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International shipping guide to the UK

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As an island nation, the United Kingdom relies on air and ocean freight more than many other countries may do. At Shipa Freight, we can offer competitive shipping rates to UK destinations from some 100 countries around the world.

If you are new to the business of commercial cargo shipment, and expect to send freight to UK locations in the near future, it will be worth your while to browse through the information on this page focusing on how to import into the UK.

It will give you some idea of how long your shipments will take to reach their destinations. Included are the things you should look into, such as customs procedures and import regulations, before you dispatch your first UK-bound cargo. Majority of these procedures are taken care of by Shipa Freight as your dedicated Freight Forwarder in the UK.

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Standards and Requirements for Shipping to the UK

The regulations and standards set by the United Kingdom’s HM Revenue and Customs service are as complex as any you’re likely to come across. The standards differ depending on whether you’re importing goods from inside or outside of the European Union.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the UK must comply with EU import and export legislation. It can be difficult to know which rules apply under specific sets of circumstances.

Fortunately, the website of HM Revenue and Customs contains comprehensive guidance. Of course, our team of international shipping experts will compile the information you provide when you book your freight with us. Check it for compliance, and electronically to the customs service.

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Key Requirements for Inbound Freight to UK Ports

If you are an importer or exporter of goods into the United Kingdom, there are a number of important requirements to understand. Many of them need some action to be taken both by the shipper of the goods, and the consignee who will take possession of them once cleared by UK customs.

EORI Number: All businesses wishing to import and export commercial goods across UK borders will require an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number, a unique identifier issued by HM Revenue & Customs. You can apply for EORI registration at the HM Customs and Revenue website. Registration takes around three working days.

Commodity Codes: The UK uses commodity codes, based on the international Harmonized Coding system, so you will need to know the correct commodity codes for the goods you are shipping to the UK.

Documents required for customs clearance: Along with a manually or electronically submitted customs declaration document, HM Revenue and Customs will require the following documents in order to clear your shipment for import:

  • The bill of lading (for ocean freight) or airway bill (for air freight)
  • The commercial invoice issued by the supplier of the goods
  • A packing list

As a customer of Shipa Freight, you will not need to concern yourself with the documents above. We will complete all standard documents required by customs authorities, and submit them according to the necessary protocols.

However, you may need to arrange to obtain some of the documents in the list below if they are required for the type of goods you are shipping.

Depending on the type of goods you are shipping to the UK, other documents required for customs clearance may include:

  • A Certificate of Origin
  • Preference Certificates
  • Health certificates
  • Certificates of analysis
  • Organic certificate

The importation of most types of freight to UK consignees is permitted without the need for a license, but of course, there are exceptions. Be sure to seek advice from your freight forwarder or customs broker regarding the need for import licenses or additional documentation.

Restricted Imports to the United Kingdom

Restrictions and licensing requirements exist for some types of UK imports. A few of these regulations apply to imports from all countries, while other restrictions/prohibitions exist only to control imports from outside the European Union.

For example, the following imports are prohibited or restricted regardless of their origin:

  • Agricultural products (require licensing)
  • Controlled drugs (restricted and controlled by licensing)
  • Explosives (prohibited under most circumstances)
  • Firearms (controlled by license)

Products that may be imported freely into the UK from EU countries, but not from countries outside the union include:

  • Nuts and dried fruits (regulated/require health certification)
  • Animal products (require health/veterinary checks before customs will clear them for entry)
  • Honey (prohibited)
  • Cordless telephones (require permissions)
  • Foods and beverages (require health checks before customs will clear them for entry
  • Plants (require licenses and health certification)
  • Products manufactured in foreign prisons (with some exceptions)

This is not an exhaustive list and the intent is only to provide a few examples. You can find a more extensive list of restricted and prohibited imports on the website of HM Revenue and Customs.

Ocean Freight to the UK Ports

The following information will help you familiarize yourself with some of the main ocean freight routes for shipping to the United Kingdom. While the information here only covers port-to-port shipping legs, Shipa Freight also offers port-to-door and door-to-door transportation to destinations anywhere in the British Isles.

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In contrast to larger nations like the United States and China, the UK, whilst surrounded by water, does not have a great number of container ports. The two most important ports are Felixstowe in the East of England, and Southampton on the South coast of the country. Therefore, you will find that the majority of trade lanes serving the UK terminate at one of these two ports.

The United Kingdom and the USA have traditionally enjoyed good relationships and trade between the two countries is healthy. Many of the major carriers are involved in ocean freight shipping from the USA to UK ports. So if you will be moving goods between these two countries, you will find no shortage of companies willing to accommodate your shipments.

Indeed, some of the most important ocean-freight trade lanes to the UK originate in the United States, as revealed by the following top-five list of busiest routes.

Busiest Trade Lanes for Shipping to the UK

Based purely on the number of cargo vessels scheduled on specific ocean routes, the following five connections are among the busiest for freight to the United Kingdom:

Savannah (Georgia) to Southampton Charleston (South Carolina) to Southampton Long Beach (California) to Southampton Antwerp (Belgium) to Southampton Antwerp (Belgium) to Felixstowe

Longest and Shortest Transit Times

While ocean freight shipping from the USA to UK ports is clearly very popular, it also takes some time. However, the longest ocean trade lane of all is the one connecting the United Kingdom with Australia.

