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Ocean & Air Shipping From the UK to the UAE

FCL, LCL and Air freight forwarding: information and online quote

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Updated on 25 Feb 202218 min read

The United Arab Emirates is the 14th largest export market for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give the UK its full title. From one union to the other, a distance of nearly 6,000 kilometers by air—and more than twice that by ocean transportation—faces carriers helping enterprises ship their freight and trade their goods.

It certainly doesn’t deter a growing number of internationalizing businesses from looking to export from the United Kingdom to the UAE. This page will help you navigate the complexities that you might face when shipping between the two countries. You’ll find facts and guidance to help you get to grips with ocean and air shipping from the United Kingdom to the UAE.

Know Your Options for Shipping From the United Kingdom to the UAE

Freight forwarding professional leaning on a stack of cartons, adjacent to the flags of the United Kingdom and the UAE

You can choose between two options for sending your freight from the United Kingdom to the UAE: ocean freight and air freight. Both methods come with distinct benefits and drawbacks.

Ocean Freight From the United Kingdom to the UAE

Less than Container Load (LCL): LCL stands for less than container load, which means that your goods will occupy space in a shared container instead of being isolated in a dedicated unit. LCL is often the most cost-efficient way to import from the United Kingdom to the UAE, at least for smaller shipments.

Full Container Load (FCL): FCL stands for full container load, which means you pay for the use and shipping of a container for your exclusive use at a flat rate. For larger consignments of freight, this can prove more economical than LCL.

Air Freight From the United Kingdom to the UAE

The fastest way for your products to reach the UAE is by air. Keep in mind, however, that sending shipments as air cargo is often much more expensive than ocean freight.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship Cargo From the UK to the UAE?

While there may be a few cases where small shipments can cost less to ship by air than by sea, that’s not typically the case. It is fair to say, though, that the cost difference between the two freight-transport modes is often negligible for small consignments of international freight.

However, the more goods you need to send as a single shipment, the more disproportionately the price for air freight will rise in comparison with LCL or LCL ocean freight.

When deciding whether to fly or steam your cargo from the United Kingdom to the UAE, you’ll need to determine if the value of rapid transit justifies the expense of air freight. After all, there is more to the judgment of cost-effectiveness than a simple comparison of price.

If your shipments are likely to weigh less than 35 kilograms in total, air and ocean freight are not realistic shipping options. Instead, you should consider sending low-weight, low-volume shipments with an international courier company. At Shipa Freight, 35 kilograms is the minimum weight for which we accept freight bookings.

How Long Does it Take to Ship Cargo From the UK to the UAE?

Air freight is the fastest way to move goods between supplier and recipient, enabling you to ship between the UK and UAE in just a few days. Conversely, you will need to allow a few weeks for your cargo to reach destinations in the Emirates if you use containerized freight services.

How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Sea From the UK to the UAE?

Transit times from the United Kingdom to Emirates ports are reasonable in comparison with some ocean freight routes. You can expect your goods to be available for collection from Jebel Ali, Khor Fakkan, or Khalifa port within four to five weeks of dispatch from the UK.

The following examples illustrate approximate freight transit times between British and Emirati ocean ports:

  • London Gateway to Jebel Ali – 27 days FCL
  • London Gateway to Abu Dhabi – 29 days FCL
  • London Gateway or Liverpool to Sharjah – 31 days FCL
  • Felixstowe or Grangemouth to Jebel Ali – 25 days FCL
  • Southampton to Jebel Ali – 27 days FCL

How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Air From the UK to the UAE?

While the actual flight-time of a cargo or passenger airliner traveling from the UK to the UAE can be counted in hours, the entire shipping process takes a little longer. In many cases, your freight will be consolidated with other shippers’ goods before departure and deconsolidated after arrival in the UAE.

This process takes time, as do the customs procedures in the countries of import and export. Therefore, you should plan for your air shipments to be “in transit” for at least one week. Typical transit time for air shipping with Shipa Freight is around four days from London Heathrow to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Air freight shipments from Glasgow to Abu Dhabi can be completed in five days.

If you need your goods to ship extra quickly and your supplier is within striking distance of Manchester, you’re in luck. Using flights from Manchester Airport, we can have your freight ready for onward transportation or collection from Abu Dhabi Airport in four days, and from Dubai in just two days.

Customs Clearance in the United Kingdom and the UAE

Customs stamp resting on a customs invoice document stamped with export customs clearance in red ink as Shipa Freight assist you with customs clearance

When ocean and air shipping from the United Kingdom to the UAE, it’s always necessary for your freight to undergo customs clearance processes. Export clearance takes place before your shipment leaves the UK and import clearance on arrival in the UAE.

