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Europe is home to a number of important ports, including Hamburg in Germany, Rotterdam in Holland, Felixstowe in the UK, Antwerp in Belgium, and Le Havre in France. These ports are crucial for transporting goods across the continent. Additionally, there are many other popular ports in Europe where cargo from China and other countries is transported, making Europe a key hub for freight forwarding.  

Sea freight from China to Europe

Ocean shipping from China to Europe

Ocean shipping from China to Europe is an essential mode of transportation for goods and products that need to be transported across vast distances. The route typically involves shipping goods from major Chinese ports such as Shanghai, Ningbo, and Shenzhen to European ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp. The journey can take anywhere from 20 to 40 days, depending on the specific ports of departure and arrival, as well as the route taken by the shipping vessel. The goods are typically transported in large shipping containers, which are loaded onto cargo ships. Ocean shipping from China to Europe offers a cost-effective and reliable way to transport large quantities of goods, and it is especially well-suited for items that are not time-sensitive.

International shipping - The transportation of cargo by sea between China and Europe is the most widely utilized method, with millions of containers being transported annually on major trade routes. Chinese ports like Shanghai, Ningbo, and Shenzhen have emerged as key shipping hubs for sending goods to Europe, and European ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp are popular destinations for ships carrying goods from China.  

Recent data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows a significant increase in trade volume between China and Europe, reaching nearly $709 billion in 2020. Despite the growth, challenges such as port congestion, transit delays, and tariff increases have impacted the shipping industry, emphasizing the need for innovative logistics solutions to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of this important trade route.  


The main shipping seaports in Europe

Port of Rotterdam (Netherlands)

The port of Rotterdam holds the title of the largest seaport in Europe, thanks to its exceptional accessibility for seagoing vessels and its strategic geographical location on the northwest coast of Europe. It is a large industrial port area with convenient access to the Rhine Valley and its many urban areas and industrial zones. In 2019, the port handled a staggering 469.4 million tonnes of goods, accounting for over 10% of all goods passing through Europe's ports.  

Website: Port of Rotterdam


Port of Antwerp (Belgium)

The Antwerp port, located on the northwest coast of Europe, serves as a vital maritime gateway to the European Union. In 2019, the port reached a milestone by surpassing the 200 million tonne mark for the fourth consecutive year. Additionally, 14,595 seagoing ships entered and exited the port, averaging 39 per day. The port is seeing an increase in the size of ships each year. With approximately 900 companies established in the area, the Antwerp port plays a crucial role in the Belgian economy.  

Website: Port of Antwerp


Port of Hamburg (Germany)

The Port of Hamburg is a crucial commercial hub for Germany, serving as the country's most important commercial port and the third largest container port in Europe. Situated on the Elbe estuary and accessible from the North Sea, it plays a vital role in supplying the entire country. With 7,300 logistics companies operating in the area and more than 2,300 freight trains per week, the port is well-equipped to handle the demand. It boasts four ultramodern container terminals, three cruise terminals, and around 50 specialized facilities for handling bulk cargo, making it one of the most flexible and efficient universal ports in the world. In 2019, the port handled an impressive 136.6 million tonnes of cargo, including approximately 9.3 million standard containers.  

Website: Port of Hamburg


Port of Valencia(Spain)

The Port of Valencia has emerged as Spain's most significant port, surpassing the port of Algeciras in container volume since 2016. It ranks as the fifth-largest container port in Europe and the largest in the Mediterranean, handling 65.4 million tonnes of goods and over 5 million containers annually. Located in the heart of the Valencia region, it benefits from excellent road and rail connections with central Spain.  

Website Port of Valencia


Port of Fos sur Mer(Marseille)

The Port Authority of Marseille Fos/mer reaffirmed its leadership in France in 2019 by recording 9,917 ship calls and handling 79 million tonnes of goods. Located on the Mediterranean coast at the mouth of the Rhone, the Port of Marseille Fos has the necessary space and infrastructure to accommodate maritime, logistics, and industrial activities. It is capable of handling various types of imports and exports, including petroleum products, containers, ores, and food products. Additionally, the port hosts international players in the transport of goods that supply the French and European markets.  

