Shipping from China to the UK: Customs, Cost, Transit Time and More [2024]

The United Kingdom is the world’s first industrialised country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK remains a great power with considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence internationally.

Shipping from China to the UK is not an easy task. Keep reading to explore more.

shipping from China to UK

UK Customs Entry

Because you must have all the goods that you import from China cleared by UK customs, it is important to clarify a few points beforehand.

EORI Number

EORI (Economic Operator Registration Identification) is a Customs Number and is generally mandatory for companies and individuals based in the UK, if they are planning to import from China.

You do not need an EORI number if you’re moving goods that are both:

  • not controlled goods
  • for personal use only

As an UK importer, you must get an EORI number that starts with GB. If you already have an EORI number and it does not start with GB, you must apply for a GB EORI number.

If you do not have the right EORI number, you may have delays at customs and increased costs, for example your goods may have to be stored until you get an EORI.

You’ll get your GB EORI number immediately unless UK Customs (HMRC) needs to make any checks on your application. If they do, it can take up to 5 working days.
* His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax, payments, and customs authority.

You can hire someone, like CFC to deal with customs and transport the goods for you. Most businesses that import goods use a transporter or customs agent.

Commodity Code and Tariff Rate

Commodity codes are internationally recognised reference numbers, also known as HS Code. You will use this code on any import declaration and can find them in the Trade Tariff tool.

You’ll need to find the right commodity code for any goods you import or export, as it works out:

  • the rate of Customs Duty and import VAT
  • taxes
  • preferential rates which may apply

Please note only the first 6 digits are used worldwide and product specific decisions are particular to each country. Meaning after your Chinese supplier provided the code, you still need to check if the treatment is the same and how much of the code applies in the UK.

VAT Rate: 20%

VAT (Value Added Tax) is a tax added to most products and services sold by VAT-registered businesses.

Businesses have to register for VAT if their VAT taxable turnover is more than £90,000. They can also choose to register if their turnover is less than £90,000.

% of VATWhat the rate applies to
Standard rate20%Most goods and services
Reduced rate5%Some goods and services, eg children’s car seats and home energy
Zero rate0%Zero-rated goods and services, eg most food and children’s clothes

Sea Freight to the UK

Sea freight is affected by the type of goods, the mode of transport, the dimensional weight of the cargo, and the distance to destination.

Top Container Ports in the UK

The United Kingdom has around 120 commercial ports, including some of the top container ports in the world.

  • Felixstowe Port: Located in Suffolk, this is the UK’s biggest and busiest container port, handling almost half of the country’s container trade
  • London Gateway Port: Located on the River Thames, this port is on the edge of the capital city
  • Southampton Port: Located on the southern English coast, this port handles all types of cargo
  • Liverpool Port: This port has a large shipping terminal that can accommodate mega vessels

There are many other ports and harbours around the United Kingdom, including the following towns and cities:

Aberdeen, Avonmouth, Barrow, Barry, Belfast, Boston, Bristol, Cardiff, Dover, Edinburgh/Leith, Falmouth, Fishguard, Glasgow, Gloucester, Grangemouth, Grimsby, Harwich, Heysham, Holyhead, Hull, Kirkwall, Larne, Londonderry, Manchester, Oban, Peterhead, Plymouth, Poole, Port Talbot, Portishead, Portsmouth, Scapa Flow, Stornoway, Stranraer, Sullom Voe, Swansea, Tees, Tyne.

Sea Freight Cost to the UK

Freight rates determine how much it will cost to transport cargo from one point to another.

FCL, or full container load, means your goods fill an entire container, either 20’ or 40’ long. If you are shipping at a high volume, you’ll save time and money by shipping FCL. Pricing for FCL is done as a flat rate, regardless of whether or not your container is completely full.

LCL, or less than a container load, means your goods do not fill an entire container, and will be shipped along with other boxes or pallets. Note that when you ship LCL, your goods will need to be consolidated at the origin port and deconsolidated at the destination port.

There is unfortunately no standard list of costs that your international shipping will entail. However, a lot of your costs will undoubtedly be determined by the nature of your transaction. For instance, your freight’s dimensions, the container you use, the applicable Incoterm and your chosen ocean freight route will surely be some of the considerations you should take into account when trying to come up with a quotation.

It’s also important remember that freight rates are seasonal, with regular fluctuations throughout the year. During holiday shopping season in the fall, freight shipping prices are generally higher than the rest of the year.

Sea Freight Transit Time to the UK

Your shipment’s transit time will be impacted by location, shipment size, and season. Transit times aren’t always the same. Depending on market conditions, acts of nature, and other occurrences, freight shipments may be delayed.

A table below showing how long will your shipment arrive from different China ports to Felixstowe port.


Air Freight to the UK

Shipping by air is generally faster but more expensive than shipping by ocean, so the mode you choose will depend on the size and weight of your shipment, and how quickly you need it to arrive at destination.

Top 10 Airports in the UK

IATA CodeAirport NameAirport City
LHRLondon Heathrow AirportLondon
MANManchester AirportManchester
LGWLondon Gatwick AirportLondon
BHXBirmingham International AirportBirmingham
GLAGlasgow International AirportGlasgow
NCLNewcastle AirportNewcastle
EDIEdinburgh AirportEdinburgh
ABZAberdeen Dyce AirportAberdeen
BRSBristol AirportBristol
CWLCardiff International AirportCardiff

The largest airline in the United Kingdom is British Airways. Others include easyJet, Monarch Airlines, Flybe, Jet2, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Top Express Companies

  • DHL
  • FedEx
  • UPS
  • Parcelforce
  • Hermes
  • Royal Mail

Air Freight Cost to the UK

Standard air freight is the cheapest option for shipments between about 150 kilos and 500 kg. Very light shipments for their size might be charged on dimensional weight, rather than actual weight.

Express air freight is a little more expensive, since air freight processes are more complicated than for express freight.

Each shipping mode has its own combination of base and variable costs. Modes with a lower base cost are cheaper for smaller shipments while modes with lower variable weight costs are the cheaper options for larger shipments, even if they start out with a high base cost.

Air rates can vary widely between different airlines and prices change regularly.

Air Freight Transit Time to the UK

Rules of thumbs for lead times (in regular conditions) are 1-2 weeks for regular post, 3 days for air express freight, 8-10 days for air freight.

These estimates can be affected by a wide range of circumstances. With things the way they are, expect that there may be delays.

Tips for Saving Costs and Shipping Time from China to the UK

By working with a freight agent like CFC, you can save time and cost. We can help you:

  • Book in advance.
    Shipping by sea is the cheapest, but also takes the longest. Booking in advance when you can saves you money– and cuts out the stress if delays arise.
  • Ship off-peak.
    When carriers get busy, both shipping prices and transit times go up. Ship during off-peak seasons whenever you can.
  • Get your documentation in order.
    Having your documentation in order can make all the difference when it comes to clearing customs quickly.
  • Know your Tariff Codes.
    A lot of shippers are surprised by how much customs fees can affect business costs. Do your research so you can budget effectively.
  • Compare quotes from different carriers.
    Quotes can vary, so check out offers from different carriers before making a decision.
  • Understand what’s included in your quote.
    Is your quote port to port or door to door? What service does it include? Know what you’re paying for to avoid getting hit with surprise fees.

CFC News - May 22, 2024

Additional rate increases set for June show the carriers do not expect conditions to improve in the short term.

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