When you purchase wholesale products from China, you will need a method to ship your cargo from China to the United States (or wherever you reside).
Depending on the mode of transport and the weight and dimensions of your shipment, delivery times and shipping rates will vary.
This post will provide you with an overview of your shipping options and answer the following questions about importing from China.
- What methods of shipment are available for both small parcels and bulk shipments
- How long it takes to ship from China
- How much it costs to ship from China
- How the pandemic has affected shipping prices
- The cheapest way to ship from China
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How To Ship From China To The US For Large Shipments
There are 3 main ways to ship packages from China to the US when purchasing in bulk.
- Express Shipping
- Air Freight
- Sea Freight
Each method has its own pros and cons and the correct choice depends on how quickly you need your products and how much you are willing to pay.
These 3 methods are applicable when buying from Alibaba or from a private label manufacturer.
Express shipping is the fastest and most reliable way to ship bulk orders from China to the United States and the best express shipping carriers are UPS, FedEx, TNT and DHL.
With express shipping, you can receive your packages in less than 5 days. But the speed and reliability of express shipping comes at a significant cost.
The general rule of thumb is that express shipping typically costs about $2 per pound.
However during the pandemic, prices have nearly doubled to $4 per pound to ship a package via FedEx from Shenzhen, China to California. It’s expensive!
Air freight is the most economical option for shipments that weigh between 400 lbs and 1200 lbs. At prices 30-40% cheaper than express shipping, you get the best of both worlds, fast shipping and lower pricing.
However, air freight is more of a hassle than express shipping because you likely need to hire a customs agent. You also need to arrange for last mile transport from the airport to your warehouse.
But overall, air freight is a good compromise in terms of speed and cost for medium sized shipments.
For shipments over 1200 lbs, sea freight is almost always the cheapest shipping option from China to the US.
You pay a flat rate for a container (20 or 40 ft) and you can ship as much as you can fit. However, the shipping times are significantly longer compared to air.
Editor’s Note: You do not need to fill an entire container in order to ship by sea. Instead, you can opt for less than container load (LCL) shipping.
LCL is when several shipments are consolidated and packed into one container. LCL tends to be more expensive because there’s more labor involved in consolidating and separating out shipments. The shipping times are also slightly longer than full container shipments.
With sea freight, you also have to hire a customs agent and arrange for last mile transport from the port to your warehouse.
But overall, the low price of sea freight is what allows an ecommerce business to achieve economies of scale.
How Long Does Shipping From China Take For Large Shipments?
Shipping to the United States from China can take anywhere from 1-35 days depending on the shipping method you choose.
Here are the typical number of days it takes to ship from China to the US depending on the method.
- Express Shipping – 1-5 Days
- Air Freight – 2-15 Days
- Sea Freight to the West Coast – 15+ days
- Sea Freight to the East Coast – 30+ days
Here’s a table of the average shipping times for Express shipping to the United States depending on the carrier.
- EMS – 3-16 days
- DHL – 1-4 days
- FedEx – 1-5 days
- UPS – 1-5 days
The times listed above are approximate and depend on various factors. For example, the global pandemic has caused major delays due to a shortage of staff and shipping containers.
How Much Does It Cost To Ship From China To The US For Large Shipments
The cost of shipping from China to the US varies depending on the shipping method, the weight and dimensions of your package, and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
Due to the pandemic, prices have increased significantly but you can refer to the table below for approximate pricing and what to expect.
- Express Shipping – $4-5 per pound
- Air Freight – $3-4 per pound
- Sea Freight – $5000-$10000 per container
During the height of the pandemic, shipping container costs rose to as high as $20,000 per container. However, sea shipment prices are projected to settle down to normal levels towards the middle of 2022.
The Cheapest Way To Ship From China To The US For Large Shipments
The best way to ship from China to the United States for bulk shipments depends on the weight of your shipment and the speed you require.
For all shipments less than 200-400 pounds, you should opt for Express shipping. At this weight, it doesn’t make sense to purchase a full container and the extra hassle of air freight and hiring a customs agent is not worth the money.
For shipments between 400 – 1200 pounds, air freight is usually the cheapest option with fast shipping times. However, you should compare the sea shipping rates because sometimes LCL (less than container load) can be cheaper than air freight.
For all shipments over 1200 pounds, sea freight is almost always the cheapest method but it’s slow.
