, we have reviewed and detailed the different possible ways of transportation between China and the UK. Sea, air, and rail freight: we will help you to choose the most suitable and affordable way for your shipment.


Sea freight from China to UK

Overview - Ocean shipping from China to the UK

You can choose ocean freight to deliver the cargo from China to UK.When importing goods to the UK by using sea freight, you may be wondering which port in the UK your product could be shipped to. Sea freight rates from China to UK vary depending on several factors such as the size, weight, and nature of the cargo as well as the distance to be travelled. One of the first questions you may ask when you first look into sea freight is “which port is close to me?

There are 5 main ports through which a cargo ship from China could be routed. Although Felixstowe is the common destination for most shipments arriving in the UK, here’s an overview of several other ports in the UK which could your shipment arrive through as well.

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The Port of Tilbury

It is the oldest port of London, still in operation and also located on the banks of the Thames in Essex, the port of Tilbury is now mainly used to import goods such as forest products, grain and all types of bulk.

The Port of Tilbury also operates the London Container Terminal, which is Europe's largest terminal for reefer containers. It has 1,400 reefer outlets at the terminal and access to a 25,000-pallet refrigerated warehouse operated by NFT.

The Port of Tilbury is now facing strong competition from the new London Gateway, which is becoming one of the UK's major ports and is only a few kilometres along the banks of the Thames River.

Website: Port of Tilbury

The Port of Grangemouth

Grangemouth is Scotland's main container port and is located halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is located in the heart of Scotland's industrial area. It handles around 150,000 containers a year. The port of Grangemouth is the only port in the UK that exports more than it imports. But it is important to note that the cargo flow represents almost 30% of Scotland’s gross domestic product (GDP), highlighting the port’s essential role as an economic facilitator for Scotland.

As Grangemouth is served by the M9, and make it easy to deliver places in the country by using the national motorway and rail networks. Using this port can add a few days to transit time, but if you are importing full containers into Scotland, it can save you a few hundred pounds on road transport that would otherwise be routed from another port in the UK. The port of Grangemouth would be a good option if you are just starting out a business in Scotland and need to keep an eye on your budget.

Website: Port of Grangemouth

The Port of Liverpool

The Port of Liverpool is located on both sides of the Mersey River, has a strategic geographical location in the north-west of the United Kingdom, serving the industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester very easily. The weak point of this port is that it receives very few ships directly from the major Chinese ports. This can lead to additional costs and longer transit times to get your goods there. The port is currently in the process of expanding its infrastructure to become one of the major ports in the UK.

*Please note that for ocean freight, departures in China are possible from the main ports such as the port of Shenzhen (Sekhou/Yantian), the port of Guangzhou (Huangpu/Nansha), the port of Ningbo, the port of Shanghai, the port of Tianjin, the port of Qingdao, the port of Xiamen (Fuzhou) and the port of Hong Kong.

How much time does it take to ship freight from China to UK?

Average sea freight shipping time from China to UK is between 3-6 weeks.

Felixstowe Southampton London Gateway Tilbury Grangemouth Liverpool
Shangaï 29 29 32 32 39 38
Shenzhen 25 25 30 30 37 34
Guangzhou 25 25 31 31 37 34
Qingdao 37 37 39 39 41 41
Tianjin 37 40 41 41 41 42
Ningbo 32 31 36 36 39 37
Xiamen 27 27 32 32 39 36

Do I have to ship by consolidation or full container between China and the UK?

There are 3 types of standard size containers that are used for both commercial and personal freight. They are used to ship dry goods and are the ones most importers will use. :

  • 20 feet (33 cubic meters capacity)
  • 40 feet (67 cubic meters capacity)
  • 40 feet HQ (High Cube, 76 cubic meters capacity)

Let's now compare the 2 different transport options with these containers:

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Special sea freight between China and the UK

Shipping a container from China to the UK depends on several factors you will need, including the size of your shipment, as well as the commodity. . If you are about to ship specific goods, the below are available. 

