How Long Does It Take to Ship From China?

How Long Does It Take to Ship From China?

April 27, 2022

One of the most common questions the Kanary Team receives about China product fulfillment is how long does shipping from China take?  Shipping from China can be a complicated, volatile process, which means getting a straightforward answer to the question is difficult.

The suppliers you use, your preferred shipping method, and how far ahead you book a shipping container (if using sea freight), are all variables that will impact your China to US shipping time. Other variables that will affect the overall shipping time include the time of year, the efficiency of your customs clearance, and your destination port.  

If that seems a bit complicated, it's because it is! However, the Kanary Team has written a guide that you can use to best predict how long an order from China will take to arrive. You'll also find tips on how to cut down the shipping time as much as possible!

Shipping Logistics Start Immediately After Placing an Order

As soon as you put in an order with a supplier, you should immediately start planning the shipping logistics for your products. At this point, you'll have an idea of what kind of freight you want to use, either air or sea freight.

Air Freight

Air freight is going to operate like the traditional shipping you're accustomed to. You'll receive a tracking number once it's loaded onto the plane and will be able to track your products for the duration of the shipping process. Air freight will be the fastest form of shipping. However, compared to sea freight, it will be far more expensive. Depending on your product, it may not even be a viable option.

Sea Freight

If you're making a large volume order or your products are particularly heavy, you should be using sea freight. You'll find sea freight rates to be noticeably more affordable, but the transit time is longer and using sea freight requires far more logistical planning. If you partner with Kanary, you'll most likely be using sea freight.

Book the Container

If you have decided to use sea freight, you need to book a container as soon as you place your order with your manufacturer. Traditionally, you've always needed to book the shipping container “sooner rather than later”, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made this a much, much stronger priority. Due to the pandemic, the global shipping industry is still in recovery, which means there are very few containers available.

If you wait too long to book a container, you could be looking at a month or more of delays. You simply can't afford to put off booking a container anymore. It will be one of the first parts of logistics you'll complete when planning your shipping strategy.

Consolidated Shipping

Consolidated shipping is a common logistical strategy to help reduce shipping costs when using sea freight. Instead of shipping a product as soon as it's finished, you'll ship all of your products when you have enough finished to fill (or mostly fill) a container. This means you only need to book one shipping container, rather than multiple per each product, equating to a smaller fee for shipping!

Of course, consolidated shipping requires more logistical planning. You need to coordinate with all of your manufacturing partners so that they are finished with production and ready to ship around the same time (or you need to invest in short-term product storage). You'll also need to make sure the container has enough volume to accommodate all of your products.

We strongly recommend using consolidated shipping, especially because the COVID-19 pandemic has made containers much scarcer. If you partner with Kanary, we handle all planning in regard to consolidated shipping (and also provide free, short-term storage).

Start Your Plan for Shipping From China

To summarize, as soon as you place an order with your supply partner, you need to complete the following immediately:

● Determine if you are using air or sea freight.

● Determine if you are using consolidated shipping.

● Get an estimated time of completion from all of your supply partners.

● Book the right sized container for your products

● Contact freight forwarding partners to get products from the factories to your shipping partner (this is especially important if you plan on using consolidated shipping)

If you plan the logistics accurately (or let a sourcing specialist like Kanary do it for you), then you can start to estimate shipping time. After logistical planning, the next major factor that will affect shipping time will be the destination you are shipping to!

What Port Are You Shipping To?

Depending on your destination port, your shipping times will greatly vary.  As you may expect, shipping to the west coast will be much shorter than shipping to the east coast.  Additionally, established port partners (larger ports) will have access to shorter shipping times than smaller ports.

To give you a general idea of sea freight shipping times, take a look at some of the following shipping estimates to popular U.S. shipping ports.

● Shanghai to Oakland: 2-3 weeks

● Shanghai to L.A.: 2-3 weeks

● Shanghai to New York: about 30 days.

● Shanghai to Savannah: about 35 days.

● Shanghai to Houston: about 3 weeks.

Depending on the port, you may have access to a special shipping route (much faster) for a premium rate. For example, Oakland announced in February of 2021  a special direct shipping route with CMA CGA (a French container shipping company)  that boasts a 17-day shipping time from Shanghai. This was very successful and is attractive to many businesses. Remember that you'll pay a higher shipping rate, but the expedited timeframe could be worthwhile for your business.

