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China is one of the world’s biggest economies and produces vast amounts of goods for the global market. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and China stood at £94.5 billion during 2021.

It’s never been easier to do business with China and vast quantities of goods are imported from China to the UK every day. If you’re a business looking to import goods from China into the UK what do you need to know?

How long does it take to ship goods from China to the UK?

Depending on where in China the goods are travelling from, shipping between the two countries can take up to six weeks. It’s important to remember, however, that most of this time is spent waiting at the port for the package.

Much will of course depend on the shipping method that you choose, with sea freight taking considerably longer than air freight. In some extreme cases, you may be able to secure extremely rapid one-day shipping via air for high-value goods. In most cases, it will take longer.

With every shipping option, there are a range of factors to consider.

What are the shipping options between China and the UK?

There are a number of different options available when it comes to shipping goods between China and the UK. The option you choose will depend on your budget, the weight and value of the goods and how urgently you need your delivery to arrive.

Air Freight

Air Freight is often the best option for goods that are needed quickly or need particularly careful handling. It is often the most economical with high value, low weight loads between 300 and 500 kilograms.

Air Freight shipping between China and the UK can take anywhere from 5-15 days. While air freight offers quick delivery it is not always a realistic option, particularly for goods with a heavier weight and lower overall value.

Air freight clearly has a speed advantage over sea shipping, but it also has some other logistical advantages that are worth bearing in mind. It is often a better option for sending sensitive or valuable cargo as the goods are handled less, reducing the chance of damage. The range of destinations from which it can be shipped is greater, with the goods flying from airport to airport.

Sea Freight

Most goods that are imported from China to the UK will travel by sea freight. As a means of shipping goods, it is usually more economical than air freight for larger shipments of a greater weight but of a lower monetary value per unit. For instance, a shipment of relatively high-value watches or jewellery that had a lower overall weight may be better shipped via air freight than sea freight.

When it comes to sea freight there are two main options:


LCL stands for ‘Less Than Container Load’ and it’s a shipping method where multiple shipments are consolidated into a single shared container. This means that any business that wants to import smaller quantities of stock only has to pay for the volume of space that they use within a container, rather than having to cover the costs of the entire container. This is often the most economical way to ship smaller volumes of goods and allows companies to try out a product line without having to incur large costs.

Despite significant cost advantages, LCL does require goods to be handled more during the shipping process increasing the risk of damage. Also, the cost per cubic metre is actually higher than they are when you opt for hiring out a full container load (FCL), with cost advantages only being apparent on smaller quantities.

Because of the extra handling involved, LCL means goods spend longer in port prior to shipping, lengthening the shipping process overall.


FCL or full container load means that you pay for shipping your goods on their own in a single container. There’s a flat rate for the container, and you have access to all of the space within it. If you’re looking at shipping more than 20 cubic metres then FCL will usually work out as the best option. Your supplier will be the only other person to touch your goods, other than customs, reducing the risk of damage. It will often be speedier than LCL shipping

How do you start the process?

Shipping goods from China, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, can seem complicated. While there are a range of logistical and administrative aspects that you need to consider, the process can be straightforward if you take a methodical approach.

If you have a supplier that you intend to buy goods from and want to move toward shipping them to the UK, then it may be appropriate to talk to a freight forwarder. These are experienced logistical companies that reduce the potential for error while simplifying the process for the importer. Crucially, they have extensive contacts within the industry and can negotiate a competitive shipping price.

How SSO Logistics can help

SSO Logistics is one of the UK’s leading freight forwarding companies. We work extensively with companies importing goods from China, helping them complete the process as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

If you’re exploring importing from China or are looking for a freight forwarding company to help you achieve your business goals, then we’d love to hear from you.

Contact us today to find out more.

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