Sea Freight

Sea Freight Explained

If you're interesting in importing all over the world, you may want to take advantage of the savings of sea freight. Today, we're explaining everything you need to know about the process

What Is Sea Freight?

Sea freight is a method of transporting large quantities of product via cargo ships; goods are packed into containers and these containers are loaded onto a vessel, where they will be sailed to their destination country. As a typical cargo vessel can carry 18,000 containers (TEU), sea freight is a cost-efficient way to transport high quantities of product.

Who Uses Sea Freight?

Sea freight is often used by people importing from China or anywhere else in the world. For people buying their stock overseas (and therefore bulk goods), sea freight shipping is usually the cheapest shipping method. If you're importing a bulk amount of goods, sea freight could be the most cost-efficient option for you

How Long Does Sea Freight Take?

There are multiple factors to consider when explaining the time sea freight takes.

Firstly, the time spent on water and the time shipments take from door-to-door are different; due to the process of sea freight (which we will explain later in this post), there are a lot of steps the goods have to go through before they reach the vessel and then once they leave it.

On top of this, the location of your goods affects the time sea freight takes. This is basic geography – some places are further away than others!

Typically, there will be around a week at each end of the process on top of your time on water. For example, if you're importing from central China, the time on water may be 30 days – but you'll need to add two weeks onto those 30 days for customs in both countries.

Unfortunately, there can be delays in sea freight that can add time onto your shipment time. We've written an entire post about delays in sea freight shipping and how to avoid them. The main delays will usually occur when importers don't have all the necessary documentation, or their goods are held up at customs. If you're well prepared, you shouldn't have anything to worry about! Plus, if you're shipping with us over at Andwer Freight Services, we help you get all your ducks in a row and assist with your documentation

Sea Freight vs. Air Freight vs. Couriers

When importing globally, there are multiple methods of international transport that you can use. The main three are:

  • Couriers. Courier services are your typical door-to-door service; you'll be familiar with many couriers such as Hermes and UPS. For small shipments.
  • Air freight. Air freight is when your goods are loaded onto a plane instead of a vessel. For larger quantities than couriers, but for smaller quantities than sea freight.
  • Sea freight. Sea freight is when your goods are loaded onto a vessel. Bulk shipments are best for this method of transport.

Each mode of transport is most efficient for different types of shipments. If you're looking for the cheapest way to import goods, sea freight is most cost-efficient; however, it takes the longest amount of time. Air freight and courier services are both far quicker (usually around 3-6 days delivery time) but, due to smaller vehicles, the space inside is priced at a premium, so they're both expensive


When you're shipping via sea freight, one of the biggest things that will affect the sea freight costs you run into are what Incoterms you're trading under.

Incoterms are essentially an international trading rulebook; each term has a specific set of rules and responsibilities that each party needs to follow. This makes international trading simpler as both parties are aware of what actions they need to be taking and the language barrier isn't an issue.

Sea Freight Process

We've mentioned the process of importing from China or other countries via sea freight in this post already – now it's time to explain it! Depending on whether your goods are LCL or FCL, the importing process will be slightly different, but here's a rough outline:

  • You hire a shipping company (like ourselves!) and we collect the goods from your supplier.
  • Your goods are cleared through their origin country's customs.
  • If your goods are LCL, they will then be loaded into a shared container. If they're FCL, they'll be loaded into one container.
  • The containers are loaded onto the next available vessel and will be sailed round the world to you.
  • Once they reach the South Africa, they will be processed by South African customs& vice versa for cases where you are shipping good out of the country once they reach their destinations they will be processed by the destination countries customs department.
  • If your goods are LCL, they'll be unpacked from the shared container and shipped to you either as pallets or loose cartons.
  • If your goods are FCL, they container will be loaded onto the back of a lorry and delivered to you, still sealed.