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Ocean and Air Shipping from Kenya to South Africa

FCL, LCL and Air shipping comprehensive guide and instant online quote

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Updated on 28 Nov 202111 min read

Imports from Kenya to South Africa totaled only $19.8 million in 2016. But despite no bilateral trade deal between the nations, plenty of opportunities exist for businesses that have importing from Kenya to South Africa on the agenda.

This page will ensure you’re ‘in the know’ when it comes to international shipping by air or sea from Kenya to South Africa. It features details about airports, seaports, customs clearance, shipping costs, and more. There’s even a section in which potentially confusing shipping terminology is explained.

What Are Your Options for Shipping From Kenya to South Africa?

Although transportation by road carrier is an option, many businesses choose either ocean or air freight to ship their goods from Kenya to South Africa. We’ll be sharing details about both these methods—right here on this page.

Ocean Freight From Kenya to South Africa

Less than Container Load (LCL): Your cargo shares a container with products from other shippers with LCL. It’s ideal if you don’t want or need an entire container for your shipment. LCL is often the least expensive way to import from Kenya to South Africa for small consignments of freight.

Full Container Load (FCL): With FCL shipping, your cargo is shipped in a container from Kenya to South Africa, similarly to LCL. However, the big difference is that you rent a container exclusively for your use, and there is no consolidation with other shippers’ goods. FCL is usually quicker and for large consignments, less costly than LCL.

Air Freight from Kenya to South Africa

Air cargo from Kenya to South Africa usually originates at Nairobi International Airport. With direct flights from Kenya to South

Africa’s Cape Town and Johannesburg Airports, air freight is the fastest way for your business to ship goods between the two countries. It’s also the most expensive.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship Cargo From Kenya to South Africa?

Bag of money and graph to represent the cost of Shipa Freight's quotes

When calculating the cost of your consignment, a freight forwarder will take into account the following:

  • The type of goods being shipped
  • The chosen mode of transportation (FCL, LCL, or Air)
  • The weight of the cargo
  • The dimensions of the cargo
  • The distance between origin and destination
  • The type of service required (such as Port-to-Port or Door-to-Door)

How do the different modes of transport compare with regard to cost? A quote for air freight or ocean freight will be about the same if your consignment weighs less than 100 kg. For shipments heavier than 100 kg, sea freight will usually be less expensive than air freight.

Most freight forwarders, including Shipa Freight, do not ship consignments weighing 35 kg or less. International couriers will provide quotes for such light loads.

How Long Does it Take to Ship Cargo From Kenya to South Africa?

There’s a big difference between ocean and air freight transit times. If your export from Kenya to South Africa is urgent, air shipping will get your goods to South Africa the quickest—in a matter of days.

The transit time for shipping a container from Kenya to South Africa is much longer. FCL and LCL ocean shipping usually takes a couple of weeks from dispatch to delivery.

How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Sea From Kenya to South Africa?

An Ocean vessel transporting your shipping container from Kenya to South Africa will head south down the east coast of Africa from Kenya’s only international seaport in Mombasa. The nearest port in South Africa is Durban, some 3,600 km away.

LCL shipments from Mombasa to Durban typically take 20 to 25 days, while FCL shipments usually require 15 to 25 days. The timings are the same as those stated above for LCL and FCL shipments from Mombasa to Port Elizabeth and Mombasa to Cape Town.

How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Air From Kenya to South Africa?

Freight forwarders will almost certainly choose Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as the origin of shipments to South Africa. Direct flights are available to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Even though the flight time from Nairobi to Johannesburg is a little over four hours, you should allow several days for your cargo shipment to complete. That’s because international shipping procedures and processes need to be adhered to with every consignment.

Customs Clearance in Kenya and South Africa

Customs clearance is mandatory for every export from Kenya to South Africa. To minimize the risk of delays affecting your shipment, it’s a good idea to hire a freight forwarder to navigate the complexities inherent in the process. With an experienced shipping partner on your side, the necessary formalities associated with shipping will be completed in-line with all relevant laws and regulations.

