Air or Sea Shipping, Which is Best for You? (With Tables)

Air or Sea shipping

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If you want to import goods from China, the first shipping mode you will consider is sea shipping or air shipping. Which shipping mode is the best for you? There are many differences between sea and air shipping regarding freight, timeliness, and transportation carrier.

Means of Transport

In terms of means of transport, international air transport takes the airlines’ aircraft as the means of transport, and the mode of operation is airport to airport. International shipping takes the ships of shipping companies as the means of transportation, and the mode of operation is port to port.

Transportation Subject

The main body of international air transport is major airlines and logistics companies, such as Air Canada, American Airlines, British airlines, etc. the goods are transported to the designated destination through these international airlines; The main body of international shipping is the major shipping companies, such as Maersk and EVA, through which the goods are delivered to the designated destination.

Logistics Prescription

Due to their differences in means of transport, there are great differences in the logistics timeliness when they arrive in the same country. International air transport uses aircraft, and international maritime transport uses ships, and the timeliness is fast. In terms of timeliness, air transportation will be more convenient. Sea freight is slower than air freight, but the process is relatively complex and the transportation cycle is long, resulting in high risk. If it is a large and heavy cargo, it should be better to choose sea transportation, and it is not recommended for small cargo. Air transportation is fast and the process is simpler than sea transportation. If the speed is fast, the market feedback will be better. The disadvantage is that the freight is expensive. So what is the specific prescription of air and sea transportation? Generally speaking, the normal time limit of TNT, DHL, UPS, and other international express air routes is 3-7 working days.

For example, EMS and some air transport lines are roughly 7-15 working days. The transportation time by sea is relatively long, generally about 35-50 days. If it is slow, it may take up to 2 months. For importers, sending a bathtub from Shanghai to New York by sea costs about $1000 and takes 35-45 days. Of course, this does not include the waiting time for advance booking of shipping. Depending on the product’s weight, the air freight is about $2000-$3000. However, air transportation only takes 3-4 days. Therefore, paying double the cost can save 4-7 weeks, which is very valuable for some suppliers and importers.

Sea shipping

Logistics Cost

There is also a big difference in tariff between international air transport and international shipping. Although air transport has fast logistics timeliness, it has high transportation costs, so the tariff is relatively expensive. International shipping has low transportation costs and strong carrying capacity, so the tariff is relatively low.

Inspection Method

International shipping sometimes requires lifting and unloading, which is time-consuming and costly. It will have an inspection fee, loading and unloading fee, trailer fee, and so on. When delivering goods by international air, the principle of inspection before warehousing shall be implemented. It is fast and generally has no inspection fee.

Customs Clearance Method

Although there is no great difference between international air transport and international maritime transport in the customs clearance process, there is a great difference in customs clearance timeliness. International air clearance is usually completed within 1-2 days, while international shipping takes about 3-4 days. In addition, in terms of miscellaneous charges and declaration documents, international air transportation is less than sea transportation. For example, for export to the United States, sea transportation needs to declare AMS (American anti-terrorism manifest system), while air transportation does not.
We all know that the freight per kilogram by sea is cheaper than that by air. In terms of time, the air is faster than the sea. As for the limitation that the transportation carrier is actually the means of transportation, sea transportation has excellent advantages over air transportation. In fact, air transportation is extended on the basis of sea transportation. In foreign trade, sea transportation was first developed, and then air transportation was developed.

The costs of all transport modes and supply chain issues strongly suggest that the air cargo market will become hot in the second half of this year, and there will be no stagnation in spring and summer. Due to the surge in demand, port congestion, long waiting times, container shortages, and other factors, many companies are shifting from transportation to air cargo.

How to Choose

How do choose between sea transportation and air transportation? Here’s an analysis based on the actual delivery: one importer is mainly engaged in the bicycle industry. Before that, they had always imported by sea from China. But the survey found that one problem is that the most popular bicycles are imported directly by air. In addition, due to the surge in demand for products during the epidemic, it takes 20-30 days for each shipping before the epidemic and 60-70 days when the epidemic occurs. In this case, the time consumption is too large and has a great impact on our performance. The customer can’t wait at all and can only choose air transportation. Under such conditions, air transportation is not only fast but also more able to meet the needs of customers. Large sports equipment such as table tennis tables and treadmills are usually transported by sea due to cost problems. But now, due to the global epidemic, many people are required to stay at home, resulting in a surge in demand for these products, which are currently being transported by air. This leads to a problem that the freight will gradually increase.


Air ShippingSea Shipping
Means of Transportairlines’ aircraftships of shipping companies
Mode of Operationairport to airportport to port
Logistics Timeliness3-7 working days35-50 days
Clearance Timeliness1-2 days3-4 days
Declaration DocumentsSimpleComplex
Inspection Methodno inspection feeinspection fee, loading and unloading fee, trailer fee

Air or Sea shipping
air shipping


In fact, how to choose between sea transportation and air transportation still needs to be determined according to their own needs. For those goods that are not in a hurry, sea transportation can be basically met. But for urgently needed products, air transportation can save more time. So when can I choose sea transportation and air transportation? Generally speaking, small parcels and document luggage are suitable for air transportation by international express and can be delivered in a short time to meet people’s urgent transportation needs. As the unit price of air transportation is expensive, small packages less than 20kg are eager to receive, so you can choose air transportation. Sea transportation is suitable for bulk goods and the guest’s requirements are not very urgent. The freight will be much cheaper, but we need to be mentally prepared in terms of timeliness. Air transportation and sea transportation are limited. For safety reasons, a single overweight and oversized item cannot be transported by air. Like many liquids, inflammable explosives cannot be transported by air. Compared with air transportation, the cargo restrictions of sea transportation will be much less. As long as it is not contraband, the products that cannot be sent by air can be sent by sea.
Therefore, I believe you have a certain understanding of the difference between sea transportation and air transportation and their advantages and disadvantages. In fact, neither of the two shipping modes is the best, which depends on your needs. Suppliers and importers need to analyze the specific situation. Only the mode of shipping suitable for goods is the best.

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