While both countries operate modern clearance systems, technology has not yet eliminated the need for some documents to accompany shipments.

Your freight forwarder will be able to help you with export and import customs clearance, either directly or through the services of a customs broker. However, you should be aware of the various documents that you will need to provide, both for export release from the UK and for import clearance in the UAE.

The nature of your freight will dictate documentation requirements. Still, as a minimum, your freight forwarder will typically require the following items of paperwork:

  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. Bill of Lading for ocean freight or Airway Bill for air freight (Shipa Freight will provide this for you)

You can find a list of documents, with detailed explanations and examples of those mentioned above, on our documents list page.

Should You Choose Ocean Freight or Air Freight?

Ocean Freight

Ocean shipping is best if the goods you're importing from the United Kingdom to the UAE are of modest value. It's also best suited to a supply chain that's not exceptionally time-sensitive. Indeed, sea freight is the primary shipping method for most commodities sent from Britain to The Emirates.

Although there are various methods of ocean freight shipping, most products and materials are transported from port to port as containerized freight. That’s when an ocean carrier transports your goods in a shipping container from the United Kingdom to the UAE on the deck of a purpose-built container ship.

However, you also need to know whether you want your goods to have exclusive use of a shipping container, or not. If you can tolerate your products sharing a container with those of other shippers, and your shipment is relatively small, you might opt for LCL shipping.

For larger shipments, and in situations where sharing container space is not desirable, full container load (FCL) shipping will be the most appropriate option. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as FCL implies you must fill a container with your cargo. In reality, you can send even a small shipment as FCL ocean freight, although it may not be cost-effective to do so for fewer than six pallets of goods.

Shipping Containers – Type, Size, and Capacity: Before transporting goods in a container from the United Kingdom to the UAE on a ship, your carrier will need to ensure sufficient space is available onboard. Vessel payloads must be carefully calculated and balanced, so the shipping line must know in advance what types and sizes of containers will occupy the deck space.

Your freight forwarder will help you determine the necessary container type and size if you use FCL shipping. For LCL, you won’t need to worry about that element. Still, it’s worth being aware of the commonly used container sizes. They are as follows:

  • 20-foot container – 33.2 cubic meters capacity, can take ten standard pallets, or 11 Euro pallets
  • 40-foot container – 67.7 cubic meters capacity, can take 21 standard pallets, or 24 Euro pallets

Choose the Right Shipping Service: As well as knowing your container sizes and types, you should be aware of the various service options available when you export from the United Kingdom to the UAE. You can choose from the four following services:

  • Door-to-door shipping: This service includes all transportation, from the door of the supplier to that of the recipient.
  • Port-to-port shipping: This service includes only the ocean shipping, so the supplier and recipient of the goods will need to make separate arrangements for domestic transportation.
  • Door-to-port shipping: This service comprises all carriage from the supplier’s or seller’s door to the port of discharge in the UAE. The importer will need to arrange onward transport from the port of discharge.
  • Port-to-Door shipping: This service includes international ocean shipping from the port of loading in the United Kingdom, to the door of the recipient. The supplier/exporter will need to arrange delivery of the goods to the port of loading.

Considerations for LCL Freight Shipping

LCL freight requires your business to book space in a shipping container. In practice, you simply provide your freight forwarder with the details and dimensions of your cargo. The forwarder will then arrange for your goods to be consolidated into a container load with other small shipments that are traveling the same route. Consolidation will take place before your products depart from the United Kingdom.

After arrival in the UAE, your forwarder will arrange unloading and deconsolidation of the goods in the container, after which your shipment can be transported to its final destination.

An LCL ocean freight service is suitable for any consignment of goods that are not sufficient to fill a container. However, if your load will take up more than half a container’s capacity, you have the option to choose FCL shipping. For example, you might prefer FCL if you want your shipment to be isolated in its container, even if it’s not a full container load.

Considerations for FCL Freight Shipping

In FCL shipping, there is no consolidation or deconsolidation. Your forwarder will have your goods loaded into one or more containers, which will then be sealed for transportation. After loading, the container will be shipped, and the contents not touched again until the importer takes receipt of it for unloading. The only exception would be if the customs authorities decided to open the container to inspect the contents.

FCL makes most sense if you can size your shipments to fill either a 20-foot or 40-foot container. It is typically a little faster than LCL, due to the absence of consolidation and deconsolidation processes. Pricing is also a little easier to understand, as freight rates are based on the container as a shipping unit, and not on the volumetric dimensions of the goods inside it.

