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


The geographical distance between these two territories means that the means mainly used are sea, air and rail freight.Freight transport between China and Europe has seen significant growth in recent years, with destination countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands being destination countries for transport companies. We have compared these 3 solutions to give you the best advice. Do not hesitate to contact our team if you wish to clarify any information.



Sea freight from China to Europe

Overview - Ocean shipping from China to Europe

International shipping is the most commonly used mode of transportation for cargo between China and Europe.

Shipping from China to Europe has become a vital pillar of global trade, with millions of containers transported annually on every major trade route. Chinese ports such as Shanghai, Ningbo and Shenzhen have become major hubs for shipping goods to Europe, with the European ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp being popular destinations for ships carrying goods from Spine.

According to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the trade volume between China and Europe has increased significantly in recent years, reaching nearly $709 billion in 2020. Maritime transport remains the main mode of transport for freight between the two regions, accounting for around 80% of trade shown. However, port congestion, transit delays and tariff increases have been challenges for the shipping industry in recent years, highlighting the need to develop innovative logistics solutions to improve the efficiency and sustainability of this vital trade route.

DocShipper Alert : DocShipper is an international freight forwarder that organizes the transportation of your goods from the supplier's warehouse to the final destination. Relax, because we take care of everything: from packing, to organizing the transport, to customs clearance and administrative procedures, regardless of the shipping method (air, sea, road, rail).

Contact us to receive a free estimate in less than 24 hours. You have a question ? Call our consultants for free.

Port of Valencia (Spain)

The Port of Valencia has recently become the most important port in Spain, outstripping the port of Algeciras in the number of containers since 2016.  It is the fifth-largest container port in Europe and the largest in the Mediterranean. 65.4 million tonnes of goods and more than 5 million containers pass through it every year. The port is located in the heart of the Valencia region and benefits from excellent road and rail connections with central Spain.

Website : Port of Valencia

Port of Fos sur Mer (Marseille)

In 2019, the Port Authority of Marseille Fos/mer is once again asserting their leadership in France. It recorded 9,917 ship calls and handled 79 million tonnes of goods. Located on the Mediterranean coast at the mouth of the RhĂ´ne, the Port of Marseille Fos has space and infrastructure necessary to accommodate maritime, logistics and industrial activities. It is capable of handling all types of imports and exports of goods (petroleum products, containers, ores, food products, etc.). The port has large logistics platforms hosting international players in the transport of goods that supply the French and European markets.

Website: Port of Fos/mer

Port of Le Havre (Le Havre)

The port of Le Havre is the second-largest commercial port in France in terms of total tonnage and the largest container port, with three sets of terminals. It can accommodate the largest container ships in the world. Located on the northern coast of France, is ideally situated as the gateway to Paris and the industrial north. The entire complex is connected by rail with direct access to the Seine by barge from and to the Paris conurbation.

The port handled nearly 70 million tonnes of goods in 2019 and registered 6,000 ships. Le Havre is a member of HAROPA, a port structure bringing together the ports of Le Havre, Rouen and Paris.

Website : Port of Le Havre 

*We can also mention a few other ports in Europe that also receive cargo ships from China: Bremerhaven, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Copenhagen, Dunkirk, Gothenburg, Gdynia, Helsinki, Kaliningrad, Kotka, Tallinn, Palmas, Odessa, etc.

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

The average sea freight shipping time from China to Europe is between 35-45 days.

Marseille Le Havre Antwerp Rotterdam Hamburg Valencia
Shanghai 25 26 32 27 30 25
Qingdao 26 28 39 31 29 27
Tianjin 28 30 34 29 30 28
Dalian 30 34 41 32 34 31

Do I have to ship by groupage or full container between China and Europe?

There are several types of containers but 3 sizes are the most commonly used:

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

Let's take a look at the two methods of transportation:

DocShipper Alert : Are you planning to ship goods from China by sea? Whether it's a groupage shipment or a full container, DocShipper takes care of all the procedures with the various players in the logistics chain.A single point of contact, dedicated service, peace of mind, expertise... DocShipper makes importing and exporting more pleasant.