Even with a freight forwarder, you’ll still have an important role to play to ensure customs clearance, as you’ll need to supply the following documents:

  1. Commercial Invoice

  2. Packing List

  3. Certificate of Origin

  4. Letter of Credit or other payment terms (depends on the contract between the parties involved)

  5. Airway Bill for air freight or Bill of Lading for ocean freight (Shipa Freight provides these)

The nature of your consignment may call for the completion of additional documents. These could include licenses, permits, or certificates.

To see samples of the documents relating to ocean and air shipping from Kenya to South Africa, check out our useful documents list page.

Should You Choose Ocean Freight or Air Freight?

Ocean Freight

Choose sea freight and your consignment will be transported in a shipping container from Kenya to South Africa on a cargo vessel. Most goods will ship from port to port (or even door to door) in a 20ft or 40ft standard shipping container that opens at one end. Your freight forwarder will recommend alternatives for cargo that won’t fit into a container, including break-bulk shipping.

As well as a choice of containers, you must also decide between FCL or LCL ocean shipping. With FCL, you get exclusive use of a container for your goods. With LCL, your freight shares a container with products from other shippers. Let’s look at both options in more detail:

Considerations for LCL Freight Shipping

LCL could be the best option for your consignment if:

  • It’s relatively small—14 CBM or less
  • It’s not needed in South Africa urgently
  • It’s safe to be shipped in a shared container
  • Air freight isn’t an affordable or viable option

You should note that with LCL shipping, all consignments are subject to logistics necessities known as consolidation and deconsolidation. These steps lengthen the transit time, usually making LCL the slowest way to ship freight from Kenya to South Africa.

You should perhaps avoid LCL shipping if:

  • Your cargo is delicate, perishable, or extremely valuable
  • You don’t want your goods handled or moved too often
  • Your consignee in South Africa needs the goods by a specific date
  • Your consignment is particularly large or heavy

Considerations for FCL Freight Shipping

If LCL doesn’t meet your requirements, FCL could, especially if:

  • Your delivery date is set in stone
  • You are shipping delicate or heavy freight
  • Your goods will not ship safely in a shared container
  • Your consignment is at least 14 cubic meters in volume
  • You want to seal your freight in its container in Kenya and for it to remain sealed until reaching the consignee

Air Freight

Choose air shipping to transport your freight from Kenya to South Africa if:

  • You want the fastest way to ship cargo
  • Your goods have a short shelf-life (they’re food, flowers, or plants, for example)
  • You want airport-levels of security for your high-value goods
  • You’re shipping a small and light consignment of no more than three pallets
  • The supplier or recipient of the shipment is located close to an international airport

Ocean Cargo Port Guide

Cargo Port of Origin in Kenya


Port Facts:

  • The only international seaport in Kenya
  • East Africa’s largest port
  • Handled 1.4 million TEUs in 2019
  • Ideal for suppliers or manufacturers based in Nairobi and the hinterland stretching to Uganda
  • There are ten ship-to-shore gantry cranes in the port’s container terminal

Owned By: Kenya Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >1.4 million TEUs.


Cargo Ports of Arrival in South Africa

Cape Town

Port Facts:

  • Located along one of the world's busiest ocean trade routes in Table Bay
  • South Africa’s second-biggest container port
  • Infrastructure includes 34 berths
  • Ideal if your supply chain involves goods movement from Southern and Western South Africa

Owned By: Transnet National Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >888,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Also known as the Port of Ngqura
  • Located 22km northeast of Port Elizabeth
  • The port’s container terminal occupies a 60-hectare site
  • Long-term development plans will increase the port’s annual capacity to 1.5 million TEUs

Owned By: Transnet National Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >630,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Also known as Durban Harbor
  • South Africa’s busiest port
  • The largest container facility in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Handles more than 65% of South Africa’s container traffic
  • Over 4,500 commercial vessels use the port every year

Owned By: Transnet National Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >2.5 million TEUs.


