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Container Shipping to the UK

FCL and LCL freight forwarding: information and online quotes

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Updated on 29 Aug 202210 min read

The United Kingdom, being an island nation, relies more heavily on ocean freight compared to other countries. In fact, it is the fifth-largest importer and ninth-largest exporter in the entire world.

If you are expanding your export efforts to the United Kingdom, here is your complete guide on ocean freight and how to go about your shipment. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know to ship containers to the UK, including the transit duration, costs, process, customs clearance, Incoterms, and more.

What are your options for container shipping to the UK?

Ocean freight is your primary option for container shipping to the UK. But despite being an island nation, the UK does not have a lot of container ports. The main ones are Felixstowe and Southampton, which is why a lot of ocean freight ends up at either one of these two primary ports.

When it comes to ocean freight for container shipping to the UK, your cargo can either be shipped via Less than Container Load (LCL) or Full Container Load (FCL) freight services.

Less than Container Load (LCL) to the UK

Less than container load (LCL) shipping requires that your goods be consolidated with shipments from other sellers to fill an entire container. Hence, it is a viable option if you’re shipping in small quantities and don’t mind the consolidation of your cargo.

Full Container Load (FCL) to the UK

In full container load (FCL) shipping, you pay for the cost of the whole container to hold your cargo and your cargo alone. Your goods will be isolated from other consignments, making it perfect for fragile cargo. FCL can be chosen regardless of whether your cargo fits a 20-foot unit or not.

How much does it cost to ship a container to the UK?

A lot of factors come into play when shipping a container to the UK. The primary thing to consider is the size of your cargo and its volume. Other considerations include:

  • The type of goods you are shipping
  • Whether you choose FCL or LCL
  • Size and volume of your cargo
  • Distance of the port of origin and the destination port
  • Delivery option: whether port-to-port, door-to-port, port-to-door, or door-to-door

Request a quote from your freight forwarder to get an accurate estimate of your shipment costs.

What type of cargo can be sent in a container to the UK?

Ocean freight services give you more liberty as to what you want to ship. This is compared to air freight which may have more stringent limitations. However, when shipping to the United Kingdom, you must be aware of the restricted imports set forth by their state regulations. The following are some examples of imports restricted or prohibited in the UK:

  • Agricultural products without licensing
  • Controlled drugs without licensing
  • Explosives
  • Firearms without licensing
  • Nuts and dried fruits without health certification
  • Animal products that did not undergo health and veterinary checks before customs
  • Honey
  • Cordless telephones without permissions
  • Food and beverages that did not go through health checks before customs
  • Plants without licenses and health certification
  • Products manufactured in foreign prisons.

Check the HM Revenue and Customs websites to find a complete list of restricted and prohibited imports to the UK.

How long does it take to ship a container to the UK?

Depending on the originating country and the port of destination, your shipment can last anywhere from 13 to 32 days when shipping from America, one to 19 days when shipping from Europe, and 15 to 45 days when shipping from Asia and Oceania. Transit times can also differ depending on whether the shipping route is direct or has multiple stops.

Below are more examples of estimated transit times.


Country of Origin|Average Duration| ------- | ---------------- : Mexico|27 days United States|13 to 32 days


Country of Origin|Average Duration| ------- | ---------------- : Belgium|2 to 5 days Cyprus|19 days Germany|1 to 4 days Netherlands|1 to 5 days Spain|3 to 6 days

Asia and Oceania

Country of Origin|Average Duration| ------- | ---------------- : Australia |45 days China|27 to 43 days Hong Kong|26 to 38 days Indonesia|28 to 31 days Japan|38 days Malaysia|20 to 28 days Philippines|32 to 33 days Singapore|18 to 21 days South Korea|32 to 37 days Sri Lanka|15 days Taiwan|35 days Thailand|30 days Vietnam|31 to 32 days

What container capacity do I need for my cargo to the UK?

We suggest that you consider LCL if your cargo has a volume of up to 15 CBM. For anything exceeding these metrics, you might want to consider FCL as it can be more cost-advantageous for you. It is important to note that the minimum chargeable volume is 1 CBM. It is, therefore, recommended to consider air freight for any shipment below 100 kg as the cost will be similar with a much shorter transit time.

If you choose FCL, you are not limited in terms of cargo size as long as it fits a standard-sized container. If your cargo is larger than 20-foot or 40-foot containers, you can opt for breakbulk shipping. The only limitation is the weight, 20 tonnes for a 20-foot container and 30 tonnes for a 40-foot container.

Which mode of ocean shipping should I choose, FCL, LCL, or Break Bulk?

You need to make a decision on which mode of ocean freight shipping you would most prefer, whether LCL, FCL, or breakbulk. To help you decide, here are some things you need to consider.

