Trade Guide

02 November 2021 • 26 min read

Air Cargo Freight & Rates from China to India

Editorial Team

Understand how to import from China to India by air, all the procedures and documentation required, how much it will cost you, how long it will take, and alternative modes of transport.

In FY2020-2021, India imported goods worth around USD 65 billion from China. A huge range of products are frequently imported from China to India, the top five being machinery (12.8 billion), organic chemicals ($6.6 billion), electronic equipment ($2.75 billion), plastics ($2.1 billion), and iron & steel ($1.6 billion). Some other products imported in large amounts are organic fertilisers, transport equipment, medicines and medical equipment, and consumer products.  

Air freight is considered the fastest mode of transportation for international trade, however it is also the most expensive. Our China-India air freight experts have created this guide to help you understand everything you need to know about transporting cargo from China to India by air. It will help you understand the circumstances in which air freight is useful, the types of products you should use it for, and more, as listed below -

1. Types of air cargo  

2. When to use air freight

3. Time it takes to ship cargo by air from China to India

4. Airports operational on the China to India route

5. Major air carriers operating from China to India

6. Cost of air freight from China to India

7. Incoterms relevant to air freight  

8. Customs clearance for imports from China to India  

9. Alternatives to air freight  

Types of air cargo  

Air cargo is categorised into general and special cargo based on whether they require special handling or not.  

General cargo

Goods that do not require any special handling or care fall under general cargo. They include household goods, office equipment, sports equipment, clothing, jewelry, electronics, hardware, machinery, and clothing, among other commodities.  

Special cargo

These are goods that require special handling, for example - they need to be packed in specific materials and/or stored at specified temperatures. Human remains and organs, live animals, perishable goods, high value items such as gold and diamonds, tissue samples, artwork, farm produce, hazardous materials, among others fall in this category. Over-dimensional cargo, which include oversized goods such as heavy machinery, vehicles, boats, plant assemblies, or generators that occupy a huge amount of space are also categorised as special cargo.  

When to use air freight from China to India

  • You need to transport goods quickly - When the delivery of your goods is time-bound, air freight is a great rescuer. Air carriers move more frequently and take shorter times to transport cargo.  
  • You need to send goods to remote areas or those inaccessible by other transport modes - Air freight has easier access all around the globe, which is not the case with ocean freight.  
  • Your goods require high security - Airports have a level of security. Thus, the cargo handled by the airports is also handled under higher security, reducing the chances of theft.  

Time it takes to ship cargo by air from China to India

Numerous air cargo lines across India’s 35 international airports and China’s 60 international airports link the two countries. Air freight shipments between China and India usually take around 3 to 8 days. In this duration, goods are loaded at the consignor’s warehouse, transported to the airport, unloaded at the airport, loaded onto the aircraft, and a reverse of these at the destination. Customs procedures such as checking the goods and documentation also contribute to the length of the duration.  

Note: Handling of certain goods, such as livestock and hazardous substances require more complicated procedures and may take a longer time. Therefore, it is safe to add a few buffer days.

Below are the estimated number of days it takes on some of the most common air routes from China to India -

  • Guangzhou to Delhi – 6 days
  • Guangzhou to Chennai – 6 days
  • Guangzhou to Kolkata – 6 days
  • Guangzhou to Ahmedabad – 6 days
  • Guangzhou to Hyderabad – 5 days
  • Guangzhou to Mumbai – 7 days
  • Beijing to Chennai – 5 days
  • Beijing to Delhi – 6 days
  • Beijing to Hyderabad – 6 days
  • Beijing to 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 Mumbai – 7 days
  • Shenzhen to Kolkata– 7 days
  • Shenzhen to Chennai – 7 days
  • Shenzhen to Delhi – 6 days
  • Shenzhen to Ahmedabad – 8 days

Airports operational on the China to India route

Out of China  

  1. Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Shanghai (PVG)
  1. Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, Shenzhen (SZX)
  1. Beijing Capital International Airport, Beijing (PEK)
  1. Hongkong International Airport, Hongkong (HKG)
  1. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Guangzhou (CAN)

Read about China's busiest and top cargo handling airports here.  

