In 2020, the total value of goods that India imported from China was close to $67 billion (USD). That sum placed India as China’s ninth-largest export partner. While Himalayan border tensions between the two countries have impacted bilateral trade, the Indian economy still depends heavily on Chinese imports.
Perhaps your business brings electronics or other items onto the Indian subcontinent from China, and could benefit from more efficient cross-border logistics. On the other hand, maybe you are a first-time importer looking for guidance relating to China-India shipping.
Whatever your potential shipping scenario, if it’s likely to involve ocean and air shipping from China to India, you’ll find plenty of information on this page. Our hints and tips will help you pick the most appropriate method and mode of shipping, and assess transit times and prices for your freight.
What Are Your Options for Shipping Freight From China to India?
While the two countries share a land border, their vastness dictates that most businesses use ocean or air freight to import from China to India. Of these two methods, the use of ocean carriers typically proves the most economical. Air freight is often reserved for urgent shipments or shippers of high-value, delicate, or perishable goods.
Which would be your shipping mode of choice? Besides cost considerations, you’ll find more details in the following sections to help you decide between sending a container from China to India by sea and using faster air-freight shipping.
Ocean Freight From China to India
Less than Container Load (LCL): If you prefer to use ocean freight to export from China to India, you don’t necessarily have to rent a container. Less-than-container-load (LCL) shipping is a lower-cost option if you typically export smaller consignments of goods.
Instead of renting a container, you can work with an LCL freight forwarder to have your merchandise consolidated with other shippers’ goods. They can then be sent by carrier in a shared shipping container from India to China.
Full Container Load (FCL): If you are importing from China to India on a larger scale and can fill a shipping container, FCL shipping will require less time than FCL. It will also cost less (when calculated on a cost-per-unit basis). Of course, the cost of container rental is considerable. Nevertheless, the shipping cost for the freight inside will be far less than the equivalent LCL fees for the same volume.
Air Freight from China to India
Shipping a container from China to India by sea will take several weeks. Therefore, if you need to move your goods quickly, you’ll need to foot the higher bill for a carrier to fly them between the two countries. That will cut the transit time down to a few days at most.
How Much Does it Cost to Ship Freight From China to India?
The most effective way to assess the cost of shipping your freight from China to India is to get a quote from an online freight forwarder. That’s one of the benefits of the technical age we now live in—you can get a quote for air or ocean freight shipping in moments, with no obligation and at no cost.
On a page such as this, it’s possible only to provide some idea of the factors making up the total cost of shipping an import from China to India. For example, any forwarder will need to assess the following pricing elements before providing you with a quote:
- The current demand for ocean and air freight capacity
- Fuel costs
- Availability of capacity
- The type of goods you wish to ship
- The amount of freight you are shipping
- Handling charges at the ports (or airports) of loading and discharge
Some General Pricing Guidelines
Many of the factors described above are significantly variable. Consequently, the price you are quoted today for a specific shipment of air or ocean freight might be considerably higher or lower in a week or two. For some general cost considerations, though, the following guidelines are always valid:
- For shipments weighing around 100 kilograms, you should find it’s worth comparing quotes for both air and ocean shipping, as there may not be much difference. You might find it beneficial to take advantage of air freight’s speed at a price not much higher than that of ocean freight.
- The price gap increases at weights greater than 100 kilograms, making ocean freight preferable unless fast shipping is essential.
- If you choose ocean freight, FCL shipping offers the lowest pro-rata costs, as long as you have a sizable quantity of cargo to export from China to India.
- LCL shipping is probably best for your business if you ship goods in small quantities and don’t need to isolate your merchandise from other shippers’ consignments. LCL rates are based on volume and weight calculations, and there is no requirement to pay a rental fee for a shipping container.
If you plan to ship a consignment with a total weight of 35 kilograms or less, you should not consider treating it as freight. Most freight forwarders, including Shipa Freight, don’t handle shipments that small. In any case, you’ll probably find it less costly to ship with an international courier company.
