Trade Guide

02 November 2021 • 31 min read

A Guide to Ocean Freight from China to India

Editorial Team

This guide will help you understand how to import goods from China to India using ocean freight, how much it costs, duties to account for, the time it takes, regulatory norms, important ports, and more.

Due to its sheer size, cheap labour, easy availability of raw material, and investment opportunities, China is often dubbed as the ‘Worlds Factory Floor’. Low cost of production and overall economical prices is the prime reason Indian importers source products from China. Bilateral trade between India and China, despite border tensions and the repercussions from the COVID-19 global pandemic, has grown exponentially over the years, both in terms of volume and revenue. China is India's biggest trading partner, with imports to India valued at $58.71 billion in 2020.  

India imports everything from auto parts, chemicals, computers/accessories, spare parts, clothing, electrical goods, food products, and apparel, to cosmetics, iron and steel products, other metals, mobile phones and accessories, utilities, gift items, toys, and much more from China.  

Shipping by ocean is the most economical way to transport goods from China to India, and enables importers to keep their costs to a minimum to boost their profits. It is the most common method of shipping goods from China to India. Our China-India ocean freight experts have created this guide to help you understand everything you need to know about transporting cargo across this route by ocean. It will cover the following:

  1. Types of ocean freight  
  1. China to India shipping time
  1. Shipping costs from China to India
  1. China ports that ship to India
  1. Important India ports for shipments from China
  1. Major shipping lines on the China to India route
  1. Customs clearance and duties from China to India
  1. Relevant incoterms to ocean freight
  1. Alternatives to ocean freight
  1. FAQs

Types of ocean freight  

There are two types of ocean freight solutions, Less than Container Load (LCL) and Full Container Load (FCL) that you can opt for, depending on the volume and weight of your goods.  


When a shipper’s cargo occupies only a part of the space inside a container, it is an LCL shipment. Freight forwarders consolidate cargo from multiple clients, to be sent from and to the same location, inside a single container. This is ideally suitable for you if you are shipping smaller cargo loads. Check out our ultimate LCL guide to understand more.  


In this type of shipment, a shipper leases an entire container for his cargo. If you need to ship a large amount of goods that will take up more than half a container, it may also be more economical to choose to ship via FCL. This will also give you exclusive rights to the container and hence more control over how your goods are packed and placed inside it. Read more about FCL shipments here.  

Aside from selecting an LCL or FCL shipment, you also need to consider whether your cargo is ‘general cargo’, i.e. it does not require any specific conditions, or ‘special cargo’ that has temperature, size, or other specifications. Accordingly, below are the most commonly used types of containers that you will need to select from -

  • Dry storage containers: Standard containers that are available in lengths of 20 feet and 40 feet and are typically used to ship general cargo.
  • Open top containers: These have no roof, making it easier to load and unload products like machinery or packages that cannot fit within the constraints of the container height.
  • Flat rack containers: They have walls only at the end of the container so goods can be loaded either from the top or from the sides. These are best suited for shipping large units such as cars, boats, and other types of mechanical equipment.  
  • Open side containers: These containers typically have doors that open up at one end of their length, making it easier to access the entire length of the container to load and unload goods of certain dimensions.  
  • Refrigerated containers: These are covered and/or insulated for temperature control and are used to ship liquids, chemicals, and perishable items among other goods that require refrigeration.

China to India shipping time

Ocean freight shipments generally take between 14 to 24 days to complete the journey from China to India. The number of days taken varies depending on the origin and destination ports, as well as the route the shipping line takes.  

Number of days for ocean freight from China ports to India ports

Shipping costs from China to India

Several components add up to your final shipping cost from China to India. The basic ocean freight cost to transport the goods on the shipping vessel is determined by several factors such as the season, mode of shipment (FCL/LCL), cargo weight and volume, container availability, demand on that shipping route at the time, fuel costs, vessel capacity, and type of product, among others. With so many influencers to the cost, it can wildly fluctuate from time to time.  

Discover and compare current freight rates from China to India, across different ports and shipping lines on Cogoport. Sign up today and get started with these simple steps.  

  1. Click on the ‘Discover Rates’ button on the left pane of your dashboard
  1. Select ‘LCL’ or ‘FCL’ depending on your requirements  
  1. In the ‘Origin’ box, enter a city or airport in China
  1. In the ‘Destination’ box, enter a city or airport in India
  1. Click on search rates to see your results
Get current ocean freight rates from China to India

Aside from this, several other charges - such as port charges, documentation fees, insurance, duties and taxes, carrier fees, agent fees, among others - add up to your total cost to ship from China to India. Read our two-part guide on shipping charges here and here to get a breakdown of these charges and understand them better.  

