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Starting / Business startup

Step-by-step guide to importing from China

If you’re looking to get a product manufactured in China, you’ll need to understand the process and timelines involved. This step-by-step guide covers the basics of importing from China.

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1. Product Development: Before doing anything else, you need to make sure that your product development is near to complete. This includes the design and specifications of your product and packaging. Also obtain local quotes or product cost estimates for comparison.

Timing: The timing of this phase is dependent on the design, packaging and complexity of the product you’re working on. Your own decision-making process is also a factor here.

2. Sourcing Chinese suppliers: In order to import from China you need to find the right suppliers. Serious due diligence then needs to be conducted on the suppliers you are considering engaging to make your product. You can do this yourself, or engage professionals with experience and knowledge in that area to do it on your behalf.

There’s no point sourcing suppliers before you’ve finished your product development, because in order to negotiate the most accurate price for your product you’ll need to send detailed product specifications to the supplier. This will also help minimise any changes to prices in the future.

Once you’ve found the right supplier you will need to understand and negotiate the terms of trade with them. This includes shipping terms known as Incoterms and the payments terms the supplier accepts. Getting this right in the beginning will help you avoid problems in the future.

"There’s no point sourcing suppliers before you’ve finished your product development, because in order to negotiate the most accurate price for your product you’ll need to send detailed product specifications to the supplier."

Timing: Allow 2-4 weeks for this phase, or longer if your product is extremely complex. The timeframe will depend on complexity, your requirements and the method you use to source the suppliers.

3. Sampling: After finding the right supplier, you need to negotiate and arrange the first samples of your product. In some instances this is a free exercise, but it may be quite costly depending on the complexity of your product and how customised your design is.

Timing: Again, expect this to take 2-4 weeks. Aside from the complexity of your product, other issues to consider include factory lead times and the delivery method employed.

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4. Purchase order: Once you’ve obtained product samples you’re happy with, you need to raise a purchase order (PO) and send it to your supplier. This acts as the contract between you. It needs to outline both the specifications of your product in detail and the terms of trade. Once your supplier receives it, they’ll begin the mass production of your product.

Timing: This can depend on your knowledge of the content required and your experience in placing POs. Allow a week for your supplier to receive and understand your PO once sent. As a general rule, expect mass production to take up to 4 weeks, but this too depends on the complexity of your product, the quantity ordered and supplier lead times.

5. Quality control: During mass production you will need to make sure that the quality of your products is checked against your initial product specifications. Conducting quality control (QC) will ensure that the products you import from China meet the quality standards you specified in the beginning of the process.

Timing: QC may be required at several stages during the production process. Expect each occasion to take 1-3 days.

6. Importing: Once your products are manufactured, you’ll need to engage a shipping company or freight forwarder to ship your products to Australia and clear them through customs in order to get them to your door.

Timing:  It usually takes 4-5 weeks for products to be shipped from China, clear customs and arrive at your door.

Tallied together, all these steps in the process of importing from China will usually take at least 4 months from the time you start sourcing your product until it’s in your possession. However, delays are common, so it’s wise to leave as much wriggle room as possible.

Have you imported products from China? How long did the process take? Please share your experiences of importing from China below.

Matthew Edwards

is an expert on importing from China and understanding how to do business with China. Along with his business partner Tim Davies, at Silk Road Consultants they strive to help small to medium businesses import from China successfully.

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