To India

  1. Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi (DEL)
  1. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai (BOM)
  1. Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore (BLR)
  1. Chennai International Airport, Chennai (MAA)
  1. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata (CCU)
  1. Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad (HYD)
  1. Sardar Vallabhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad (AMD)
  1. Cochin International Airport, Kochi (COK)

Major air carriers operating from China to India

China has 7 cargo airlines, all of which transport goods on the route to India. Here is a list of cargo airlines out of China, and the airports they operate out of.

China Cargo Airlines and Airports of Operation

Cost of air freight from China to India

The basic air freight cost is calculated per kilogram (kg), on the weight or volumetric weight of the cargo, whichever of the two is higher. Volumetric weight of cargo is calculated by dividing the volume i.e. the length*weight*height in cubic centimeters (CBM) by 6000 [(LxWxH)/6000]. The rates per kg are highly volatile and vary depending on the demand and capacity supply at the time. Understand how to calculate the basic cost for your air freight in our blog what CBM is and how it impacts your freight cost.  

Other factors that significantly influence the cost of air freight from China to India is the type of cargo, volume and density ratio, and type of packing (carton, pallet). A host of other charges such as duties and taxes, handling costs, fuel surcharges, among others also add up to the total cost of air freight.  

Get current freight rates from China to India on Cogoport by following these simple steps.  

  1. Sign Up on Cogoport
  1. Click on the ‘Discover Rates’ button on the left pane of your dashboard
  1. Select the ‘Air’ button on the top right side
  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 air freight rates on Cogoport

Multiple other charges contribute to the total cost of air freight from China to India, such as the carrier’s charge for air freight, your freight forwarder’s fees, and insurance, among others. Understand more about these charges in our detailed air freight guide.

Also take into account the customs duties and taxes that are levied by Governments on imports and exports of goods. India and China don’t have any Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between them, so the duties and taxes levied on imports from China to India are heavy – at 12 percent on average. Be prepared to pay duties ranging from 5 percent on the lower end to 30 percent on the Chinese goods you import. These are determined based on your product’s HS Code which you can enter on the official Indian Customs tool to get details on the duties and taxes you will be required to pay. Read on import duties in India to understand what it costs to clear your goods.  

The liability for the different charges lie either with the exporter or the importer depending on the incoterm agreement between both parties.

Incoterms relevant to air freight  

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.  

Incoterms relevant to air freight

Below is a list of incoterms that apply to air freight -  

  • 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 airport, the seller’s own warehouse, or any other location. Liability lies with the seller until the buyer receives the goods.
  • 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 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 airport.  
  • 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 airport to a warehouse, factory, office premises, or any other location. Customs duties and taxes are, however, borne by the buyer at the airport.
  • 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.

Customs clearance for air freight 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. At the origin, it is necessary to legally clear goods for shipment to the destination. At the destination, it is done in order to release the goods to authorized persons.

Since this is an unavoidable, crucial part of international trade, it is important to know the requirements and necessary documents for customs clearance.  

Information and documents to be provided at origin  

  • 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 to clear air cargo in India

  • Airway bill (AWB)  
  • 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
  • Bill of Entry (BOE)  
  • Product Test Reports  
  • GATT & DGFT Declarations

Click here to better understand the air shipment process in detail.  

Alternatives to air freight

Ocean freight, is a widely chosen cargo transport mode for international logistics, and an alternative to air freight. It is relatively economical, but takes significantly longer than air freight. Shipping from China to India by ocean takes between 14 to 24 days, as compared with 3 to 8 days by air.  

Ocean freight is a great alternative when -  

  • Air freight costs are beyond your budget
  • Your goods do not need to be delivered urgently
  • You are shipping large volumes of goods

With ocean freight, the cargo is placed inside containers that are loaded onto ships. You can opt for a Full Container Load (FCL) or a Less than Container Load (LCL).  

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

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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