China ports that ship to India

Some of the major ports in China used by importers in India are Shanghai, Ningbo, Tianjin, Nansha, Shekou, Qingdao, Dalian, and Xiamen. Read about China ports driving global trade and growth.  

These Chinese ports primarily cater to the ports of Nhava Sheva/JNPT, Mundra, Pipavav, Hazira, Chennai, Krishnapatnam, and Visakhapatnam. Chinese ports service other ports on India’s western, southern, and eastern coast through transshipment services provided by ports of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Singapore; and Klang, Malaysia.

Port of Shanghai

The port is one of the largest exporters of commodities, electronics, and machinery to India.  

Port of Ningbo

Since ancient times the port has been exporting food grains, cloth, aromatic substances, and precious gems like corals and pearls to India.  

Port of Tianjin

This port mainly exports metal and related products as well as electrical products and machinery.

Port of Nansha

It is part of the Guangzhou port group and supplies iron and steel, telecom products, and power generation equipment to India.

Port of Shekou

Port of Shekou is located in Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province. A waterway junction, this port is part of the Shenzhen port group. The port mainly exports a variety of fruits and food/fruit-based products to India.  

Port of Qingdao

Add something  

Port of Dalian

Mostly handles coal exports to India.  

Port of Xiamen

Exports coal, graphite powder, sporting goods, and more to India.


Important India ports for shipments from China  

Major ports in India that handle the bulk of shipping between China and India are as below.

Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT)

JNPT on the west coast, also known as Nhava Sheva, is the largest container port in India. JNPT manages 55 percent of containerised cargo in India and is the focal point for import shipments from China. This port is very well connected with a majority of Chinese ports.  

Chennai Port

Chennai Port (erstwhile Madras Port) is the second-largest port in India in terms of container traffic handled. Located on the east coast, Chennai port is a key gateway for telecom parts and equipment for many Chinese companies operating in India. It is also a major port for the import of auto components from China.  

Port of Kolkata

Port of Kolkata (along with Haldia port) is the second busiest port on the east coast of India. Due to its strategic location, it is one of the most preferred destination ports for importers from North India, who find it easier to reach than Chennai. The port also offers strong hinterland connectivity for the eastern and northeastern parts of India. A large number of heavy and light engineering products from China are shipped to this port.

Vizag Port

Vizag port is another major seaport on the east coast that offers excellent connectivity for China imports. Although not a major port, it provides a direct link to Nepal, for Chinese ports and has low port charges. This port handles large amounts of mineral and oil products.

Kandla Port

Kandla Port, also known as Deendayal Port, is located in Gujarat. This port is known for its connectivity and proximity to the North Indian region and mainly handles bulk cargo. This port mainly handles imports of heavy machinery, textiles, and chemicals from China.  

Major shipping lines on the China to India route

Shipping lines that most frequently transport goods from China to India are Cosco, OOCL, Maersk, One Line, CMA CGM, MSC, Hyundai, KMTC, Evergreen, Wan Hai, and RCL.

Customs clearance from China to India

All goods transported between China and India are subject to customs rules followed in the two countries. Custom clearance involves inspection, assessment, and payment of customs duties and taxes at both, origin and destination. Since this is an unavoidable, crucial part of international trade, it is important to know the requirements and necessary documents for customs clearance.  

Duties are determined by the type of product and its HS code. Read more about customs duties for imports from China to India here.  

Information and documents to be provided at origin  

  • HS Code
  • Invoice
  • Packing list
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction (SLI)
  • Certificate of fumigation
  • Value and description of the merchandise
  • Composition of the merchandise
  • Name/contacts of the supplier
  • Destination of the goods  
  • Recipient of the goods

Documents required to clear air cargo in India

  • Bill of Lading (BL)
  • Delivery order (DO)  
  • Purchase Order
  • Proforma Invoice/ Commercial invoice  
  • Letter of Credit, if any
  • Insurance Certificate
  • Health Certificate (for food products)
  • Country of Origin Certificate

To understand each of these documents better, check out our article on documents exporters and importers in India need in order to clear customs.  

Relevant incoterms  

Incoterms are a globally recognized set of standards issued by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to make trade more manageable. These terms divide responsibilities of goods and associated costs at each stage of the transport journey between buyers and sellers who agree to them prior to initiating the trade.  

Many of these terms are applicable across all types of transport via ocean, air, and land. Both, the shipper and the consignee, should be familiar with the various incoterms to choose wisely.