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Special maritime transport between China and Europe

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

The refrigerated container is a thermally insulated container with a temperature maintenance device. It allows the transport of goods under controlled temperatures. It is often used for foodstuffs or chemicals.


A Ro-Ro is a vessel used to transport, among other things, vehicles, loaded by one or more ramps. They are also called Ro-Ro, from the English roll-on/roll-off meaning literally "roll, roll, roll", to distinguish them from the usual cargo ships where products are loaded vertically by cranes.

Why use Ro-Ro shipping from China?


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 traditional containers. These types of cargo are usually loaded on a platform or trailer for transport.

How much does sea freight between China and Europe cost?

When you decide to export or import, it is very important to know the weight but also the volume of your goods. Indeed, transport pricing is always based on the weight/volume ratio.

In general, the average price of a 20ft container (FCL) for shipping from China to Europe is between 1500 and 3000 USD, while the average price of a 40ft container (FCL) is between 2500 and 4500 USD. However, these prices may vary depending on the factors described above.

There are 2 possibilities:

  • In groupage (goods in bags, crates, drums, etc...). This chargeable unit can be the tonne or the m3 to the advantage of the carrier, according to the weight/volume equivalence rule 1t = 1m3. The higher of the two will be taken to the advantage of the carrier.
  • In full containers, the freight is calculated on a flat rate per container, which takes into account the type of container but is independent of the type of goods carried.

For all requests, do not hesitate to contact our sea freight expert by filling out our online form.


Air freight from China to Europe

Conventional or express air freight

Air shipments are also a common mode of transport for many European importers. Airfreight is a safe, fast, and efficient means of transport between these two territories.

Note that there are two types of air freight: conventional air freight and express air freight.

The two methods are quite different from each other, both in terms of price and service:

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!


What are the advantages of air transport?

The best thing about air travel is speed.

In general, the transit time from China does not exceed 7 working days. In most cases, it is only 3 to 5 days. This is a considerable reduction compared to sea freight. Nowadays, fast delivery time can have a huge impact on a niche market.

Please note that air freight is only one link in the logistics chain. Indeed, in addition to air freight, you will also need (at a minimum) export and import services, including airport charges, customs declaration, etc. This is naturally a service that DocShipper offers!

How do you calculate the volumetric weight of your shipment?

For conventional freight, the basic rate is a weight band rate, rapidly decreasing, with a minimum charge for very small shipments. On the same principle, express freight also offers a rate per step depending on the volume you are shipping. As indicated just above, the carrier will base the rate on the greater of the gross weight and the volumetric weight, which is calculated as follows:

  • Conventional Air Freight: 1 mÂł = 167 Kgs
  • Express Air Freight: 1 mÂł = 200 kgs

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

The time it takes to ship air cargo from China to Europe depends on several factors, such as distance, cargo size and weight, flight routes, customs formalities and processing times at each stage of the supply chain.

In general, the average shipping time for air cargo from China to Europe is around 7–10 days for door-to-door delivery, and 4–7 days for airport-to-airport delivery. However, these times may vary depending on the above factors and may be extended in the event of problems such as flight delays, security issues or complex customs formalities.

rail freight services guide

Rail freight from China to Europe

Rail transport from China to Europe

In 2019, rail transport between China and Europe almost doubled, with an increase in the number of trains of more than 90%. This has been reported by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a Chinese government body that intends to introduce measures to promote the safe, stable and efficient operation of trains between China and the EU.

Rail freight from China to Europe has become an increasingly popular alternative to sea shipping to quickly ship goods from China to Europe, offering faster transit time than sea shipping and a lower cost than air transport.

The Chinese government wants to develop China's and Europe's business activities more efficiently and to further simplify transport and customs formalities. It also wants to innovate in modes of operation, freight transport, and support the expansion of imports and exports through the use of China-EU trains. This explains the increase in rail traffic in recent years.

Trans-Eurasia Logistics operates the Yiwu - Madrid railway line, also known as the "New Silk Road", which is the longest freight railway line in the world and connects China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and Spain. The Trans-Siberian Railway further north is accessible from Chinese cities in the far north-east.


How long does it take to travel by train from China?

