Shipping from China to US: Rates, Routes, Documents, Major Ports and everything you need to know

Jan 05, 2021 Lilia Khovrak Lilia Khovrak

There has been a tremendous impact on the shipping and freight forwarding industry due to the pandemic, and shipping from China to the US has felt it. Travel restrictions and constantly evolving rules and regulations have undoubtedly created numerous challenges and delays for shippers and carriers alike. 

But even in normal circumstances, there are factors you’ll need to consider when shipping goods across international waters. The two basic factors that impact shippers around the world are cost and transit time. To manage both, visit, and get access to find ship schedules, plan your shipment routes, and request freight quotes. 

China-US trade in 2020

Before we jump into the mechanics of shipping from China to the US, let’s look at what happened between these trade partners in 2020.


  • China and the United States sign the historic ‘Phase One’ trade deal agreement 



  • The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) extends China tariff exclusions for specific Chinese imports until the end of 2020 


Is China still shipping to the US?

While production levels in China are almost back to Q1 2020 levels, travel restrictions to and from the US have led to a significant reduction in air freight capacity. This has caused shipment delays and a spike in shipping rates at various times throughout this year.  

Ocean and air freight

Although 2020 impacted freight rates and transport times, shippers still make their choice between ocean and air freight is still based on a few key factors. These are: 

  • Time
  • Cost 
  • Cargo size 
  • Cargo value

Your decision on whether to transport your cargo by air or sea is largely a question of the type of goods being moved. We’ll look at that next. 

Shipping by sea

With rare exceptions, ocean freight travels by container, however, there are many to choose from. First, you need to decide on whether you’ll be shipping a full-container load (FCL) or less-than-container load (LCL). In the event that your shipment isn’t large enough to fill a full container, it will be packed into a container with several other shipments. 

Keep in mind that LCL shipments can take longer to be delivered and may require additional paperwork. While FCL shipments are faster (and sometimes safer), booking an entire container is inherently more costly. You can contact our team at SeaRates for assistance with LCL and FCL shipments. 


Major ocean freight routes 

from China to the US within 25 days: 

Port of Origin 
Destination Port 
Number of Days
Long Beach
Los Angeles  
San Francisco

Shipping by air 

The type of cargo typically shipped by air includes:

  • Jewellery
  • Electronics
  • Medicines
  • Small machinery

The typical air freight rate for shipping from China to the US is $3-5 per kg as of December 2020, but will vary based on the cargo type and availability of space. 

Major air freight routes 

from China to the US within 5 days: 

Airport of Origin 
Destination Airport 
Number of Days
New York 

Shipping seasons

from China to the US

When shipping from China to the US, air and ocean freight costs will be heavily linked to the seasonal calendar. We recommend avoiding the peak season and major holidays if you’re looking for the cheapest shipping from China to US. You can also receive a reduced cost depending on the specific day you select and the shipping line. SeaRates’ Online Freight Marketplace can help you find the best sea, land or air freight rates, no matter when you plan to ship your cargo. 

This year has been quite unusual, with restrictions due to pandemic limiting cargo capacity and pushing rates to new highs.  This has caused frequent fluctuations in the market, although rates during H2 2020 have mostly been going up. Additionally, volatile China-US trade relations have impacted the shipping industry and freight rates between the two countries. 


Source: Shanghai (Export) Containerized Freight Index (SCFI

Shipping times 

from China to the US

The time it takes to ship ocean freight from China to the US depends on whether your shipment is being transported across the Atlantic or Pacific ocean. The journey from the Port of Shanghai to the Port of Long Beach in California takes 13-21 days. To Port Newark on the US East Coast, the journey can take 26-36 days. That means you need to consider origin ports and final destination ports when calculating cargo duration times. 

Air freight, of course, is indifferent to the seas. Flights between China and the US are more a function of distance, transit stops, and other, relatively minor, variables. 



Top Shipping Ports in China: 

1. Port of Shanghai: One of the largest container ports in the world, having managed over 42 million TEU in 2019. 

2. Port of Hong Kong: The fifth busiest container port globally based on TEU, operating five major terminals. 

3. Port of Tianjin: Built along the shore of the Bohai Bay, this is the largest port in Northern China. It is connected to over 300 ports worldwide. 

Top Shipping Ports in the US: 

1. Port of Los Angeles: The top container port in the US operates passenger and cargo terminals. The port also deals with dry and liquid bulk and provides warehouse facilities. 

2. Port of Long Beach: The country’s second busiest container port is a leading gateway for US-Asian trade. It consists of six container terminals and an intermodal rail service. 

3. Port of Houston: Deals with nearly two-thirds of all the containerized cargo passing through the Gulf of Mexico. It also offers shippers direct rail and road connections. 

Essential documents

SeaRates managers can help you with the entire documentation process for your shipment. When shipping from China to the US, there are a number of documents that will require your attention, including: 

  • Commercial Invoice: A legal document between the buyer and the seller. It serves as proof of sale and should be submitted for customs clearance.
  • Packing List: Contains details about the cargo dimensions, total volume, and contact information of the buyer and seller. 
  • Certificate of Origin: Confirms where a particular product was manufactured. The Certificate also includes other details relevant to the item(s), including the name of the destination port. It can be submitted as a paper document or digitally.
  • Bill of Lading or Air Waybill: Serves as a receipt for the shipment. It also outlines the terms of agreement under which the cargo is transported. The BOL must be signed by the shipper, carrier, and recipient
  • Letter of Credit: Letter from a reputable bank guaranteeing the buyer’s financial obligations to the seller.

Freight insurance

If you’re shipping by ocean or air, freight insurance is absolutely essential. Working with a freight forwarder will help you to avoid any major issues but it is still important to take care of insurance. Insuring your cargo can help protect you against financial loss, which will always be far greater than any premium you pay. 

SeaRates can help you find the right insurance company for you and your cargo. You can talk to one of our managers about the best available options today. 

Book with

from China to the US 

So there you have it, the basics of shipping from China to the US. While the present situation remains unpredictable, creating a buffer for your budget and transit times will help avoid stress and unexpected costs. 

Of course, can provide all the support you need to transport your cargo, and our account managers can answer any questions you may have along the way. 

Lilia Khovrak is a professional content manager from Odessa, Ukraine. Loves life by the sea. Dreams to see Paris and eat a croissant on the thresholds of Notre Dame de Paris. Hates to read meaningless articles.

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