COVID-19 Shipping Exceptions

You should note that the above times and estimates are pre-COVID-19. Currently, shipping times vary widely, almost to the point where they become unpredictable even to the most seasoned logistic companies. There will likely be problems with booking a container, which is why you should book one as early as possible.  Furthermore, many times the vessel will be loaded but will be delayed from departing the port of origin due to massive congestion.  

Congestion at the receiving ports has increased shipping time too. We have seen several examples where the vessel arrives to the receiving port on time, but there is not a place for the vessel to dock and unload. The Kanary Team has seen delays upwards of several weeks from standard shipping times because of sailing delays, container booking shortages, and port congestion.  

Shipping to an Indirect Port

Depending on where you're located, you may find that shipping to a less direct port and closing the distance with rail or trucking may be faster, cheaper, or both! For example, using special direct shipping to Oakland and using rail to Oklahoma, may end up being faster than shipping to Houston’s port and using freight trucking to Oklahoma.    

You'll want to take time to determine which combination of sea freight, rail, and trucking will be most time or cost-effective for your business. If you partner with Kanary, we'll plan the fastest and least expensive route for you!

How to Clear Customs

After the logistical planning to get your products on a container and to determine which port you are shipping to, clearing customs will be the final major obstacle that can have a huge impact on your shipping time. The most efficient way to clear customs is to make sure you have all of your paperwork available and ready as soon as your products depart China.

Customs Paperwork

There are numerous forms that you'll need for customs clearance.  Having these forms prepared and accurate can make or break your customs experience. The following are some of the most important forms you'll need to have available for customs clearance:

● Commercial Invoice

● Bill of Lading

● Importer Security Filing

● Packing List

This paperwork will come from a variety of sources, including your supplier, your shipping partner, and yourself!  We go into more detail about what these specific forms are in our Product Sourcing 101  article. You will start gathering and providing this paperwork to customs agents while products are in transit and then a logistics agent will be notified when products arrive at the port of destination.

Customs Delays

There are a lot of potential delays that could occur with customs clearance. Some are preventable with proper planning, while others will simply rely on luck. The following are items that can cause unexpected delays in the customs clearance process:

● Missing paperwork

● X-Rays (delays are usually 1-3 days but can be longer. Containers are selected at random.)  

● A mismatch between Bill of Laden and Packing List

● Boxes or products not labeled with the country of origin in legible English

After You Clear Customs

Once you have officially cleared customs, you'll receive a release form that lets you know you can begin to get your products out of the port. Discharging products to your carrier partners from the port has traditionally taken 24-48 hours. However, precautions taken due to COVID-19 may cause increased delays during discharge.

From China to the Final Destination

After the carrier partner has the products, all that’s left is shipping products to their final destination. The shipping time will depend on what kind of transport you’re using (for example, using rail or trucks). Shipping estimates at this point are usually punctual, though Kanary will continue to track your products until you have them in hand.

If you didn't book your container soon enough, if there is a problem with your freight partners, or if you don't have proper customs paperwork, you could be looking at several months of shipping delays before you have products in hand.  

Kanary: Sourcing Specialist and Logistics Expert

One of the strongest benefits of partnering with a sourcing specialist is having a seasoned logistical shipping expert at your fingertips. Among many of the other advantages we offer clients, you can expect the following specifically related to shipping:

● Leveraging established relationships with high-quality suppliers to streamline shipping logistics

● Coordinating consolidating shipping and free short-term storage

● Booking the appropriately sized shipping container as soon as possible

● Tracking orders (sea or air freight)

● Preparing all customs paperwork and supervising final customs clearance

● Punctually and efficiently communicating all unavoidable delays (like customs x-rays)

● Coordinating with domestic transit partners

As our client, you will not have to worry about anything in regard to shipping logistics, preparing customs paperwork, or tracking orders. The Kanary Team does the heavy lifting for you (and is available 24/7 if you have specific questions or concerns about your product order).

If you are looking to avoid the hassle of handling shipping, reach out to us for a free consultation! We'll evaluate your business needs and will determine if Kanary is a good fit! We look forward to hearing from you!

Need Help Shipping From China?

Click on the Link Below To Speak With a China Shipping Expert

Contact Us

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does shipping from China take?

