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Ocean shipping is the most cost-effective way to get goods around the world, as goods are packed into standardized shipping containers and loaded onto mega-sized container ships. It can take a long time, and the delivery dates can’t be guaranteed, but the process is so efficient that thousands of pounds of goods can be moved tens of thousands of miles for relatively low cost. Let’s walk through the various steps involved in getting a typical ocean shipment from a foreign factory to your door:
Once your goods are finished, the exporter files paperwork and pays documentation fees to get them ready for export. Once this documentation is filed, the goods are trucked from the factory to a shipping warehouse for consolidation into a shipping container.
At the shipping warehouse, your goods are loaded into a shipping container. Shipping containers are gigantic steel boxes that are most commonly 8 feet tall, 8 feed wide, and either 40 or 20 feet long. Because these containers are so standardized, they can be loaded and unloaded very efficiently onto oceangoing container ships. Once the container is full, it is sealed and delivered to a bonded customs warehouse for export.
Next, the shipping container with your goods in it is loaded onto an ocean liner known as a container ship with thousands of other similar containers, and the ship makes the ocean journey from the country of export to the country of import, where the containers will be unloaded. Modern container ships are so gigantic that they can only dock at a handful of deepwater ports across the world that are equipped to handle their size, making the ports a very scarce resource. This has made labor relations very difficult at these ports, and slowdowns and strikes have happened every few years when union contracts have come up for renegotiation.
Once the container has been unloaded from the ocean liner, it goes through customs in the destination country. This is the most unpredictable stage of ocean transport, as containers are occasionally flagged for a random inspection, adding anywhere from a few days to a few weeks of delay depending on the type of inspection. Once customs have been cleared, the container is delivered to the ground shipping warehouse.
At the ground shipping warehouse, the contents of the shipping container are separated, labeled, and shipped out via truck to their final destinations. This is the first step of the process where reliable tracking information is available, as most ocean carriers do not provide the type of high-quality tracking information that many people are used to receiving from UPS, FedEx, or their domestic mail service.