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4 options for managing shipping and customs issues with China

by Renaud Anjoran

When new buyers ask me how to manage shipping and customs issues, I usually tell them to find a freight forwarder in their country. But there are actually 4 options:

1. Do it all internally, for full control

I have only seen big groups follow this strategy. They book space directly with shipping lines, airlines, trucking companies… and they manage customs declarations on both sides (the exporting and the importing countries).

I do not think this is a viable option for SMEs.

2. Work with a freight forwarder in your country, for convenience

This is what most importers do, it seems. It is the most convenient option, provided the importer has direct access to an account manager.

Be careful who you work with. What often happens with large forwarders such as DHL is that the buyer does not have access to an account manager. I heard their followup can be a disaster.

So what happens is this: SMEs try to work with a forwarder of the right size, who care about their business. But these small forwarders do not always have their own office in China. They usually work with local agents, and add their margin on top of that agent’s fee. So this is not the cheapest option.

3. Work with a forwarder based in China, for speed

In a discussion with an employee of a local logistics company, I realized this is not a rare situation. It seems like many buyers have chosen this option.

The advantage is speed. There is no need for an account manager, based in the importing country, to ask questions to his agent in Shenzhen (for example) and to wait for a response.

But the problem of the extra profit (on top of the agent in the importing country) is still present.

4. Work with a forwarder on each side, for speed and savings

A fourth option is to be in direct contact with each party. For example, a New York importer will be in touch with a forwarder in NYC, another one in Shenzhen, and so on (depending on the provenance of the goods).

These agents are put in contact on a per project basis, and it generally works fine — they are used to collaborating this way.

This is probably the right choice for SMEs that want to keep costs down. Hey, for some buyers every dollar saved is worth fighting for!

And it allows for a higher degree of control, too. You can see who will be processing your shipments. As written here, this is pretty important.

What option have you chosen, and how has it turned out? Feel free to comment and share your experiences!


Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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