Having had my first sea freight shipment enter the USA recently, I thought I would document all the little hurdles that I had to face so that A) I don’t forget, and B) anyone else who reads this doesn’t have to start at square one when it comes to learning about the process.
Some Weird Terms You May Need To Know
Before I get started though – It turns out that there is a heap of “lingo” that is used when it comes to shipping freight from one country to another, so here I will list off some of the terms you may come across:
- Bill of lading (BOL)
- Blind BOL
- Port of Lading and Unlading
- Importer of Record
- Importer Security Filing (ISF)
- Shipping Mark
Sea or Air Freight
Your first decision is whether or not you are going to use Sea or Air freight. I’ve never used air freight, but I know people who have.
- Very fast
- Can get through customs is value is less than $2,500 (This is unconfirmed)
- Very expensive per kilogram
- Very slow
- Need to file a lot more paper work
- Very cheap (compared to air) per kilogram and cubic meter
Shipping Directly to Amazon, or a FBA prep company?
You can ship direct to Amazon, but so far i’ve decided against this, simply because I want to ensure that the product I am putting into the Amazon warehouse isn’t damaged to begin with, and considering the amount of damage that can occur during shipping, I think it’s an expense worth paying.
The next issues I have to overcome (because I am based in Australia) is that I don’t want to have to import my stock from China into Australia to check, and then have to ship it to the USA to enter it into the Amazon warehouse – it just doesn’t make sense, plus my goods could be damaged between Australia and the USA.
What I am doing at the moment is using a US based inspection service (fbainspeciton.com) to do all my inspections. They put Amazon labels on my products and confirm the stock isn’t damaged before sending it in on my behalf.
The only other step I think is worthwhile is to have a Chinese inspection company confirm your goods are correct prior to shipping. This allows you to fix any issues with your supplier before things even hit the docks.
Finding a Sea Freight Shipping Company
Finding a sea freight company that I wanted to work with was actually one of the most difficult parts of this entire journey. Many of the shipping companies don’t want to know you unless you are shipping hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product (which i’m not).
Eventually I found a few:
- Flex Port
- FBA Forward
- Forrest Shipping
- Western Overseas (don’t offer insurance to FBA Inspection)
I started off with western overseas, however, they refused to insure my cargo if I was going to have it sent to an inspection company. This was an immediate red flag for me, so never progressed further. The companies I have personally used are Shapiro, and I am working with FBA Forward right now.
I think it’s worth contacting a few of these suppliers and getting quotes, as each one will offer different pricing and when you are talking about thousands of dollars to send things by boat – every saving can add up.
Information to Ask Your Supplier
If you decide to send your product via sea freight, here are some of the things you will need to ask your supplier before getting a quote from one of the companies above:
- Expected completion date
- Port of lading
- Number of Cartons
- Carton Dimensions and total volume
- Units per carton
- Weight per carton
- Shipping Mark (I normally put my name, any unique ID the inspection company asks for, the carton number E.G. 1 of 10, 2 of 10, a description of the product, the quantity per box, the net and gross weight, the measurements and lastly “Made in China”).
- Phone and email for who will arrange the freight
- Will you issue the Bill of Lading?
Information to Send to the freight forwarder
All of the above, but you will also need to include:
- If you want a blind BOL – this hides the destination of your cargo
- The port of unlading (where you need to goods to be unloaded)
- Companies like FBA forward require that you have an EIN and a USA postal address as they will not act as the importer of record. If you use a full service company like Shapiro then you do not need to worry about this (expect to pay more).
- Confirm they are issuing the ISF – there is a big fine if this isn’t issued before the freight leaves port in China.
- The materials that your product is made of – the shipping agent will normally tell you if you need to provide any additional documentation to gain entry to the US.
The only big ticket item I had to worry about when it came to US customs was if I was going to pay the bond fee per shipment, or pay the 600 odd dollars for a continuous bond, which lets me import as much as I like per year without having to pay per shipment.
Either way, your freight forwarder can help you with this.
Hope this helps someone 🙂