How much will my goods cost to import via Sea Freight?

Once you understand import fees and the reasoning behind costs you can make a judgement on whether companies are giving you a good offer.

We endeavor to provide simple sea freight pricing, but you will need the following information to get a quote from any shipping company:

  • Weight & dimensions/volume of goods
  • Shipping terms offered by your supplier (FOB, Exworks etc.)
  • The outbound port
  • The location of where the goods are being delivered to.

Sea freight costs are established using the volume or weight (whichever is largest). 

Sea freight rates vary depending on the port as the size will impact the cost. For example, Shanghai handles 32 million containers a year and is cheaper than other ports as a result of economies of scale. Likewise, ports such as Zhongshan don’t run directly to the UK and so a ‘feeder’ vessel to Hong Kong is necessary to load onto the main ship, creating additional charges. In the case where countries are land locked, such as India, containers may have a considerable journey before reaching the boat and so this will increase sea freight rates.

Why are sea freight rates from China so unstable?

Whilst part container load (LCL) shipments are not subject to fluctuations, sea freight rates can vary for full container load (FCL) shipments.

This is because shipping lines artificially increase the rates using large general rate increases (GRIs) in order to stop falling sea freight rates. Unfortunately, the amount of shipped containers is insufficient to maintain the cost in its inflated state, and thus shipping lines must then reduce their prices again in order to attract business. That is, until the rates become too low again and the cycle continues.

Sea & Air Freight Costs

Sea freight is usually between four and six times cheaper than air freight. The weight will usually impact which solution is suitable for your goods, as a courier will be best for items up to 100kg in chargeable weight, whilst larger shipments will be more cost effective when using sea or air freight solutions. Similarly, heavy cargo will be cheaper to transport via sea freight than air freight.

Calculating the chargeable weight

Sea Freight

Multiply the box dimensions in metres together, before multiplying that number by one thousand. If the answer is larger than the weight, then this is the chargeable weight.

Air Freight

Multiply the box dimensions in metres together, and then divide the answer by six. If this is larger than the weight, then this is the chargeable weight.

Finding competitive quotes

If you are sent an extensive list by shipping companies with acronyms that make things unclear, be aware. We advise that you clarify that the costs include everything required to transport your goods and that there are no hidden costs, such as deferment. Deferment is where you are charged for the shipping company paying the UK Duty and VAT to HMRC on your behalf. 

UK Duties & Taxes

UK Duty and VAT is one of the biggest expenses when importing your goods from China or anywhere else in the world. Don’t forget about this, as they will cost more than freight at times!

UK Duty and VAT are taxes imposed by the government on imported goods; they are unavoidable unless the shipment is eligible for a duty relief scheme. Upon arriving in the UK and being cleared through customs, you will receive an invoice with your UK Duty and VAT import changes that ou must pay in order to release the goods.

Quick-fire answers

  • Typical container shipping rates depends on the agreed shipping terms, but could be from £1500 to over £3000 plus UK Duty and VAT.
  • Importing a 40 foot container from China to the UK will be subject to your delivery location and shipping terms, but if you have purchased your goods on FOB shipping terms then this should be around £2500-£3000 plus UK Duty and VAT.