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. 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

Imports into Europe from China have been steadily increasing in recent years. China is now the EU's largest supplier of manufactured goods, making it the EU's main trading partner. In 2019, imports from China amounted to €362 billion (around €1 billion per day, just!), and exports to €198 billion.

The ports of the European Union are therefore of crucial importance to the economy of the member countries since they are the gateways to the territory for 74% of imported goods. Today there are more than 1200 commercial seaports on the EU coasts and around 4 billion tonnes of goods pass through them every year.

Despite this large number of ports, only a few are recognized as major ones, forming the basis of a high-performance network that handles 96% of maritime traffic (ESPO - The European Sea Port Organisation) in Europe. Indeed, only these main ports can accommodate the largest container ships (up to 18 000), often coming from Asia and China in particular.

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 Rhône, 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.

Transit time between China and European ports

Please find below the average transit times (in days) of the most important ports in China and Europe:

Marseille Le Havre Antwerp Rotterdam Hamburg Valencia
Shangaï 25 26 32 27 30 25
Shenzhen 20 22 26 22 24 20
Guangzhou 24 26 28 26 28 25
Qingdao 26 28 39 31 29 27
Tianjin 31 33 41 33 37 31
Ningbo 29 32 30 28 28 29
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:

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.

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

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 m³ = 167 Kgs
  • Express Air Freight: 1 m³ = 200 kgs

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.

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.

What are the customs duties and taxes?

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. 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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