sea-freight-headSea freight, or ocean freight, is the main shipping method for international export & import. Low prices, large volumes, FCL or LCL options, all these advantages make delivery by sea a first choice for most importers.

When it comes to shipping from China, CFC has more than ten years’ experience in providing ocean cargo services for large and small companies as well as individuals all over the world.

As a top-rated China freight broker, we’d like to share our knowledge and experiences in this article, and hope all the information below can help you improve your supply chain management.

We are constantly updating this guide, make sure to come back and check the information you need from time to time. Besides, we can discuss more about your specific logistics requirement by submitting our quote form.

Top 9 Busiest Container Ports

Sea shipping starts from a port and end at a port, which means a standard container rate or less than container rate is port-to-port.

Among the world’s top 10 ports in 2016 (credit: Hong Kong Marine Department), more than half are located in China, actually 7 of 10.

It means you don’t have to pay much attention on the geographical location of your potential vendor. No matter where your Chinese supplier located, your goods are never too far from one of the world’s largest and most productive ports ready to ship your goods out of China.

world ports example

Here’s a rundown of top 9 seaports by container volume.

PortVolume 2015 (Million TEUs)Rank in ChinaRank Worldwide
Hong Kong20.0735

1. Shanghai

Location: Shanghai Municipality, East Coast

The port of Shanghai is the world’s largest and its volume is still increasing rapidly. It is the most important port for foreign trade as it’s located near to the innumerable factories of neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

2. Shenzhen

Location: Guangdong Province, South Coast

The port of Shenzhen is the gateway to Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, making it another key port as it connects China’s southern hinterland to the world.

3. Hong Kong

Location: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, South Coast

Due to historical reasons, the port of Hong Kong has been an ocean traffic hub for centuries. The advanced international concepts and experiences make it more competitive.

4. Ningbo-Zhoushan

Location: Zhejiang Province, East Coast

Ningbo-Zhoushan port is heavily involved in the shipping of raw materials, manufactured goods and cargo into and out of China. Like the port of Shanghai it is also close to China’s developed Eastern provinces and is located next to the Yangtze.

5. Qingdao

Location: Shangdong Province, East Coast

Located on the Yellow Sea, the port of Qingdao serves Shandong Province and in 2011
entered into an alliance with the largest port in South Korea and three other Chinese ports in order to create a shipping and logistics center in Northeast Asia.

6. Guangzhou

Location: Guangdong Province, South Coast

The port of Guangzhou transports goods to and from nearby Guangxi, Guizhou, Jiangxi,
Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, as well as Guangdong itself and ships many agricultural, industrial and manufactured products.

7. Tianjin

Location: Tianjin Municipality, North Coast

The port of Tianjin is one of the best connected ports in China, as it is linked to 21 other cities and districts via its dry ports. With its location so close to Beijing and the Northern central provinces, it is able to serve areas from the very North West in Xinjiang, to the North East of Inner Neimenggu.

8. Dalian

Location: Liaoning Province, North Coast

The port of Dalian is the most northern ice free port and is the largest port in North East China with links to ports in over 160 countries. It also serves seaports in East Asia, North Asia and the Pacific Rim.

9. Xiamen

Location: Fujian Province, South Coast

The port of Xiamen sits in the mouth of the Jiulongjiang River and has over 68 shipping routes, shipping to over 50 countries and has strong links with Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

You can use our resource page to monitor your shipment status at the loading port.


These three types are the most common ones used for container shipping.

20’GP = 20FT = 20′ = 20 feet general purpose
40’GP = 40FT = 40′ = 40 feet general purpose
40’HC = 40HQ = 40 feet high cube

* General purpose commonly means Dry Container (DC). Sometimes if fluid goods are packed by a flexible container bag, it can also be delivery by standard DC.


20’GP is designed to carry more weight than voluminous cargo.
Example – minerals, metals, machinery, etc. all of which are heavy goods.

40’GP is designed to carry voluminous cargo rather than heavy cargo.
Example – furniture, tyres, clothes, etc. all of which are voluminous goods.

Though the volume of 40ft is twice than the 20ft, the max load of both is the same, no more than 27~28 ton in China, most cases under 20 ton. While you can load more than double the 20ft cargo volume into a 40ft, you cannot load double the 20ft cargo weight into a 40ft.

