Sea Shipping from China to the US

The best technique for exporting and importing goods from China to the USA is via sea freight. If you are debating between LCL (Less Than Container Load) and FCL (Full Container Load) shipping, you'll soon start to ponder which makes the most sense. Either choice might be ideal for you, depending on a variety of variables including the size and amount of your package or how quickly you need it.

However, there are many things to consider and comprehend before choosing a choice. Take a look at our guide to find out everything you need to know if you're attempting to select which container shipping option to choose.

Shipping Type

Depending on the number and volume of your goods, there are two types of containers available for shipping.

  • FCL (Full Container Load) 
  • LCL (Less than Container Load)

This table chart explains the comparison:

Aspects Full Container Load Less than Container Load
Number of your goods Large Small (this container includes goods of other importers too)
Freight cost per unit Lesser (you have to pay for the whole container) More (you have to pay per CBM space your shipment occupies)
Shipment loads 10+ CBM 1 – 10CBM
Loading port – Destination port Container yard – container yard Freight station – freight station
Tracking Easy Difficult to track
Speed Faster It has to wait and stop in variable places
Goods safety Safer goods More chances of lost, misplaced, or damaged goods
Availability Sometimes you have to wait for a full container It is a good option in rush periods.
Better option for Heavy, fragile, and voluminous loads Startups and small businesses

Besides these differences and pros and cons, the FCL is loaded at the seller’s location whereas, LCL is loaded at the port.

The bill of lading is issued by the shipping line in FCL while under LCL it is issued by the freight forwarder.

Container Type You Should Know

After the number of goods, comes the type of container you must choose. Depending on the size and weight of your product you can choose from the three standard containers:

  • 20’GP (20 feet General Purpose)
  • 40’GP (40 feet General Purpose)
  • 20’HC (20 feet High Cube)
  • 40’HC (40 feet High Cube)

The 20’GP is also known as 20’DV, 20FT, or Dry Container (DC). However, fluids packed in flexible container bags can also be delivered.

20FT container carries heavier goods than voluminous ones. On the other hand, a 40’GP container carries voluminous goods. Consequently, the maximum load carrying capacity of both containers is the same i.e., 27 or 28 tons.

However, the ocean rates are 1.5 times higher for a 20’GP container than 40’GP. Also, the price of both 40’GP and 40’HC (also called 40’HQ) are the same. 20’GP and 40’GP containers are 8’ wide and 8’6” high. Whereas a 40’HC is 9’6” high, and is ideal for bulk shipping.

Some special containers like refrigerated, 45’, 48’, 53’, flat rack, open top, and heavy tested containers are also available for heavy machinery and unique items.

Shipping Incoterms You Should Know

Incoterms (In-co-terms: International Commercial Terms) are business-related terminologies used to define the terms and conditions in practicing international shipments.

This contract decides the responsibilities of the buyer and the seller. For example, it determines whether the seller or the buyer will take care of the costs, insurance, shipping arrangement, or documentation.

The most commonly used three-letter incoterms are:

  • FOB (Free on Board Shipping)
  • CAF Shipping (Cost and Freight Shipping)
  • CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight shipping)

FOB – Free on-Board Shipping

This Incoterm refers to the contract in which the seller loads the goods on the ship for the buyer. The seller is responsible for all the costs till the goods are safely on board.

After that the responsibility shifts to the buyer. This is the most commonly used Incoterm when shipping through the sea.

CFR – Cost and Freight Shipping

In this contract, the seller is responsible for the costs and transportation of the goods. The seller is the one who is responsible for any risk or damage that occurs to the cargo.

CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight shipping)

This contract states that the seller is responsible to transferring the goods to the destination port told by the buyer. As the name suggests, the cost, insurance, and freight are covered by the seller.

Goods Insurance You Should Know

Getting your goods damaged during the transportation is very common. It is due to the prolonged traveling and multiple hands to handle. Loading and unloading can cause harm to your goods. There is no way out except for getting your goods insured.

In FCL shipping there are fewer chances of damage as the container is loaded at the supplier’s facility and also it has only your goods.

On the other hand, LCL shipping involves consolidated goods, transfer of goods from the supplier’s facility to the port, and stops at various ports.

However, in both cases, you must ensure that your goods are insured. To get your cargo insured:

  • CIF shipping is a better option. In this contract, your cargo is insured automatically. However, you must ask for a copy of the insurance policy as proof.
  • Freight forwarders can also provide you with insurance policies. They can provide you with insurance for the whole transshipped period.

How to Claim Insurance for Damages?

In case, you find damaged goods. Then you need to act fast and file an insurance claim.


It is quite easy. Check your goods as soon as they reach your doorstep. In case of damages, you need to provide:

  • Information regarding receiving the cargo
  • The videos or images showing the damaged goods
  • A written list of the products damaged
  • The value of the damaged products
  • Proof of the value

It is recommended to check the cargo immediately and provide the related information to the freight forwarder within 48 hours.

Depending on the merchandise and the amount of damage you could get full or partial compensation for your damaged cargo.

Chinese freight forwarders help you to deal with filing and claiming insurance. You don’t need to contact the insurance company directly. After filing the claim, you tend to receive the amount in your bank within 1 - 3 weeks.

Tips for Sea Shipping from China to the US

We have compiled a few helpful tips to save time and money while shipping from China to the US.

  • To avoid delay, you must keep track of the Chinese holidays. In this period most of the companies are closed. Consequently, you may experience difficulty in cargo booking.
  • Secondly, you must choose experienced and bona fide freight forwarders. Also, experienced suppliers and companies ensure minimized risk chances.
  • Incomplete or improper paperwork can also cause a delay in the shipment. Ensure to hire a freight forwarder who has experience shipping to the US.
  • To get your shipment through customs, at the time of arrival, you need to have certain documents. For example, you must have ISF (International Security Filing), entry delivery form, bill of lading, Certificate of Origin Commercial Invoice, and packing list. Incomplete documentation or documents with errors any result in penalties up to $5000.
  • You can save money by selecting the right time for shipping. For example, shipping at the time of holidays may cost you more.
  • You can also save money by asking your supplier to package the goods in a way that they take up less space. Also, packaging must ensure minimal chances of damage.


Sea shipping from China to the US might be complicated if you are new to this business. However, experienced suppliers and freight forwarders may help and guide you through the process.

We tried to give you an overall view of the process of shipping by sea. However, there are many things you still need to know about the cargo shipment process. Consult an experienced freight forwarder before agreeing with a company.

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