July 24, 2023

Shipping From China to the US: A Comprehensive Guide

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As a business owner, you know very well that having your products manufactured in China at a fraction of what it would cost in the US is only half the battle. Getting them shipped from the PRC back home is another crucial element of the puzzle.

Without doing the right research, your shipping costs can get ridiculously high. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of US-based businesses doing their manufacturing in China. This led to an emergence of an entire industry that revolves around shipping from China to the US. Oftentimes, the rates these companies charge American businesses are unreasonably expensive. Unfortunately, there are a lot of business owners who simply aren’t aware of the actual costs and happily overpay.

In this article, we’ll take you through the actual costs of shipping from China to the USA, as well as help you choose the right shipping method for your needs.

How Much Does Shipping From China to the US Cost?

The shipping cost from China to the US varies greatly, depending on the method you choose, as well as the volume and weight of your shipped products. Here are some of the average shipping rates:

  • Air freight: $5-9 per kilogram
  • Express shipping: $4-8 per kilogram
  • Sea freight: $2-4 per kilogram

These are just the average rates, and they might change over time, especially with gas prices and inflation on the rise. Your freight costs may also be affected by the types of products you’re transporting — some carriers may charge you extra for hazardous materials or fragile items.

Shipping Methods Overview

There are three main shipping methods you can choose from when delivering your products from China to the US: sea freight, air freight, and express shipping (by air). These three are responsible for the vast majority of shipments between the two countries and are offered up by most of the leading carriers, including UPS, FedEx, or DHL.

Of course, they’re not without their differences. Air freight is significantly more expensive than sea freight, but it’s also much faster. Ultimately, it all depends on your cargo load, schedule, and budget.

Breakdown of Shipping Methods

container cargo ship and cargo planeIn this section, we’ll take you through each one of the three main shipping methods from China to the USA, their advantages and disadvantages, and finally, some recommendations on how to choose the best course of action for your business needs.

Sea Freight

By far the most economical shipping option, sea freight is chosen by the majority of US entrepreneurs precisely due to being cost-effective. It does take much longer than other shipping options, which is why it requires planning ahead in order to avoid costly breaks in supply and lengthy out-of-stock periods.


  • Cheapest shipping option
  • Best for shipping a full container load


  • Takes a lot longer than air freight

Air Freight

If you’re planning to transport a smaller load, then shipping by air is definitely worth your consideration. At approximately $4-8 per kilogram, it’s definitely more expensive than sea freight, but it can come in handy for transporting prototypes or patching up any gaps in your supply. Sometimes, you just can’t afford to wait for sea shipping, and air freight is a speedy, reliable way to get your products to the USA on time.


  • Much faster than sea freight
  • Great for smaller quantities of products


  • Costlier than ocean freight

Express Shipping

The shipping process from China to the US can be quite lengthy, and sometimes time is a luxury you simply cannot afford. In cases like this, you probably don’t mind shelling out a bit of extra cash on shipping services to get your priced items delivered.


  • The fastest shipping method
  • Good for last-minute shipping of crucial items


  • Can get very costly if done repeatedly

Choosing the Right Shipping Method For Your Business

While all of the shipping methods listed above are perfectly valid for getting your cargo shipped to the USA, selecting the best one for your particular needs might turn out to be a bit of a challenge. Ultimately, it all depends on how fast you need your products delivered, but you also shouldn’t overlook things like the shipment size and budget.

If you’re looking to carry out regular bulk shipments of your products from a trusted manufacturer, you can’t go wrong with sea freight shipping. It’s the best way to get full shipping containers packed with your goods in a reliable, efficient manner. When shipping by sea, you should plan out your orders weeks in advance in order to ensure that everything reaches you on time. Once you receive your first shipment and are fairly confident that your stock will sell out within a month or two, it might be a good idea to schedule the next shipment as soon as you receive the first one and so on. That way, you’ll have a steady supply of products and won’t run the risk of emptying your inventory.

Air freight is a good way to deliver seasonal products or limited-edition items designed to be a one-time offer lasting until supplies run out. While it can also be done with ocean shipping, sometimes you can come across a market opportunity with little time to actually make use of it before the peak of interest in that particular product is over. In a scenario like this, air freight services can expedite the shipping process and help you meet the demand when it’s at its highest.

Finally, express shipping options can speed up your launch by rapidly delivering prototypes of your products to show to prospective investors or create marketing materials. While we wouldn’t recommend express shipping for regular deliveries, as that can quickly eat away at your budget. You can also make use of expedited shipping at times when your products sell out before your next sea freight arrives at its final destination. That way, you can easily patch up the gap in deliveries.

How Long Does It Take to Ship Items From China to the US?