Website: Port of Fos/mer


Port of Le Havre(Le Havre)

The port of Le Havre in France is a major commercial hub, ranking as the second-largest port in the country in terms of total tonnage and the largest container port. It includes three sets of terminals and can accommodate the largest container ships in the world. Situated on the northern coast of France, the port serves as a gateway to Paris and the industrial north and is connected by rail with direct access to the Seine by barge. In 2019, the port handled nearly 70 million tonnes of goods and saw 6,000 ships pass through. Le Havre is also a member of HAROPA, a structure that brings together the ports of Le Havre, Rouen, and Paris.  

Website: Port of Le Havre



Do I have to ship by groupage or full container between China and Europe?

When shipping between China and Europe, you have the option to ship by groupage or full container. Groupage, also known as LCL (less than container load), is suitable for smaller shipments that do not fill an entire container. Full container, also known as FCL (full container load), is used for larger shipments that require the use of an entire container. The choice between groupage or full container will depend on the size and volume of your shipment, as well as your specific shipping needs and budget. It's important to work with a reputable shipping provider who can help you determine the best option for your cargo.

There are several types of containers but 3 sizes are the most commonly used:

  • 20 feet (33 cubic meters capacity)

  • 40 feet (67 cubic meters capacity)

  • 40 feet HQ (High Cube, 76 cubic meters capacity)

Let's take a look at the two methods of transportation:

Less than Container Load (LCL)

This method is commonly utilized for shipping small volumes by grouping and filling a container with various small shipments destined for the same port.  

This method will be interesting for you if :

  • When shipping a small volume of merchandise, it's possible to consolidate multiple shipments and plan for deliveries to multiple locations upon arrival. Your volume of merchandise should be between 2 m3 and 13/14 m3.  

VIPU advice: For small shipments, choosing air freight can be more cost-effective and faster, especially for volumes below 1/2 m³. Air freight generally takes less than a week to arrive, whereas sea freight can take up to 40 days for door-to-door delivery with less than container load (LCL) shipments.  

Advantages of Maritime Groupage (LCL)

Maritime groupage, also known as less than container load (LCL) shipping, offers several advantages for businesses and individuals looking to transport smaller quantities of goods by sea. Some of the key advantages of maritime groupage include cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and reduced risk of damage or loss. By consolidating multiple smaller shipments into a single container, LCL shipping allows for more efficient use of space and resources, resulting in lower shipping costs compared to full container load (FCL) shipping. Additionally, LCL shipping offers greater flexibility in terms of shipment size and frequency, making it a convenient option for businesses with varying shipping needs.

  • Allows you to ship (almost) any kind of goods

  • Suitable for so-called "heavy" goods (volume < weight)

  • The most economical method for small volumes

Disadvantages of Maritime Groupage

  • Very long transport time

  • Mandatory palletization

  • Significant handling (and therefore risk)


 FCL (Full Container Load)

When utilizing this shipping method, you will have ample space in the container for your shipment, allowing you to transport large volumes. Additionally, it will lead to quicker delivery as the container is unloaded directly to the consignee upon arrival at the port of destination, unlike LCL shipments which are unloaded and dispatched to a deconsolidation warehouse. Furthermore, the container will be sealed from origin to destination, reducing handling, risks, and charges. It's important to note that your container will become profitable once it is half full.  

Finally, you also have the option of loading exceptionally large goods (such as a ship for example) into what is called an Open top container or Flat rack container.

VIPU tips:  If your volume is greater than 13/14 m3, we provide a method that is both more cost-effective and safer. Your goods will not need to be handled at the port, unless there is a customs control required.  