Reefer container

These containers are specially designed for the transport of perishable foodstuffs or chemicals in a temperature-controlled environment. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and are equipped with the latest technology for regulating the atmosphere, temperature or humidity level.


Roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships are vessels specially adapted to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, semi-trailers, trailers or railway cars, which are driven or towed on their own wheels into and out of the ship.

Why use Ro-Ro shipping from China?

The safest and most economical way to handle and transport oversized or special project cargo. Shipments are often transported in one piece using specialized trailers from the port of origin to the destination. Less handling, no exposure to water or weather as the cargo is always stowed in the car decks of the Ro-Ro container for the entire voyage.


Bulk cargo is carried directly into the ship's hold. A distinction is thus made onboard between bulk and general cargo. Solid and liquid bulk goods : (such as coal, minerals, oil, cement, etc). Ships are specialized for each type of cargo, they are called bulk carriers.


OOG (Out of Gauge) cargo means "out of gauge or out of standard". OOG containers could be divided into Open Top Container and Flat Rack Container:

The Open Top Container is used to transport heavy and/or bulky finished products, which can only be handled and loaded using a crane or overhead crane.

The flat-Rack container is used to transport heavy, bulky and oversized items in height and/or width. For articles that are too long, too wide, too high and too heavy.

This type of equipment is particularly suitable for goods that are not on the scale of the shipment, but which cannot be loaded into standard containers. Shipping your oversized commodity in this way will make it easier,  saves time for loading/unloading and increase the safety of the cargo.

How much does sea freight cost between China and the UK?

The most important thing to know when calculating freight is the weight and volume of your cargo. In fact, transport pricing is always based on the weight/volume ratio.

The weight/volume ratio: according to the sea freight equivalence rule "1 ton = 1 CBM".

  • If you are using consolidation/LCL method, the basic rate will be calculated according to the weight/volume ratio rule and according to the principle of 1,000 kgs = 1 CBM. The tariff is established in the payload unit (PU) which is equivalent either to the mass expressed in tonnes or to the volume expressed in cubic metres, always "to the advantage of the carrier". Therefore, the higher value that will be used.

For example: If the weight of your shipment is 6,000 kgs with a volume of 9 CBM, it will cost the price of 9 UP. If the weight is 7,000 kgs with a volume of 6 m3,  the price will correspond to 7 UP.

  • If you are using the FCL shipping method, the rate is a flat rate per container, it will depend on the type of container used and the shipping companies supplying it.

Port and Shipping Surcharges

Surcharges are applied by shipping companies and ports, in addition to the basic rate and which depend on a specific context. We have listed them below:

BAF: Bunker Adjustment Factor
This tariff surcharge is a percentage applied on a freight basis, corresponding to fluctuations in the price of crude oil. Shipping companies started to apply it after the first oil shock in 1973. Since then, it has remained payable.

CAF: Currency Adjustment Factor
This tariff surcharge is also a percentage applied to it on the basis of freight + BAF and corresponds to fluctuations in the dollar rate. Since the vast majority of ocean freight rates are calculated in US dollars, companies hedge against exchange rate risks with this surcharge.

THC: Terminal Handling Charge
THC represents the handling charges at the port of loading and unloading. In the case of an FCL shipping, the price is always per container, whilst in the case of LCL shipping, the price is calculated per number of tonnes or CBM.

ORC: Origin Receipt Charge
This surcharge is only payable from ports in China. It finances and helps on the quick development of Chinese ports.

Port Congestion
A ship arriving in a congested port will have to wait, sometimes for several days, before it can unload its cargo. Therefore, shipping companies apply a surcharge to compensate for this "loss of revenue".

Demurrage is compensation to be paid when the loading and/or unloading time exceeds the time stipulated in the voyage contract, whether or not this excess is due to the shipowner's fault, for example in the event of a strike or port congestion. Shipping companies call "demurrage" the cost of renting the container while it is parked in the port.