Air Freight

If you’ve studied the ocean freight information on this page, you’ll know that there is plenty of scope for shipping your freight from the United Kingdom to the UAE. However, it’s not the fastest way to move your cargo.

If speed is what you need in your supply chain, you may need to consider air shipping, which will cut your shipments’ transit times down considerably. Air freight is undeniably expensive but has some specific advantages over maritime shipping. Aside from short transit times, the benefits of air freight include:

  • Flexibility: There will typically be multiple routes and flights linking your chosen UK airport with a destination in the UAE.

  • Predictability: Airlines maintain strict schedules, and delays rarely exceed more than a few hours.

  • Security: While ocean carriers take great care over security, nothing matches the levels of vigilance practiced by airlines and airport authorities.

At the same time, air freight is subject to some constraints. For example, if you’re shipping multiple pallets of goods, the high cost might be more than your logistics budget can stand.

The volume of cargo that you might otherwise send at a reasonable cost as FCL ocean freight would cost up to six times more to ship in the hold of an aircraft. The types of goods that can be sent as air freight are also more limited than in the maritime environment.

Nevertheless, when speed, flexibility, reliability, or security are of the highest priority for your logistics operation, air freight should not be ruled out as an option. Indeed, for some enterprises, it’s the only transportation mode that will do.

Ocean Cargo Port Guide

Cargo Ports of Origin in the United Kingdom


Port Facts:

  • Located in Scotland, the northernmost country of the UK.
  • Scotland’s largest commercial port.
  • 70% of Scotland’s population lives within a one-hour drive of Grangemouth Port.
  • Excellent road and rail connections to all regions in Scotland.

Owned By: Forth Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >250,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Situated on the South Coast of England.
  • The port is 16 kilometers inland at the head of an estuary.
  • Linked to the UK’s major cities by efficient road and rail links.
  • Four container vessels can be loaded or unloaded simultaneously.
  • Houses a specialized terminal for fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • 14,000 square meters of refrigerated storage capacity.

Owned By: Associated British Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >1.9 million TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Located on England’s Northeast coast.
  • The port lies two kilometers inland on the bank of the River Tees.
  • Third-largest port in the United Kingdom.
  • Among the ten busiest ports in Western Europe.
  • Houses two container terminals.

Owned By: PD Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >500,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Processes nearly half of all the United Kingdom’s container traffic.
  • The seventh-busiest port in Europe.
  • Located Northeast of London, the UK’s capital.
  • One of the world’s top-50 busiest container gateways.
  • Has two container terminals, known as Trinity and Landguard.

Owned By: Hutchison Port Holdings.

Annual Container Volume: >3.8 million TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Northern Ireland’s premier container port.
  • Handles nearly 20% of commercial ocean freight on the island of Ireland.
  • Has break-bulk, dry and liquid freight facilities, as well as a container terminal.
  • Six container cranes in operation to load and unload vessels.

Owned By: Belfast Harbour Commissioners.

Annual Container Volume: >125,000 TEUs.


Other Ports in the United Kingdom

In addition to the ports mentioned above, you can export to the United Arab Emirates from London Gateway and Liverpool.

Cargo Ports of Arrival in the UAE

Khor Fakkan

Port Facts:

  • Sharjah’s principal port.
  • The only UAE ocean port that does not lie on the Strait of Hormuz.
  • Known for fast, efficient container-handling operations.
  • Offers first-rate facilities for commercial freight processing.
  • A vital Middle Eastern transshipment center.

Owned By: Sharjah Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >3 million TEUs.


Khalifa Port

Port Facts:

  • A developing port with capacity expecting to grow exponentially.
  • An ultra-modern, hi-tech container port.
  • Boasts the only semi-automated container terminal in the GCC region.
  • Utilizes GPS-enabled container tracking.
  • Integrated customs systems, services, and solutions.

Owned By: Abu Dhabi Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >14.5 million TEUs.


Jebel Ali

Port Facts:

  • The largest port in the Middle East.
  • Recognized as the best port in the region for the last 25 years.
  • Jebel Ali was built in 1970 and quickly overtook Port Rashid to become the UAE’s principal port.
  • The world’s largest man-made harbor.
  • The tenth-busiest container port in the world.
  • Connected to more than 150 ports around the globe, by 80 shipping services each week.

Owned By: DP World.

Annual Container Volume: >14.5 million TEUs.