How Long Does it Take to Ship Freight From China to India?
Export shipments from China to India can take between 15 and 30 days if you use an ocean freight carrier. Transit time is reduced to just a few days for merchandise shipped as air cargo.
How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Sea From China to India?
The transit times for ocean freight shipments from China to India vary depending on the loading and discharge ports you choose. As both countries comprise vast landmasses, differences between the longest and shortest routes are significant.
For an idea of some typical shipping durations for LCL and FCL freight, take a look at the following examples, taken from our database:
- Guangzhou to Nhava Sheva – 23 days LCL, 26 days FCL
- Dalian to Nhava Sheva – 31 days LCL
- Fuzhou to Nhava Sheva – 24 days LCL, 26 days FCL
- Ningbo to Chennai – 17 days LCL, 20 days FCL
- Ningbo to Nhava Sheva – 20 days LCL, 22 days FCL
- Shanghai to Chennai – 19 days LCL, 20 days FCL
- Shanghai to Nhava Sheva – 21 days LCL, 22 days FCL
- Qingdao to Chennai – 24 days LCL, 25 days FCL
- Qingdao to Nhava Sheva – 24 days LCL and FCL
- Tianjin to Nhava Sheva – 23 days LCL, 30 days FCL
- Tianjin to Chennai – 29 days LCL, 23 days FCL
- Xiamen to Chennai – 26 days LCL, 15 days FCL
- Xiamen to Nhava Sheva – 21 days LCL
- Huangpu to Chennai – 23 days FCL
- Huangpu to Kolkata – 18 days FCL
- Huangpu to Nhava Sheva – 19 days FCL
- Ningbo to Kolkata – 23 days FCL
- Ningbo to Mundra – 25 days FCL
- Ningbo to Tuticorin – 22 days FCL
- Ningbo to Cochin – 20 days FCL
- Nansha to Chennai – 25 days FCL
- Nansha to Cochin – 18 days
- Nansha to Kolkata – 20 days
- Nansha to Nhava Sheva – 22 days FCL
- Qingdao to Mundra – 26 days FCL
- Shanghai to Cochin, Visakhapatnam, Tuticorin, Mundra, or Kolkata – 26 days FCL
- Shekou to Chennai – 23 days FCL
- Shekou to Kolkata – 14 days
- Shekou to Nhava Sheva – 13 days FCL
- Qingdao to Mundra or Kolkata – 27 days FCL
- Tianjin to Kolkata – 30 days FCL
- Xiamen to Cochin – 21 days FCL
- Xiamen to Kolkata – 22 days FCL
- Zhongshan to Tuticorin – 28 days FCL
- Zhuhai to Nhava Sheva – 21 days FCL
How Long Does It Take to Ship Cargo by Air From China to India?
Air-freight transit times from China to India range from three to eight days, as illustrated by the following extracts from our air-shipping route database:
- Guangzhou to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, or Ahmedabad – 6 days
- Guangzhou to Hyderabad – 5 days
- Guangzhou or Shenzhen to Mumbai – 7 days
- Zhengzhou or Shenzhen to Ahmedabad – 8 days
- Zhengzhou to Chennai – 9 days
- Beijing to Chennai – 5 days
- Beijing to Delhi, Hyderabad, or Mumbai – 6 days
- Shanghai to Ahmedabad – 7 days
- Shanghai to Bangalore – 4 days
- Shanghai to Chennai – 5 days
- Shanghai to Mumbai or Delhi – 6 days
- Shanghai to Hyderabad – 4 days
- Shenzhen to Bangalore – 8 days
- Shenzhen to Kolkata or Chennai – 7 days
- Shenzhen, Xiamen, or Qingdao to Delhi – 6 days
- Qingdao to Chennai or Coimbatore – 8 days
- Qingdao to Mumbai – 5 days
- Tianjin to Mumbai – 3 days
- Xiamen to Hyderabad or Mumbai – 8 days
Customs Clearance in China and India
As with all imports and exports, those taking place between China and India are subject to the customs rules in effect within the two countries. While customs processes can be confusing, they are unavoidable, which is why many shippers prefer to work with a reputable freight forwarder.
