Guide To Sea Freight From China To USA

In this blog post, you’ll read:China has the biggest productivity industry, and the USA is the best destination market. But the distance between these two giants worries some traders. That's why we've made this Sea Freight Guide from China to the United States to help people like you

Table of Contents

A Comprehensive understanding

Sea freight remains the most popular method for transporting large quantities of goods from China to the USA due to its cost-effectiveness, especially for bulky or heavy items. However, navigating the sea freight process can be daunting for newcomers. This guide aims to simplify and elucidate the sea freight process for businesses and individuals alike.

Why Should You Use Sea Freight From China To USA?

First, the transportation system between China and the USA is great throughout the coast and west. So you can ship large volumes efficiently at a time. Also, sea freight from China is less costly, and you can transfer cargo from China to anywhere in America. Moreover, trade by sea freight is straightforwardly easy and less risky.

Aerial view of sea freight containers
aerial view of sea freight containers

Choosing the Right Shipping Mode

  • Full Container Load (FCL): Best for large quantities, you rent an entire container. The most common sizes are 20ft, 40ft, and 40ft high-cube.
  • Less than Container Load (LCL): For smaller shipments. You share container space with others.

Selecting a Reliable Freight Forwarder

  • Work with a freight forwarder who can be an intermediary between you and the shipping agents involved. They handle logistics and documentation and ensure your cargo reaches its destination safely.

Understanding Costs

  • Base Ocean Freight: Cost of shipping the goods.
  • Bunker Adjustment Factor (BAF): Fuel surcharge.
  • Currency Adjustment Factor (CAF): Accounts for currency fluctuations.
  • Port charges: Fees charged at both origin and destination ports.
  • Other potential costs: Packing, documentation, insurance, and customs clearance.

Preparing Necessary Documentation

  • Bill of Lading (BOL): Official document issued by the carrier. It’s proof of cargo ownership.
  • Commercial Invoice: Details the transaction between the exporter and importer.
  • Packing List: Detailed list of shipment contents.
  • Certificate of Origin: Validates the goods’ country of origin.
  • Ensure other compliance documents if required, especially for specialized goods.

Understanding the Shipping Process

  • Booking: Reserve space on a ship through your freight forwarder.
  • Loading: Goods are loaded into containers and then onto the vessel.
  • Transit: Goods sail from China (common ports include Shanghai, Ningbo, and Shenzhen) to the USA (common ports include Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York).
  • Customs Clearance: Upon arrival in the USA, goods undergo customs clearance.
  • Delivery: After clearance, goods are transported to their final destination.

Complying with Customs Regulations

  • Make sure goods are properly declared.
  • Ensure you have all required permits and have paid the necessary duties.
  • Work with a customs broker for a smoother experience.


  • Considering the risks involved in sea freight (damages, theft, loss), it’s wise to invest in cargo insurance.

Potential Challenges

  • Delays: Due to weather conditions, port congestion, or customs inspections.
  • Damages: Ensure goods are correctly packed and secured.
  • Additional Fees: Detention and demurrage charges if goods aren’t cleared or picked up on time.

Advantages of Sea Freight

  • Cost-Effective: Especially for large volumes.
  • Eco-Friendly: It has a lower carbon footprint compared to air freight.

Considerations for the Future

  • Technology: Digital platforms and blockchain can streamline the shipping process.
  • Sustainability: More eco-friendly ships and practices are emerging.

Sea freight from China to the USA is a comprehensive process, but it can be seamlessly navigated with proper understanding and preparation. As international trade continues to evolve, staying informed about best practices and changes in the industry will be essential for businesses. Consider partnering with seasoned professionals, like freight forwarders and customs brokers, to enhance your shipping experience.

Routes And Ports

In Southeast Asia, China is located along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, China can send cargo to the USA over three PacificIndian, and Atlantic lanes. And the east coast of America, west of Latin America, and North America receive those. 

If we come to the ports, China has 7 out of the top 10 ports worldwide. Shanghai port is in the top position with 43.3M TEUs and other popular ports of China: Ningbo, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Hong Kong, Tianjin, Xiamen, Dalian, etc… On the other hand, in the USA, major west coast ports are Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Oakland… and major east coast ports are NY, NJ, Savannah, Virginia, Charleston, and Miami.

However, these are just a few names; both countries have many other ports. But you should choose the close ones as your forwarder and receiver.

Time Need To Ship

Sea freight time from China to the US relies on several factors. It can take anywhere from 18 – 40 days depending on the distance between the ports, holidays, nature problems, etc… Remember that freight through the East Coast takes more time than the West Coast because of the distance. Here is a table about the average time it takes (in days) to sail from China to the United States:

package and loading drain strainer
package and loading drain strainer

From To

Los Angeles

Long Beach

















































Container Dimensions Explained

There are three different sizes of containers used in sea freights. Those are:

1. 20’GP or 20 feet General Purpose. It is 20 feet long, 8 feet in width, and 8.5 feet in height. Also, the inside cubic capacity is 1158cu.ft.

2. 40’GP. Its height and width are similar to the 20 feet, but the length is 40 feet and has a capacity of 2372cu.ft. 

3. 40’HQ or 40 feet High Cube. This one has a height of 9.5 feet and a capacity of 2679 cu. Ft. The rest is the same as the 40’GP.

The 20’G is s, but it’s designed to hold more weight than 40’GP. And the 40’GP is good at carrying more things rather than heavyweight. You can load a double volume on a 40ft container rather than 20ft, but you can’t load twice the weight. The maximum load weight in China is 27-28 tons, the same in both containers.

FCL And LCL Details

Full Container Load (FCL) and Less Container Load (LCL) are the options for loading containers in sea freight. 

FCL indicates that the items in the whole container belong to only one party or shipper. You must pay for the entire container even if you don’t use all the space. However, it’s an efficient and money-saving option when you have a volume of at least 15 CBM or more.

LCL, on the other hand, refers to two or more parties sharing a container. To clarify, goods from several shippers share the space in a container. Nevertheless, LCL costs slightly higher than FCL. But the best part is you can ship your products even if your volume is low.

Sea Freight Cost From China To USA

The sea freight cost from China to the USA depends on several criteria… such as departure and destination ports, volume, weight, and sometimes type of goods. 

In the FCL option, shipping a 20’GP container from China to the West Coast of America will cost you approximately $ 1,000-$2,000… and to the East Coast, you will have to spend about $ 1,500-$3,000. If you want to take the 40’GP container, the cost would be $ 1,500-$3,000 to the West Coast and up to $3,500 to America’s East Coast. Moreover, the price to ship a 40’HQ container is equivalent to the 40’GP, but sometimes 40’HQ costs $100-200 higher.

In contrast, LCL is an entirely different story. In LCL, the price ranges from $150 to $250 per cubic meter for shipping from China to the United States… which is very costly compared to FCL.

20 contaier loading
20 container loading

Tips To Save Time And Money

Some simple but effective strategies can save you time and the overall cost of sea freight. Try to follow these:

· Keep tracing the Chinese holidays. Avoid shipping on Chinese holidays, as most companies do not work now. So, plan the whole process and choose the right spot.

· Make sure that your required documents are ready to submit. Otherwise, you’ll face time delays in USA ports.

· Always choose an experienced forwarder to manage your work. They can help you with better advice.

· Efficient packaging will help you save a lot of space. Therefore, you will save more money.

· Always try to use a 40’GP container and FCL. But, if the volume is between, then a 20’GP container would be a wise choice.


Above all, sea freight is a helpful way to transfer goods from China to the USA. It takes more time, but millions of merchants consider it their first choice because of its low price and efficiency. 

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