Longer than you’d think, but with good reasons why.
Ocean freight is a lot different than going to the post office and dropping off a package. For that matter, it’s even more complicated that arranging to send something through FedEx, UPS, or DHL.
From our experience, a safe guess for ocean freight is at least two weeks. Of course, that’s going on the assumption that the product you’re shipping is already near an ocean port. Most factories in Asia will say they need two to three weeks to prepare for ocean freight, and that’s usually true. If you are a return customer you might be able to get it in seven days, but anything under that is very tight indeed.
Why the long lead time for ocean freight?
- Vessels have a limited number of empty spots, and the closer you get to ETD, the number shrinks even further. Eventually, it hits zero. Although there are multiple shipping lines, there’s usually only one that fits your schedule and price range best. Actually finding a “Plan B” shipping line is less likely than you’d think.
- If you are shipping out of a busy port, there’s always a chance the containers could be all gone. We once had a trucking company go to pick up a container and there weren’t any there. It’s a really unfortunate position to be in, but there’s nothing you can do about it except wait.
- Depending on the product you are shipping and the company loading it, the load time could be significant. Or another situation: our number one supplier has only a few filling stations so they can only fill so many containers a day. If you miss the queue, you have to wait a day or two.
- Paperwork takes time. You will have to arrange the proper documents between the shipping line, the freight forwarder, the supplier, and yourself. Everyone knows this process never goes smoothly, especially with a first-time transaction. Over time everything gets smoothed out, but in the beginning there are always little speed bumps.
- The shipping lines always require the containers to be at the port a few days in advance of the ETD. There doesn’t seem to be a set time, but I would shoot for four days to be on the safe side.
There’s a lot that goes into getting a shipment ready for ocean freight. There are a lot of steps in the process. And that’s assuming the payments are made TT in advance so the banks won’t be involved. If you’re doing an L/C, there are even more steps, which it could further slow everything down.
Bottom line: when using ocean freight, you have to have a basic plan in place. Last minute winging it will only make a lot of people angry. Have a plan in place so you can take your time and do things the right way.
One last thing: if you are well-prepared and everything goes as smoothly as can be hoped for, the supplier will want to work with you again and will be motivated to help you succeed. If you are more work than it’s worth, they will cut you off. I’ve seen this happen many times; large suppliers don’t have time for incompetence.
Photo Credit: Amanda Slater