Ocean and Air Shipping from the US to China [Updated: Nov 2021]
Information and quote from the US to China for LCL, FCL and Air shipping
Despite the trade war between the nations, the business of exporting and importing from the US to China remains buoyant. Exports totaled $120.3 billion in 2018—that’s over 7% of all US exports. Soybeans are by far the product most frequently exported.
Whatever product you are looking to export from the US to China, the information on this page can help you ship more easily and successfully—however big or small your consignment. The page contains information about key ports in the US and China, the pros and cons of shipping by air or sea, and handy guidance on customs clearance.
The only viable ways of importing from the US to China are by air and ocean shipping. Each mode of transportation has good points and drawbacks. It’s the purpose of this page to highlight what they are so you can make an informed decision about which is best for your business.
Ocean Freight From the US to China
Less than Container Load (LCL): LCL ocean shipping entails your goods sharing a container with products belonging to other shippers. If you’re planning to ship a small consignment that isn’t urgently needed in China, LCL is likely to offer you the most cost-efficient mode of ocean shipping.
Full Container Load (FCL): FCL shipping allows you to arrange for a carrier to ship your goods in a container from the US to China, without sharing the internal space with other shippers’ freight. With exclusive use of the container, you can load as much or as little freight into it as you wish. FCL is usually quicker and, for larger shipments, often less expensive than LCL.
Air Freight from the US to China
Want the fast way to import from the US to China? That would be air freight then. Air cargo shipments from the US to China take a matter of days (as opposed to weeks with ocean freight). However, this form of transportation does not come cheap, costing considerably more than shipping by sea.
Your freight forwarder will calculate the cost of your export from the US to China after receiving details about your goods from your business. The forwarder will need to know whether you are looking for air or ocean shipping, and the ports of origin and destination you wish to use.
Details of your cargo are also required, including its volume, weight, and dimensions. Then you’ll need to decide if you want your goods delivered door to door, port to port, port to door, or door to port.
If your consignment weighs above 100kg, ocean freight is usually the most economical shipping method. For a shipment weighing under 100kg, it’s worth considering air freight, as it may be nearly as economical as ocean freight. Freight forwarders will typically not handle consignments weighing under 35kg, but international courier companies will be happy to do so.
If your goods need to be in China quickly, shipping them as air freight from the US is the quickest option. Most air freight will ship in eight days. Sending ocean freight is a longer process. 20 to 52 days should be allowed for ocean freight to reach China from the United States.
How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Sea From the US to China?
Below are examples of how long it takes to send commercial goods by ocean freight from the US to China:
- Chicago to Shanghai—44 days FCL, 36 days LCL
- Los Angeles to Shanghai—20 days FCL, 35 days LCL
- New York to Shanghai—51 days FCL, 46 days LCL
- Philadelphia to Shanghai—46 days FCL
- Boston to Shanghai—43 days FCL, 50 days LCL
- Los Angeles or Boston to Shenzhen—46 days FCL
- Baltimore to Shanghai—52 days FCL
- Chicago to Ningbo or Xiamen—46 days FCL
- Los Angeles to Ningbo—34 days LCL
- Los Angeles to Qingdao—28 days LCL
- New York to Zhuhai—46 days FCL
- Oakland to Shanghai—25 days FCL
How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Air From the US to China?
It takes four to eight days to ship air freight from airports in the US to airports in China, as illustrated by the following route examples from the Shipa Freight schedules:
- Los Angeles or Chicago to Shanghai—6 days
- Philadelphia or San Francisco to Shanghai—5 days
- Los Angeles to Beijing—7 days
- Boston to Shanghai or Zhengzhou—5 days
- Dallas or Miami to Shanghai—8 days
- Houston to Beijing or Guangzhou—5 days
- Atlanta or New York to Beijing or Shanghai—5 days
- Charlotte to Beijing—4 days
- Los Angeles to Guangzhou, Tianjin or Shenzhen—5 days
- Chicago to Qingdao—5 days
- Seattle to Shanghai or Tianjin—8 days
- San Francisco to Xiamen—5 days
Customs clearance is an essential aspect of every commercial goods export from the US to China. It can also be the most complicated.
