Complete Guide: 7 Ways to Save Alibaba Shipping Costs

If you’ve ever imported various products from China, you might have observed that numerous sellers on Alibaba tend to impose hefty fees for shipping.

Typically, you can reduce Alibaba shipping costs through three strategies:

  1. Selecting an efficient shipping method
  2. Optimizing the product itself (via sensible packaging)
  3. Engaging a shipping agent.

How to Shipping Goods from Alibaba for Startups?


Reducing Alibaba shipping costs on your initial order (under 100kg) involves a straightforward strategy. For first-timers ordering from Alibaba or directly from China, it’s advisable to have the supplier handle the shipping and include the cost in the invoice.

Air shipments are typically straightforward, requiring only your address to be communicated to the supplier.

Given that your first order isn’t large, letting the supplier manage the shipping can provide you with a clear insight into the process.

This approach not only simplifies logistics but also helps in understanding Alibaba shipping costs, tracking, and the nuances of ordering samples from Alibaba, making the overall experience smoother.

How Much Ordering Samples From Alibaba?

For lightweight shipments, particularly those under or equal to 200 lbs., air freight is the most efficient and recommended option.

This method balances speed and cost-effectiveness, with Alibaba shipping costs generally falling between $6 to $15 per pound.

Utilizing air freight for such orders allows for faster delivery times, making it an ideal choice for businesses in need of quick restocks or for sending samples. When ordering samples from Alibaba or making small, urgent orders, consider this shipping method to optimize for both time and budget.

Additionally, Alibaba tracking services provide real-time updates, ensuring you can monitor your shipment’s progress every step of the way.

This combination of affordability, speed, and tracking capabilities makes air freight a preferred choice for navigating Alibaba’s logistics landscape efficiently.

Why Is Alibaba Shipping So Expensive?

Navigating Alibaba shipping costs can be daunting due to several factors impacting the price:

  1. International Shipping: Since Alibaba primarily connects buyers with suppliers in China, the considerable distance to global destinations significantly influences the shipping fees.
  2. Minimum Order Requirements: Suppliers on Alibaba often set minimum order quantities (MOQs), compelling buyers to purchase in bulk. This can escalate the cumulative shipping cost per item.
  3. Preference for Air Freight: For quicker delivery, sellers might opt for air freight over sea freight, which, while faster, also comes at a premium cost.
  4. Package Size Matters: Shipping rates are frequently based on volumetric weight, accounting for a package’s dimensions as well as its actual weight. Consequently, even lightweight items can incur high shipping costs if they’re large in size.
  5. Fluctuating Fuel Costs: The dynamic nature of fuel prices directly affects shipping rates, with increases in fuel costs leading to higher shipping expenses.

By understanding these elements, buyers can better anticipate and manage their shipping expenses when ordering samples from Alibaba, tracking their shipments, and overall reducing the Alibaba shipping costs.

alibaba shipping time

How Long Does Alibaba Shipping Take?

The shipping duration from Alibaba varies widely depending on several factors, including the shipping method chosen, the destination country, and the specific supplier’s processing time.

Here’s a general breakdown:

  1. Air Express (e.g., DHL, FedEx, UPS): This is the fastest option, typically taking about 3-7 business days. It’s ideal for small, urgent orders or samples.

  2. Air Freight: Slower than express but faster than sea freight, air freight usually takes about 7-15 business days. It’s suitable for medium-sized shipments.

  3. Sea Freight: The most cost-effective method for large shipments, but also the slowest. Sea freight can take anywhere from 15-60 days, depending on the destination port and customs clearance processes.

  4. Rail Freight: Available for certain routes, such as China to Europe, taking around 18-25 days. It’s faster than sea freight but usually more expensive.

  5. Domestic Shipping: If the goods are already in a warehouse in the destination country (e.g., a US warehouse for US customers), shipping can be as quick as 2-5 days.

Keep in mind, these are approximate timelines.

The actual time can vary based on the supplier’s production time, the time of year (e.g., holidays can cause delays), and the efficiency of customs clearance in the destination country.

