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Your Shipping Timeline – Understanding The Stages Of Shipping

Sea Freight


Understanding your shipping timeline and key factors that influence arrival and departure times will help you manage your shipping effectively.

At ICE, we have created the ultimate shipping timeline to guide you through the days before, after and during your shipment.

Need a quick reference? Download our shipping timeline below or read on for your ultimate guide.

1. Before Shipping

The days before you arrange a booking with your forwarder can have an impact on the time frame of your shipment. By ensuring all paperwork is ready, including SLI’s and Commerical Documents, your forwarder will be able to get your goods moving as quickly as possible. Our Shipping Documentation Guide will help you with document preparation and get you set up to place a booking with ease.

2. Loading and Transport at Origin

Once your booking has been made, the first part of the shipping timeline is loading and transport at origin. The time this takes is ultimately determined by your supplier, type of goods and location.

When sending consignments by LCL (Less Container Load) your goods will normally be collected and transported to the port of export within the same day. When shipping by FCL (Full Container Load), a container is dropped at a designated site and left for a day or two to allow cargo loading. Alternatively, you may opt for a live load. If a live load is chosen you will be given a certain amount of “Free Time” to load the container. This time is usually one hour and any time thereafter is chargeable.

Airfreight is slightly different. Goods are collected but will need to transit via an approved air cargo agent prior to export. As airfreight is normally selected for urgent shipments this should add no longer than 1 day to your timeline.

3. Export Customs Clearance

Customs clearance is the process of preparation and submission of documentation required to facilitate export or imports into the country, representing the importer/exporter during customs examination, assessment, payment of duty and co-taking delivery of cargo from customs after clearance along with documents.

Usually a quicker process than import customs clearance, for export customs clearance you should allow a day for this activity. Ensuring all your documents are prepared and accurate at the start of the shipping process will aid an export customs clearance. There is the possibility of goods going on hold and a requirement from the relevant government authority to ask for more information, but this is rare.

4. Cut Off Times

Cut-off times are one of the biggest factors that can impact your shipping timeline. Particularly when organising seafreight shipping, your goods will need to be made available at the wharf prior to departure. It is crucial you check the cut-off times of your service. If you miss your cut-off, your freight can be waiting up to a week before the next sailing! General rules for cut off times are as follows:

  • LCL Cut Offs are generally 7 days in advance of sailing
  • FCL Cut Offs are generally 2 days before sailing
  • Airfreight Cut Offs are generally 1 day before flight

5. Freight Transit Times

Freight transit times is the planned traveling time from port to port. This should come detailed within your shipping quotes. Schedules are provided prior to shipping and will detail any transit port or airport. Direct shipments are the least likely to experience delays. In comparison, congestion at transhipment ports can impact freight arrival times.

It is always worth checking with your forwarder, whether any issues may impact the freight transit time prior to booking. Your forwarder can then explore different services and options available to you.

If you are shipping with ICE, customs clearance will take place whilst the goods are in transit. This allows us to access your goods as soon as they are available at the port. The exception is those circumstances where quarantine or border holds are applicable.

Estimated Time Of Arrival (Eta) Vs Estimated Time Of Delivery

Estimated time of arrival (ETA) is the date and time that a shipment is predicted to arrive at a specified destination, which is normally a seaport or airport. The method of shipping can be via air, ocean or by domestic shipping services such as rail or truck.

The estimated time of delivery (ETD) refers to the date and time that a shipment is expected to be delivered at the final destination, in other words, the consignee’s delivery address.

6. Offloading on Arrival

Much like cut-off times, offloading on arrival is determined by transport mode. Your forwarder cannot access your goods until they have been made available at the relevant port. Typically you should note the following:

  • LCL freight takes an average of 3–6 days to become available
  • FCL freight takes an average of 1–2 days to become available
  • Airfreight takes an average of 1 day to become available

7. Quarantine and Border Inspections

Quarantine and border inspections can be unpredictable and costly. If you are shipping for the first time or have moved to a new forwarder it is likely your goods will go on an automatic border hold whilst all shipment information is inspected. This may cause a delay of one or two days.

If your goods are directed for inspection the additional time can be difficult to foresee. On average we see delays of up to a week but it really depends on the officer on the day.

If goods are put on hold, you are at risk of incurring storage charges at the airport or wharf. Whilst you usually have three days from the date of availability to move your goods,if they are directed for inspection goods cannot be moved until they have been cleared through the process. Any time they remain under inspection or on hold after these three free days will be chargeable.

In addition, if you are importing an FCL you have a fixed amount of free time to keep the container (usually 7 days). If your inspection time goes above this you will need to pay the shipping line for a late container return.

The best way to avoid inspections is to follow the below steps:

  • Ensure all documentation is accurate and available
  • Ensure any goods that need to be treated have been treated prior to arrival
  • If shipping during stink bug season, which is  from September to April of every year, make sure you have followed the guidelines in our stinkbug guide
  • Build a reputation as a reliable importer by following the above steps

If your goods are directed for inspection the best way to expedite the release is to assist the process and provide all information requested.

8. Transport and Offloading at Destination

Once your goods are clear and made available, your shipment will be transported to your nominated delivery point. As with loading, air and LCL shipments will be generally be offloaded within the same day. Container shipments can either be dropped and collected the following day or you can opt for a live unload. If a live load is chosen you will be given a certain amount of “Free Time” to unload the container. This time is usually one hour and any time thereafter is chargeable.

Going to a rural destination in Australia?

If you are delivering a container to a rural location your goods will need to go via a rural tailgate inspection.

A rural tailgate inspection involves directing containers to an approved arrangement site. At the site, all external surfaces of the container are inspected before opening the doors and checking for biosecurity risks including signs of:

  • pests
  • plant material
  • non-compliant packaging

You should allow an additional few hours or a day for this extra activity and should expect additional charges. You can check in advance if your location is classified as rural here.

Once your goods have been delivered and/or your container has been returned to the wharf your shipment is complete.

One Last Tip

Shipping timelines will vary on a case-by-case basis. To aid a speedy shipping process make sure all your documentation is correct and available from the start. Check with your forwarder if your goods need any specific treatment or certification prior to arranging your booking.

The information in this guide should allow you to plan additional time both before and after your shipment leaves and arrives at its intended destination.

Should you have any questions regarding your shipping timeline your ICE team member is here to help on 1300 CARGO1.

Request A Quote

or call us on 1300 227 461

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