The delivery times vary greatly across the three main shipping options. Here’s the full breakdown:

  • Sea freight: 30-40 days
  • Air freight: 8-10 days
  • Express shipping: up to 3 days

Keep in mind that external factors can also affect your shipping speeds. Trying to get your products delivered around the dates of the Chinese holidays is generally a bad idea, as most businesses close up shop during Chinese New Year celebrations or the Golden Week (10/1 – 10/7). Other important holidays to take into account include the Mid-Autumn Festival or Dragon Boat Festival. Keep in mind that a lot of these are lunar holidays, and their dates change from year to year. Being mindful of the dates of each public holiday in China and planning your shipments accordingly will help you ensure a steady supply of products and avoid any unexpected delays.

Tracking Your Shipments

Most shipping services from China to the US include the option to track your shipments in real-time, with predicted arrival dates and map tracking. Always make sure that your chosen carrier makes tracking available to you for maximum transparency. Delays in international shipping are not uncommon, and with tracking, you can know exactly what went wrong and where your shipments are at all times.

Things to Take Care of When Shipping From China to the US

checkig shipping infoOrdering your shipment and paying for it is not all that goes into shipping your products from China to the US. There are quite a few additional aspects you need to take care of, especially if you want to get your money’s worth and receive your items intact and on time. You can treat this section as a checklist of the most necessary procedures to go over before your shipment departs its port of origin.

Optimize Your Packaging

Air or sea freight shipping services don’t only charge you for the weight of items you’re transporting; they also charge for volume. In order to get the most out of each order, make sure that your packages are filled to the brim with your products so that you don’t pay for any leftover empty space. This is especially true if you’re ordering an entire shipping container. You will be charged for the whole thing anyway, so you might as well pack as much into it as possible.

Consolidate Shipping

If you’re ordering a number of smaller packages with various types of products and want to avoid numerous consignments, you might want to consider consolidating your shipments by getting them delivered to a Chinese warehouse, putting them together there, and sending them as a single shipment to avoid multiple fees and only going through one customs clearance process. Your cargo might weigh more, but you’ll pay less overall, thanks to everything going onto one commercial invoice.

Select Your Shipping Agent

As a small business, using one of the most famous shipping companies out there may not actually be the best way to go. They often refuse to quote small enterprises and charge rates that far exceed their actual shipping costs due to preferential rates from the ocean and air freight carriers. Instead, shop around to find a smaller freight forwarding company that is actually willing to consult with you and provide advice on the most appropriate course of action for your company. The pricing may be less attractive at first, but once you develop a relationship with a particular shipping business, you will become a valued client and can count on discounts or preferential treatment in the future.

Plan and Optimize the Route

There are a number of routes each cargo ship from China can take in order to arrive at its destination in the United States. Different companies have different routes, and you might even run into a business that offers multiple routes at varying practices. Plan your route according to your specific needs: if time is of utmost importance to you, you’re likely going to have to pay more for the quickest possible delivery. On the other hand, if you want to save money on your shipment and have the luxury of being able to wait longer, you’re going to find plenty of carriers that will take a while to ship your products at very attractive rates.

Shipping Costs Comparison

The pricing you see on freight forwarder websites is not the full picture. Always double-check the terms and conditions of each carrier and look for any hidden fees or servicing costs that might get thrown your way and make your decision with keeping those additional costs in mind. Oftentimes, the most cost-effective option will turn out to be one that has a higher upfront price precisely because of the costs that are hidden away in the terms and conditions document.

Get Comprehensive Cargo Insurance

Regardless of what shipping method you choose to go with or which carrier’s services you end up using, one thing you must not overlook is cargo insurance. Should anything go wrong with your delivery, a comprehensive insurance package is the only way to guarantee reimbursement of your costs if your cargo gets damaged or does not arrive in the US for whatever reason. It typically costs $50-100, and it’s really a small price to pay compared to how much you stand to lose.

The Bottom Line

Shipping your China-manufactured products to the United States can be an arduous process, but you can make it easier on yourself with the right amount of preparation and research. Knowing which method to choose for your cargo size and types of products is crucial, and so is the thorough comparison of the different carriers’ pricing and fees to find the best freight forwarder for your business.

If you’re on the lookout for Chinese manufacturing services for your new company, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! At MorphoMFG, we are committed to providing our partners with timely and cost-efficient manufacturing. Check out our pricing and contact us for a quote today!

About the author

Josh Fairbairn

CEO of MorphoMFG, fluent in Mandarin, Blogger, and Youtuber. Josh loves interesting materials and the craftsmanship that goes into creating innovative products - watches, tech, games, whisky, leather, wood, blockchain & electronics. Josh and his team in Guangzhou, China are striving to create (& consume) the world’s highest quality products. Partnering with entrepreneurs globally to help solve the world's problems - whether small or large.

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