Incoterms for Ocean Freight - 2020
  • Ex Works (EXW): Buyer collects the goods from the seller’s factory or warehouse and assumes all responsibilities thereafter.
  • Free Carrier (FCA): Seller is responsible for the goods and the transportation costs to a location specified by the buyer, at the origin. It could be the port, the seller’s own warehouse, or any other location. Liability lies with the seller until the buyer receives the goods.  
  • Free alongside Ship (FAS): Seller is liable for all costs and risks, including customs, until the goods are placed next to the ship, on the dock. Thereafter, the buyer takes over.
  • Free on Board (FOB): Seller is liable for all costs and risks, including customs, until the goods are placed on the ship. Thereafter, the buyer takes over.
  • Cost & Freight (CFR): Seller is liable for all costs right up to the destination port. However, risk liabilities transfer form seller to buyer once the goods have been placed on the ship.  
  • Cost, Insurance & Freight (CIF): Seller is liable for all costs right up to the destination port, including that of insurance to protect the cargo against loss or damage.  
  • Carriage Paid To (CPT): Seller nominates a third party to deliver the goods to the end destination and bears costs for the same, barring that of insurance. Responsibility for the goods lies with the seller until they are delivered to the nominated party. Thereafter, it transfers to the buyer.  
  • Carriage and Insurance Paid To (CIP): Seller nominates a third party to deliver the goods to the end destination - by ocean, air, or another freight mode – and bears all costs, including insurance. Responsibility for the goods lies with the seller until they are delivered to the nominated party. Thereafter, it transfers to the buyer.  
  • Delivered at Place (DAP): Seller assumes all costs and responsibilities of transporting goods from the origin up to a specified location at the destination. It includes local transport from the port to a warehouse, factory, office premises, or another location. Unloading responsibility lies with the buyer; the seller is not liable for any damages during that process. Customs duties and taxes are also borne by the buyer at the port.  
  • Delivered at Place Unloaded (DPU): Seller assumes all costs and responsibilities of transporting goods from the origin up to a specified location at the destination, including unloading. Hence it involves local transport from the port to a warehouse, factory, office premises, or any other location. Customs duties and taxes are, however, borne by the buyer at the port.
  • Delivery Duty Paid (DDP): Seller assumes all costs and responsibilities of transporting goods from the origin to a specified location at the destination, including customs and duties, and local transport. Unloading costs and responsibilities lie with the buyer.

Alternatives to ocean freight

Shipping by ocean is cost-effective as vessels have a huge capacity for carrying goods in bulk. However, if compared with transport via air, it takes a longer time to reach from origin to destination. Shipping from China to India by air takes between 3 to 8 days, as compared with 14 to 24 days by ocean.  Refer to our guide on air freight from China to India to understand how you can ship via air on this route, and how much it will cost you.

Air freight is the quickest transport mode for international logistics and a great alternative to ocean freight if –  

  • Your goods are on a shorter delivery schedule
  • You are transporting extremely valuable items
  • You are transporting extremely fragile items

Understand how to select the most appropriate mode for your shipment, between air freight and ocean freight, here.



What commodities does India import from China?

India imports electrical and heavy machinery, power generation equipment, telecom products (including cellphones), furniture, pharmaceuticals and critical pharmaceutical ingredients, fertilisers, plastic toys, food, textiles, and many more products from China.  

Should I get marine insurance/insurance for my cargo from China?

Marine cargo insurance will cover losses or damages to your cargo during its journey from the origin port to the destination port, while it is at sea. It is important to get marine insurance of your cargo being shipped from China to India as this route sees a high incidence of cargo loss and is a natural disaster zone. Other than that, there are chances of theft or hijacking and spillage from other containers. Read Why Buy Marine Cargo Insurance for Your China Shipments to get a better understanding on this subject.  

How can I pay my supplier when I import from China?

Two of the most common payment methods are wire transfer/telegraphic transfer (TT) and Letter of Credit (LOC). An LOC isa document issued by the buyer’s bank that provides a guarantee, on behalf of the buyer, that payment will be made to the seller on time once the buyer gets possession of the cargo. Very few Chinese suppliers accept payment via PayPal and credit cards.

This guide provides readers a comprehensive overview of different modes of shipping between China and India. It covers all the aspects and its related parts in detail, from costs and timeframe of shipping to customs clearance and Incoterms.  

Why rely on Cogoport?  

Cogoport digitizes and simplifies trade management from China to India, for small and large businesses alike. Our team of China-India experts work closely with businesses to provide end to end logistics services via air and ocean, making it easier for them to move their goods. We will manage not just your shipment, but your local transport requirements at origin and destination, your customs clearance, and even offer you trade finance.  

Cogoport’s digital platform enables you to find and compare freight rates, book and manage shipments online, track cargo real time, and lots more – all with live support from our team of global logistics experts. Sign up today and start enjoying our services and tools for free.  

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