Forwarders know the applicable customs procedures inside-out. They typically have experts and agents on hand to help you meet the requirements for export and import customs clearance.
Engaging a freight forwarder will not eliminate your responsibilities relating to customs clearance. Although your forwarder’s experts will manage the processes and documentation for you, your business will at least need to provide the correct information required by carriers and customs authorities.
The documents for which you will need to provide information, and in some cases, to complete are mandatory for both export and import clearance and, most commonly, are as follows:
- Commercial Invoice
- Packing List
- Certificate of Origin
- Letter of Credit or other payment terms (depending on the contract between the parties involved)
- Bill of Lading for ocean freight or Airway Bill for air freight (Your freight forwarder should provide this)
Our Shipping Documents page will be worth a visit if you’d like to see examples of the documents listed above, and learn a little more about them. These may not be the only items of documentation required for your shipment. It’s wise to check with your forwarder or the relevant customs authorities to see if your goods must be accompanied by any other certificates, permits, or licenses.
Should You Choose Ocean Freight or Air Freight?
The most popular way to ship freight when importing from China to India is by sea. That’s primarily because ocean shipping is not exceptionally costly and presents few limitations to cargo type and quantity transported.
However, if you choose ocean freight for your Chinese exports to India, You’ll need to plan shipments in good time, due to the lengthy transit durations. You’ll also need to choose the most appropriate method of transportation from port to port. As you’ll probably want to send your goods in a shipping container from China to India, you have two options to consider. They are FCL and LCL.
Considerations for LCL Freight Shipping
If you ship small freight quantities, either frequently or occasionally, less-than-container-load (LCL) sea freight services will probably suit your business. When you use LCL shipping, you won’t have to pay for a container’s use and shipping. Your freight will be consolidated into a full-container-load along with other shippers’ cargo.
The need for consolidation before your freight is loaded onto a container ship and the requirement to deconsolidate after arrival at the port of unloading, means that LCL shipping times can be longer than FCL. That’s not always the case, though, so it’s worth looking at several route options to see if you can save some time by picking specific ports of loading and discharge. For example, by accepting longer overland transportation legs, it may be possible to reduce overall shipping time by cutting the maritime distances involved.
LCL is an ideal shipping mode if your freight consignment occupies no more than, say, half a dozen pallets. Rates are calculated based on consignment weight and volume. That’s why, unless you have enough freight to fill, or nearly fill a container, LCL will probably be your most affordable option.
Before you make a firm decision to use LCL shipping, consider the following questions. The answers will help you to be sure that it’s your best option:
- Is your merchandise suitable for stowing in a shared container?
- Are you comfortable with your consignment being handled several times during shipping?
- Can you accommodate possible changes in scheduling that may delay your shipment?
- Is the volume of your freight below 14 cubic meters? If it’s more than that, you might be better off using FCL shipping.
Considerations for FCL Freight Shipping
Full-container-load (FCL) shipping typically suits businesses that ship a significant freight volume from China to India. However, it is also ideal if your cargo is precious or you have other reasons for your goods to stay isolated in transit. That’s because, in FCL shipping, every consignment is sealed into a dedicated container.
Naturally, it will make sense to fill a container if you choose an FCL freight service, since that’s how you’ll get the most value for money. That said, even if you can’t fill it, you might find the FCL rate lower than LCL if you have more than six or seven pallets or over 14 cubic meters of freight to move.
