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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!