China Import Shipping Methods Explained – 2021 Latest Version


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There are various shipping methods that are commonly used in international trades. Knowing their characteristics will help you make informed choices when doing business.

Air Transport

Air transport is undoubtedly the fastest shipping method in international trade. There are three types of air transports:

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Airliner Transport

Airliners are flights that travel a fixed track on a fixed schedule. The planes usually carry passengers and goods at the same time. Some big airline services also have dedicated planes that only carry goods.

Chartered Carrier Transport

Choosing charted carrier transport means your dedicated carrier/agency rents the whole freight aircraft. There are two variations of this means of airway transport:

  1. Your designated shipping agency rents the whole plane
  2. You hire an air shipping agency. They and some other people/agencies rent a whole freight aircraft together and share the space.

Chartered Carrier Transport costs less than airliner transport, but it could be slower.

Consolidation Transport

If you hire an air shipping agency, they may put your goods together with other people’s/companies’ goods in the same plane and ship them. In this case, the air shipping agency will do the receiving and import clearance. The consolidation air transport is the cheapest and most widely used air transport.

Airline Express Transport

Airline express service is the fast way of international shipping. Unlike the three air transport services above, it is provided by some dedicated company. They often have very close cooperation with the airline services. If you really want to get the goods in the shortest time and do not care about the shipping cost, this is your best choice.

Air Waybill

When the airline received the goods for transportation and acknowledged that they are in good order and condition, it issues the Air Waybill (AWB).

AWB is a document that proves the carrier has sent the goods to the named destination on a specific plane. When the goods arrive at the destination, the consignee (or receiver) can claim them with the AWB number.

Air Transport Rates

The rate of air transport covers one way from the departure airport to the destination airport. It does not include the unloading fee, customs clearance, or storage.

The air transport rate is the higher one between measurement weight (actual weight in KG) and volume weight (6000 cm3 or 366 in3 equals 1 KG in volume weight).

Despite the advantages, all the air transports have restrictions and shortcomings, too:

  • They are relatively expensive
  • Hazardous and inflammable items are not allowed on planes

In these cases. You may consider one of the following methods:

International Express Service

You might have heard their names: DHL, FedEx, UPS, and probably some others. They all offer international package/parcel delivery services. They also handle the import and export clearance for you. If you are doing importing for the first time and the amount of your goods is not large, this is one of the easier choices. It’s also very easy to check the shipping cost on their websites. Almost all international express services also offer web pages or phone apps to track your parcel.

Parcel Post Transport

Parcel post transport is also a relatively simple choice. More than a century ago, countries around the world formed the Universal Postal Union (UPU) to coordinate postal policies among member nations. A worldwide postal system web has been built, making it possible to send parcels across countries. Parcel Post Transport is good for shipping small batches of light goods. It is relatively cheap.


Railway Transport

Railway transport is safe, fast, and cheap. If the destination of the goods is in Europe, you might choose this way of transport. It has been easier to ship goods by train to Europe thanks to the establishment of The Trans-Eurasia Logistics, also known as The China Railway Express. The service has been operating since 2011. By the time of late 2020, up to 60 trains runs between Shenzhen (China) and Duisburg (German).

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Road Transport

Road transport is often used in the first and last stage of door-to-door shipping service. If the destina-tion of your goods is close to the border of the exporting nation, you may consider road transport.

Despite being the most flexible transport, road transport has relatively small throughput, high cost, and higher risk of losing or damaging the goods.


Inland Waterway Transport

Inland waterway transport connects the deeply inland cities with the seaside cities. It is a very competitive alternative to road and rail transport, in terms of throughput, cost, and eco-friendliness. If the destination is along a river that also runs through the export country, this might be a good choice.

Sea Transport

Sea transport is the most used way of international transport. The costs are very low while the throughputs are huge.

It could be divided into two categories by way of operation:

cargo.ship 1

Liner Transport

Liner ships are like flights. They travel in certain lines, fixed start port and destination port, and rela-tively fixed fees. They follow a fixed schedule. This makes it easier to manage delivery time and to arrange following transports afterwards. If you choose liner transport, the carrier will take care of the loading and unloading of the goods. Due to the advantages mentioned above, liner transport is the most used international shipping method.

Charter Transport

In charter ship transport, you/seller/carrier could rent the whole ship or just some ship space. Unlike liner transport, start/destination port, schedules and fees have to be negotiated beforehand.

In international sea transport industry, there are two kinds of charted transport: trip charter and time charter. If you choose the trip charter as the ship transport, you pay the rental by the distance; if you choose the time charter, you pay the rental by the time.

Container Transport


The International Standard Organization has recommended 13 container sizes. 2 of them are widely used: 20 feet (8′ x 8′ x 20′) and 40 feet (8′ x 8′ x 40′). Besides the regular containers for dry goods, there are also specialized containers for different kinds of goods.

Containers have greatly accelerated the whole process of transport and transference of goods between different vehicles. Because goods are all “contained”, the risk of damaging or losing goods is greatly reduced.

There are two types of container transport.

FCL | Full Container Load

The seller loads the goods into containers at their factory or warehouse. Then the containers get carried to the container yard waiting for shipment. The buyer receives the containers after they arrive at the destination port or place.

LCL | Less than a Container Load

When your whole batch of goods is smaller than a container, the carrier will put goods from different people together and fit them all in a single container. When the container arrives at the destination port or place. The goods are separated and sorted, and then delivered to different receivers.

fcl lcl

Container Transport Rate

The rate of container transport often contains inland transport charge, LCL service charge, terminal handling charge, and fees for using container and other equipment.

There are two different ways to calculate the rate of transport shipment, by measurement weight, or by the number of containers, a.k.a. box rate. The latter is more and more used in recent years.

The box rate could also be calculated in three ways:

Freight for all kinds (FAK)

Rate only depends on the number of containers.

Container Transport Rate - Freight for all kinds (FAK)
Container Transport Rate – Freight for all kinds (FAK)

Freight for class (FCS)

Rates depend on the class of the goods

Container Transport Rate - Freight for Class (FCS)
Container Transport Rate – Freight for Class (FCS)

Freight for class & basis (FCB)

The rates depend on the class and basis of the goods.

Container Transport Rate - Freight for Class & Basis (FCB)
Container Transport Rate – Freight for Class & Basis (FCB)

International Multimodal Transport

International multimodal transport was made possible by containers. With containers, transfer from one way of transport to another is smooth, easy, and safe.

International multimodal transport requires that there is only one party responsible for the whole transport, and there is only one rate for the whole transport.

Compared to segmented transports and other inter-modal transports. International multimodal transport greatly simplifies the procedures and shortens the transport time.

There are multiple international multimodal transport routes operating now, moving goods from China to ports and inland cities in Europe, America, and Africa.

International Multimuldal Transport
International Multimodal Transport

Land-Bridge Transport

Land-bridge transport connects two ports by road and railway transports. It combines the advantages of container transport and international multimodal transport.

Running across the European and Asian continent, it is the artery of international trade activities.

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