How does international shipping work?
July 28, 2011 11:54 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn a lot more about shipping things. For instance, manufactured goods from China to the US. What is the process? How is the freight billed? How do you take possession of the goods once they arrive? Who insures the freight being shipped? Is there a good reference for this kind of thing that doesn't pre-suppose familiarity?
posted by mulligan to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This previous AskMe has some interesting info on this stuff.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:59 PM on July 28, 2011

How is the freight billed? How do you take possession of the goods once they arrive? Who insures the freight being shipped?

For this, you want to look at Incoterms, these are the standard terms that govern shipping.
posted by atrazine at 1:55 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I saw your question I couldn't resist passing on the link a factual but humourous rundown on the use and costs of shipping containers.

It only scratches the surface of your question but it told me things I'd often wondered about regarding the timings/costs of moving freight..
posted by southof40 at 4:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tangential, but Donovan Hohn's "Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them" is an interesting look at what happens when a shipping container goes overboard.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:25 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can either work directly with a carrier (airline / steamship line) or go through a freight forwarder, who will handle that for you. If you have an FF, you'll probably be able to get a door to door move. If you are working with a carrier, it may be port to port, in which case you need to manage the origin and destination legs yourself (see Incoterms for more on this).

When you know you have goods ready, you contact whomever is going to pick up the freight. You'll need a bill of lading, just like domestic shipping, and also whatever customs declarations are required. Freight is taken to airport/port and loaded. There will be some contact here with the exporting country's customs. At the other end, cargo reaches the port. It gets checked in by customs, then given to whomever the local delivery carrier is, and it goes to the final destination.

That said, there are about a billion complications in there. Stuff can get held up at customs for days or even weeks. It can be almost impossible to get a container going where you want it, due to lane imbalances. Etc., etc.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:45 AM on July 29, 2011

Have you seen "The Container Ship", which was posted to the blue a few months back?
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:08 PM on July 30, 2011

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