The average time for a container vessel to travel between Sydney in Australia and the Scottish port of Grangemouth is about 45 days.

At the other extreme, with the United Kingdom separated from Northern Europe only by the relatively narrow English Channel, the shortest transit times are those on routes connecting the European ports of Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Le Havre, and Antwerp with Felixstowe and Southampton. Many cargo ships complete the crossing between these ports in just a single day or even less.

Ocean Freight to UK Ports: Example Routes and Transit Times

From America

Country of Origin Port of Origin Destination Port Duration
Mexico Veracruz Felixstowe 27 Days
United States Seattle Felixstowe 23 Days
United States Seattle London Gateway 23 Days
United States Seattle Southampton 23 Days
United States Savannah London Gateway 27 Days
United States Long Beach London Gateway 28 Days
United States Long Beach Felixstowe 28 Days
United States Long Beach Southampton 28 Days
United States Los Angeles London Gateway 28 Days
United States Los Angeles Felixstowe 28 Days
United States Los Angeles Southampton 28 Days
United States Norfolk Felixstowe 17 Days
United States Baltimore Southampton 18 Days
United States Charleston Felixstowe 13 Days
United States Port Everglades Liverpool 18 Days
United States New Orleans Felixstowe 21 Days
United States New York Felixstowe 32 Days
United States New York Southampton 17 Days
United States New York London Gateway 32 Days
United States Baltimore Felixstowe 19 Days
United States Charleston Southampton 13 Days
United States Mobile Felixstowe 19 Days
United States Norfolk Southampton 15 Days
United States Savannah Felixstowe 15 Days
United States Savannah Southampton 13 Days

From Europe

Country of Origin Port of Origin Destination Port Duration
Belgium Antwerp Felixstowe 2 Days
Belgium Antwerp London Gateway 5 Days
Belgium Antwerp Southampton 5 Days
Cyprus Limassol Felixstowe 19 Days
Germany Bremerhaven London Gateway 2 Days
Germany Bremerhaven Southampton 4 Days
Germany Bremerhaven Felixstowe 1 Day
Germany Hamburg Felixstowe 3 Days
Germany Hamburg Southampton 3 Days
Germany Hamburg London Gateway 2 Days
Netherlands Rotterdam Southampton 1 Day
Netherlands Rotterdam Grangemouth 5 Days
Netherlands Rotterdam Felixstowe 1 Day
Netherlands Rotterdam Liverpool 2 Days
Netherlands Rotterdam London Gateway 5 Days
Spain Algeciras London Gateway 3 Days
Spain Algeciras Southampton 3 Days
Spain Algeciras Felixstowe 3 Days
Spain Valencia Felixstowe 6 Days

From Asia and Oceania

Country of Origin Port of Origin Destination Port Duration
Australia Sydney Grangemouth 45 Days
China Xiamen Felixstowe 29 Days
China Qingdao Felixstowe 35 Days
China Ningbo Felixstowe 33 Days
China Shanghai Felixstowe 31 Days
China Shanghai Southampton 29 Days
China Shanghai London Gateway 29 Days
China Shenzhen London Gateway 29 Days
China Shenzhen Felixstowe 29 Days
China Shenzhen Southampton 29 Days
China Ningbo London Gateway 30 Days
China Ningbo Southampton 30 Days
China Qingdao London Gateway 43 Days
China Qingdao Southampton 43 Days
China Dalian London Gateway 41 Days
China Dalian Felixstowe 41 Days
China Dalian London Gateway 41 Days
China Xiamen London Gateway 27 Days
China Xiamen Southampton 27 Days
China Lianyungang London Gateway 38 Days
China Lianyungang Felixstowe 38 Days
China Lianyungang Southampton 38 Days
China Nanjing London Gateway 36 Days
China Nanjing Felixstowe 36 Days
China Nanjing Southampton 36 Days
Hong Kong Hong Kong Southampton 38 Days
Hong Kong Hong Kong London Gateway 38 Days
Hong Kong Hong Kong Felixstowe 26 Days
Indonesia Jakarta Felixstowe 28 Days
Indonesia Jakarta London Gateway 28 Days
Indonesia Jakarta Southampton 28 Days
Indonesia Surabaya Felixstowe 31 Days
Indonesia Surabaya London Gateway 31 Days
Indonesia Surabaya Southampton 31 Days
Japan Kobe London Gateway 38 Days
Japan Kobe Felixstowe 38 Days
Japan Kobe Southampton 38 Days
Malaysia Port Klang Felixstowe 28 Days
Malaysia Port Klang London Gateway 28 Days
Malaysia Port Klang Southampton 28 Days
Malaysia Tanjung Pelepas Felixstowe 20 Days
Malaysia Tanjung Pelepas London Gateway 25 Days
Malaysia Tanjung Pelepas Southampton 25 Days
Philippines Manila Southampton 32 Days
Philippines Manila London Gateway 32 Days
Philippines Manila Felixstowe 33 Days
Singapore Singapore London Gateway 18 Days
Singapore Singapore Southampton 21 Days
Singapore Singapore Felixstowe 18 Days
South Korea Busan London Gateway 37 Days
South Korea Busan Felixstowe 32 Days
South Korea Busan Southampton 37 Days
Sri Lanka Colombo Felixstowe 15 Days
Taiwan Kaohsiung Southampton 35 Days
Taiwan Kaohsiung Felixstowe 35 Days
Taiwan Kaohsiung London Gateway 35 Days
Thailand Laem Chabang Felixstowe 30 Days
Thailand Laem Chabang London Gateway 30 Days
Thailand Laem Chabang Southampton 30 Days
Vietnam Hai Phong London Gateway 32 Days
Vietnam Hai Phong Felixstowe 32 Days
Vietnam Hai Phong Southampton 32 Days
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City Felixstowe 31 Days
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City Southampton 31 Days
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City London Gateway 31 Days