If speed is your main criteria, express mail is almost always the fastest way to ship. You don’t need a customs agent and your goods will arrive at your doorstep.
How To Ship Small Parcels From China To The US (Less Than 5 Lbs)
If you need to ship small parcels less than 5 pounds from China to the US, there are 3 main options for you to choose from.
- Regular Post
- Express Shipping
These shipping methods are ideal when buying from AliExpress or samples from your wholesale supplier.
Regular post is the most economical way to ship light parcels from China to the US. However, the delivery times can take up to 90 days depending on the method that is chosen.
There are several different options for regular post with different prices and shipping times.
- China Post Small Parcel: Air
- China Post Small Parcel: Surface
- China International EMS
However, the fastest regular post option is China International EMS which takes between 3-15 days.
Overall, regular post is the cheapest way to ship small products. However, as your package size increases, the price of regular post can become on par with express shipping.
As a result, make sure you compare prices between express shipping couriers like FedEx, DHL and UPS before making your shipment if your package is on the heavier side.
Express shipping via an international courier like FedEx, UPS, DHL or TNT is the fastest and most reliable way to ship from China to the United States.
If you need your products as quickly as possible (less than 5 days), express shipping is your best option. However, it is also the most expensive method to ship small parcels from China to the US.
ePacket is a special shipping option that provides a fast and inexpensive rate when shipping small parcels from China to the United States.
If your package is less than 24 inches and the total length, height and thickness of your packages is less than 36 inches, ePacket shipping is the cheapest way to ship a package from China to the US.
In addition, your package can not weigh more than 4.4 pounds and the merchandise can not exceed $400 in value.
To give you an idea of how cheap ePacket is, sending a package from China to California through ePacket is cheaper than shipping from California to Nevada using USPS.
As a result, ePacket is the preferred shipping method that AliExpress dropshippers use to send their products.
How Long Does Shipping From China Take For Small Parcels?
The cost of shipping small parcels from China to the US depends on the shipping method and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
- Regular Post – 7-90 days
- Express Shipping – 1-5 days
- ePacket – 7-30 days
If you need your products as quickly as possible, express shipping is your best choice. Otherwise, ePacket shipping will give you the best bang for your money.
How Much Does It Cost To Ship From China To The US For A Small 2 Pound Parcel
The cost of shipping a small parcel from China varies depending on the shipping method, the weight and dimensions of your package, and how quickly you need your goods delivered.
For the purposes of this example, the prices quoted below are for sending a 2 pound package from Shanghai to the United States.
- China Post Small Parcel: Air (7-30 days) – $43.12
- China Post Small Parcel: Surface (20-90 days) – $21.32
- China International EMS (3-15 days) – $49.76
- China EMS (ePacket/EUB) (7-30 days) – $14.06
- Express Shipping Via FedEx (1-5 days) – $74.55
The Cheapest Way To Ship From China To The US For A Small Parcel Weighing 2 Pounds
ePacket shipping is by far the most economical shipping option with a reasonable delivery time when your package weighs less than 4.4 pounds.
However, delivery times can take as long as 30 days.
If you want guaranteed fast delivery, then express shipping via FedEx, UPS, DHL or TNT is your best choice. However, the prices are significantly higher.
How Chinese Holidays Affect Shipping Times
All of the shipping times detailed above are subject to delays due to Chinese holidays.
While all major ports in China are open 365 days out of the year, most factory workers and carriers are on holiday.
Below is a list of major Chinese holidays that will cause shipping delays.
Editor’s note: Because China uses a lunar calendar, the exact dates of these holidays will vary from year to year.
- Chinese New Year – End of January to mid-February – 2 weeks or more
- Qingming Festival – Early April – 1-2 days
- Labor Day In China – Early May – 3-5 days
- Dragon Boat Festival – Early June – 3-4 days
- Golden Week – Early October – 7 days
- National Day of The POC – Early October – 3 days
During these holiday periods, China shipping is more or less shut down.
Hire A Freight Forwarder
For all bulk shipments from China to the United States, hiring a freight forwarder is highly recommended even if your shipment is small.
A good freight forwarder will guide you through your first shipment to avoid common pitfalls and find you the cheapest way to ship your packages.
There are also many forms to sign when importing from China and a good forwarder will help you understand everything about freight.
You should also be aware of the packaging and labeling requirements for your products so that they can pass customs in your country.
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Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
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To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.