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Air Freight from China to Europe: A Complete Guide

May 09, 2024
Table of Contents

Moving goods by air from China to Europe can seem complex. This guide is here to make things easier. We'll cover critical points like planning, costs, choosing a carrier, and dealing with customs. Getting these details right in today's fast-paced business world can give you a real advantage.

Understanding the Basics

Air freight is all about speed. Key airports in China and Europe are the main hubs for this. Flights can deliver goods in 1-5 days, though they cost more than sea or land transport. This method is perfect for valuable items like electronics or things that must arrive quickly.

The process starts with picking up the goods, loading them at the airport, and clearing customs at the destination. It's essential to follow all the rules to avoid delays. You can choose different service levels, and tracking your shipment is easy.

What Affects Air Freight Costs and Times?

Air freight costs and times depend on many things. Understanding these factors can help you manage your shipping better.

Fuel Prices

The fuel cost can change a lot, affecting air freight rates. If oil prices go up, shipping costs usually do too. For example, between 2007 and 2008, the cost of shipping goods by air from China to the USA increased. This was because airlines had to spend more on fuel, and these extra costs were passed down to shippers. It's a clear reminder of how global oil markets can directly affect the cost of moving goods internationally.

Airport Fees

Different airports charge different fees, which can impact your shipping costs. This is also why the price can differ from one country to another or from one city to another. Bigger airports might charge more for services. Airports usually charge fees for landing, handling, and parking. The cost is calculated based on the aircraft's maximum Take-off Weight (MTOW) and can be significantly higher during peak hours to discourage congestion.

Cargo Type

Some items, like fresh food or dangerous goods, need special care. This can make shipping more expensive. For example, fresh fruits, which are perishable goods, require special care during shipping. Temperature-controlled containers are necessary to ensure they reach their destination in optimal condition. The need for special handling can increase shipping costs significantly compared to non-perishable cargo.


Packaging your goods efficiently is crucial for cost-effective shipping. One important consideration, especially in air freight, is the concept of volumetric weight. Also known as dimensional weight, it is a pricing technique airlines use to account for the space that a package occupies relative to its actual weight. Essentially, it considers a package's size and weight to determine shipping costs. This means that even if your cargo is lightweight and occupies a lot of space, you may be charged based on its volumetric weight rather than its actual weight.


Shipping goods from China to Europe by air? Remember, insurance is key. Costlier or fragile items mean higher insurance fees. But don't overdo it. You need just enough coverage to be safe, not to empty your wallet.

There's primary insurance, and then there's the whole deal, covering damages, loss, or delays. The right choice depends on the risk of your goods, the carrier's track record, and how easily you can replace the items.

Your shipping terms, or Incoterms, also play a part. They decide who insures the goods and when. Advice from experts or a freight forwarder can help you find the best insurance without overpaying.

Busy Times

During holidays or big sales, shipping gets more expensive and harder to book. Planning can help you avoid higher costs. 

Try not to ship goods in the following periods:

  • Holiday Season (Late November to Early January): The period leading up to Christmas and the New Year is traditionally the busiest for air freight, as retailers stock up on goods to meet consumer demand during the holiday shopping season. (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, …).
  • Chinese New Year (Late January or February): The weeks leading up to the Chinese New Year can see a significant increase in air freight activity as factories in China and other parts of Asia rush to fulfill orders before shutting down for the holiday period, which can last up to two weeks.
  • Back-to-School Season (Late August to September): This period can also see a spike in air freight activity, especially for goods related to education, fashion, and consumer electronics.
  • New Product Launches: Launching high-demand products, particularly in the tech and automotive sectors, can create peak periods for air freight as manufacturers rush to distribute new products globally.

World Events

Changes in politics or trade rules can affect shipping costs and times. It's good to stay informed about these changes. 

Take the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests as an example. Hong Kong is a key center for shipping and air freight worldwide. Many flights were delayed or canceled during this period due to political unrest. Hong Kong's airport exports a significant volume of goods from China, so the disruptions affected freight shipping from China to Europe. Consequently, airlines had to seek alternative, often longer, routes. This resulted in additional fuel costs and prolonged delivery times.

Technology and Airports

Newer planes and better airports can make shipping more efficient and sometimes cheaper. These improvements can reduce costs over time. But you can not control it if you are not in the field. When you called DHL to request a specific jet for your package, they said, 'Sir, this isn't Uber for parcels!


More competition lead to better prices for you. You might find better deals when there are more shipping companies to choose from.

Compare offers from freight forwarders, but remember that the better one isn't always the cheapest.

Customs and Security

The time it takes to get through customs and security can change how long shipping takes. Delays can happen, so having all your paperwork in order is essential.

