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Master the basics of international freight with help from Alibaba.com experts

New to ocean shipping? Your top questions, answered.

Want the savings of ocean freight, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. That’s why we answered common questions buyers have when they’re shipping by ocean for the first time.

1. When should I ship by ocean instead of air?

Choose ocean if you’re shipping goods that are heavy or large/bulky, if you have a flexible delivery date, or if you want to save money. The average air shipment takes anywhere from a few days to 1-2 weeks (compared to 20-60 days for ocean shipping), but also costs 3 times as much - and sometimes more.

2. What are incoterms and who should arrange shipping – me or my supplier?

An incoterm defines a series of tasks, responsibilities, and decisions about a shipment. Understanding your risks and responsibilities will help you determine which incoterm works best for you. If you're new to ocean shipping, we recommend FOB (free on board/freight on board), which means your supplier is responsible for shipping and preparing the goods for international transport, including origin paperwork. This gives you absolute control over all expenses and the coordination of the cargo delivery to your final destination.

If you’re more experienced in international sourcing/shipping, EXW (Ex works) is also supported through our Alibaba.com Freight tool. Make sure you double check your Trade Assurance incoterm before booking transportation. To help you understand incoterms better, check out our handy guide.

3. When should I book?

When shipping with Alibaba.com, we recommend searching for quotes as soon as you have an open Trade Assurance order. To get quotes, you’ll need to enter your product details and incoterms, and you can find both in your Trade Assurance contract.

4. What's the difference between LCL and FCL?

LCL stands for “Less than a Container Load” and FCL stands for “Full Container Load.” However, it might be worth shipping FCL even if your shipment doesn’t quite fill the whole container; as a general rule, choose FCL if your shipment is bigger than 10 cubic meters (CBM).

5. What happens after I book Alibaba.com ocean shipping?

You’ll get a confirmation email with some details about your shipment and next steps. After that, you’ll need to upload the commercial invoice and packing list (get both from your supplier), as well as a Power of Attorney (with instructions from your logistics service provider).

Learn more

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