There are many reasons you may want to ship internationally – you may want to send gifts to people in other countries, import start-up stock for your business, sell your goods worldwide or any other number of reasons! Regardless of why you’re looking into importing or exporting, here are your options for shipping !

International Shipping

If you want to ship a consignment internationally, there are a few options available to you.  Planes, trains, boats and automobiles are all used to ship goods between countries but different methods of postage suit different situations.

How Do I Ship Internationally? (Methods Of Transportation)

There are many ways to get your goods shipped worldwide.  Shipping via road or rail is often the best option for shipping to neighboring countries but what about if you need to import or export from further afield?

  • Courier services –  In all likelihood, these are the services you will be most familiar with. Companies like FedEx and UPS are couriers that deliver from door to door.
    If you’re shipping a small quantity, you’re likely to use a courier service. (Personal items and gifts are examples of situations where courier services may be preferable.)
  • Air freight – Traditional air freight is a way to transport goods worldwide quickly by loading it on a plane and flying it to another country.
  • Sea freight – Sea freight is often the cheapest method of global shipping – but it takes the longest amount of time.  Sea freight is what we specialize in – although we can help with air freight too!

Which Method Should I Use?

There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing the best method to ship your goods. We’d say these are mainly:

  • Price
  • Size of goods
  • How fast you need your goods
  • Service

Price – A lot of people are just looking for the cheapest way to send packages overseas. If you can be flexible with things like delivery times, you can save big money as air freight/couriers can cost 4 times more than sea freight for a fairly large shipment.

Size of goods – For all types of overseas shipping, the size is largely what determines the price. Parcels over a certain size will make courier services and air freight far more expensive, whilst packages under a certain size (around 100kg and 0.5 cubic metres) will make paying for sea freight pointless.

How fast you need your goods – A large difference between these international shipping services is the shipping times. Sea freight can take 6-7 weeks from China, whereas courier services can be as fast as 3 days!

How easy you want the process to be – There are differences in services between these different methods. Courier services are easy to use and are delivered straight to your front door.  Sea freight and Air freight can be simple although you’ll need to be sure that the company controlling your shipment (such as Shippo) know exactly what is required to get YOUR shipment cleared through customs and delivered quickly and efficiently.

Air Freight vs. Sea Freight vs. Courier Services

Here’s our simple guide to what’s (probably) the best option for you depending on your requirements:

  • Couriers are cheaper when: shipments are less than 100 kg & 0,5 cbm
  • Air freight’s cheaper than courier when: shipments are larger than 100 kg on FOB terms & 200 kg on EXW terms
  • Sea freight is the cheapest option: past about 100 kg or when buying mulptiple cartons on FOB terms

As a general rule of thumb, anything under 100kg (personal items, for example) is usually worth using a courier service for. If you’re importing or exporting a larger amount of goods that are small and high value – such as tablets or luxury watches – it’s usually more worthwhile to use an air freight service. Sea freight offers large savings, but is sea freight is generally more worthwhile for larger shipments. Although in this example sea freight still came out cheaper, the cost of the sea freight would have remained the same until 25 cartons – sea freight is generally more cost-effective for larger shipments.

International Shipping Companies & Courier Services

Although we’ve mentioned international courier services, we haven’t actually in depth discussed their shipping services or shipping costs.

If you’re looking for cheap international courier companies, check these out:

  • FedEx
  • UPS

What Is An Overseas Courier Service?

Although we’ve already provided you with a brief overview of what a courier is, allow us to go a little more in depth. Essentially, a courier is the best way to emulate the normal shipping experience while going international – using a courier is an international delivery service. The courier takes charge of the process from door to door. Like receiving normal mail, couriers allow for your goods to be delivered straight to your door, or to the door of the person you’re sending the parcel to.

This method is easier than other modes of international cargo transportation. The courier will collect and deliver your cargo and contact the appropriate person to pay any duties or taxes due.

Pros and Cons Of Couriers

To help you decide whether an international courier parcel service, we’ve listed the pros and cons of using one.


  • Easy to use.
  • Very Fast. Couriers are the quickest way to ship parcels worldwide.
  • One-time costs and few surprise fees. The issue with moving goods via freight is that, on top of your original quote, you can end up with an invoice full of unexpected fees that can actually be more than the cost of the freight itself. Courier services generally don’t have hidden costs – so what they tell you you’re going to pay is what you’ll actually paying.


  • Compared to freight, couriers are far more expensive. This isn’t an issue if you’re shipping a box or two of personal effects, but if you’re shipping a large amount of goods then couriers are only the cheapest option for shipments under 100kg.

If you are shipping a box or two of personal items, it is almost always better to move international packages using a courier service. The savings made with shipping via freight do not apply unless you’re buying in bulk and the service offered with freight is tailored for business-to-business as opposed to business-to-customer.

Air Freight

We’ve mentioned it a lot – now it’s time to explain it!

What is International Air Freight?

Air freight is a fast way to move bulk goods. Your products are loaded up onto a plane and flown to you or to your customer. Naturally, this is a much faster process than shipping via sea freight; however, there is much less space on an plane and weight is a factor. Due to this, the cost of air freight is calculated differently (moving a kilogram by air is substantially more than by sea) – which is why sea freight can often be a cheaper option.

How Are Air Freight Charges Calculated?

Air freight rates are based on either the actual gross weight or volumetric weight of a shipment, whichever is the greater.

This is due to the fact that the size of some items will take up a larger amount of space on an aircraft in relation to the actual weight of the item. For example, a 10kg box of pillows would be much larger and therefore take up more space than a 10kg box of nails.

Weight is 6 times more dominant in air freight than in sea. Multiply the dimensions of the boxes (in metres) together then divide that figure by 6.  If this is larger than the actual weight then that’s the chargeable weight.

(Example: if you have 8 boxes, each 0.5m x 0.5m x 0.5m then the volumetric weight is 166kg – (8 x 0.5×0.5×0.5) / 6.  If the boxes total 100kg then the chargeable weight is 166kg, if they total 200kg then the chargeable weight is 200kg)

Should I Use Air Or Sea Freight?

When deciding between air and sea freight, the three main things to take into account are:

  • Price
  • Size
  • Delivery Time

Sea freight is generally between 4-6 times cheaper than air freight. If you are concerned with keeping your costs down, sea freight will appeal to you. When establishing the costs for a sea freight shipment, 1 cbm is equal to 1000kg, for air freight 6 cbm is equal to 1000kg. If you increase the weight of your cargo in sea freight, the likelihood of the price going up is low.  If you are importing heavier cargo via air freight the cost difference between the two options will widen to much more than usual 4-6 fold.

When importing goods from China to the UK, time is often a factor. If you’ve got urgent stock requirements and you need your goods immediately air freight is the best option for you. On the other hand, if you order stock in advance and can wait up to 6 weeks then sea freight may be your choice. As shown in our Infographic, air freight can be as quick as 4 days from anywhere in China to anywhere in the UK, while Sea freight can be a much longer process.

Another consideration of yours could be ethical; if your company worries about their carbon footprint, sea freight is definitely the way forwards. In terms of CO2 emissions, sea freight emits 15g of CO2 per tonne of cargo moved a km, whilst air freight emits a massive 545g per tonne moved a km!

Sea Freight

Last but not least, we make it to our favourite of the freight forwarding services – sea freight!

If you can meet the minimums and you’re looking for cheap international shipping, sea freight is exactly what you want.

What is Sea Freight?

Sea freight is the movement of bulk goods via sea. Your goods are packed onto cargo ships and sailed across the world to their destinations. For this, you’ll definitely want a freight forwarder as we’re the ones that will make sure your goods are safe, keep you updated on their whereabouts, liaison with your suppliers, sort our your deliveries-

The point is: there are many steps in the process that we take care of for you.

As you can guess, sailing around the world is not a quick thing – in fact, sea freight is the slowest of the processes, normally taking over a month. However, the large savings can make it very much worth the wait.

How Are International Shipping Rates Calculated?

Sea freight costs are calculated by the volume or the weight (whichever is greatest). It’s normally the volume, which is why we need to know the dimensions of your shipment to get you a price. The industry uses the technical term “Weight or Measure” – often shortened to “w/m”.  This means that 1.0 cubic metre (cbm) is equivalent to 1000kg.  It’s rare that the weight is so heavy that it indicates the cost, but if your shipment was 2.0cbm and 2500kg then the weight is greater than the volume.  If it were 2.5cbm and 2000kg, then the volume is greater so the freight rate would depend on that.



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