Many things can change how much air freight costs and how long it takes. Trade policies and economic conditions in China and Europe can significantly impact. Exchange rates and technology also play a part. During busy times, like holidays, prices can go up because more people are shipping goods.

Fuel prices and the basic rules of supply and demand affect costs, too. Plus, global events like pandemics can disrupt shipping. The political situation and infrastructure in sending and receiving countries matter a lot.

Getting Ready to Ship

Choosing the right way to send your goods is crucial. You must decide between direct flights or transfers, affecting cost and timing. Consider which airports to use and whether you want fast but expensive shipping or a more economical option.

Packing your goods properly is important, especially if they're fragile or dangerous. Customs can add time to your shipping, so make sure all your paperwork is in order. Keeping an eye on your shipment and planning for busy times can help things go smoothly.

How to Budget for Air Freight

The cost depends on how much your shipment weighs and how big it is. Special items might cost more to send. Distance also matters. Prices can go up during busy shipping seasons.

Air freight is more expensive than other methods, but it's worth it for urgent shipments. Planning well can help you avoid extra costs. Getting quotes from different freight companies can help you find the best deal.

Fast & Reliable Air Freight Services by Abl-Logistics 

Looking for a dependable freight forwarder that can offer you the best prices and service? Look no further! Abl-Logistics is your trusted partner for air freight from China. Efficient, cost-effective and world-class - we provide the complete range of freight services to meet all your shipping needs. 

Choosing a Carrier

Picking the right carrier is a big decision. Look at their routes, prices, and how long they take to ship. Reliability is critical, so check their track record. A good tracking system and a focus on safety are also important.

Some carriers offer extra services like storage or help with customs, which can be helpful. And sometimes, smaller companies give you more personal service.

Remember to look for freight forwarders or freight brokers; they sometimes get you the best deal that directly deals with the airline.

Check how reliable the air freight company is by looking at its reputation. Also, see what kinds of things they usually ship. Different companies might ship different stuff. For example, some are better at shipping items with batteries.

It's important to look into insurance for your items in case they get lost or damaged. You might need extra insurance from some companies, which could make it less of a good deal.

Dealing with Customs

Customs can be tricky, but being prepared helps. Ensure you have all the required documents and know about any taxes or duties you must pay. Some items might have restrictions, so check ahead of time. A customs broker can make this process easier. 

When sending goods by air to Europe, you'll need a bunch of papers to get through customs. Here's a more straightforward list of what you usually need:

  • Sales Invoice: A paper that shows what you're selling, how much, and what it costs.
  • Packing List: Tells what's in your shipment, like how much it weighs and how big it is.
  • Air Shipping Note: This is your shipping ticket with the air carrier, showing what you're sending and that they've got it.
  • Made-In Label: A paper that shows where your goods were made, necessary for taxes and rules.
  • Permission Slip (if needed): Some items need a special okay to come into Europe.
  • Insurance Paper: Shows your goods are insured in case they get lost or broken on the way.
  • Shipping List: Sometimes, you need a more detailed list, especially for personal or used items.
  • Safety Paper: Tells customs about your goods for safety checks.
  • Value Paper: You should declare the worth of your goods.
  • Special Papers: You need extra papers to show they're safe for certain things like food or medicine.

What Can't You Ship to Europe?

The Schengen Area enforces strict regulations on the importation of certain items, including:

  • Self-defense sprays
  • Flammable gases
  • Explosive materials or fireworks
  • Corrosive substances such as acids
  • Hazardous waste materials
  • Diamonds
  • Forged or pirated items
  • Certain nuts
  • Mercury Thermometers

Double-check that your treasures are Europe-bound approved before you go treasure hunting for your stock! Certain items, such as lithium-ion batteries, are subject to regulations. In China, a specific license is required to ship these goods. It's essential to verify this with your freight forwarder ahead of time.

Read more about Prohibitions and Restrictions in Europe :

Most affordable air freight routes from China to Europe

Air freight to Eastern European countries often comes with lower costs. This is because these areas are less in demand compared to Western Europe. Also, big shipping hubs like Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Antwerp in Belgium, Hamburg in Germany, and Valencia in Spain tend to offer better deals. They handle a lot of cargo, so they can ship more often and mix different shipments. 

These routes could be a good choice if you want to save money on shipping without delaying your deliveries.


Air freight from China to Europe might seem daunting, but it's manageable with the proper knowledge. This guide has given you the basics to make your shipping process smoother and more efficient. Staying informed and flexible is key to overcoming any challenges.

Are you ready to send goods from China?

ABL-LOGISTICS offer international air freight, international sea freight (FCL & LCL), oversized cargo transportation, door-to-door delivery, or delivery to Amazon warehouses.

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