As you can see, there are many factors that make the cost of shipping different. Do not hesitate to consult our expert today by filling out our online form. You can also visit our page dedicated to ocean freight for more information on this mode of transport: Sea freight

Airfreight from China to UK

Classic airfreight vs Express airfreight

Although 90% of goods are shipped by sea, when importers need to get goods to the UK quickly and reliably, such as high-value, seasonal goods, clothing, electronic products and/or products with a high risk of deterioration at sea, they use air freight. With this method, your cargo can be transported from a factory in China to your destination in the UK in just a few days.

Airfreight will offer you 2 different options: classic airfreight and express airfreight

It is important to differentiate the 2 options, both in terms of price and in terms of service:

With the courier companies services, your goods can be delivered at your door anywhere in the world within a week. It's an "all-inclusive" service, there's no need to personally clear low-value shipments through customs. In addition, you can save on transport costs for small volumes of less than 1 CBM, which is even more competitive than the LCL sea freight option.

What are the advantages of airfreight?

1. The fastest shipping method
When your goods need to be transported quickly, air freight is undoubtedly the best solution compared to sea freight and rail freight. Nowadays, in some cases, receiving your goods on time can be a big advantage in a niche market.

2. Reliable departure and arrival times
Flight arrival and departure times are very reliable, as airlines tend to be well ahead of schedule. Even missing a flight would not cause much delay, as there are usually flights leaving every hour.

3. Send your cargo almost anywhere
Many airlines have an extensive network of destinations that covers almost the entire world. This means that you can send your shipment to almost any destination.

4. Save on insurance cost.
Because air freight has a relatively short transit time, the insurance coverage rate is lower. Even though air freight can be expensive, it saves money in terms of reduced insurance costs.

5. High level of security and reduced risk of theft and damage
Air transport offers the advantage of a high level of security, with strict controls at the entrances to airport areas reducing the exposure of cargo to theft and damage.

6. Less storage and fewer items in stock
Thanks to the shorter transit times of air freight, you can send smaller quantities and more often, so large storage space may not be necessary. In addition, customs clearance, cargo inspection and handling are more efficient, as most goods are released within a few hours.

7. Less packaging required
Normally, air shipments require less packaging than sea shipments. This means that you save time and money by avoiding an additional packing service.

8. Tracking
Most of the companies, especially courier companies, give you the possibility to track your goods using an application, which allows you to follow the status of your shipment from departure to arrival.

Please note that air freight is only one part of the "supply chain". Indeed, in addition to the main transport, you will also need the administrative services related to export and import, taking into account airport charges, and delivery to the final destination. Services that we can also offer you at DocShipper!

How to calculate the volumetric weight of your shipment?

It is very important to remember that shipping costs from China to the UK vary according to the mode of transport chosen (sea, air, land) and the characteristics of the goods (weight, size, fragility, etc.).

For classic airfreight, the air equivalence rule allows a weight/volume ratio of 1:6 (1 tonne per 6 CBM) and a tax to gross weight ratio of 1:6 or less. The actual volume is therefore divided by 6 to obtain the volumetric weight used as the basis for charging. For express freight, the rule is 1:5.

Here is the example if the volume of your shipment is 1 CBM:

  • Classic airfreight : 1 CBM = 167 Kgs (1:6)
  • Express airfreight : 1 CBM = 200 kgs (1:5)

DocShipper Alert : DocShipper assists small and medium-sized businesses and individuals in importing or exporting, by arranging all the steps in international transport, including customs clearance. If you are looking for assistance from A to Z, request a quote. We look forward to learn more about your needs!


How much time does it take to ship air cargo from to China to UK ?

The time it takes to ship air cargo from China to the UK depends on several factors such as the chosen airline, the nature of the cargo and the distance to be travelled. In general, the transit time for air freight from China to UK varies between 3-7 days expected. However, times may be longer depending on various factors such as customs formalities and possible delays.

