How do I Start To Import From China? A Guide

The following article gives you an overview of the process & procedure of importing, from China in particular.

The best place to start is by understanding your requirements, such as the type and quantity of goods you want to ship, the collection address, the delivery address, the ready date, and the timeline for delivery. Consider factors such as size, weight, and anything specific that may be relevant to shipping such as the possibility of what you are buying being oversize or overweight.

Request a quote for freight

This will be based on the information provided in the previous paragraph. The quote that is accepted will also determine the mode of transport used. As a rough guide anything that is small and/or expensive, or possibly very urgent will go by air. Everything else would go by sea. The size and weight of what you are buying would determine whether a dedicated container is required or alternatively, for smaller shipments, LCL (less than Container load) also known as groupage or part loads can be used.

Do not forget in-transit insurance.

It is recommended you either arrange your own policy or use your UK-based freight company’s policy, paying the premium as appropriate. It is never the case that anything travelling internationally is insured as standard.

Don’t be tempted to allow your supplier to arrange insurance, unless you are comfortable progressing any claim that may arise with a Chinese insurer, at their China office. A handy insurance guide can be found here.

Obtain shipping documents

This will normally include an invoice, packing list, a bill of lading or sea waybill or an airwaybill, plus any other specific documents that may be required which would depend on the commodity you are purchasing. The different parties involved will arrange these documents, for example, the supplier will normally arrange the invoice & packing list and the freight company will prepare a bill of lading/sea waybill/airwaybill, as appropriate.

Transport to the nearest export sea port ( or airport) will need to be arranged. This is usually handled by the freight company you contract.

Export customs clearance.

The presentation of the customs entry in China is normally included in the freight price. Note just about anything that leaves China needs an export licence. These are issued to genuine exporting companies by the Chinese government. Therefore your supplier should have this in hand.

Booking the shipment on a ship ( or aeroplane) is normally done by the freight company you are using so you would not be involved in this.

Ensure the shipment sails as planned. Once a shipment has loaded on a ship and the ship has set sail bill of lading is used. A bill of lading with a shipment date certifies your goods have set sail on the ship as shown on the bill of lading. For airfreight, an airway bill is issued.

Once on the ship progress can be monitored by either online tracking or automated email status reports, which are normally generated by the freight company you use.

import customs clearance

Around a week – 2 weeks prior to arrival the import customs clearance into the UK needs to be considered. As with the export customs clearance, this is normally part of the ‘package’ as offered by the freight company. Key information will be needed such as the customs classification, known as the commodity code or HS code, it is always the importers’ responsibility that the right one is chosen, this will amongst other things determine the amount of duty & tax.

Duty & Tax

Duty & tax will need to be paid. For imports into the UK it is normally (but not always) the case the freight company pays customs duty & tax (VAT), if applicable on behalf of the importer. Duty & VAT become payable at the point of import and it is fairly difficult to pay customs (HMRC in the UK) directly as an importer. This is why most importers request the freight company pay duty & VAT. Be aware though that a freight company will want to place back in funds for what they have paid out and will be looking to receive payment duty & VAT immediately.

Delivery to your nominated delivery address will then be arranged. This too is normally included in the quoted price. Note that as most imports by sea especially are business/business the default delivery is; ‘in business hours untimed’. ‘Tail lift’ and timed deliveries invariably attract surcharges and can normally be arranged.

This all seems very daunting and in many ways it is. However, help is at hand and a good quality international freight company such as K&L Freight will guide you through the various steps and in fact do much of the work needed for you, if you wish. It’s what we do for a living so it makes sense to make use of our knowledge and experience and we will ensure all goes according to plan.

Please contact K&L Freight at or give us a call on 01606 272880