Flying Your Freight: Airport Guide

Airports of Origin in the United Kingdom


Airport Facts:

  • Located 11 kilometers to the southwest of Manchester city center.
  • Currently undergoing a £1 billion program of expansion, to be completed by 2024.
  • Serves around 210 destinations around the world.
  • Manchester has two runways and one cargo terminal.
  • Offers direct flights to the UAE.

UAE Airports Served: Abu Dhabi, Dubai.

Manchester to UAE Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo, Etihad Crystal Cargo.



Airport Facts:

  • Located in the center of England, with useful road connections to the rest of the country.
  • Ideal for businesses exporting from the Midlands.
  • Celebrated its 80th birthday in 2019.
  • Annual cargo throughput of over 8,000 tonnes.
  • Offers direct flights to the United Arab Emirates.

UAE Airports Served: Abu Dhabi, Dubai.

Birmingham to UAE Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo.



Airport Facts:

  • One of the busiest airports in the world.
  • Operates extensive, modern freight facilities.
  • Handles goods to the value of £133 billion annually.
  • Offers several direct flights to the UAE.

UAE Airports Served: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah.

Heathrow to UAE Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo, Etihad Crystal Cargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo.



Airport Facts:

  • Second-busiest airport in Scotland, after Edinburgh Airport.
  • Eighth-busiest airport in the United Kingdom.
  • Located 16 kilometers west of Glasgow city center.
  • Offers direct flights to the Emirates.

UAE Airports Served: Dubai.

Heathrow to UAE Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo.


Other Airports in the United Kingdom

If you would like to route your air cargo to the UAE through airports in the UK that are not mentioned above, other options do exist. For example, at Shipa Freight, we also forward air freight via London Gatwick and Luton airports.

Airports of Arrival in the UAE

Dubai International Airport

Airport Facts:

  • The sixth-busiest cargo airport in the world.
  • The principal air-freight gateway of the United Arab Emirates.
  • The home of Emirates SkyCargo, the second-largest cargo-only carrier in the world.
  • Houses a freight terminal that's known as Dubai Airport Cargo Village.
  • Handles a freight throughput of 2.5 million tonnes annually.
  • Served by several direct passenger and cargo flights from the United Kingdom.

Connected Airports in the United Kingdom: London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, London Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh.

United Kingdom to Dubai Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo.


Dubai Al Maktoum

Airport Facts:

  • Opened in 2010
  • Primarily a cargo airport, but with increased passenger operations planned.
  • 12 million tonnes of freight is the ultimate projected annual throughput.
  • The total cost of the airport is estimated at $82 billion.
  • Currently served by no direct flights from the United Kingdom.

Connected Airports in the United Kingdom: London Heathrow.

United Kingdom to Al Maktoum Cargo-Only Operators: Emirates SkyCargo.


Abu Dhabi

Airport Facts:

  • The Emirates’ second-busiest airport for freight.
  • Annual cargo throughput is close to a million tonnes.
  • Connected to more than 60 countries via services from over 30 airlines.
  • Served by direct flights from several UK airports.
  • A capacity enhancement program is underway, which will ultimately enable handling of 2 million tonnes of freight per annum.

Connected Airports in the United Kingdom: Birmingham, London Heathrow, Manchester.

United Kingdom to Abu Dhabi Cargo-Only Operators: Etihad Cargo.



Airport Facts:

  • This airport has modern cargo-handling facilities.
  • Capable of managing a wide range of imports, including temperature-controlled freight.
  • Houses five cargo terminals.
  • Cargo apron can accommodate 13 aircraft.
  • Served by direct cargo flight from London Heathrow.

Connected Airports in the United Kingdom: London Heathrow.

United Kingdom to Sharjah Cargo-Only Operators: Singapore Airlines.


Why Ship From the United Kingdom to the UAE With Shipa Freight?

As a digital freight forwarder, Shipa Freight can offer significant advantages for your international trading operations. In short, we remove much of the complexity involved in shipping goods between countries.

Tangible benefits for your business include:

  • The ability to receive and compare quotes within moments of requesting.
  • Fast, simple booking processes. You can act on quotes and make bookings online.
  • The convenience of managing all your import and export shipments on one platform.
  • The possibility to get human help when you need it, whatever the day or time.
  • Software that helps you ensure compliance with import, export, and shipping rules/regulations.
  • No need to coordinate with multiple agencies to manage the shipping process.

Know Your Shipping Terminology

To help you build your understanding of the language of shipping, we’ve explained the meaning of two potentially confusing terms used in the industry. You’ll find those explanations below:

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