Rail freight from China to UK

Rail freight between China and the UK

Because air freight is sometimes too expensive and sea freight does not allow you to deliver your goods on time, rail freight is quickly becoming a transport option for European and British importers. Starting from virtually nothing in 2013, rail freight is now available to many destinations in Europe, including the UK.

It is considered the perfect intermediary between sea freight and air freight, and this opportunity is huge.

Imagine having your products delivered in less than half the time than it takes for sea freight. And at a much lower cost than air freight!

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), an organ of the Chinese government, has in recent years promoted and efficiently developed the use of the railway method between China and Europe in a reliable, safe, and efficient manner. This has led to an increase in traffic of more than 90% between the two territories.

The Yiwu - Madrid railway line, also known as the "New Silk Road", which is the longest freight railway line in the world, connects China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and Spain. It is operated by Trans-Eurasia Logistics. Further north there is also a railway line called "Trans-Siberian" which crosses Russia and is accessible from cities in north-eastern China.

The United Kingdom will be accessible via the platform in Duisburg (Germany), where the goods will be transhipped onto another railway line running from northern France to reach Folkstone (UK) via the Eurotunnel.


Transit time by train from China to the UK

Expect an average transit time between 20 and 25 days, from the terminal of loading in China to arrival in the UK.

Today, 22 Chinese provinces offer rail freight:

The "New Silk Road" and its Transit time to the UK



China has the largest rail network in the world. Suppliers from all over the country can offer rail transport to their customers. The Trans-Eurasia departure terminal is located in Yiwu, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, also known as the world's largest market for the supply of any product.

It is also a railway hub for goods transported to and from Europe. Thus, a supplier from Shenzhen, Shanghai or Xiamen can easily have his products delivered to Yiwu, for further transport to destinations in Europe, especially in the UK.

Transit times by rail freight are twice faster sea freight!

Door to door service between China and the UK

Door-to-door is an all-inclusive service, from the pickup from your supplier in China to your home or warehouse in the UK. Whether it's for sea or air transport, we offer you this easy option for all shipping methods! 

This service is the most commonly used, the most convenient way to ship your goods and also the most appreciated!  With this method, you are free of all the steps related to shipping. We take care of the whole process from the beginning, from loading and collection of your goods, the routing to the port/airport/rail terminal, through customs clearance to delivery at destination. Door-to-door is the most convenient and efficient solution.

By combining our experience with the professionalism of our partners in China and in the UK, we guarantee you a quality service from A to Z, you will not have to take any steps and you will be relieved of some of your worries. This method will save you time and also money!

Door to door is our speciality at DocShipper! We can take care of all your logistic needs and guarantee you a professional quality service: packing, storage/warehousing, loading/unloading, customs clearance, international freight, trucking... These services will all be included in our offer!

Customs clearance in the UK for goods imported from China


In this section, we will guide you through the customs procedure which is an essential step when importing products from China to the UK. It is therefore important to understand the rules and obligations that apply on the UK's territory.

Here you will find all the steps of this procedure that will help you understand how the duties and taxes you will have to pay are calculated, and by whom they will be collected.

How to calculate customs duties and taxes?

It is important and essential to know the rate of customs duties and taxes applied for the product(s) you want to import into the UK, in order to determine the amount you will have to pay.

First step: Determine the "HS code" of your product.

The HS code of a product (Commodity Code) is one of the three essential notions, along with the origin and the customs value of your goods, to determine the tariff that will be reserved for it.

The Harmonized System (HS Code) is used by 207 countries and covers more than 95% of world trade. The system ensures a methodical and unique classification for the countries that use it. A number is assigned to each type of good or commodity traded internationally and also allows the comparison of trade flows in order to obtain statistics.

 Here is the composition of an HS Code

hs code pineapple

How to check the customs duties rate with the HS Code?

