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Tips about Sea Shipping from China to the US



When you are shipping goods from China to the US by sea, there are a few key factors that you must consider, such as the cost of freight, the reliability of the freight carriers, the customs documents, shipping time, and so on.

Shipping time from China to US varies for different shipping companies, different locations, and different products as well.

What factors affect your shipping time from China to the US?

When it comes to determining the time of sea shipping for your cargo, there are several factors at play.

Product type

The product types you are importing determine what kind of carrier services, packaging, labelling, etc., will be required, which may impact the shipping time from China to the US.

There is also the time required for customs clearance once the goods reach the US. Certain products like cosmetic products, valuables, medical devices, etc., may require more time to get clearance from customs.

Product volume

Sometimes a large consignment of products may take longer to get delivered to you. There are various reasons why this delay may occur.

Even if your products are being manufactured at a single source, larger batches may take longer to reach you because of the restrictions in space available on the carrier. If the consignment cannot all be accommodated on a single carrier, it must be divided into smaller batches and shipped separately. So, some parts of the consignment may reach sooner, and other parts may take longer. This means you will have to wait longer than usual to have all your goods delivered.

Location in China and the US

An important factor that affects the time of shipping from China to the US time the location at the source and destination. If your goods are being shipped from inland China, the goods need to be transported to the port city by road before they can be shipped to the US by sea. This adds to the transit time and, thus, to the total shipping time.

Similarly, the destination location also matters when it comes to your shipping time from China to the US. If your warehouse in the US is far away from the nearest port, it will take longer for the goods to be delivered.

What can delay the sea shipping from China to the US?

Shipment delays are more common than you might think. There may be various reasons for a delay.

Overbooking of carriers

It happens quite often that shipping companies overbook their carriers to protect themselves from losses due to last-minute cancellations or consignments not showing up at the time of departure. In such a case, if all the consignments booked on a carrier do show up, they will accommodate them on a priority basis. This means your consignment may be rolled over to another vessel which leaves later, causing your shipment to be delayed.

Delays in booking

Some delays originate from the business itself. If you book space for your shipment on a carrier at the last minute, it’s possible that the slots on the earliest carrier may already be booked by then. Your consignment will then have to wait for the next vessel.

Bad weather

Vessels carrying your shipment can get delayed due to unforeseen events. Since shipping by sea is highly dependent on good weather, climatic conditions like storms or hurricanes may require vessels to halt before they can sail again. If a vessel carrying your shipment is stuck in bad weather, you are most likely to face a delay.

Peak seasons

The shipping industry in China gets busy during certain seasons. China witnesses a dramatic increase in orders for the holiday season, which starts in August and lasts up to November. During this peak season, many traders have huge consignments to ship, and carrier vessels are mostly packed.

So, if you are waiting until this time to place your orders, your freight forwarder may have a hard time finding a carrier to ship your goods. Alternatively, your shipping costs may be excessively high, forcing you to wait till after the season.

Increase of shipping rate

There are periods of high demand in the shipping industry from time to time, during these periods, carriers often tend to increase their base prices. This increases your total cost of shipping from China to the US. Some businesses cannot afford these increased costs and so are usually bound to delay their shipments till the prices level out again.

High demand is usually seen during important holidays like Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc., and prices almost always go up during these seasons.

Multiple carriers or transshipment

Sometimes the origin and the destination ports may not have any direct routes connecting them. In such a case, your shipment must be shifted from one vessel to another in transit. The routes of the two vessels may not always add up to be the shortest, increasing your shipping time.

It is also possible that your consignment has to wait at the intermediate port before it gets a slot on the second vessel. This will also cause a delay in your shipment.

How can you try to avoid shipment delays?

Businesses have to be far-sighted when it comes to choosing their suppliers in China as well as planning their procurements from China. With strategic planning, you may avoid shipment delays in most circumstances.

Plan your shipments in advance.

In business, it is always better to plan in advance and have enough scope to pivot in case of emergencies. If you know that the products you are sourcing from China will take long time to manufacture and ship to the US, make sure to place your orders much earlier to compensate for holidays, peak seasons, and special situations.

Do your research to find out the average shipping time from China to US for the specific product, and then add a few days of buffer just to accommodate any unforeseen delays.

Also, plan your consignments well. Try to book on a direct carrier with no transshipments if possible. Direct shipments may be a little more expensive but, in most cases, will save you more in the long run as you can deliver to the market on time.

What to keep in mind for shipping from China to the US?

1. Insurance: Shipping insurance can provide peace of mind in case your items are lost, damaged, or stolen during transit. Be sure to purchase shipping insurance to protect your investment.

2. Tracking: Tracking your shipment is important to ensure it arrives on time and to monitor its progress. Make sure your shipping provider offers tracking and that you have access to the tracking information.

3. Delivery options: Consider delivery options such as door-to-door delivery or delivery to a pick-up point. Door-to-door delivery may be more convenient, but is more expensive, while delivery to a pick-up point may be cheaper, but less convenient.

4. Know the import restrictions: Different countries have different import restrictions, so make sure you are familiar with the restrictions for the US. This may include restrictions on certain types of goods or limits on the value of imported goods.

5. Keep records: Keep a record of all shipping documents, including the shipping label, packing list, invoice, bill of lading, and customs forms. This will help you track your shipment and provide proof of shipping and value in case of any issues.

6. Choose a reliable freight forwarder: An experienced freight forwarder can handle the entire shipping process for you, including customs clearance, documentation, and transportation. This can be a convenient option if you are not familiar with the shipping process or do not have the time to handle it yourself.

7. Communication: Communication with your shipping provider and freight forwarder is key to a successful delivery. Make sure you have clear and open communication with them, and that they are responsive to your questions and concerns.


Shipping items from China to the US by sea can be a complex process, but by following all these tips, you can ensure a smooth and successful delivery. Additionally, understanding the general practices and the potential for delays can help you avoid issues and ensure a stress-free shipping experience.

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