Always confirm shipping times with your supplier and consider ordering samples to test the shipping process and timing.

Dimensional Weight vs Actual Weight

Navigating the complexities of shipping is essential for businesses, where cost often plays a pivotal role without being the sole deciding factor.

To begin, understanding the calculation of shipping prices is crucial.

This involves distinguishing between two types of weight: actual weight and dimensional weight, as illustrated below.

This distinction is key for efficiently managing Alibaba shipping costs, especially when ordering samples from Alibaba, where both Alibaba tracking and shipping considerations come into play.


When it comes to shipping, the cost is often a critical factor in decision-making.

Here’s a breakdown of how to figure out your shipping price, especially when dealing with Alibaba orders, which includes understanding the concepts of actual weight versus dimensional weight for your packages.

  1. Actual Weight is pretty straightforward—it’s the total weight of your product, including its packaging.
  2. Dimensional Weight considers the package’s volume (length x width x height). For sea freight, the formula is the package volume divided by 6000, and for air freight, it’s divided by 5000.

The Billable Weight is determined by comparing the actual weight and the dimensional weight, with the higher of the two being used to calculate your shipping rate.

This is where you can potentially save on Alibaba shipping costs. By working closely with your supplier to optimize your product’s packaging, you aim to minimize the package volume, thereby reducing the dimensional weight.

If you’re planning regular shipments, it’s wise to have a conversation about packaging solutions that could significantly lower your Alibaba shipping costs.

Remember, efficient packaging can lead to substantial savings on shipping, making it crucial to explore all possibilities for reducing Alibaba shipping costs, enhancing the efficiency of ordering samples from Alibaba, and ensuring smoother Alibaba tracking updates.


Who Can Help You Ship from Alibaba, By Yourself, Or by an Agent?

When ordering products from Alibaba, you’re presented with various shipping management strategies.

Each option offers its own advantages and challenges, and the best choice hinges on your unique requirements and situation.

This decision impacts factors such as Alibaba shipping costs, the efficiency of receiving an Alibaba order sample, the reliability of Alibaba tracking, and the process for ordering samples from Alibaba.

Supplier-Managed Shipping

For those new to importing, a popular option is to let the supplier handle the shipping logistics.

This method is quite simple; you just need to ask the supplier to manage the shipment under terms like CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight) or DAP (Delivered at Place) to your specified location.

While this method is convenient, it’s important to note that it might result in elevated Alibaba shipping costs since suppliers often include an additional markup on the actual freight fees.

Direct Collaboration with a Carrier

For entrepreneurs who desire full oversight of their shipping details, working directly with a shipping carrier is a viable choice.

This approach, however, requires a substantial investment of time and knowledge, rendering it less ideal for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) without dedicated logistics teams.

Working with a Freight Forwarder

Choosing this method allows for ease, as collaborating with a local freight forwarder can simplify the shipping process.

Nonetheless, it’s essential to select a forwarder that has a robust network in China.

Some forwarders might outsource their tasks to local agents, which could introduce additional charges and possible delays.

This factor is particularly important when managing Alibaba shipping costs, ordering samples from Alibaba, and ensuring accurate Alibaba tracking for your shipments.

Utilizing a Freight Forwarder Based in China

Choosing a freight forwarder based in China is becoming a preferred method for many businesses.

These forwarders have the benefit of strong relationships with suppliers and serve as your on-the-ground representatives.

This arrangement ensures you stay updated with Alibaba tracking information, can easily order samples from Alibaba, and facilitates efficient handling of Alibaba shipping costs.

They are instrumental in solving any problems quickly, ensuring your orders, including those less than 100kg or sample orders, are managed effectively and cost-efficiently.

Details about 4 Shipping from Alibaba Ways

Exploring various logistics strategies can significantly affect both the duration of transit and the associated freight costs. It’s crucial to identify the most economical shipping method for your needs.