There's a lot of factors that contribute to shipping length from China. However, if you're shipping from China to the west coast of the United States, it will usually take 2-3 weeks. Remember, time on the water is not the true shipping time. You'll need to account for:

Why is China shipping taking so long?

While shipping from China has leveled out in early 2023, the past few years have presented some unique challenges. Here are a few reasons why shipping from China was taking so long:

  • Factory delays due to China's Zero-COVID policies (many of which are no longer in place)
  • Container shortages (you can't ship sea freight if you don't have a container)
  • Port congestion, caused by numerous issues
  • Chassis shortage, which is required for shipping containers via truck freight
  • Labor shortages
  • Unique supply chain disruptions

For now, many of these issues have subsided, though careful businesses will keep an eye on other factors that may lengthen lead times from factories.

Why is shipping from China so expensive?

There's a few reasons why shipping from China may be (or feel expensive). First, if there's a huge demand for shipping, that drives up the cost of containers and freight costs. In 2021, there was historic consumer demand when COVID recovery began, which made sea freight far more expensive than usual. 

If you're looking at air freight or express shipping, these options will always be expensive. It's the reason why the majority of large volume orders are shipped via sea freight, even though sea freight takes more time. 

It's possible that your business isn't utilizing sea freight shipping like it should. If you are constantly shipping LCL (less-than-container-load) shipments, you're paying far more than you should. A consolidated shipping strategy will help to slash your shipping costs, without needing to change suppliers or any fundamental parts of your supply chain.

How long does express China shipping take?

Express shipping from China to the U.S. usually takes one to five days, but you need to remember that this is only "time in the air." Other supply chain delays may cause problems, and you could face delays even if you use express shipping.

Does Kanary use China shipping tracking when orders are placed?

Yes! Kanary will track orders using China shipping for any of our clients. We make sure that there aren't shipping issues, and that your customs paperwork is ready before your shipment arrives.

What is the cheapest shipping from China?

While shipping from specific shipping lines will vary, the consistently least expensive form of shipping is sea freight. This is especially true if you are able to make FCL shipments instead of making multiple LCL shipments. 

While a one-time order from China may end up being LCL, businesses that regularly place orders from China should consider using consolidated shipping to lower their shipping costs.

Are there China shipping delays?

In Q1 of 2023, shipping from China has largely returned to normal. Many of the issues causing port congestion have resolved, and the pricing of shipping has normalized. However, these situations can change quickly, so you'll want to keep tabs on the state of shipping and supply chains in general (or rely on experts, like Kanary).

What are some overlooked shipping costs from China to the U.S.?

While many businesses are focused on the upfront price of shipping, there are several other costs that are often overlooked that are directly related to shipment:

  • Container charges: Many businesses regularly use LCL shipments, when they could use FCL shipments and get a much better price on sea freight for the same volume of products.
  • Customs clearance: For large volume orders, businesses will have a fee to pay for customs clearance. 
  • Demurrage charges: If your order reaches port, but isn't unloaded in a certain amount of time, you may have a demurrage charge levied against you. 
  • Detention charges: When referring to sea freight shipping, a detention charge typically means a charge levied against you because you didn't return your shipping container on time. 

If you have shipping delays due to port congestion, you may still face demurrage or detention charges. Working with a sourcing specialist, like Kanary, can help navigate a difficult shipping landscape when your dollars are on the line

Should I use a China shipping agent?

A China shipping agent can make it easier to ship your products from China suppliers, especially if you don't have the time or resources to monitor shipments yourself. While you can hire a shipping agent that only handles shipping, there are other providers that offer more robust services. 

For example, Kanary not only acts as a shipping agent, but as an overall sourcing specialist. We can help you find new suppliers, negotiate with existing suppliers, help you manufacture products, and make sure they are shipped in the most cost-effective way.

What are the shipping rates from China?

There's no flat rate for shipping from China. It will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • What you ship
  • How you ship it (air freight vs. sea freight)
  • Where you ship it
  • Whether you ship with LCL or FCL shipments

If you need help getting the best shipping prices from China, Kanary can help! We help businesses get the best shipping prices from their China suppliers.


You’re interested in buying from China. Here are some helpful insights we’ve learned along the way.

Get Connected

Complete the form below to contact us and our team will be in touch within 24-48 hours.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.