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


There are 2 different methods to ship your goods between China and the United States: by sea freight or airfreight. To give you the best advice on which shipping method to choose for your shipment from China, we have compared these 2 options for you!

Sea freight from China to USA

Overview - Ocean shipping from China to the US

In 2019, the number of handled containers increased slightly in the 10 main American ports (+0.9 per cent), for 43.67 million TEUs handled, according to Alphaliner figures. But the trend is very uneven between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
According to the consultant, "this growth was the result of a 4.9% increase in empty container movements, while full box volumes were negatively affected by the China-America's trade war".

Import flows in the ten ports reached 20.48 million TEUs, down 0.9 per cent from 20.66 million TEUs in the previous year. However, a closer look reveals that the five major ports on the Pacific coast - Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle - saw their container arrivals decline by 5% over the year to 10.82 million TEUs instead of 11.39 million TEUs over the twelve months of 2018.

On the contrary, the five major ports on the Atlantic coast - New York-New Jersey, Savannah, Norfolk, Houston and Charleston - experienced a 4.1 per cent increase in their cumulative container traffic, with 9.66 million TEUs.

The Port of Savannah

The Port of Savannah is home to the largest single-terminal container facility in the Western Hemisphere and has two deepwater terminals. Located on the East coast of the United States, it handles a traffic of 4.35 million TEU each year.

A plan of $230 million to build a rail facility has been announced by the Georgia Ports Authority in partnership with the St Louis Regional Freightway to improve supply chain efficiency. This announcement is part of a larger $3 billion project by the port to increase its traffic to 8-9 million TEUs by 2030.

Website: Port of Savannah


The Port of Seattle-Tacoma NW Seaport Alliance

The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which includes the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, is the fifth busiest container port in the country and is located on the north west coast, with traffic of 3.47 million TEUs annually.

It is the fourth largest gateway to Asia and the main distribution points in the Midwest and the Ohio Valley. It provides easy trade links to some of the most important economies in the Pacific and is worth approximately $75 billion.

Tacoma installed four super-Panamax cranes in 2019 and Seattle launched a $500 million modernization program to improve cargo handling operations.

Website: Port of Seattle-Tacoma

* We can also mention other American seaports which are less important but which can also handle cargo ships from China: Houston, Norfolk, Charleston, Oakland, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Port Everglades, New Orleans, Jacksonville, San Diego, Boston, San Juan (PR), Honolulu (HI)

Transit time between China and US ports

In order to give you a reference, below are the average transit times (in days) from the most important ports in China to the main seaports in the United States :

Los Angeles Long Beach New York & New Jersey Savannah Seattle-Tacoma Houston
Shangaï 21 29 35 40 21 38
Shenzhen 20 20 32 39 19 34
Guangzhou 20 20 32 39 19 34
Qingdao 22 22 39 41 21 34
Tianjin 23 23 40 45 22 36
Ningbo 24 24 36 44 20 37
Xiamen 21 21 37 42 19 37

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

There are 3 types of standard size containers that are commonly used by most of the importers for shipping both commercial and personal freight. They are called "dry containers":

  • 20 feet: 33 cubic meters capacity (approx. 10 pallets)
  • 40 feet: 67 cubic meters capacity (approx. 20 pallets)
  • 40 feet HQ: High Cube, 76 cubic meters capacity (approx. 24 pallets)

For pallets with a dimension of 120 x 100 cm (max height 230 cm)

Special sea freight between China and the US

There are a number of factors that determine the type of container 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

Refrigerated containers, commonly known as reefers, can provide temperature-controlled transportation, allowing your product, whether meat, fruit, vegetables or dairy products, including pharmaceuticals and chemicals, to cross the world's oceans at a stable temperature so that your product and goods arrive in excellent condition.


A Ro-Ro is a vessel used to ship vehicles, loaded by ramps. They are also called Ro-Ro, from the roll-on/roll-off meaning. RORO is the simplest and cheapest shipping method for vehicles. Vehicles are driven directly to the RORO vessel and secured to the car decks. They are securely stowed inside the ship, wind and watertight.


Bulk goods are products transported directly into the ship's hold or into the facilities provided for that purpose. A distinction is made in this case between bulk goods and general cargo. Solid bulk goods : (such as coal, ferrous and non-ferrous ores) liquids in bulk: (petroleum and petroleum products). Bulk goods are transported by bulk carriers, specialized vessels for each type of cargo: ore carriers, coal carriers, etc.).


