WIKI: Shipping From China

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[This post is currently a work in progress. I hope to eventually make it a comprehensive resource, but it is currently unfinished]

This post was put together to help you navigate the importing process, but I’ve created a separate post specifically for Understanding Import Duties because it can be a somewhat complex process. Please take the time to read through both posts if you plan on importing merchandise from China.

You have two primary shipping options when ordering inventory from China. You can ship Air Express (transport the goods by plane) or by Ocean Freight (transport the goods by ship).

There’s also a third option called Air Freight, but generally the two options above should be all you need to know

Shipping by air can be expensive, to the point that it can make some product opportunities unprofitable, but it’s also a much faster method and simpler process than shipping by sea. Shipping by sea also takes much longer than shipping by air. For these reasons, it’s highly recommended that you begin your private label business by choosing a product that can be shipped by air (Express) profitably.

There are a few things that are important to understand about importing in general, regardless of what method of shipping you choose. Let’s cover these first, then we’ll go over some of the specifics regarding shipping by air vs. by sea.

Note: Rules and regulations will vary by country. This post will assume you are importing merchandise from China into the US. The importing process can be complex, so this is meant to be a general overview only. Please contact a professional if you require more specific information.

Customs Clearance

Shipping Direct to Amazon

  • You can generally ship direct to Amazon by air Express with any carrier and without having to use a separate freight forwarder. In order to ship direct to Amazon by sea, you must use as your freight forwarder.
  • You cannot use Amazon’s discounted UPS rates when for shipments that originate from outside the United States.

Shipping by Air

  • Cost is primarily based on both the size and weight of your shipment.
  • When shipping by air, you should target rates of $6.00 per kg for relatively small products. You may be able to do better than this rate, but it should be achievable as long as your product is small. Larger products will of course have a higher rate.
  • It’s recommended to use your suppliers account when shipping by air.
  • Common Air Express carriers are UPS, FedEx and DHL. Each will provide door-to-door service. Air Freight services provided by other carriers may only ship to an airport, requiring that you arrange delivery to the final destination. In most cases you’ll want to avoid this, so make sure you’ve selected a carrier that provides door-to-door service.

Shipping by Sea

  • Cost is primarily based on the volume of space of your shipment. If you are shipping less than a container load, your price is often determined by cubic meter.
  • The documentation process can be complex. It’s recommended you hire a licensed customs broker and freight forwarder to handle the process for you.
  • There are some fixed costs associated with shipping by sea, so it isn’t always less expensive than shipping by air.

While the regulations are complex, you don’t really need to understand them all. Just know that they exist and work with a professional who understands the process thoroughly.

This means you should hire a licensed Customs Broker and a Freight Forwarder. Usually you will have the same company perform both services for you, but it’s worth knowing that you at least have the option of hiring them separately (or even just hiring one of the two).

Note: While air Express shipments still require customs clearance, you should typically only need to hire a customs broker or freight forwarder if shipping by ocean freight.

If you’re shipping via air, it’s recommended you use your supplier’s shipping account, so you shouldn’t need to hire a freight forwarder (although this is an option if you wanted to check pricing).

Also, major carriers like FedEx, UPS or DHL will handle the customs clearance for you, so you shouldn’t need to hire a customs broker either.

Customs Brokers vs. Freight Forwarders
So let’s first clarify the difference between the two:

Freight Forwarder: A freight forwarder is an expert at logistics. They can help you find the best shipping rate and handle the door-to-door shipping process.

Customs Broker: A customs broker’s role is to handle the customs clearing process on your behalf. This means they will handle all the documentation and red tape that you probably don’t want to deal with.

So, together, they can handle the actual shipping and customs clearance, allowing you to focus on your core business. Remember, the same company may provide both services for you or you can hire them separately and ask them to work together.