It’s also important to note that you can choose from several container types and sizes. For example, if your consignment has a volume of up to 33 cubic meters, a 20-foot container will be just right. However, if the shipment is close to double that volume, you won’t necessarily need to book two containers. You can probably save money by using a 40-foot container, which has a capacity of around 66 cubic meters.
Other shipping container types can provide you with even more space or enable you to ship products that would not survive a voyage in a standard container. Some containers have built-in equipment to keep their contents refrigerated or frozen, or have extra ventilation for goods requiring a free airflow to remain in good condition.
In summary, then, reasons to ship freight using an FCL service include:
- Minimal handling of cargo during shipping
- Security (as full containers are fitted with numbered seals after loading)
- Shorter transit times than LCL (although not in every case)
- Larger volumes of freight (that would render LCL shipping too costly)
- Fewer processes in the end-to-end shipping flow (no need for freight consolidation/deconsolidation)
If your consignees in India can’t accommodate the lengthy transit times of ocean freight, air shipping will reduce the waiting time drastically, but comes at a cost. It’s the most expensive form of cargo transportation, often reserved for:
- Emergency shipments
- Small quantities of just three or four pallets or less
- High-value goods
- Products that must be delivered at the peak of freshness, such as flowers, fruit, or unfrozen meat and fish.
While expensive, air freight might also be worth considering in a few circumstances that differ from those outlined above. For example:
When the consignor or consignee of the shipment is located near to an international airport, especially if the location is deep inland and a long way from any seaports.
When your shipment needs the protection of the very tight security employed in the air transport industry.
During the peak seasons for ocean shipping, when sea-freight delays are more likely. Air freight can be especially useful as a hedge against delays. Ship a small consignment as air freight, while your main import/export shipment travels by sea.
Ocean Cargo Port Guide
Cargo Ports of Origin in China
- Situated in a strategic position on the Pearl River Delta.
- South China’s largest comprehensive ocean port.
- Ideal if your supply chain requires export shipping from the province of Guangdong.
- Links suppliers with importers in America, Europe, Asia, and on the Indian subcontinent.
- Recent expansion has increased the number of International container connections from this port to 119.
Owned By: Guangzhou Port Group Company Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >21.9 million TEUs.
- Situated 170 kilometers to the southeast of China’s capital, Beijing.
- The world’s ninth-largest container port.
- The largest container port in Northern China.
- Infrastructure includes six container terminals.
- Offers 159 berths, 102 of which are suitable for ships of over 9,000 tonnes.
- Since an upgrade to transform it into a smart port, Tianjin Port’s 31 ship-to-shore cranes are now operated remotely, each able to offload up to 32 shipping containers in an hour.
Owned By: Tianjin Port Group Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >16 million TEUs.
- Wuhan Port has a total of 244 berths.
- Located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Hanjiang Rivers.
- The port complex is made up of 15 areas, each of which handles a specific cargo type.
- Of all shipping containers moving into and out of Hubei Province, Wuhan Port processes 80 percent.
Owned By: Wuhan Port Group Company Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: > 500,000 TEUs.
- Of all China’s ice-free ports, this is the most northerly in the country.
- The busiest multipurpose port in Northeastern China.
- Located on Bohai Bay.
- The port’s throughput has increased since the nearby Liaoning Free Trade Zone was established.
- Popularly known as China’s “Gateway to The Pacific.”
- An ideal port of loading if the supplier of your imports is located in Northern China.
Owned By: Dalian Port Corporation Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >9.7 million TEUs.
- This port boasts one of the most efficient container terminals in the world.
- Known for its rapid vessel loading and discharge capabilities.
- A useful alternative if you want to avoid using the nearby, but much busier, Shanghai Port.
- Ranked number four among the world’s busiest ports.
- Plans are in place to strengthen the port’s container handling operations.
Owned By: Ningbo Zhoushan Port Co., Ltd.
Annual Container Volume: >26 million TEUs.
Other Ports in China
In addition to the five ports described above, it’s possible to bring exports into India from the following ports of origin in China:
Cargo Ports of Arrival in India
- India’s largest port.