OOG (Out of Gauge) cargoes are a special category of goods. Because of, for example, their non-standard dimensions or weight, some goods cannot be loaded in standard containers. These types of cargo are usually loaded on a platform or trailer for transport.

The Open Top Container is a container without a rooftop

The flat-Rack container is a container without a roof, nor partitions on the sides used to ship heavy and oversized items in height and/or width.


All types of containers have a unique reference number (example: TCLU xxxx....) and are "sealed" after each loading.

The seal is vulgarly known as the container lock, this seal is signalled at the time of customs clearance of the goods and has a unique reference number. Once the container is closed and sealed, it is impossible to unseal it (except in exceptional cases and under customs control). The unsealing will be done only after customs clearance on arrival.

How much does ocean freight cost between China and the US?

The price of ocean freight depends on many criteria, and each carrier, each freight forwarder applies its own rates, more or less high, more or less negotiable depending on the quantity transported. The essential information is the volume of your cargo rather than the weight, as it is always based on the international "equivalence rule". It really helps to optimize space without worrying too much about weight.

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

  • In LCL option, the basic rate is always calculated according to the weight/volume ratio rule. The tariff is based on the highest weight according to the result of this ratio, which is also called "chargeable weight".
  • In FCL option, the rate is habitually a flat rate per container, it depends on the size/or type of container used and the carrier supplying it.

Port and Shipping Surcharges

The following surcharges may be applied in some cases in addition to freight. But they can also be included, in this case, we speak of all-in freight. The charges depend on the shipping companies and lines.

BAF: Bunker Adjustment Factor
Also known as FAF (Fuel Adjustment Factor), it is applied to compensate for a fluctuation in the price of crude oil.

CAF: Currency Adjustment Factor
This charge enables the shipping company to protect itself against a possible major fluctuation in the exchange rate of the US dollar since the majority of world trade is carried out with this currency.

THC: Terminal Handling Charge
These are the fees charged by the ports for handling the goods during loading and unloading. They are fixed for a full container but variable for conventional freight LCL.

ISPS: International Ship and Port Facility Security
The purpose of this charge is to improve maritime safety, it contributes to the financing of maritime and port security measures. It grants certain countries the right to take measures to improve the security of their ports and fleets.

ORC: Origin Receipt Charge
This charge applies only in China and is designed to finance the rapid development of Chinese ports.

PSS: Peak Season Surcharge
This surcharge is applied to all cargo carried during the peak season (usually between June 1 and October 31 - the Christmas delivery) from Asia to Western ports. It is sometimes referred to as GRI (General Rate Increase).

Port Congestion
These charges are applied when the carrier vessel has to wait at the port to unload/load its cargo.

Demurrage is a compensation to be paid when the cargo has to be stored at the port. Usually due to non-conformity or non-approved documents to import in the country. Shipping companies call "demurrage" the cost of renting the container while it is parked in the port until the cargo can be released.

Some companies have a very low freight rate to attract customers by excluding many charges. As you can see, there are many factors that make the cost of ocean shipping different. Do not hesitate to fill out our online form to get a detailed quote. You can also visit our dedicated page for more information on this mode of shipping: Sea freight

Airfreight from China to USA

Classic airfreight vs Express airfreight

When your goods need to be shipped quickly, air freight is the best method compared to sea freight. This method is also the safest in terms of the risk of damage to your goods. 

There are to 2 different options to ship your goods by air: classic airfreight and express airfreight

Difference between the 2 options:

  • Classic airfreight will load your goods using the space available of commercial flights on scheduled airlines such as American Airline, Air China, Catay Pacific, Emirates...
  • Express airfreight is operated by the networks of "courier companies" that offer door-to-door solutions, such as DHL, FedEx, TNT, UPS...

With express courier services, your parcel or cargo can be hand-delivered anywhere in the world within a week. It's an "all-inclusive" service, and low-value cargoes are usually not subject to customs clearance. In addition, you can save on transportation costs for small volumes of less than 1 CBM, which is even more competitive than LCL ocean shipping mode.

What are the advantages of airfreight?

