How to Ship From China to UK | [Full Walkthrough]


China is one of the UK’s biggest trading partners. Everything from textiles to furniture to electrical equipment is imported to the UK, and the route between China’s ports and the UK’s shores is one of the busiest in the world.

Whether you’re considering becoming part of this growing relationship or you just want to improve your existing shipping arrangement, this is the guide you need. We cover everything you need to know about shipping from China to the UK from trade routes to customs information.


The Rules Around Imports

The first thing you need to do when importing from China to the UK is to find out whether you need a license for your goods or not. Some products, like industrial goods, can be imported freely. Others, like agricultural products and pharmaceuticals, will be regulated and require a license.

Products are regulated in three ways:

  • subject to inspection
  • under a quota
  • or banned completely.

If you’re importing products that require an inspection, you’ll need to have all the certifications in place before you start the importing process. You’ll only be able to ship a certain amount of products under a quota. And banned products can’t be shipped at all.

Keeping records of your imports is essential, but it’s even more important when working with goods that carry a quota. When importing them a second, third, or fourteenth time, you’ll need to know exactly how many products you’ve brought into the country before.

Even if the products you’re importing don’t require a license, obtaining one will still make the process faster and easier. Where licenses and inspections are involved, the process can be incredibly time-consuming and complicated for individual retailers. That’s why many brands trust a sourcing agent or freight forwarder to handle the process.


Which Transportation Methods Are Available?

Importers shipping from China to the UK can choose between air freight, sea freight or a combination of the two. The right choice for you will depend on what you’re shipping, when you need it and your budget.

Sea freight tends to be the preferred option for large-volume goods. It’s a cheaper alternative to air freight, but it does take longer. When shipping by sea, you’ll need to decide between a full container load (FCL) or a less container load (LCL). FCL means you use the entire container’s capacity. With LCL, you share the container with other importers. Sailings are scheduled weekly.

Air freight is the perfect solution if you’re shipping a small quantity of goods that can be transported by air and you need them fast. It’s also more secure than sea freight and is the chosen method of shipping jewellery and other valuable cargo as a result. That convenience, speed and security come at a financial cost, however. Not everyone can budget for air freight. Flights from China to the UK are scheduled daily and run by every major shipping companies.


Customs Clearance in China and the UK

Extensive documentation is required when shipping from China to the UK due to the lack of a common Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. You’ll need to clear customs in China, but the bulk of time, effort and paperwork will be spent clearing customs once your products arrive in the UK.

It’s vital to have the correct information in place ahead of shipping. This includes the following documents:

  • Commercial invoice – a description of your products, verification of the sale and the consignment price. Customs valuations are based on the value of your commercial invoice.
  • EORI number – all goods coming in and out of the UK are tracked with an EORI number. It’s required alongside your commercial invoice.
  • Bills of lading – issued by the shipping line in acknowledgement of your cargo.

Given comprehensive documentation is vital when importing in the UK, many retailers choose to partner with a freight forwarder who can take responsibility for the process. As one of the country’s leading freight forwarders, we have an exceptional relationship with customs officials in UK ports and airports. As a result, we can provide an improved customs clearance experience and get your goods moving sooner.

Paying Duties and Tax

Most goods imported into the UK from China will be subject to customs charges. The amount of duty owed will depend on the goods you import.

For example, there is a 2% import duty on green tea but a 0% import duty on black tea.

You can find out duty charges by visiting or by checking with your freight forwarding partner. Using the government’s search feature will also help you identify your good’s HS Code (an international standard code for calculating import duty tax) if you don’t already know it.

VAT will be charged on the entire cost of buying goods and shipping them to the UK. That’s the amount you pay for goods, the shipping cost and any UK Duty.

All duties must be paid before items can be released into the UK unless goods are stored in a bonded warehouse.


Shipping From China With DG

Given the distance from China to the UK (about 4,830 miles) and the complex nature of rules, licenses and duties that govern trade between the two countries, it pays to work with a trustworthy and reliable freight forwarder.

We’re one of the country’s leading international freight forwarders and, as such, have an incredibly well-established network and range of solutions covering all trade routes between China and the UK. Whether you want to ship by air, sea or a combination of the two, we offer fast, flexible and competitive times and rates.

We also handle all international customs facilities to make the import process as streamlined and stress-free as possible. For a personalised import quote from China to the UK, speak to one of our consultants today.