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How to Plan your Shipping Year from China to Australia


How to Plan your Shipping Year from China to Australia

With the majority of Australian imported products coming in from China, appropriate planning is critical for many businesses that rely on imports from our northern neighbours.

It is well-known that China is one of our most important trading partners. Trade between the two countries grew by 33% year-on-year over the first half of 2021. By the end of May last year, the total trade value grew to around AUD $112 billion, primarily driven by Australia’s exports of iron ore and machinery. The economic relationship is governed by the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), which entered into force in December 2015.

But importing your goods from China is no easy feat, especially over the course of peak shipping season and Chinese New Year. It’s therefore important you plan your 2023 shipping year carefully.

Below, we’ve outlined a handy guide to consider when planning out the next 12 months.

The time it takes to ship from China to Australia

Normally, shipping to Australia from China takes:

  • Around 12-62 days on an ocean carrier; and
  • Around 8-10 days using standard air freight.

This, however, will depend on whether you are shipping your goods via LCL (Less than Container Load) or FCL (Full Container Load).

LCL shipping will tend to take a few days longer than FCL. That’s because your goods need to be consolidated at the port of origin, before being deconsolidated at the port of destination.

It will also significantly depend on whether your shipment is being impacted by one of the various holidays that occur in China. We’ll discuss this in detail below.

How do Chinese holidays impact shipping?

When bringing in your goods from China, always remember the impact of the Chinese holidays. There are two major festivals to consider carefully, as they arguably cause the most disruption in the shipping industry.

Chinese New Year Spring Festival (21 Jan – 27 Jan)

The Spring Festival is the most important holiday event in China and is often called the largest annual mass migration of people in the world. In 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, China estimated that around 1.18 billion people would travel during this festival.

But Chinese New Year and shipping have a tense relationship. That’s because it’s a seven-day public holiday, causing a huge cessation in production amongst Chinese-based suppliers, manufacturers and partners. Even though the vacation only lasts a week, the ripple effects can be felt for over a month.

Orders should be placed by the end of November at the earliest. That way, you can secure bookings before the disruptions of the Chinese New Year. Due to the massive disruption caused by this wildly popular holiday, there is always immense pressure on space and pricing. Factories will close for the entire week and space will fill up extremely fast. After that week, it usually takes several weeks after that to return to normality.

Golden Week Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival (1– 7 October)

Unlike the Chinese New Year, Golden Week is on the same week every year. Also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, the holiday represents one of the largest weeks in China for tourism, as people take the week off to travel and spend time with their families.

Orders should be placed in early August, so they can depart China prior to Golden Week. As we hit peak shipping season in September, this is especially important. It’s the busiest time in the supply chain industry, as people want to order up stock prior to Christmas.

During this week, factories will close and transport is always minimal. It is always untimely and challenging due to Golden Week being right in the middle of Australian peak season.

Other Chinese holidays

You should also be aware of the other public holidays across China. These may tend to have some level of impact on your shipments, so always keep them in mind.

We’ve outlined the holidays you need to be aware of below.

DatesDays of the WeekHoliday
1-2 JanuarySunday to MondayNew Year Holiday
21 – 27 JanuarySaturday to FridaySpring Festival
5 AprilWednesdayChing Ming Festival
1 – 3 MayMonday to WednesdayLabour Day Holiday
22 – 24 JuneThursday to SaturdayDragon Boat Festival
29 SeptemberFridayMid-Autumn Festival
1 – 6 OctoberSunday to FridayNational Day Holiday (Golden Week)

What is the cost of shipping from China to Australia?

The cost will depend on both the size of your cargo and also whether you decide to ship your goods via sea or air.

Pricing from China to Australia has increased significantly throughout the COVID19 pandemic and causing rates to be volatile. As China, removed its strict zero covid policy, supply chain operations have found a new sense of normality.

Via ocean

Shipping by sea from China to Australia is generally the cheaper option. This is especially so if you are shipping goods that weigh more than 500 kilograms.

Costs via ocean have dropped significantly at the start of 2023 on the back of weakened demand. As of February 2023, you can expect a 20GP to cost up to $1,000 USD and a 40GP circa $2,000 USD. This pricing is provided as an estimate port to port. You also need to consider handling each end which will add additional costs to your movement as well as services at your time of booking.

Shipping container vessel at port

Via air

Airfreight continues to be higher than airfreight. However, airfreight is showing a downward trend, as increasingly more airlines operate and resume a new normal. Pricing sits around $5.00 USD per kg for airfreight in the current market.

Freight rates will differ between carriers, so make sure you do your research.

You can research the different options for transporting goods both by sea and air from our list of cargo service providers in the Australian market.

How to plan when shipping from China to Australia in 2023

It is always challenging to prepare for the shipping year when importing goods from China – and that’s because shipping timelines can change frequently.

Below, we’ll outline what you can do to make sure you’re prepared as much as possible when importing your goods from our northern neighbour.

1. Book your shipments early

Once you’ve put together all your required shipping documentation, the supplier will make a booking for the export shipment.

It is absolutely critical, especially during the above holiday seasons, for your freight to be booked as early as possible. That way, you’re more likely to secure a spot on a vessel for your container and have your goods arrive on time.

2. Prepare for delays with a buffer

The saying ‘plan for the worst, hope for the best’ is more than appropriate in the context of shipping. Always expect the worst-case scenario when you’re shipping. That way you’re much more likely to avoid disappointment.

Give yourself an extra week either end when you’re importing goods from China via sea freight. This will give you a so-called ‘buffer’ of about a fortnight.  That way, any unexpected event like poor weather, crowded ports and delays due to labour strikes or shortages won’t have as great of an impact on your shipment.

Give yourself a five-day buffer if you are shipping from China to Australia via air freight. Air freight is obviously much quicker than ocean freight. A safety net of five days should make it more likely that your goods will arrive on time. Aircraft, as you would know, do not have the same problems as ships.

3. Cover yourself legally

Delays can cause legal disputes. This is especially the case when delays cause you a significant amount of loss, whether that be the loss of extremely valuable goods, or consequential losses (such as, for example, the loss of the profits you would have made had your goods arrived on time).

To reduce your liability associated with delay, an option is to caveat your sale or purchase as being ‘subject to delays’ or ‘subject to the goods being available‘. This may assist you in the case of an unexpected delay.

Always consult a legal professional when drafting and/or negotiating a sale contract, and when seeking to understand your rights in the case of a shipping delay.

Whilst we always recommend you book Marine insurance to protect your cargo in case of damages, unfortunately, Marine Insurance does not cover any costs incurred by your business in the event of a delay with shipping. Please bear this in mind when making commitments to customers.

4. Use air freight for urgent shipments

If you need your goods delivered to Australia urgently from China, you should always go air freight. It’s a more expensive option, but it is always going to be faster than if you’re shipping goods on an ocean vessel.

You should also see if there is a direct route from China to Australia. You don’t want your aircraft to ‘stop’ at another country along the way and cause you any unnecessary delay. If you’re willing to pay the extra cost, then this is the best option for urgent shipments.

5. Track your shipments from China

It’s always a good idea to track your imported cargo from China, or indeed from any country, in real time. That way, you will know exactly where your shipment is on the map and whether it is experiencing any delays. That will allow you to make any adjustments within your business here onshore.

Ask your freight forwarder if they have a tracking system for your shipments – such as ICE!

If you need any further assistance in planning your shipping year, please reach out to one of our global forwarding consultants.

We have decades of experience helping Australian importers get their goods in from China safely and on time.


or call us on 1300 227 461

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