For orders dispatched via air, expect Alibaba shipping times to range from 3 to 10 working days. If opting for sea freight, Alibaba shipping duration could extend from 30 to 45 days.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into the four most prevalent shipping methods. This will enable you to choose an appropriate strategy to optimize your Alibaba shipping costs, ensuring efficient Alibaba tracking and the ability to order samples from Alibaba without incurring unnecessary expenses.

Regular Post

Opting for standard China Post or Hong Kong Post delivery offers the most cost-effective solution for small shipments, such as samples and parcels, with an expected arrival time of 15 to 35 days.

This option allows for online tracking and tracing, though updates may not always be promptly available.

However, it’s important to note that this method is not generally recommended for the majority of shipments.

Despite its affordability, it poses risks due to its lack of security and the difficulty in locating lost packages.

For those involved in drop shipping, this method can be considered a viable option, but it’s wise to weigh the pros and cons, especially when considering Alibaba shipping costs, Alibaba order sample processes, Alibaba tracking capabilities, and the overall reliability of ordering samples from Alibaba.


Air Express

For those new to importing, utilizing a courier company like DHL, UPS, or FedEx often presents the most convenient shipping option.

These services offer the benefit of expedited delivery times, typically within 3 to 5 business days globally, complemented by the ability to monitor your shipment through online tracking.

The major perk of opting for an express courier lies in the hassle-free delivery experience it provides.

You simply need to sign for the package upon its arrival. Generally, courier services are fast and dependable.

In the event of any issues, the availability of a tracking number facilitates swift resolution.

However, it’s crucial to consider the primary drawback: courier services command significantly higher prices compared to standard postal services.

This factor is essential when evaluating Alibaba shipping costs, Alibaba order sample strategies, Alibaba tracking facilities, and the efficiency of ordering samples from Alibaba.

Air Express Vs Air Forwards

Air Freight

When the bulk of your sourced items exceeds the practical limit for courier services, such as weights around 100kg, air freight emerges as a highly efficient alternative.

Air freight’s appeal lies in its balance of speed and cost, offering a middle ground for shipments not urgent enough for express courier services yet too critical for slower sea freight options.

Typically, you can expect a transit time of about 8 to 10 days, contingent on airline schedules, which is reasonably quick for international shipping.

Notably, air freight services often stipulate a minimum weight requirement, with the cost for air express averaging between $5 to $10 per kg, boasting a delivery timeline of 3 to 5 business days. In contrast, air freight rates are slightly more economical, ranging from $4 to $8 per kg, with shipping durations extending from 5 to 10 business days.

Included is a comparative analysis of shipping costs for air freight versus air express from China to the United Kingdom, highlighting the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of choosing the right shipping method.

This information is crucial for managing Alibaba shipping costs, ordering samples from Alibaba, utilizing Alibaba tracking for timely updates, and optimizing the overall process of ordering samples from Alibaba.


Sea freight/Ocean freight

Ocean transport is known for its capacity to handle large volumes of cargo, offering significant cost advantages. This method’s ability to accommodate a wide range of goods makes it a go-to option in the logistics sector.

Planning is key when opting for sea freight, as the longer transit times, typically ranging from 30 to 60 days, require forward thinking. However, the wait can be well worth it for those not in a rush, as it often results in lower Alibaba shipping costs.

When it comes to ocean freight, you have the choice between Full Container Load (FCL) and Less than Container Load (LCL). Your selection between these options will affect both the Alibaba order sample and overall shipping expenses, depending on your cargo’s volume and the container size needed.


FCL = Full Container Load

LCL = Less (than) Container Load

Typically, there are different size options when it comes to shipping containers. You can choose the different sizes based on your needs.


If you’re buying a substantial amount from your Chinese supplier, you might either fill an entire shipping container or just a part of it.

When you fill a whole container, it’s called FCL (full container load), which usually works out cheaper per unit in terms of volume and weight.

But if you’re not buying enough for a full container, air freight might be too pricey. That’s where LCL (less than container load) comes in handy.

With LCL, your items share space in a container with other buyers’ items, making it a cost-effective solution.

What is LCL vs FCL?

Tracking FCL shipments is straightforward through the shipping company’s website, ensuring accurate arrival predictions.