Less Than Container Load (LCL) Shipping to the UK

Less than container load (LCL) shipping is right for you if:

You are shipping in small quantities or size You don’t mind your goods being consolidated and unconsolidated with other consignments Your goods are not needed in the UK at a specified date. Your goods can withstand frequent handling and moving. It’s advisable that you avoid LCL and choose another mode of shipping instead if: You are shipping in large quantities or volume You want your goods to be isolated during shipment You want your goods to arrive in the UK on or before a specified date Your cargo is fragile or delicate

Full Container Load (FCL) Shipping to the UK

Full container load shipping may be ideal for your shipment needs if:

You need your goods to arrive in the UK within a specified date You are shipping in large quantities or high volumes Your cargo is fragile and requires isolation

Break Bulk

If your cargo cannot fit a 20-foot or 40-foot standard unit, you may need to ship them via breakbulk shipping. In this mode of shipment, your goods will be loaded and transported individually to be accommodated by the standard-sized containers.

Customs Clearance in the UK

Shipping cargo to the UK requires observing some key requirements. These require action both from the consignor and the consignee. The documents needed by UK customs include:

EORI Number: Also known as the Economic Operator Registration and Identification number, this is a unique identifier that is issued by the HM Customs and Revenue. You can register on their website and receive an EORI number within three working days. Commodity Codes: Find the right commodity codes for the goods you are importing to the UK. These are based on the Harmonized Coding System.

Aside from the special requirements above, you will also need to provide the following:

  • Customs declaration document
  • Bill of lading (if coming in via ocean freight) and airway bill (if air freight)
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list

These documents can be completed by Shipa Freight and submitted to the necessary authorities. You can check out our full documents list to learn more about the requirements and see examples.

You may need to provide additional documents depending on the nature of the goods you are shipping. Be ready with the following:

  • Certificate of Origin
  • Preference Certificates
  • Health certificates
  • Certificates of analysis
  • Organic certification

Which Incoterms would be the right choice for my shipment?

Familiarizing yourself with Incoterms to use for your shipment will help you protect yourself from liability in the process. Here are some Incoterms you need to know about.

Incoterms for Exporters

CPT (Carriage Paid To): The seller is obligated to arrange transport and pay for all costs of shipping the goods.

CIP (Carriage and Insurance Paid To): The seller arranges transport and shoulders all costs, as well as provides a minimum insurance coverage.

DAP (Delivered At Place): The seller is responsible for the cargo until it arrives at the agreed destination, after which responsibility transfers to the buyer.

DDP (Delivery Duty Paid): The seller is obligated to arrange transport and provide customs clearance requirements. The seller also shoulders import and export fees.

FCA (Free Carrier): The seller is obligated to load the cargo in the carrier. Once loaded, the responsibility is passed on to the buyer.

Incoterms for Importers

FCA (Free Carrier): The seller is obligated to load the cargo in the carrier. Once loaded, the responsibility is passed on to the buyer.

EXW (Ex Works): Once the cargo leaves the seller’s preferences, all responsibility is passed on to the buyer. Processes to follow to ship a container to the UK

Engaging a freight forwarder can help ensure that your cargo goes from point A to point B successfully and in the easiest way possible. It guarantees a more seamless shipping experience. Your cargo will go through a process before it arrives in the UK, this includes:

Consolidation for LCL shipments: The cargo is loaded into the container along with consignments from other sellers. Fumigation: A certified agency with approval from the proper licensing authority conducts fumigation to get rid of all pests, termites, and other living organisms.

Customs clearance: The cargo goes through the local customs in the UK. The needed documents should be presented before import will be allowed.

Deconsolidation for LCL shipments: The cargo is deconsolidated from other consignments. Pickup or delivery: Your cargo can be picked up at the destination port. If door-to-door delivery was selected, it will be delivered to the specified address.

Main container ports of arrival in the UK


The Port of Felixstowe is one of the primary ports in the United Kingdom and is in fact one of the biggest and busiest ports in the entirety of Europe. It provides the deepest water close to the open sea, able to welcome the largest container vessels. The port of Felixstowe has 17 shipping lines that offer 33 services to 700 ports globally.

Owned By: Hutchison Ports Annual Container Volume: > 4 million TEUs UN/LOCODE: GBFXT


Located in the central part of the South Coast of England, the Port of Southampton is the second-largest container port in the United Kingdom. It is also the busiest cruise terminal in the country and is a primary choice for customers and trades. The port is equipped with the facilities needed to handle any type of cargo and provides unrestricted access to the world’s largest vessels.

Owned By: Associated British Ports Annual Container Volume: > 1.5 million TEUs UN/LOCODE: GBSOU

London Gateway

The London Gateway Port is located near the largest consumer markets in the United Kingdom, London, and the South East. It has the capacity to handle the largest container ships in the world. The current location of the London Gateway Port used to be home to an oil company until it was developed to be a large multi-modal logistics park.

Owned By: DP World Annual Container Volume: > 3.5 million TEUs UN/LOCODE: GBLGP

Why Ship a Container to the UK With Shipa Freight?

Shipa Freight is your reliable freight forwarder who can help you ship your container and large quantities of freight to the UK. We make the complex process of shipping much easier for you through our digital platform where you can get:

  • Online quotes,
  • book your shipments,
  • track your freight online,
  • and obtain customer support 24/7!

If you’re ready to ship with us, get started by contacting us and let's discuss how we can assist you with your shipping needs.

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