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HOW-TO: Shipping stuff from China cheap?

HOW-TO: Shipping stuff from China cheap?

Tyler writes:

What method do you use to ship from China? I am trying to ship 8kg of PLA from a manufacturer in China. I want to figure out how much sea shipping (the cheapest method) would be, but no one is really able to give me a legit answer besides someone like UPS (Yeah $200 is so not happening). I just want to try to get a cheap product from China without blowing the whole cost savings on shipping.

Between DirtyPCBs and Hacker Camp Shenzhen, we’ve helped a ton of people ship bulky items all over the world. The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost $200, the bad news is it will never be that cheap for small shipments. Here’s a basic rundown of the shipping options we’ve seen in Huaqiangbei.

Shipments under 20 kilos are considered very small shipments and there aren’t really any great options. If you’re visiting China the cheapest method is to lug it back in your suitcase.


The shipping calculator on our DEV site gives these prices for 8KG by DHL to the USA. These are roughly the prices you would get through any logistics company in Shenzhen. Ignore airmail, they won’t accept packages over 2KG. DHL China through a logistics agency is the best bet at $67, around $8.35 per kilo.



At 10KG and 20KG there’s a price break for air freight through DHL/FedEx/UPS. Air freight takes a few days longer, and it has to be dropped off at the logistics agent. We’ve sent 6 hacker camps and hundreds of visitors to Susie Shipper in Huaqiangbei (pictured above) because they generally have someone who speaks English. There are dozens of similar air freight agencies in the market – just look for a garage full of boxes covered in packing tape.

For 20KG+ DHL air freight we’ve seen rates from $4.50/KG to Netherlands, and $5.50/KG to UK and USA through Susie Shipper.  At 100KG UPS air freight drops to $4/KG. Air freight is highly dependent on time of year. Around the October rush prices can be 10x higher, or the service may simply not be available at all.

Sea freight is a totally different beast and 8KG isn’t nearly enough. In our limited experience, Sea freight generally starts at $1000USD in fees alone. The actual cost of a 20 foot shipping container isn’t necessarily the greatest expense depending on destination. Sea freight has a cornucopia of associated charges that stack up fast. Bill of leading, document fees, dock fees, inspection, customs, loading, unloading, warehousing, pickup, delivery, plastic pallets, etc. There are some consolidators out there, but they generally want to ship a stuff that’s on a pallet too. 8KG doesn’t seem feasible to ship by sea.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bulky items are charged by dimension, not weight.

( Length * Width * Height ) / 5000 = dimensional weight

If the dimensional weight is greater than the measured weight, then the dimensional weight it used to calculate the shipping fees. It is frighteningly easy to run up against the dimensional weight.

This is the general frustration of China for foreign hobbyists. There are unimaginable, unbelievably cheap materials here, but unless you deal in giant volumes it is exceedingly hard to take advantage of those prices. Not only does shipping add up fast, but most suppliers have no ability to accept payments in foreign currency and exchange it into Chinese RMB.

There’s a much more fun option, one that’s only slightly more expensive than your initial shipping quote. Recently people have been finding flights from the US West Coast to China for around $400 round trip. Why not pop over, explore the markets, pack your suitcase with 23KG of goodies, and “pay” for the trip with the savings on shipping.