- More than 50% of containerized freight into and out of India is handled here.
- Nhava Sheva was the first port in India to achieve a throughput of 5 million TEUs in a year.
- Originally commissioned as an overflow for Mumbai Port.
- Facilities include five container terminals.
- In 2020, the port was enhanced by the inauguration of an on-site special economic zone.
- An ideal port for landing imports bound for Nashik, Pune, Mumbai, or any other Maharashtra destination.
Owned By: Government of India.
Annual Container Volume: >5 million TEUs.
- Situated on the Gulf of Kachchh.
- Ranks as one of the world’s top 40 container ports.
- The largest privately owned port in India.
- Facilities include four container terminals.
- A convenient port for goods en route to the hinterland of Northwest India.
- More than 35 international container-shipping services operate from Mundra Port.
Owned By: Adani Group.
Annual Container Volume: >4.2 million TEUs.
- Located in the Tamil Nadu region.
- The second-largest container port in India.
- Infrastructure includes two container terminals.
- The Port of Chennaiwas the first in India to house a dedicated container facility.
- This port connects Southeast India to China’s export market by way of several direct ocean-freight services.
Owned By: Chennai Port Trust, Ministry of Shipping.
Annual Container Volume: >1.5 million TEUs.
- One of the world’s most environmentally friendly ports.
- Officially recognized as a green port in 2015.
- Serves regions in the Northwest of India.
- All heavy-lifting vehicles and equipment at the port run on bio-diesel.
- Over the three years to 2019, the port’s channel draft increased from 7.5 to 8.1 meters, making Haldia accessible for larger, more heavily laden vessels.
Owned By: Kolkata Port Trust.
Annual Container Volume: >150,000 TEUs.
- An ideal entry port to India if your supply chain moves goods to the nation’s central regions.
- Situated between Kolkata and Chennai.
- Facilities include an inner and outer harbor, to provide a total of 27 berths.
- The inner harbor of Visakhapatnam Portcovers 100 hectares and has 21 berths—another six are available in the outer harbor.
Owned By: Visakhapatnam Port Trust.
Annual Container Volume: >350,000 TEUs.
Flying Your Freight: Airport Guide
Airports of Origin in China
- Shenzhen Airport handled over 1.2 million tonnes of cargo in 2018.
- Ranked 24th among the busiest cargo airports in the world.
- Located at a distance of fewer than 30 kilometers away from Shenzhen City.
- Chinese cargo carrier SF Airlines operates a direct route from Shenzhen to Chennai in India.
India Airports Served: Chennai.
Shenzhen to India Cargo-Only Operators: SF Airlines.
IATA Code: SZX
- China’s third-largest cargo-handling airport.
- Cargo throughput in 2018 was approximately 1.8 million tonnes.
- Facilities include three runways.
- Guangzhou is the world’s 17th-busiest cargo airport.
- Ideal departure airport for products originating in the province of Guangdong.
- Direct flights connect Guangzhou with several international airports in India.
India Airports Served: Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore.
Guangzhou to India Cargo-Only Operators: FedEx Express, Lufthansa Cargo.
- China’s fifth busiest airport for cargo throughput.
- Easily accessed by rail and road from several regions of Western China.
- In 2018, more than 660,000 tonnes of cargo passed through the airport’s cargo terminals.
- Hosts airlines that serve over 50 international and 170 domestic destinations, including several in India.
India Airports Served: Delhi, Chennai.
Chengdu to India Cargo-Only Operators: FedEx Express, Korean Air Cargo.
IATA Code: CTU.
- Located close to Central Beijing.
- Excellent road and rail connections to most of mainland China.
- The airport’s cargo terminals handle over 1.8 million tonnes of air freight annually.
- Infrastructure includes three cargo terminals.
- Some direct flights operate from Beijing Airport to destinations in India.