To free yourself or your colleagues from dealing with the complexities, you might wish to follow the example of many other businesses and have a freight forwarder manage the process. It’s a good way to ensure compliance with rules and regulations and avoid unnecessary delays affecting your shipment.
Even if you hire a forwarder, you’ll still have an important role to play, as you’ll need to complete and file important documents to accompany your consignment from the US to China. These are required for export customs clearance in the US and import clearance in China.
The paperwork that’s required includes:
- A Commercial Invoice
- A Packing List
- A Certificate of Origin
- A Letter of Credit or other payment terms (depends on the contract between the parties involved)
- An Airway Bill for air cargo or a Bill of Lading for ocean freight (you can leave this to Shipa Freight)
The nature of the goods you are shipping may necessitate the submission of other documents. Your forwarder will advise you if you require a license, permit, or certificate, for example.
We’ve created a handy documents list page so you can see examples of the forms and formal papers we’ve listed above.
Transporting a shipping container from the US to China is a slow process, certainly when compared with carriage by air. Ocean vessels move at an average speed of 35 kilometers per hour. Aircraft fly at about 900 kilometers per hour.
Nevertheless, if your consignee in China can wait, ocean shipping often provides the most cost-effective means of transporting freight from the US to China.
Wherever in the United States your goods begin their journey to China, they will probably ship from the most convenient ocean port in a standard container aboard a cargo vessel. Shipping containers come in many shapes and sizes. A 20ft or 40ft-long container that opens at one end will suit most types of sea freight.
If your commercial goods require a non-standard container—such as one with an open-top or refrigeration—your forwarding company will let you know. They will also help you decide whether FCL or LCL ocean shipping is best suited to your consignments. To give you an idea of the difference between the two, we’ve listed a few things that are good to know about both modes of ocean shipping:
Considerations for LCL Freight Shipping
You might prefer to opt for LCL shipping if:
- Your consignment is small—no more than six standard pallets
- Your goods aren’t urgently required in China
- You don’t mind your cargo sharing a container with products belonging to other shippers
- A full container is not practical for the supplier or consignee of the cargo
- You understand that your LCL ocean shipment may take longer than FCL shipping, due to the logistics of consolidation and deconsolidation
LCL might not be your best option if:
- Your delivery deadline isn’t flexible
- Your goods will not stand up to being moved or handled several times
- Your products are fragile or perishable and unlikely to survive a long ocean journey
- Your consignment is large, heavy, or otherwise unsuitable for shipping in a shared container
Considerations for FCL Freight Shipping
Importing from the US to China using an FCL service could work out as your best option, especially if:
- Your goods need to be shipped to China by a specific date
- Your freight cannot share a container with other goods
- Your consignment is large enough to fill at least half the capacity of a 20ft container
- You want your shipment to be sealed in a container in the US and for it to remain sealed until it arrives in China
Air shipping could be the best option for your business if:
- You need fast shipping to meet a pressing deadline
- Your goods are perishable and need to be shipped quickly
- You’d like a lower insurance premium than you’d pay if you opted for ocean shipping
- Your cargo is high-value and requires the levels of security adhered to by airport operators
- You only have a small consignment to ship—three pallets at most
Cargo Ports of Origin in the US
New York / New Jersey
- The third-busiest port in the US
- Facilities include four container terminals
- One-third of the USA’s GDP is produced within 400 km of the port
- The elevation of the Bayonne Bridge in 2017 has enabled access to the port for cargo vessels in the 18,000 TEU, Triple-E class
Owned By: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Annual Container Volume: >7.1 million TEUs.
- Ranked the sixth busiest container port in the US by total TEUs
- Handles 69% of the nation’s Gulf Coast container traffic
- Extra container-lifting capacity makes Houston a good choice if your supply chain requires the transit of goods from anywhere in Texas
Owned By: Port of Houston Authority.
Annual Container Volume: >2.7 million TEUs.
