Introduction to International Shipping for Footwear Production

Shipping is a necessary and important part of planning a budget for every footwear collection, but it can become a significant cost that catches many startups off guard. This isn’t to say that shipping has to break the bank, there are simply a lot of variables and options to be aware of. As with many other aspects of manufacturing, when you’re shipping goods internationally, it pays to be prepared.

Preparations should begin with estimates early on in the process so price ranges can be worked into your budget. Remember, you’re only receiving an estimate at this stage. Quotes cannot be confirmed too far in advance due to constant fluctuations in shipping prices. Rates are affected by fuel prices, routes, and demand due to major holidays such as Chinese New Year, and other world events whether planned or unexpected.

Midway through production is generally the best time to revisit your initial shipping estimate and obtain a confirmed quote. While you can’t request a quote too early for the sake of accuracy, if done too late, you’ll risk increasing your timelines and costs on the factory side. Smaller and midsize factories that don’t have a lot of extra space for warehousing finished goods will typically give about a week’s leeway for your shipping company to pick up your order. Big factories that work with larger inventories are designed to hold goods to accommodate shipping consolidation. Whatever your factory warehousing options, it is important to understand at what point you will start incurring storage fees and schedule pickup in time to minimize your costs outside of production.  

The following are the main modes of shipping to take into account when planning.


Ocean Freight

By far the most inexpensive method of shipment, ocean freight is the go to option for the budget conscious and those moving high volumes of goods. Shipping costs by ocean freight can range from under $1 to around $3 USD per pair, but timelines are lengthy compared to other options. On average, goods shipped by ocean freight will take 25 to 45 days to reach the US from China. It is also important to factor in the time it takes to get through customs; for a first time import, plan for 1 to 2 weeks. As you become more familiar with shipping and refine your own process, you will be able to minimize the time it takes to clear customs.


Air Freight

Though more expensive than ocean freight, air freight typically gets product from China to the US in around 7 to 10 days. In addition to quicker shipping - nearly 1/4 of the timeline needed for ocean freight - clearing customs can be as quick as 1 to 3 days if the shipment is accompanied by good documentation. The tradeoff for this speedy delivery? The price can come in at 5 to 10 times that of ocean freight, about $8 to $20 USD per pair.


Air Courier

Hands down the quickest mode of shipping, air courier is best suited for small volumes of merchandise need for urgent deliveries. Using the air courier method, a pair of shoes can be at your door in a matter of 3 business days. As one might expect, the tradeoff here is price. While sometimes comparable to air freight, rates can vary greatly and often be much more expensive. To get an accurate estimate on pricing, be sure to consult with the carrier or your shipping agent. If your company ships via air courier frequently, there are often opportunities to negotiate discounted rates.



While trucking is a viable stand-alone option for domestic shipments, it is also an integral part of international shipping as goods must move from factory to port and from port to warehouse. Trucking will generally be accounted for in quotes for ocean freight, air freight and air courier shipments, but it is important to double check this is the case – if your logistics planning does not account for trucking, it could mean added costs.


As there are pros and cons to each shipping method, it is not uncommon for companies to use more than one mode of shipping across a single production order. For example, marketing samples may go out via air courier in advance of the rest of the inventory, which will be prepared to ship by ocean freight. Again, planning ahead is crucial. If pairs have to be pulled out of a shipment and rushed by air for a trade show, this may result in additional charges including repacking fees and sometimes a full requote. Knowing which option best suits your timelines is key.

Planning for shipping carefully and correctly will lead to much more affordable, timely deliveries