Now that you have the HS code, it will be interesting to know the rate of customs duties and taxes applied to your product when importing it into the UK.

Please, go back to the page as shown on the previous step:



Click on "pineapple" to display the list and percentage usually applied to this product.

To make sure that this rate is the same for pineapples from China, please click on the full HS code displayed on the right side of the screen.

This will take you to the following page:


Uk customs pineapple rate

Enter the country of origin "China" as shown on this screenshot to display the customs duties rate.

Does Docshipper charge duty?

We will not take any commission on your customs duties. We will return the documents issued by the European customs to prove it to you. The customs clearance fees will only correspond to the constitution of an administrative file of declaration. These customs clearance fees will, of course, be collected by DocShipper because we will compile the file for you, while the customs duties and taxes will be collected by the government.


Customs Contact


Required documents

When importing goods to the UK, There are a lot of documents and paperwork associated with the process of clearing shipments. It's very important to ensure that you can provide them all. Here’s an overview of what these are.

Bill of Lading

This is the official shipping document that contains all the details of the shipment. Once the goods are on the vessel and you have paid your supplier for them, the supplier will return them to you. Once he does, you will officially own the goods. Traditionally, your supplier sends you the original bill of lading by mail. You would receive three originals and would have to send us one to allow us to release the goods. This still happens sometimes, but we try to have the bill of lading released electronically ("telex") so that you don't have to worry about handing a piece of paper in the mail.

This may be an AWB (airwaybill) for air cargo.


Packing List

An export packing list is a document that shows all the details of the product(s) and packaging contained in each shipment. Shippers are responsible for editing this compliant document, which will be used by the various parties throughout the supply chain. The packing list is required for all sea and air freight shipments.


Commercial Invoice

This is your supplier's invoice which includes: his contact details as the seller, your contact details as the buyer, the nature of the goods and the amount you paid for them. Your supplier will send you this invoice, which will be used to declare your goods at customs. It is the figure on this invoice that is used to calculate the amount of duty and VAT in the UK.


Certificate of Origin

This is not a mandatory document but it can be very important if you wish to benefit from preferential rates of customs duty for certain types of products. It is used in international trade to indicate the country of origin of the goods shipped. It is important to differentiate the origin of the goods and their provenance. It is the country of manufacture that must be mentioned. The purpose of this document is to authenticate the country of origin of the goods shipped. This official certificate indicates that the exported products were indeed manufactured in a specific country mentioned in the certificate.


Certificate of conformity (EC)

An EC certificate of conformity allows a product to circulate and be sold freely on the European market. This standard provides the consumer with proof that the product meets the environmental, safety and health requirements set by the EEA (European Economic Area). A guarantee of conformity is not a guarantee of quality. It simply means that the product meets the requirements to be sold in the member countries.


Your EORI number (Economic Operator Registration Identification)

An EORI number allows customs to keep track of what is being imported and exported. It is a one-time registration only. For more information on the EORI number, visit the dedicated page on the official government website: EORI in the Uk


Restricted and banned goods

Specific and strict restrictions apply to the import of certain products or items that will require licenses and/or permits, and others cannot be introduced into the UK and European territory at all. They’ll be seized immediately by customs. Please consult the lists below to find out what you can and cannot bring into UK's territory.

Are there any agreements between China and the UK?

There is no Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between China and the UK or the EU, nor Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). However, the Foreign Trade Association (FTA) recognises China as a supply market for European businesses. Since 2018, this association has started discussions with the two representations (European and Chinese) in order to put in place agreements that would promote trade.

In addition, the development and use of the "New Silk Road" (railway line) brings added value and demonstrates that there is a strong opportunity for improving trade and economic relations between the two territories. A free trade agreement could further favour importers and exporters who contribute strongly to their country's economy. The Foreign Trade Association is using these main arguments for an agreement to be signed and explains that it would be good for China, Europe and therefore for the UK!

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