Fast and reliability
Although it competes with traditional transport by sea and land, road or rail, the airplane is highly appreciated for its speed of performance, which makes it possible, particularly for certain categories of goods such as foodstuffs, plants and live animals, to move from one continent to another in a short time.

Strict regulations and controls in airport areas benefit air cargo shippers. Cargo receiving areas and air terminals are highly monitored and secure, limiting the risk of theft or damage. In addition, handling is minimal and transit time is reduced.

Locations served
Even the most remote locations can be served by air to the nearest airport and then by road in ever shorter times.

Most air cargo service providers offer online tracking that allows you to check the status of your cargo from departure to arrival in real time.

Cost of packaging
Since goods are shipped in very light packaging, the need for packaging materials and containers is reduced.

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?

Just like the sea freight previously, an equivalency rule is applied as well by all air carriers to calculate the volumetric weight. The greater of the volumetric weight and the gross weight of your goods will be used. Please note the following rules:

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

Door to door service between China and the US

Door-to-door is the most common and convenient way to ship your goods. In this case, the customer is free of all the steps related to the shipment. We take care of the entire process from the beginning, including loading and collection of your goods, customs clearance, freight to the port/airport of arrival in the US and the delivery to your warehouse or your home. Door-to-door is above all a practical and fast solution.

By combining our experience with the professionalism of our partners in China and United States, 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!

Customs clearance in the USA for goods imported from China


In this part, we will guide you through the requirements and regulations you need to know before importing products from China to the US. Our guidelines below can help you learn the process. You will have an overview and index to help you better understand the general rules when importing goods from China to the United States and links to the main regulations that apply in the country.

How to calculate customs duties and taxes?

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

To find out the rate of duty applied to your products, information is available online for free. You will be able to select the date, country of origin, destination and all related data to get the information you are interested in. We will guide you in this search a little further down.

Like most countries in the world, the United States use the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) for imported and exported goods. An HTS code is assigned to each good and corresponds to a specific product. This code will be used to determine the customs' tariff of the product in each country it enters.

 Here is the composition of an HTS Code

hs code pineapple

Does Docshipper charge duty?

You will not be charged by our customs broker. We will come back to you with the documents produced by the US customs to prove it to you. Make a difference between the customs clearance fees that will be charged by DocShipper (or any other freight forwarder). Customs clearance is the act of putting together a declaration file, the charges related to the declaration itself. The customs clearance fees will go to DocShipper while the customs duties and taxes will go directly to the government.


Customs Contact


Required documents

In addition to an HTS code, you’ll need a few other documents to clear customs with your imports. Here’s an overview of what these are:

Bill of Lading

Document issued by the carrier. It certifies that the goods described have been delivered by the exporter. It is a document that establishes the terms of a contract between a shipper and a transport company that acknowledges receipt of the goods It signifies what freight is to be transported between specified points for a specified price As the most basic document in the transport of goods, it serves as a title, contract of carriage and receipt for the goods It is prepared by the shipper on forms issued by the carrier.

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


Packing List

An export packing list is a document completed by the shipper detailing the contents of the shipment which must include the weight (gross and net), dimensions, contents, the numbering of each package in the shipment and any identifying features (e.g. serial numbers). It may also be used to identify damaged or missing items; the buyer pays duty only on what was actually received.


Commercial Invoice

This is the invoice provided by your supplier in China when purchasing goods. Seller and buyer's contact details, the nature of the goods and the amount you paid for them have to be mentioned in this document. You will need the original invoice to clear your goods through customs. Make sure there is no difference between the original invoice and the packing list!


Certificate of Origin

This is a document used in international trade that traditionally indicates the country of origin of the goods shipped, but the term "origin" in a Certificate of Origin (CO) does not mean the country from which the goods are shipped, but the country where the goods are actually manufactured. The purpose of the CO is to authenticate the country of origin of the goods shipped. This certificate indicates that the goods, which are being exported, are actually manufactured in a specific country mentioned in the certificate. It is very important if you wish to benefit from preferential rates of duty on certain products.


Restricted and prohibited goods

Some products are prohibited from importation into the United States. Other food products, whether animal or vegetable-based, cannot enter the United States without authorization from the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) or the USDA (US Department of Agriculture).

Similarly, particularly strict regulations apply to the importation of weapons, medicines, alcohol, etc.

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