Port Elizabeth

Port Facts:

Situated in Algoa Bay close to Port Ngqura The port’s container terminal offers three berths
Storage facilities cover 22 hectares Nearly three million tonnes of containerized goods were handled here in 2016

Owned By: Transnet National Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >216,000 TEUs.


East London

Port Facts:

  • Used to be called Port Rex
  • South Africa's last active river port
  • Situated in East Cape Province on the banks of the Buffalo River
  • Infrastructure includes 12 commercial berths and a multi-purpose, bulk, and car terminal

Owned By: Transnet National Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >53,000 TEUs.


Flying Your Freight: Airport Guide

Airport of Origin in Kenya

Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta

Airport Facts:

  • Located about 18 km outside of Nairobi city center
  • Named after Kenya’s first prime minister and president
  • Infrastructure includes aprons with the capacity for eight wide-body aircraft

South African Airports Served: Cape Town, Johannesburg.

Delhi to South Africa Cargo-Only Operators: BidAir Cargo, Turkish Airlines Cargo, Cargolux, Emirates Sky Cargo, Saudia Cargo, Lufthansa Cargo, South African Airways Cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo.


Airports of Arrival in South Africa


Airport Facts:

  • Officially named O. R. Tambo International Airport
  • The busiest airport in Africa
  • Facilities include a pair of parallel runways, the longest being 4,421 meters
  • The two aprons specifically for cargo aircraft are called Golf and Whiskey
  • In 2019, FedEx chose the airport as the home for its first regular cargo-only flights from Africa

Connected Airports in Kenya: Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenya to Johannesburg Cargo-Only Operators: South African Airways Cargo, BidAir Cargo, Cargolux, Qatar Airways Cargo, Emirates Sky Cargo, Lufthansa Cargo, Saudia Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo, Turkish Airlines Cargo.


Cape Town

Airport Facts:

  • South Africa’s second-busiest airport
  • The fourth-busiest air facility in Africa
  • Situated 20 km from central Cape Town
  • 24 airlines operate flights to nearly 100 global destinations

Connected Airports in Kenya: Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenya to Cape Town Cargo-Only Operators: BidAir Cargo.


Port Elizabeth

Airport Facts:

  • Formerly known as H.R. Verwoerd Airport
  • Less than four kilometers from Port Elizabeth’s central business district
  • Ideal airport of arrival for goods destined for Eastern Cape province
  • Around 800 tonnes of air freight is handled here annually

Connected Airports in Kenya: None.

Kenya to Port Elizabeth Cargo-Only Operators: None.



Airport Facts:

  • Officially named King Shaka International Airport
  • Located 35 km north of Durban city center
  • Africa’s ninth-busiest airport
  • The air cargo terminal spans a 15,000 square meter site

Connected Airports in Kenya: None.

Kenya to Durban Cargo-Only Operators: None.


Why Ship From Kenya to South Africa With Shipa Freight?

Shipa Freight is a digital-first, online-only enterprise operating at the forefront of freight forwarding. Our expertise will ensure your goods arrive in South Africa safely and on time. Whether you opt for sea or air freight, we can meet your international shipping needs.

Managing every aspect of your shipping is easy via our internet-based platform. Partnering with Shipa Freight will not only simplify your supply chain, but it will also eliminate the need to engage multiple agencies.

Other benefits of importing from Kenya to South Africa with Shipa Freight include:

  • Quick quotes
  • Easy online quote comparisons
  • Online freight bookings
  • Pay with a debit or credit card or by wire transfer
  • Always know which shipping documentation must accompany your consignment
  • No need to worry about customs complexities – we’ll take care of them
  • A friendly customer service team, available at any time of day or night, regardless of your time zone

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