With FCL, your items remain separate from others, reducing the risk of damage or loss during transit compared to LCL, where items are consolidated with others before loading.

FCL processing is faster as your shipment is loaded directly into a container, unlike LCL, which involves consolidation with other shipments first.

Considering cost breakdown per unit, FCL tends to be cheaper. Your choice between FCL and LCL depends on the volume of your shipment:

  1. For 1cbm~8cbm cargo, opt for LCL.
  2. For 8cbm~15cbm, choose based on the practical situation between FCL and LCL.
  3. For over 15cbm, choose FCL without hesitation.

What are the Cheapest Alibaba Shipping Costs?

Sea freight The most cost-effective option for shipping from Alibaba, making it ideal for those seeking low costs.

Express shipping tends to be the most expensive method when buying from Alibaba. To explore special shipping methods, consult your suppliers directly.

For products weighing hundreds of pounds, air or sea freight is more suitable. This comprehensive guide provides insights into shipping from Alibaba.

Compare Different Alibaba Shipping Methods

Shipping Method Pros Cons Port to Port Door to Door Price

Air Express

  1. Fastest and Safety
  2. Door to Door Service
  1. High cost
  2. Limitation of product categories and CBM
2-5 days


Air Freight

  1. Fast delivery
  2. 20% cheaper than courier
  3. Extensive global shipping
  4. Increased safety
  1. High cost
  2. Limitation of size and weight
  3. Weather sensitive delays

1-5 days

4-11 days


Sea Freight(LCL)

  1. Cheaper cost
  2. No limit of size, weight
  1. Time consuming
  2. Server delay during peak season

14-42 days

15-47 days


Sea Freight(FCL)

  1. Cheaper cost
  2. No limit of size, weight
  1. Time consuming
  2. Server delay during peak season

14-42 days

22-50 days


Rail Shipping

  1. Fast than sea shipping
  2. Large transport capacity
  1. Cost 10-30% higher than sea freight
  2. Limited operating lines
  3. Less flexibility

15-18 days

20-30 days

How to Choose Alibaba’s Best Shipping Method?

Once your order is confirmed, it’s time to prepare the goods and select the best Alibaba shipping method for delivery. There are two main delivery methods: online delivery and offline delivery.

Online delivery offers convenience as you can place orders directly on the platform with ease.

Offline delivery, on the other hand, boasts lower prices, a wide array of channels, and the capability to ship various sensitive or dangerous items at affordable rates.

Each of the four shipping modes discussed above comes with its unique combination of base and variable costs.

Modes with lower base costs are more economical for smaller shipments, whereas those with lower variable weight costs are preferable for larger shipments, despite potentially starting with higher base costs.

To aid in your decision-making process, refer to the table below for a comparison of shipping costs across different weights.

Note: The table provided serves for illustrative purposes only, with figures roughly correlating to current China freight costs.


The grey squares indicate the most cost-effective mode for each shipment.

For larger shipping weights, such as over 100kg, sea freight LCL can offer savings, while FCL is the most economical choice for significantly larger shipments.

It’s important to note that this comparison of Alibaba shipping costs focuses solely on pricing and doesn’t account for shipping times.

How to Save Alibaba Shipping Costs?


Generally, Here are 7 steps you can follow to save on Alibaba shipping costs:

Optimize Packaging

Ever noticed excess space in your package that ends up costing you?

Overlooking this detail can drain your supply chain budget.

Alibaba shipping costs are calculated based on either weight or volume of goods.

To cut expenses, optimize your packaging to minimize package volume.

Shipment Consolidation

Consolidating your shipments is a smart strategy to cut down Alibaba shipping costs.

By combining smaller quantities of goods, you can create larger shipments, which often come with lower shipping rates.

SKAB China warehouse offers international order consolidation services, allowing you to send goods to our Chinese address for warehousing.

With this service, you can avoid the hassle of receiving multiple shipments separately.

We’ll store your shipments and consolidate them, especially beneficial when ordering from different suppliers.