- Located in San Pedro Bay, 40 kilometers outside of downtown Los Angeles
- The premier gateway in the United States for international commerce
- The busiest seaport in the Western hemisphere
- Processed more cargo in 2018 than any other year in its history
- Automated terminal and rail facilities make this an attractive proposition for companies with goods to import from the US to China
Owned By: City of Los Angeles.
Annual Container Volume: >9.4 million TEUs.
- Second-largest container port in the US
- Located just three kilometers south of downtown Long Beach
- Only 40 kilometers from the Port of Los Angeles
Owned By: City of Los Angeles.
Annual Container Volume: 8 million TEUs.
- Only New York/New Jersey has a higher cargo throughput than Savannah on the US East Coast
- Four new neo-Panamax cranes were built in the port in 2017
- Six more neo-Panamax cranes are due to be added to the Garden City terminal by 2021
- There is direct access to the port from Interstate 95 and 16, and it’s easily reached from Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham, Memphis, and Orlando
Owned By: Georgia Ports Authority.
Annual Container Volume: >4.3 million TEUs.
Other Ocean Ports of Origin in the United States
In addition to the gateways detailed above, you can also ship your freight from the US to China via the following container ports:
- New Orleans
- San Francisco
- Philadelphia -Port Everglades
Cargo Ports of Arrival in China
- Overtook Shenzhen in 2018 to become the world’s third-busiest port
- Located in Zhejiang Province, the fifth-largest import and export region in China
- Facilities include seven container terminals, 28 deepwater berths, and 112 cranes
Owned By: Ningbo-Zhoushan Port Company Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >26.3 million TEUs.
- Located within the Pearl River Delta Emission Control Area
- Stretches along 260 kilometers of coastline
- Ranked as the world’s third-biggest port for containerized goods in 2018
- The main container terminals are Yantian, Chiwan, and Shekou
Owned By: Multiple owners.
Annual Container Volume: >27.7 million TEUs.
- Located in Northern China’s Bohai Bay
- Only 170 kilometers from the Chinese capital Beijing
- Close to the ports of Dalian and Qingdao
- Ranks in the world’s top-ten largest ports
Owned By: Tianjin Port Group Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >15.9 million TEUs.
- Has been rated the world’s busiest containerized goods port since overtaking Singapore in 2010
- Located to the east of Hangzhou Bay facing the East China Sea
- Strong road and rail links make for easy onward transportation of goods into neighboring areas such as Jinhua, Suzhou, and Wuxi
Owned By: Shanghai International Port Company Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >43.3 million TEUs.
- Ranks as China’s busiest port for domestic trade
- Container-handling facilities are spread across four areas of the port
- A good place to discharge goods bound for Macao, Hong Kong, or elsewhere in Southern China
Owned By: Guangzhou Port Group.
Annual Container Volume: >21.9 million TEUs.
Other Arrival Ports in China
These are some of the other ports in China through which you can route imports from the United States:
Airports of Origin in the US
- Widely known as LAX
- Located in Westchester, about 30 kilometers southwest of Downtown Los Angeles
- A thriving hub for passenger and cargo-only services between the US and China
- Operates direct flights to many locations in the People’s Republic
China Airports Served: Beijing-Capital, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Nanjing, Shanghai-Pudong, Chongqing, Qingdao, Xiamen.
Los Angeles to China Cargo-Only Operators: Air China Cargo, AirBridge Cargo Airlines, China Cargo Airlines, China Southern Cargo, National Airlines.
IATA Code: LAX.
- Situated between the two cities that give the airport its name
- The second busiest international gateway in Texas
- Over 60% of the state’s cargo is processed at this freight hub
- Covers a 43 square-kilometer site
- Facilities include seven runways and 15 berths for cargo aircraft
China Airports Served: Shanghai-Pudong, Beijing-Capital.
Dallas/Fort Worth to China Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA Code: DFW.
- Known as the gateway to West Texas, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico
- Located six kilometers northeast of the city that shares its name
- The largest airport in the US/Mexico border region
- Ideal port of origin for any supplier or manufacturer in Southern Texas
- Features an 8,700 square-meter cargo complex
- Over $60 million has been invested in freight facilities
China Airports Served: None.