International Air Freight Shipping to the UK

The following information covers some of the main air freight routes for shipping to the United Kingdom. While the information here only covers airport-to-airport shipping legs, Shipa Freight also offers port-to-door and door-to-door transportation to destinations anywhere in the UK.

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Most Popular Routes to the UK for Air Freight Shippers

London’s Heathrow airport is the main air freight hub for the United Kingdom, and is therefore the terminus for many international cargo flights, in addition to the thousands of tons of freight arriving in the holds of passenger aircraft.

All of the busiest routes terminate at London Heathrow, with the following five being used by the highest numbers of airlines engaged in freight shipping to the UK:

  • Frankfurt (Germany) Heathrow
  • Amsterdam (Netherlands) Heathrow
  • Paris (France) Heathrow
  • Madrid (Spain) Heathrow
  • Munich (Germany) Heathrow

Transit Times for Air Freight to the UK

If your business will be shipping boxes to UK consignees from Australia, and 48 days at sea is not an option, air freight will be a much faster, but also more expensive alternative. While the route from Perth to London Heathrow involves the longest transit time of all UK inbound flights, your boxes will still be on the ground in London in around 17 hours.

Asia to the UK is also a long haul for air freight, with flights from Singapore to Heathrow taking about 14 hours. Air freight from the USA to the UK takes around six or seven hours if shipped from East Coast airports like Boston or New York, or closer to ten hours from the West Coast.

As you might expect, the shortest transit times are between Western Europe and England, with flights from Brussels, Paris, or Amsterdam taking little more than an hour to reach Heathrow or Manchester.

Air Freight Routes and Transit Times to the UK

From America

Country of Origin Airport of Origin Destination Airport Duration(Approx.)
United States Dallas London Heathrow 9 Hours
United States Houston London Heathrow 9 Hours
United States Chicago London Heathrow 7 Hours
United States Los Angeles London Heathrow 10 Hours
United States Philadelphia London Heathrow 7 Hours
United States Miami London Heathrow 8 Hours
United States Atlanta Manchester 8 Hours
United States Boston Manchester 6 Hours
United States New York Manchester 6 Hours
United States San Francisco Manchester 9 Hours
United States New York Glasgow 6 Hours

From Europe

Country of Origin Airport of Origin Destination Airport Duration(Approx.)
Austria Vienna London Heathrow 2 Hours
Austria Vienna Manchester 2 Hours
Belgium Brussels London Heathrow 1 Hour
France Paris London Heathrow 1 Hour
Germany Munich London Heathrow 2 Hours
Germany Frankfurt London Heathrow 2 Hours
Germany Munich Glasgow 2 Hours
Germany Frankfurt Glasgow 2 Hours
Netherlands Amsterdam London Heathrow 1 Hour
Netherlands Amsterdam Manchester 1 Hour
Spain Madrid London Heathrow 2 Hours

From Asia and Oceania

Country of Origin Airport of Origin Destination Airport Duration(Approx.)
Australia Perth London Heathrow 17 Hours
China Shanghai London Heathrow 12 Hours
Hong Kong Hong Kong London Heathrow 12 Hours
Hong Kong Hong Kong Manchester 11 Hours
Japan Tokyo London Heathrow 12 Hours
Singapore Singapore Manchester 14 Hours
Singapore Singapore London Heathrow 14 Hours

When to Use Shipa Freight for Shipping to the UK

If your business is only looking for parcel delivery to UK customers, and your parcels are not especially large, heavy, or numerous, your best option may be to use one of the many courier companies that serve destinations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Shipa Freight may be the choice for you and your business if you will send larger quantities of commercial freight to UK recipients, or if you are an importer in the United Kingdom arranging your own inbound shipments.

Ocean and air freight shipping are more complicated than parcel delivery, but at Shipa Freight, we make it easy for you to ship larger quantities of goods. In addition to our platform that lets you get quotes, book, pay, and track your freight online, our team will help you provide the right information and ensure all necessary shipping and customs documentation is in order.

Ready to learn more? Contact our team now to discuss your shipping needs, or visit our home page to get a fast, competitive freight quote from Shipa Freight.

“With Shipa Freight, I could do everything from quotation to booking with just a click”.

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