As you can see on the map below, delays vary from 15 to 20 days depending on the origin and destination. Transport times are twice as fast as what you can get by sea! Please also note that the Chinese government is focusing a lot of investment on the development of the Silk Road in order to optimize delays and costs. We can now charter by train from Western China to Eastern Europe in 12 days, less than 2 weeks!

Train China to Europe

Door-to-door delivery between China and Europe

Do you want your goods to be transported with peace of mind? Door-to-door is an all-inclusive quality service, from collection from your supplier to your home or warehouse. Whether it's for sea, air or rail transport, our door-to-door service is the offer you need!

And guess what? That's our specialty at DocShipper! Let us take care of all your logistical needs, we guarantee you a professional service: packing, storage, loading/unloading, customs clearance, international freight, trucking... All these services will be included in our offer!


Customs clearance in Europe / European Union for goods imported from China


In this section, we will examine the rules and obligations governing imports from China to Europe. All imports result in a customs debt. This is due upon acceptance of the declaration requesting the MLP (Release for Free Practice).

The customs debt is composed of the customs duties allowing the MLP and the VAT allowing the MAC (Release for Consumption) on the national territories.

This is one of the most important aspects that you should always keep in mind as an importer. The European Union and its 27 member countries have established rules governing the import of goods from outside the continent.

We have detailed all the steps in this procedure to help you understand how duties and taxes are calculated and by whom they will be collected.

The value for duty

The import of goods from third countries into the EU gives rise to the payment of customs duties and taxes. These are calculated on the value of the imported goods by applying different percentages. The freight rate for transporting goods between China and Europe may vary depending on various factors.

What are the customs duties and taxes?

Form and our experts will take care of everything for you. With our assistance, you can rest assured that you won't face any problems during the customs clearance process. Online form.

How to calculate customs duties and taxes?

Some products tend to be heavily taxed while others are relatively lightly taxed, or even totally exempt from import duties and taxes. It is therefore essential to know the percentage of customs duties and taxes for the product(s) you are importing into Europe, in order to determine the amount you will be able to pay.

First step: determine the tariff type of the goods. Or in other words the "HS code".

Tariff type is one of the three essential concepts, together with origin and customs value, for determining the customs treatment to be given to a good.

The Harmonized System (HS Code) provides a methodical and unique classification, for the countries using it, of goods in international trade and allows the comparison of their trade flows. It is used by 207 countries and covers more than 95% of world trade.

The composition of an HS Code is as follows

hs code pineapple

Does Docshipper charge duty?

You will not be charged by our customs agent. We will come back to you with the documents produced by the European customs to prove it to you. Be sure to differentiate 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.


Procedure and customs contact


Required documents

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. To know everything about the Bill of Lading, read this. It may be an AWB (airwaybill) for air cargo.


Packing List

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.


Original Invoice

In China as in Europe (and it's about the same all over the world), 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

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.


Documents of conformity (CE standard)

Product compliance documents, such as test reports, technical documentation, declarations of conformity and product certificates, show that a product is manufactured in accordance with the applicable product safety standards and regulations in your target market. It is important to consult your supplier for products such as electronics, electrical equipment, toys, cosmetics, automotive parts, etc.


Your EORI number (Economic Operator Registration Identification)

Mandatory for all companies that import or export goods. If you don't remember, go to the pro-customs portal and get it from your SIRET number.


Restricted and prohibited products

The European Union is relatively flexible when it comes to permits and licenses, contrary to what one might think. On the other hand, certain categories of products are subject to restrictions or even totally banned, it is important to be aware of them to avoid any problems.

Are there any agreements between China and Europe?

There are no Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between China and Europe, nor Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). However, discussions and negotiations started in 2018 on a possible trade agreement. The Foreign Trade Association, which represents the European and international distribution and retail sector, commissioned this study because of China's importance as a sourcing country and its attractiveness as a growing consumer market.

The "Silk News" can bring great added value to what is already an intense economic relationship between China and the European Union. It is a determination similar to that which motivated former traders. This study shows that the "Silk Road of Tomorrow", in the form of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and China, especially if it is a "deep and comprehensive" agreement. Good for both China and Europe.

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