El Paso to China Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA Code: ELP.
- Situated 16 kilometers northwest of downtown Sacramento, the capital city of California
- Freight forwarders will use indirect flights to transport goods to China
- Ideal airport if your supply chain requires the movement of goods from Northern California, Napa Wine Country, or Lake Tahoe
China Airports Served: None.
Sacramento to China Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA Code: SMF.
- North America’s largest airport
- Occupies a 135 square-kilometer site
- Handles more than 230,000 tonnes of freight every year
- World-leading freight firms DHL, UPS, and FedEx have hubs at the airport
- There are no direct flights from Denver to China
China Airports Served: None.
Denver to China Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA Code: DEN.
Other Departure Airports in the United States
Commercial goods can also be flown to China by direct or indirect routes from the following airports in the United States:
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- New York JFK
- Chicago O’Hare
Airports of Arrival in China
- Located in Liaoning Province airport, about 10 kilometers northwest of Dalian
- A good port of arrival for goods destined for Chaoyang, Jinzhou, and Tieling
- Receives no direct flights from airports in the United States
Connected Airports in the US: None.
US to Dalian Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA CODE: DLC.
- A world top-three air freight hub
- Handled 3.7 million tonnes of cargo in 2017
- Five runways are used by a variety of passenger and cargo-only flights from the US
Connected Airports in the US: Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York, Detroit, Seattle, Oakland.
US to Shanghai Cargo-Only Operators: China Southern Cargo, AirBridgeCargo, Air China Cargo, FedEx Express, China Cargo Airlines, Atlas Air, Korean Air Cargo, Kalitta Air, Southern Air, National Airlines, UPS Airlines, Qantas Cargo, Suparna Airlines.
IATA CODE: PVG.
- Full name is Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
- The world’s 19th-busiest for cargo and China’s third-busiest
- The longest direct flight into this airport is the 12,857km journey from JFK Airport in New York
- China Southern Airlines flies direct to Guangzhou from San Francisco and Los Angeles
- The one-million-tonne freight capacity of the airport is due to increase to 2.5 million by the end of 2020
Connected Airports in the US: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco.
US to Guangzhou Cargo-Only Operators: China Southern Cargo.
IATA CODE: CAN.
- Importing via this gateway enables quick access to the massive consumer markets in the area.
- Three air freight terminals process nearly two million tonnes of freight annually
- The airport receives direct flights from several airports in the US
Connected Airports in the US: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Dallas, Detroit, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Boston.
US to Beijing Cargo-Only operators: Air China Cargo.
IATA CODE: PEK.
- One of three large airports serving cities on the Pearl River Delta
- Located just 30 kilometers from Shenzhen City and about 70 kilometers by road from Hong Kong
- The facility has two runways
- Freight forwarders can book your goods aboard a direct service from Los Angeles Airport
Connected Airports in the US: Los Angeles.
US to Shenzhen Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA CODE: SZX.
Other airports in China through which you can route your imports from the US include Qingdao, Chongqing, Wuhan, Xiamen, Zhengzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai-Hongqiao, and Tianjin.
Shipa Freight’s simple and accessible online platform makes it easier for all kinds of businesses to import from the US to China. We remove the hassles often associated with international shipping and customs clearance, bringing simplicity to your supply chain.
Here are more reasons to choose Shipa Freight when importing from the US to China:
- Easy for new customers to register
- Quick online quotes for both air and ocean freight shipping
- Book and pay for shipping online
- We’ll handle customs complexities
- You can contact our friendly customer service team 24/7 via email, phone, or online chat
- We’ll ensure your consignment complies with shipping rules and regulations in the US and China
- What Are Your Options for Shipping Freight From the US to China?
- How Much Does it Cost to Ship Cargo From the US to China?
- How Long Does it Take to Ship Cargo From the US to China?
- Customs Clearance in the US and China
- Should You Choose Ocean Freight or Air Freight?
- Ocean Cargo Port Guide
- Flying Your Freight: Airport Guide
- Ocean and Air Shipping From the US to China: Why Shipa Freight?