The Two Exceptions
OK, so I said you shouldn’t have to worry about any of the details. That’s true, but I at least want to make you aware of two things that are very important:

  • Importer Security Filing (ISF): All importers are required to file one for all ocean freight shipments entering the United States.
  • It MUST be filed at least 24 hours before your cargo is loaded on the vessel. There are severe penalties if this is not done.
  • Your customs broker should work with your supplier to make sure it’s done, but because it’s so important, it’s probably worth confirming that it’s been taken care of before you cargo is loaded.
  • Customs Bond: You’ll need to make use of a customs bond if importing merchandise into the United States. You have two options here:
  • Single-Use Bond:
  • Continuous Bond:

If you want to learn more about importing into the U.S., some good basic tips can be found here:

The above page also links to a thorough PDF that can be a useful resource as well. It’s very long, but fairly well organized, so it can be a good reference if you’re looking for specific information. The direct link is here:

You can also download an excellent (and free) guide on the importing process by going to and providing your email address.

This post is part of the Ultimate Wiki Project

WIKI: Understanding Import Duties
The Ultimate Wiki Project: Selling on Amazon FAQ

Freight cost example of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 cartons shipped from China to Amazon: 1—192USD; 2— 286.5USD; 3— 403USD; 4— 494USD; 5— 643USD; 6— 742USD

I ordered 5 cartons from China, Amazon wanted them shipped to 3 locations which cost me 286.50 + 286.50 + 192.00 = $765. This is $122 more than if I could have shipped all 5 to one location ($643). Or I could pay Amazon $120 for single location (.30 X 400 pcs)
So ordered 80 more units and sent 2 cartons to three locations for $859.50. This ended up being $26.50 cheaper than paying Amazon .30 each. Plus I got my extra 80 units cheaper than the first 400.


Great thinking!


Are the 5 cartons your total order then and did they give you one big price for shipping and then it got broken down after it is being sent to 3 locations, I am just trying to clarify for when I place my order. thxs


My original order was for 400 pieces which supplier puts into 5 cartons. I put this into seller central and they wanted 2 sent to a warehouse and 2 more to another warehouse and 1 to a third warehouse. Now the freight cost is higher per carton for 1 and 2 cartons shipped to a location instead of 5 going to the same location. It would have saved me money to have all 5 sent to me and then I send to three different warehouses by UPS. I chose not to do that because I did not want to waste two days getting it to Amazon. ( I was hoping for a pre-Christmas active account)


I feel I am so confused but nevertheless. I suppose it’s just anxiety. When I tired to put mine into boxes I got a limitation of number of products per box so I could not change this. So they sent the 4 boxes to 3 locations.
Also my supplier was telling me that he had never used UPS. I told him he had to get an account. Was that unfair/wrong


@moi, your supplier doesn’t have to use UPS. He can use whichever carrier he thinks makes the most sense.


@Dax but I filled in the amazon shipping for the labels saying I would use UPS. If I change now then the labels and the whole process would have to be redone No?


I don’t know if the labels would change. You would have to contact Amazon support to ask.


Dax, trust you are well! I’m at a stage where I am trying to make my first supply order from a China supplier. 1000 units will cost me $2,527.00 for air ship thru their shipper EMS. 100 units is $335.00. This appears to be cost prohibitive & likely hurt my profit margin. Do you have any shipper suggestions that would be less costly? Thank you!


I couldn’t recommend any shipping service that’s less expensive than what your supplier could negotiate. Your other option would be to consider shipping by sea instead of by air, but I don’t generally recommend that if it’s your first product.


Ok thanks!


Hello everybody!

I am currently in the process of ordering my second shipment. There will be 3 boxes and a total of 650 units. I am using a forwarder from china, because he can send the products more cheaply, then my supplier. My forwarder will use FedEx air shipment, door to door service.
I have the following questions:

  1. Which address should I use in SC as ‘Ship From’ address? The factory address of my supplier or the address of my forwarder?
  2. The products cost will be 1618,05USD + shipping 402,18USD. My forwarder told me that I won’t need a customs broker, as FedEx will clear the shipment. On the invoice, who should be the Consignee?

Thanks in advance for your answers. :smile:



I’m assuming it will be picked up from your supplier’s factory, so that should be the Ship From address.

You should list your company as the Consignee, but I would recommend you ask your forwarder as well to confirm.


Thank you @Dax for your advice and time.