The ocean rates from China for a 40′ container is less than double of a 20′ container – you may take it as rough 1.5 times for easy reference. And the 40’HQ cost the same as the 40’GP, sometimes higher US$100~200.

In addition to the above three common containers, there are special types if your cargo is not so regular. Check this PDF from CAM CGM to learn more.

No matter which type of the container is, you can find many useful data printed on the door, such as CNTR NO., MAX. GROSS, TARE, NET, CU.CAP…


FCL, full container load, which means your goods loading into a full container. You buy large quantity, and the freight cost per unit will be less. It’s from CY (container yard) to CY.

LCL, less than container load, which means your goods and other importers’ goods consolidating together from the same loading port to the same destination port. You buy the just right quantity suitable for your specific target market. It’s from CFS (container freight station) to CFS.

You can choose FCL or LCL as you wish. But there’s a basic rule you should follow.

  • If 1cbm~8cbm, choose LCL;
  • If 8cbm~15cbm, choose FCL or LCL based on practical situation;
  • If over 15cbm, choose FCL without any hesitation.

Why? Click here to dive into.

One more question for you.

If your shipment is less than 1cbm, for example, 0.5cbm with 90kg, then LCL or courier?

You may think delivery via sea is always cheap. But in fact, courier such as DHL/UPS/FedEx is more competitive for this kind of small package. Generally speaking, it’s better to choose express courier than LCL for the billable weight of a shipment under 100kg, sometimes even 200kg for certain destination countries.


These are three common incoterms when delivery from China.

Basically how much of the shipping you pay the supplier to handle. Based on the incoterm you select, you can let the supplier handle the goods transportation to

  • a nearby port in China, which is FOB
  • a nearby port in your country, which is CIF (including maritime insurance)
  • all the way to your facility, which is DAP/DDU (not including tariff and taxes)

If you are new to importing, and haven’t found the right forwarding agent, you’d better choose an incoterm that takes the cargo as far as possible. Since you have us, we suggest you can always select FOB, and let us assist you manage the transportation to your port or to your door.

Even to-door service, unlike parcel delivery companies (Fedex, UPS, etc.), common FTL/LTL carriers typically only provide dock-to-dock service or curbside delivery where the driver does not touch the freight. This is known as “Dock to Dock” or “Shipper Loads / Receiver Unloads”. So commercial dock or curbside delivery only. Residential or inside delivery means extra fees.

Never EXW

Quite a few buyers come to us and ask our comments about choosing EXW for the max control of the goods. We strongly don’t suggest this term for any China sourcing except from small shipments such as sample.

If you have ever looked into the meaning of EXW, you may change your decision. When the truck arrived at the warehouse or the manufacturer, the supplier even has no obligation to loading on it. Not mentioning the customs declaration at the loading port. By this way, FOB is also a test for the supplier if they have the ability to provide customs papers.

Yes, we can do all the stuff for you if the seller insisted on EXW. But it may be costly and time consuming. Things can be easier if possible.

So again, try FOB not EXW.

Ocean Rates

The general shipping rates includes the base rate and surcharges, but NONE customs clearance and port charges at both sides, duty & taxes may occur, and other miscellaneous charges.

Please note that all international shipments are subject to destination charges:

  • Destination country customs related fee (i.e. duty)
  • Destination port/terminal handling fee (i.e. THC)
  • Destination agent service fee (i.e. D/O)

1. Type

1.1 FCL rates

By the loading port, the destination port, the container type/weight/quantity.

For example: How much does it cost to ship a 40′ container to Australia?

It cost abt US$1400 for shipping 1×40’GP from Qingdao port to Sydney port.

1.2 LCL rates

By the loading port, the destination port, the volume, the weight, the volume/weight ratio.

For example: How much does it cost to ship 10 cartons to Canada?

It cost abt US$65 per cbm for shipping 6cbm light goods from Shanghai port to Vancouver port.

1.3 To door rates

By HS Code/volume/weight/quantity/packaging/value/…

Also please note some related costs during an import process,

  • Transportation to Port of Loading
  • Export customs declaration
  • Loading port fees
  • Ocean freight charge
  • Insurance
  • Destination port fees
  • Import customs clearance
  • Customs duty/tax
  • Transportation from the Port of Destination

To-door means the destination charges and fees are prepaid.

All these fees make up the landed cost. Never assuming the basic shipping rates plus the products cost as your total cost.

For example, a port-to-port quote, exclude all destination charges, which may include: terminal fees, handling charges, customs clearance/inspection, duty and Tax (if applicable), delivery to your address, storage, insurance, etc.

Destination charges vary depending on a destination country and carrier. Guiding the consignee in the complexity of cargo recovery procedures is responsibility of carrier’s destination agent/broker.

2. Change Frequency

Rates for ocean shipping change with demand and time.

Unless you have a rather large consistent quantity (10 plus containers per month) then you’ll not likely to get a quote for longer than two weeks.

It may vary every week. Sometimes, if your supplier could catch up the cheap route by finishing the production one or two days earlier, you can save quite a bit. The price for 1x40ft container may increase US$1200 in the next week schedule.

US$1200+? Yes, it happened.

So knowing the rough date your shipment ready is essential for requesting the exact quotation.

3. Season Impact

portview in snow

Seasons with rain, storm or snow may impact the in-and-out for trucks and vessels, but busy seasons for shipping don’t necessarily coordinate with any other typical seasons of the year.

Peak season for China exports, is typically the month before Chinese New Year (January), and the Third Quarter of each year (From July to September) when many made-in-China products shipping for Back to School, Halloween and Christmas.

The rates will be relatively high at these times, because too much shipments waiting for delivery. You need to plan accordingly as there is a finite number of containers and vessels available.

This is only a brief introduction. It’s so complicated to calculate the freight rates. You can learn more from here, or just leave it to the pros – CFC.

Main Shipping Lines


There are many shipping carriers all over the world. Now the biggest container vessel has the capacity of more than 20,000 TEUs.

Here’s a table below showing the Top 17 Big Players in Container Shipping (02-2017).

CarrierShort NameTotal TEUShareCountry
Mediterranean Shg CoMSC2,939,30814.2%Italy
CMA CGM GroupCMA2,151,51510.4%France
COSCO Shipping Co LtdCOSCO1,638,7327.9%China
Evergreen Marine Corp.EMC989,5924.8%Taiwan
Hapag-Lloyd AGHPL973,1074.7%Germany
Hamburg Süd GroupHBS594,327 2.9%Germany
Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp.YML576,2692.8%Taiwan
Orient Overseas Container LineOOCL555,1242.7%Hong Kong
United Aarb Shipping CompanyUASC520,2542.5%
NYK LineNYK504,1652.4%Japan
MOL LinerMOL488,1072.4%Janpan
Hyundai M.M.HMM462,2332.2%Korea
"K" LineKLINE362,7081.8%Janpan
Pacific Int. LinePIL353,5521.7%Singpore
Wan Hai LinesWHL223,1101.1%Taiwan

shipping routes demo

Find more about China shipping routes.

Sea Freight Process with CFC

  1. You fill and submit our quote form with your shipping details. (Quote)
  2. You can expect the response within 12 hours.
  3. We discuss more, and come to an agreement.
  4. You or your supplier fill and submit our booking form. (Book)
  5. We contact your supplier and recheck everything needed, then book the space from the carrier.
  6. We or your supplier arrange inland delivery to the port.
  7. We arrange customs declaration and forwarding the goods.
  8. We send the copy bill of lading for your check once your goods have loaded on board.
  9. You pay the shipping cost as we agreed. (Pay)
  10. We send the original bill of lading or telex release to you.

Quote → Book → Pay, job done from your side. Let us do all the rest heavy job without disturbing you.

We’ll keep tracking your shipment and keep you updated till received. CFC uses our strong carrier relationships to help our clients keep their freight costs priced competitively. You have a local freight partner, you have better control of your supply chain management with money saving.

Sea Freight Transit Time

transit time demo

Estimated Transit Time (ETT) is the time between the Estimated Time of Departure from origin (ETD) and the Estimated Time of Arrival at the destination (ETA).

As for sea cargo transportation out of China, there’s only a rough idea showing below. You can find the schedule links and clear your thought before you choose the carrier.

RegionHow long
USA & Canada (West)20 days
USA & Canada (Eest)30 days
Western Europe25 days
Northern Europe30 days
Southern Europe27 days
Australia15 days
India15 days
Southeast Asia9 days
Eastern Africa30 days
Western Africa40 days
Japan3 days
South Korea4 days
South America (East)30 days
South America (West)45 days

Please note that there maybe 5~10 days differences in practical transportation, vary from different loading port, different destination port, and different carriers.

Here’s an example showing each time cost for different ocean carriers from Qingdao Port China to Hamburg Port Germany.

Different carrierHow long
By EMC33 days
By KLINE31 days
By YML31 days
By OOCL32 days
By ANL30 days
By MSC38 days
By COSCO34 days
By NYK32 days
By WanHai34 days
By CSCL31 days
By CMA30 days
By PIL33 days
By CSAV37 days
By UASC28 days
By IRISL42 days
By HPL32 days

ETDs and ETAs are never guaranteed by the sea carrier and are subject to change at any time. Also keep in mind that it can take upto 7 days before the cargo is loaded at the loading port. The same thing is true at the destination port, 1~3 days for cargo clearance.

Transport by ocean is quite slow, which means you have to plan ahead. Besides, most manufacturers in China don’t stock any products, and only made-to-order. So place your order as early as possible. We suggest 3 months in advance before you need your shipments arrived in your warehouse.

Click here to find your transit time.

Container Tracking

Normally the consignee will be notified via an arrival notice within 5 days or less of port arrival.

The consignee is then responsible to arrange customs clearance with the local customs office, arrange for payment of any duties, taxes, and other fees. Then arrange final pick up and delivery from the destination port.

Container tracking means you are being aware of where your shipment is located, so you can prepare accordingly.

Why cargo tracking is so important?

Sometimes your shipment is late than schedule. Maybe the bad weather, the port congestion, the routing change, etc. But

  • Your customer is relying on you. Cargo delays without notice will screw up your relationship and waste all your work.
  • Your company is waiting for the materials for final assembly, to launch a new product
  • Your manufacturer is waiting for the machine to increase productivity and manufacture economically

The schedule reliability is abt 73% among the global lines (data of 2015). Cargo tracking will let you well known the most accurate ETA, then you can get prepared and notify every party involved.

How to track your shipment?

In order to track a container, you need to know which shipping line is transporting your cargo, and the container number, booking number or document number (any of them is usually good enough).

All the information you can easily find on your Bill of Lading. The booking number & B/L number are listed on the top right, and the container number is usually under the item of “Marks & Nos.”.

According to our practical experiences, the container number should be preferred. This number consists of four-letters owner code (prefix), six-digits serial number and a check digit. For example:


Where category identifier can be:

  • J: detachable freight container related equipment
  • R: reefer (refrigerated) containers
  • U: general freight containers
  • Z: trailers and chassis


A quick suggestion

Importer ExperienceIncotermsQuantityShipping Management
NewCIF or DAPLCLSupplier
MediumCIF or FOBLCL or FCLSupplier or freight forwarder
VeteranFOBFCLFreight forwarder

If you are brand new, let the supplier handle the delivery as far as possible. Then you can focus on booming your business. Simple but costly.

If you have gained some experiences, then you can try to control your goods delivery through a forwarder by yourself. Simple and cheap.

It’s your choice. We suggest contact a good forwarding agent as early as possible, especially a local one with international shipping options, hopefully CFC. They can be helpful in many ways, not only the logistics process, but also supply chain management.

What CFC can do for you?

  • All China EXW/FOB ports available
  • Fast, accurate, obligation free quote
  • Easy, simple, direct online booking process
  • Vessels departing China every 7 days or less
  • Competitive ocean freight rates on all shipments
  • Exclusive access to all your related shipment documentation
  • Delivered to worldwide Port/CFS/Door (Container Freight Station) of your choice
  • Conveniently track online and pre-alert email updates when anything changed

Our Mission is to always meet or exceed customers’ expectations by implementing supply chain solutions that provide customers with the least cost, best service logistics network.

CFC specializes in transportation management services for manufacturing companies, wholesalers, distributors and online sellers that receive products from China.

We hope we were able to make things clear for you.

If you are looking for more information please let us know, and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Or you can get a free China sea freight quote now.

Find more about air freight services or express delivery services.

— Last updated Dec. 6, 2016