Find The Right Shipping Agent

Global freight forwarders with renowned brand names leverage their status to secure advantageous freight rates and treatment from major air and ocean carriers.

They also boast a wider global presence, attracting sizeable clients who receive priority service.

However, in a recent mystery shopping survey, only seven out of the top 20 freight forwarders were willing to provide quotes to small businesses.

If your shipping budget falls between $1 and $800, it’s advisable to steer clear of these larger forwarders.

On the other hand, smaller freight forwarders often allocate more time to handle smaller shipments and are inclined to cater to the needs of smaller clients.

Using inexpensive shipping agents from China carries several risks:

  1. Poor Service: Cheap agents may deliver subpar service, resulting in delays, lost shipments, and unresolved issues.
  2. Hidden Fees: These agents might impose undisclosed charges, catching you off guard when you receive your bill.
  3. Inexperienced Staff: Employing inexperienced personnel can lead to errors and mishandling of shipments.
  4. Fraud: Beware of fraudulent agents who may deceive you or provide falsified shipping documents. Always conduct thorough research and opt for reputable shipping agents.

Route Planning and Optimization

It’s crucial to acknowledge that freight forwarders might not specialize in every product type or shipping route to all destinations.

Therefore, conducting thorough research and partnering with a dependable freight forwarder is essential to ensure the best shipping method for your specific requirements.

  1. Applying shipping strategies can help buyers save money on Alibaba shipping without compromising service quality.
  2. For instance, some merchants opt to ship a small portion of their cargo, around 5% to 10%, via air freight, while the rest is sent by sea.
  3. Timing orders strategically is another effective approach.

Avoiding peak shipping seasons, when rates tend to be higher, and scheduling orders during slower periods can result in significant cost savings.

Compare Costs

Relying solely on price when making decisions can be risky, especially if you’re trying to save a small amount on a significant shipment.

Some freight forwarders may offer initial discounts to secure the deal but offset them with hidden fees or reduced service quality in subsequent transactions.

The allure of the cheapest Alibaba shipping price often comes with hidden caveats.

Around 70% of low-cost shipping quotes conceal undisclosed terms and conditions.

While this may not be problematic if the services offered align with your needs, it’s essential to exercise caution and understand the reasons behind significantly cheaper offers.

Otherwise, you may encounter issues with unreliable shipping agents, such as

  1. overestimating volume or weight.
  2. poor follow-up service.
  3. inadequate compensation for shipping problem.
  4. difficulties with refunds, or even lost shipments.

Negotiate with the Sellers

Absolutely, it’s a familiar scenario.

Purchasing items from overseas can often yield significant cost savings, but shipping expenses can sometimes pose a challenge.

While negotiating with the supplier is an option, ultimately, it’s up to their discretion whether they’re open to negotiation.

Exploring different shipping options is another strategy worth considering.

Sometimes, there might be more affordable alternatives than initially calculated.

And if all else fails, widening your search to include additional suppliers is a viable approach.

Many products on Alibaba are offered by multiple agents and manufacturers, so you may find better pricing elsewhere.

Pick Up Your Shipment at Port

To reduce Alibaba shipping costs, consider picking up your shipments at the port if you’re located nearby.

This can lead to significant cost savings by bypassing fees associated with supplier or freight forwarder handling.

Here’s how to effectively manage self-pickup at the port:

  1. Confirm with your supplier that self-pickup is permitted.
  2. Arrange for a suitable vehicle and driver to transport your shipment from the port to your destination.
  3. Budget for any port fees and taxes that may apply.
  4. Stay informed about the shipping schedule and be prepared to wait for your shipment’s arrival.

As for contacting a freight forwarder to obtain a quote for Alibaba shipping costs, it’s recommended to reach out directly through their preferred communication channels, such as email or phone.

Provide detailed information about your shipment, including its size, weight, and destination, to ensure an accurate quote.

How to Quote Alibaba Shipment Costs?

At this stage, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with shipping incoterms.

These are internationally recognized trade terms that specify when and where the transfer of cargo occurs during the shipping process.