India Airports Served: Delhi, Mumbai.
Beijing to India Cargo-Only Operators:
IATA CODE: PEK.
- One of the three busiest cargo airports in the world.
- Cargo throughput in 2018 stood at around 3.35 million hectares.
- A vital gateway for exports from China to India.
- Offers efficient road and rail links to many of China’s major cities and commercial regions.
- Several airlines operate direct flights from Shanghai to international airports in India.
India Airports Served: Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai.
Shanghai to India Cargo-Only Operators: FedEx Express, Etihad Cargo, Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, AirBridge Cargo,
IATA Code: PVG.
Other Airports in China
In addition to the five airports described above, you can also export from China to India using direct and indirect routes from Zhengzhou, Qingdao, Wuhan, and Xiamen Airports.
Airports of Arrival in India
- The busiest cargo-handling airport in India.
- Annual air-freight throughput is more than 900,000 tonnes.
- Ideal for shipping air cargo bound for Northern and Central India.
- Connected by direct flights from several international airports in China.
Connected Airports in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu.
***China to Delhi Cargo-Only Operators:***FedEx Express, Lufthansa Cargo.
IATA Code: DEL.
- This airport’s full name is Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.
- The second-largest cargo airport in India, after Delhi.
- Can accommodate as many as five wide-bodied cargo aircraft simultaneously.
- Facilities include a cargo center dedicated to shipments of perishable goods.
Connected Airports in China: Beijing, Shanghai-Pudong, Guangzhou.
China to Mumbai Cargo-Only Operators: Atlas Air, Emirates Sky Cargo, Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, FedEx Express.
IATA CODE: BOM.
- An ideal airport of discharge for freight headed to destinations in Southern India.
- The site covers an area greater than eight hectares.
- The cargo apron can accommodate three wide-bodied cargo aircraft simultaneously.
- A new, cutting edge cargo terminal is in the process of construction.
Connected Airports in China: Shanghai-Pudong, Shenzhen, Chengdu.
China to Chennai Cargo-Only Operators: Etihad Cargo, Korean Air Cargo, SF Airlines.
IATA CODE: MAA.
- This airport serves the state of Karnataka and surrounding regions.
- Facilities include three cargo terminals and specialized pharmaceutical storage capabilities.
- Offers convenient rail and road links to Bangalore City.
Connected Airports in China: Shanghai-Pudong, Guangzhou.
China to Bangalore Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA CODE: BLR.
- This airport’s full name is Hyderabad Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.
- Strategically situated in India’s central hinterland.
- Infrastructure includes a 14,000 square meter cargo terminal.
- The airport boasts two runways.
- No direct flights from airports in China.
***Connected Airports in China:***None
China to Hyderabad Cargo-Only Operators: None.
IATA Code: HYD.
You can also fly your freight from China to India using indirect flights from Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Cochin, Pune, and Coimbatore.
Why Ship Freight From China to India With Shipa Freight?
Shipa Freight’s pioneering freight-forwarding platform makes it easy for your business to move merchandise from China to India as FCL, LCL, or air freight. You can manage the entire shipping process online, with live support from a team of global logistics specialists whenever you need it.
Here are just a few of the advantages enjoyed by businesses that import from China to India using Shipa Freight’s digital forwarding services:
- Instant, easy-to-understand quotes for ocean and air freight
- Online booking, payment, and shipment tracking
- 24/7 support from a knowledgeable customer service team
- Access to the global logistics network of Shipa Freight’s parent company, Agility
- Integrated compliance software to ensure you meet regulatory requirements
- Dedicated customs clearance experts to help speed your shipments across international borders
Know Your Shipping Terminology
Even if you’re new to shipping, you’ve likely already encountered some words or phrases that have left you confused. Understanding what they mean will help you communicate your needs to experts more easily. That’s why we’re featuring definitions of some potentially confusing terms at the end of each of our country-to-country pages. This page’s terms are defined below: