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Ocean & Air Shipping From UK to US

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Updated on 01 Mar 202215 min read

Up to November 2019, the United States had imported $57.6 billion of goods from the UK in that calendar year. Maybe you have an established customer base on the other side of the Atlantic, and you’re seeking an easier way to import from the United Kingdom to the US. Or you might have just signed a new contract to supply goods to a client Stateside.

In either case, you’ll find guidance to help you manage the complexities of international ocean and air freight logistics on this page. We’ve gathered the critical information that will enable you to engage in more successful ocean and air shipping from the United Kingdom to the US.

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

Warehouseman pushing a trolley filled with boxes, from the flag of the United Kingdom towards the flag of the United States

When importing from the United Kingdom to the US, you have two basic options: ocean freight and air freight. Let’s explore both of them.

Ocean Freight From the United Kingdom to the US

Less than Container Load (LCL): LCL is a great option if hiring a full container for your cargo is not on the table. You simply pay for the space that your products occupy in a shared container. For small to medium-sized shipments, this is the most affordable option to export from the United Kingdom to the US.

Full Container Load (FCL): If you do need the space and security of a full container, then FCL is right for you. You can transact with a freight forwarder for the use and shipping of an entire unit at a flat rate. That makes FCL sometimes cheaper than LCL, depending on the weight and dimensions of your consignment.

Air Freight from the United Kingdom to the US

Air freight is the right choice if you need your products to reach the US as soon as possible. But, prepare yourself to pay the price. Air freight is often much more expensive than sea freight.

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

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

Weight. Dimensions. Volume. They will all have an impact on the quote a freight forwarder generates for your consignment from the UK to the US. The nature of your goods will also affect pricing, as will your choice between sea freight and air cargo.

Freight forwarders typically offer one or more of the following delivery options: port-to-port, port-to-door, door-to-port and door-to-door. Each involves differing distances for your goods to travel, different logistics processes and, therefore, different pricing.

If you’re unsure of the relative costs of ocean versus air shipping, it’s handy to know that air freight can be almost as cost-efficient as ocean shipping for consignments weighing under 100kg. If your shipments are above that weight, you may find there’s greater cost-efficiency in ocean freight. Please note that Shipa Freight does not provide freight-forwarding services for shipments weighing less than 35kg.

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

The duration of your shipment will depend on your choice of air or ocean shipping, and whereabouts in the US your destination port is located. Eastern US arrival locations are quicker to reach from the UK, with container vessels from London to New York or Philadelphia taking around 15 to 17 days.

New Orleans on the South Coast takes up to 24 days to reach, while Los Angeles on the West Coast takes significantly longer—up to 32 days. You should allow two to eight days for air freight to reach and clear customs in the United States.

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

There are big differences in the shipping distances between the UK and different ports in the United States, as illustrated by these transit-time examples:

  • London Gateway to New York—15 days FCL
  • London Gateway to Los Angeles—32 days FCL
  • London Gateway to Philadelphia—17 days FCL
  • London Gateway to Houston—24 days FCL
  • Felixstowe to Norfolk—19 days FCL
  • Felixstowe to Seattle—32 days FCL
  • London Gateway to Seattle—35 days FCL
  • Liverpool to New York—46 days FCL
  • Southampton to Los Angeles—34 days FCL

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

You should expect your air freight shipment from the UK to the US to take at least a couple of days, allowing for export and import customs clearance, as these examples show:

  • London Heathrow to New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, or Chicago—8 days
  • London Heathrow to Atlanta, Houston, or New York—5 days
  • Birmingham or London Heathrow to Boston—2 days
  • Birmingham or Glasgow to Houston - 8 days
  • Manchester to New York—3 days

Customs Clearance in the UK and the US

Sorting out the paperwork required to clear customs can be one of the most complicated and time-consuming aspects of international shipping. Use a freight forwarder and the process becomes so much easier. A trusted expert can highlight the documents you’ll need to complete and send with your shipment to ensure everything’s in order when your goods reach customs in the UK and the US.

The documents you need as a minimum are as follows:

  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)

Additional information about each of these documents can be found on this page.

Should You Choose Ocean Freight or Air Freight?

Ocean Freight

Most commercial products cross the Atlantic Ocean as sea freight loaded onto specialized cargo vessels. Generally, the majority of cargo will ship in a container, but other options such as break-bulk shipping are available, too.

When it comes to containerized ocean shipping, you can choose between LCL and FCL. These are available as a port-to-port or door-to-door service. Read on to find out which suits your logistics needs.

Considerations for LCL Freight Shipping

It’s good to share, certainly when it comes to international shipping on a budget. If you don’t mind your goods traveling in a container from the United Kingdom to the US with goods from other companies, LCL could work out the most economical option for your business.

LCL is popular with companies who don’t want to pay for the use and transportation of a full shipping container from the United Kingdom to the US. Typically, LCL takes longer than FCL because your goods will first need to go to a warehouse in your UK port of origin for consolidation with other goods. Deconsolidation will occur in port in the US. Both processes prolong the overall shipping duration.

Considerations for FCL Freight Shipping

This type of shipping ensures that your goods are isolated in a dedicated container—there’s no sharing as with LCL, so no consolidation or deconsolidation is required. FCL is a good choice if you want fewer touches of your goods during shipment—handy if you are sending perishable or fragile goods as ocean freight from the United Kingdom to the US.

You don’t need to fill your container to use FCL. You can load as little or as much as you like. A 20ft container will take a maximum of 10 or 11 standard pallets, while a 40-footer will hold up to 21.

Air Freight

#Grangemouthhts between the UK and the US take off and land daily. A freight forwarder has the contacts and know-how to get your goods aboard one of these passenger or cargo-only flights. You should consider using air shipping services if your cargo is:

  • Urgently required in the United States.
  • Fragile or perishable.
  • Relatively small, filling a few pallets at most.
  • Valuable and requiring the high levels of security that airport operators and air freight carriers provide.

Ocean Cargo Port Guide

Cargo Ports of Origin in the UK


Port Facts:

  • Situated about halfway between Glasgow and the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
  • Scotland’s largest port with excellent road and rail connections.
  • Ideal for any supplier based in Scotland and Northern England.

Owned By: Forth Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >250,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Processes almost half the UK’s container trade.
  • Located in the Northeast of London.
  • Ranks as Europe’s seventh-busiest port.

Owned By: Hutchison Port Holdings.

Annual Container Volume: >3.8 million TEUs.


London Gateway

Port Facts:

  • Technologically the most advanced port in the UK.
  • Also the fastest-growing deep-sea facility in the kingdom.
  • Welcomes the world’s biggest container vessels onto fully-equipped quaysides.
  • Offers a wealth of road and rail connections to the port.

Owned By: DP World.

Annual Container Volume: >1.3 million TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Located 16 kilometers inland from the Southern Coast of England.
  • Now a major UK ocean cargo hub.
  • Four container vessels can be simultaneously loaded and unloaded here.
  • Offers 14,000 square meters of refrigerated storage.

Owned By: Associated British Ports.

Annual Container Volume: >1.9 million TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Vital logistics hub that’s just across the Atlantic from the US.
  • Responsible for almost 20% of Ireland’s ocean trade.
  • A convenient port for suppliers and manufacturers based in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Owned By: Belfast Harbor Commissioners.

Annual Container Volume: >125,000 TEUs.


Shipa Freight is also able to arrange commercial goods shipments to the US from Teesport in the Northeast of England.

Cargo Ports of Arrival in the US

Los Angeles

Port Facts:

  • Largest seaport in the US.
  • Occupies a 70 kilometer stretch of California’s coastline.
  • Responsible for handling 20% of the country’s ocean freight.
  • The transit time will be longer than if you were shipping freight from the United Kingdom to the US East Coast.

Owned By: City of Los Angeles.

Annual Container Volume: >9 million TEUs.


New Orleans

Port Facts:

  • Known as Port NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana).
  • Serves the United States’ Southern seaboard.
  • An international shipping gateway that generates over $100 million a year.
  • Located on the Mississippi River.
  • Equipped with six cranes to handle containers.

Owned By: The Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans.

Annual Container Volume: >500,000 TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Savannah’s river port is situated 30 kilometers from the coast.
  • Popular with shippers from all over the world.
  • Home to the biggest container terminal in the US.
  • Ideally located to receive shipments destined for Eastern and Midwestern states.

Owned By: Georgia Ports Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >4 million TEUs.



Port Facts:

  • Major port in San Francisco Bay on the Pacific Coast.
  • Equipped with six terminals and 33 ship-to-shore cranes.
  • Benefits from outstanding railroad links to California and elsewhere in the Western United States.

Owned By: City of Oakland.

Annual Container Volume: 2.5 million.



Port Facts:

  • Alabama’s only deep-water port.
  • Empties into Mobile Bay.
  • Has access to the waterways that serve the Great Lakes and river valleys in Tennessee and Ohio.
  • Enjoys direct access to two Interstate systems for easy onward transit.
  • Has benefited from over $500 million in investment to expand and improve the port’s facilities.

Owned By: Alabama State Port Authority.

Annual Container Volume: >500,000 TEUs.


Other Ports in the United States

Shipa Freight can also arrange to discharge your exports from the United Kingdom at the following ports:

  • Atlanta
  • New York
  • Miami
  • Tacoma
  • San Francisco
  • Norfolk
  • Boston
  • Charleston
  • Houston
  • Seattle
  • Baltimore
  • Long Beach
  • Port Everglades

Flying Your Freight: Airport Guide

Airports of Origin in the UK


Airport Facts:

  • Known as the Midlands airport, situated in central England.
  • Located just 13 kilometers southeast of the city center, near Junction 6 of the M42 motorway.
  • Easy to reach from a variety of locations across England.

US Airports Served: None.

Birmingham to US Cargo-Only Operators: None.



Airport Facts:

  • Lies 15 kilometers west of the city with the M8 motorway running to the south of the airfield.
  • It’s simple to access this airport facility by road.
  • Handles over 13,000 tonnes of cargo every year.
  • Serves as a major international air gateway for businesses based in Scotland and Northern England.

US Airports Served: New York.

Glasgow to US Cargo-Only Operators: None.



Airport Facts:

  • Fourth-busiest cargo hub in the UK.
  • Located 12 kilometers south of Manchester city center.
  • Has three terminals and two runways.
  • The freight terminal houses 510,000 square meters of warehouse and office space.

US Airports Served: Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles.

Manchester to US Cargo-Only Operators: Lufthansa Cargo.


London Heathrow

Airport Facts:

  • Occupies a 12 kilometer site to the west of London.
  • The UK’s key air cargo hub.
  • Due for an expansion to increase the cargo handling capacity to three million tonnes.
  • More UK-produced goods are exported from Heathrow than from any other port in the UK.

US Airports Served: Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, San Francisco, Detroit.

Heathrow to US Cargo-Only Operators: IAG Cargo.


Airports of Arrival in the US

Los Angeles

Airport Facts:

  • Widely known as LAX.
  • Ranks as the world’s tenth-busiest for cargo airports.
  • Handled over two million tonnes of freight in 2018.

Connected Airports in the UK: London Heathrow.

UK to Los Angeles Cargo-Only Operators: Lufthansa Cargo.



Airport Facts:

  • Serves the Colorado area of the Western United States.
  • Located 40 kilometers from downtown Denver.
  • The airport is one-and-a-half times the size of Manhattan.
  • Home to several world-leading freight movers, including DHL, UPS, and FedEx.
  • Total annual cargo throughput exceeds 235,000 tonnes.

Connected Airports in the UK: London Heathrow.

UK to Denver Cargo-Only Operators: IAG Cargo.



Airport Facts:

  • Known as George Bush International Airport.
  • Sits 37 kilometers north of Houston between Interstates 69 and 45.
  • Processed a record 500,000 tonnes of cargo in 2018.
  • Accounts for 20% of the state of Texas’ total international trade.

Connected Airports in the UK: London Heathrow, Manchester.

UK to Houston Cargo-Only Operators: None.



Airport Facts:

  • Officially called Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
  • Located 14 kilometers southwest of downtown Cleveland, adjacent to a NASA field center.
  • Largest and busiest airport in Ohio.
  • Has three runways.
  • Freight logistics companies such as United Cargo and FedEx offer services from the airport to other destinations across the US.

Connected Airports in the UK: None.

UK to Cleveland Cargo-Only Operators: None.


San Francisco

Airport Facts:

  • Major gateway to Europe and Asia.
  • Located 21 kilometers south of San Francisco.
  • Has four intersecting runways.
  • Processed over 500,000 tonnes of freight in 2018.
  • Offers a 107,000 square meter cargo handling facility.

Connected Airports in the UK: London Heathrow.

UK to San Francisco Cargo-Only Operators: None.


Other Airports in the US

With Shipa Freight, you can also choose to land your goods from the UK at these airports in the US:

  • Chicago
  • New York
  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Philadelphia
  • Miami
  • Seattle
  • Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Cincinnati
  • San Diego
  • Charlotte
  • Detroit
  • Sacramento
  • El Paso
  • San Diego

Why Ship From the UK to the US With Shipa Freight?

If you are on the lookout for a reliable partner to ship your goods safely and on time from the UK to the US, Shipa Freight might just be the expert that you need. We are a digital-first, online-only enterprise at the forefront of freight forwarding. Whether you want to ship with an air or ocean carrier, we will satisfy all of your international shipping needs.

We aim to simplify your supply chain with our state-of-the-art online portal. It allows you to manage your complete shipment process in one place without having to coordinate multiple agencies.

Here are some of the advantages your business can gain when you ship with us:

  • Quickly obtain and compare quotes online.
  • Place your booking directly online without losing time.
  • Always prepare the right shipping documents.
  • Never struggle with customs complexities again – let us manage it.
  • Handle all your imports and exports on one single online platform.
  • Receive support from our friendly customer service team 24/7.
  • Automatically comply with international shipping rules and regulations.

Know Your Shipping Terminology

Whatever your native language, the commercial language of shipping can be confusing. To help build your understanding, Shipa Freight is cutting through the complexity and explaining industry jargon in plain English. Two potentially baffling shipping terms are explained below, and there are more definitions on each of our country-to-country pages.

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