Understanding incoterms helps clarify responsibilities between buyers and sellers, ensuring smoother transactions and clearer expectations.


Always ensure you communicate your desired incoterm, such as FOB Shanghai, to your supplier or freight forwarder when requesting a shipping quote.

Failure to do so may result in unexpected additional costs.

Other commonly used incoterms include FOB, EXW, CIF, and DDP. For more details on these terms, refer to our comprehensive video explanation.

When seeking an Alibaba shipping quotation, freight forwarders typically require specific information, including:

  1. Shipping method: Air or ocean
  2. Total cargo volume (CBM) or total weight (Kgs)
  3. Weight and dimensions of each carton
  4. Freight term: EXW factory or FOB
  5. Pick-up address: factory address or port name
  6. Delivery address
  7. Insurance preference (Yes/No)

Note that freight quotes usually do not include duty and tax.

Ensure you have this information ready when requesting a quote, understanding that the final freight cost may only be confirmed once the products are manufactured and packed.

Nonetheless, providing this information allows for an estimate to be provided.

Shipping from Alibaba Documents You May Need?

Once you’ve selected a freight forwarder and received a quotation, your focus shifts to preparing the necessary shipping documents required at your country’s border. These documents typically include:

  1. Commercial Invoice
  2. Packing List
  3. Certification
  4. Other optional documents for Customs (e.g., POA)
  5. Bill of Lading for the carrier/Airway bill

What is the Bill of Lading vs Airway bill?

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the Bill of Lading and Airway Bill.

After successfully coordinating with your freight forwarder and completing all necessary processes for air or sea freight, you’ll receive either a Bill of Lading (B/L) for sea shipments or an Airway Bill (AWB) for air shipments.

The B/L is issued by an ocean carrier to acknowledge the receipt of cargo for shipment, while the AWB serves as the receipt issued by the airline.

It’s crucial to note that if you haven’t made full payment to your supplier, they may withhold the B/L until payment is received in full.

Without the B/L or AWB, your freight forwarder cannot proceed with customs clearance, emphasizing the importance of timely payment to ensure smooth logistics operations.

Do you Need Shipping Insurance?


Investing in appropriate insurance when importing goods from China is highly advisable for all importers, with cargo insurance being a popular choice.

Alibaba shipping damage protection, Shipping insurance is relatively inexpensive, typically ranging from US$50 to US$100.

However, it’s important to note that shipping insurance usually only covers the value of the cargo in case of transportation damage, excluding any potential losses related to sales or product development costs.

While you can usually inquire about insurance options from your freight forwarder, here’s a rough estimate equation you can use to calculate insurance costs yourself:

Shipping Insurance ≅ Value of Goods * 1.1 * 0.1% ~ 0.3%.

It’s worth mentioning that this equation may not be universally used by all forwarders, so it’s best to confirm the final price with your freight forwarder.

In general, insurance typically covers lost items rather than damaged ones.

Therefore, it’s essential to work closely with your supplier to ensure proper packaging, especially for fragile items, to minimize the risk of damage during transit.

Final Checklist of Shipping from Alibaba

Reducing Alibaba shipping costs is definitely a priority, but ensuring the safe, fast, and efficient delivery of your goods to their destination is equally important.

Once you’ve selected your preferred China freight forwarder, it’s crucial to go through a final checklist to ensure that nothing is overlooked.


Save Alibaba Shipping Costs Conclusion

The most effective way to reduce Alibaba shipping costs is to handle the shipping yourself and partner with a reliable shipping agent.

A key indicator of a freight forwarder’s quality of service is their responsiveness to your quote requests.

Delayed responses may indicate poor communication during the shipping process.

SKAB specializes in managing various aspects of the import process, offering expertise in global transportation, including air and sea freight, Amazon FBA, DDP, China consolidation services, and express cargo.

We ensure efficient and reliable procedures to help you save on Alibaba shipping costs.

To assist you further in saving on Alibaba shipping costs, we provide a reference price for shipping from China.

Simply fill out the form, and we’ll respond within one day.