Advantages of the Full Container (FCL)

The Full Container Load (FCL) option offers several advantages for shipping goods. Firstly, it provides exclusive use of the entire container, allowing for greater security and less risk of damage or loss during transit. Secondly, FCL shipments often have faster transit times compared to less than container load (LCL) shipments, as there is no need to wait for consolidation of multiple smaller shipments. Additionally, FCL shipping can be more cost-effective for larger volumes of goods, as there are fewer handling and documentation fees compared to LCL shipments. Overall, FCL offers greater control, security, and efficiency for shipping goods internationally.

  • Container sealed from origin to departure

  • Little handling

  • A most economical method for large volumes


Disadvantages of the Full Container

There are a few disadvantages of using a full container for shipping. One of the main drawbacks is the cost, as full container shipping can be more expensive than other shipping methods. Additionally, if you don't have enough goods to fill the entire container, you may end up paying for unused space. Another disadvantage is the potential for longer transit times, as full containers may take longer to fill and ship compared to other shipping options. Finally, there is also the risk of damage to goods if they are not packed and secured properly within the container.

  • Very long transport time

  • Minimum volume is greater than 13/14 m³

Special maritime transport between China and Europe

Several factors will determine the type of container you will need, including the size of your shipment and the type of commodity being shipped. If you are shipping specific goods, the following container options are available.  

Reefer container

The refrigerated container is a specialized, thermally insulated container equipped with a temperature control system, allowing for the transport of goods at specific, controlled temperatures. This type of container is commonly utilized for the transportation of food items and chemicals.  


A Ro-Ro, also known as a roll-on/roll-off vessel, is used to transport vehicles and other goods. These vessels are loaded using one or more ramps, allowing for easy access. They are called Ro-Ro to distinguish them from traditional cargo ships, which load products vertically using cranes.  

Why use Ro-Ro shipping from China?

Ro-Ro shipping, or roll-on/roll-off shipping, is often used for transporting goods from China for several reasons. Firstly, it offers a cost-effective and efficient way to transport vehicles, machinery, and other large or heavy cargo. Ro-Ro ships are designed to accommodate wheeled cargo, allowing for quick and easy loading and unloading. Additionally, Ro-Ro shipping from China provides a reliable and predictable transportation option. This can be particularly beneficial for businesses that need to meet tight deadlines or have strict delivery schedules. Ro-Ro ships also offer flexibility in terms of the types of cargo that can be transported, making it a versatile option for a wide range of goods.


Bulk goods are products that are transported directly into a ship's hold or into specialized facilities designed for that purpose. These goods are divided into two categories: solid bulk goods, such as coal and ores, and liquids in bulk, such as petroleum and petroleum products. To transport bulk goods, specialized vessels called bulk carriers are used, with specific types of carriers for different types of cargo, such as ore carriers and coal carriers.  


Out-of-gauge (OOG) cargoes are a unique type of goods that cannot be loaded in traditional containers due to their non-standard dimensions or weight. These cargoes are typically loaded onto a platform or trailer for transport.  


How much does sea freight between China and Europe cost?

It is crucial to understand both the weight and volume of your goods when engaging in export or import activities. Transport pricing is determined based on the weight/volume ratio, so having this information is essential for accurate cost assessment.  

Typically, the cost of shipping a 20ft container (FCL) from China to Europe falls between 1500 and 3000 USD, while a 40ft container (FCL) typically ranges from 2500 to 4500 USD. Keep in mind that these prices can fluctuate based on specific factors.  

There are 2 possibilities:

  • Groupage refers to the transportation of goods in bags, crates, drums, and similar packaging. The chargeable unit for groupage can be either the tonne or the cubic meter, depending on which is more advantageous for the carrier. The weight/volume equivalence rule states that 1 tonne is equal to 1 cubic meter. The carrier will use the higher of the two measurements to their advantage.  

  • The freight for full containers is calculated at a flat rate per container, based on the type of container used, and is not affected by the type of goods being transported.  

Best Regards
Sophia Chen
Overseas Sales
WCA ID:129936

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