How I Shipped my Amazon FBA products by Sea

As an experiment, I decided to try out a new forwarder for my sea shipments. Maybe I could save some money this way? It took me a while to get ready to do it, but I finally went for it. Here's my story.

Sea Shipping Boat Cargo Ship

Initial Contact

I hate talking to sales people, and all those "let's get on a call" make me want to hide. I don't want to get on a call. I just want to research online, ask a few questions on chat, and sign up. But with sea shipping and my chosen shipping company Freightos, there were many details that were not clear to me, so I had no choice but to connect with someone for a demo.

Their sales rep sent me a very nice email:

Freightos first sales email

This email made me like this guy immediately, just because he referenced "ballin outta control" to make it personal. He got this phrase reading our app homepage, where the top tier pricing plan is called "Ballin' Outta Control". Nice touch.

Seeing Freightos Video Demo

I emailed him saying "what about now?", and he replied right away. We connected on Skype, and I recorded the call. Here's the video:

 

If you're lazy to watch the video, here's the summary:

1. They don't have visible FBA options on the app yet, but it's being developed.

2. There will be some additional fees for FBA on top of the quoted price online: around 100 USD surcharge to deliver to an Amazon Warehouse, for sea shipments there will be repalleting fee, customs brokerage is extra, etc.

3. All FBA info I have to put in the comments, when making the booking. FBA warehouse address, delivery date deadline and other details.

Ready. Set. Go.

Oook, so now I felt much more comfortable to do the shipping with them. I actually have my regular freight forwarder in China, which I am really used to, and it's hard to change my old comfortable ways. But I was hoping to save some money with Freightos, and I really wanted to experience their fancy online platform, so here I went. 

First, I had to let my supplier know, that this time we will be shipping with a new freight forwarder, via sea. We agreed on FOB shipping terms. I think it stands for Freight On Board, which means my supplier will pay for delivery of the product until the sea port loading dock and also pay for loading to ship. 

If you have no idea about Incoterms and what they mean, this table will be very useful:

Incoterms EXW FOB Explanation Table

Most common ones that I use with my Chinese suppliers are either DDP if I ship by Air, and FOB if I ship by sea.

Why do I use DDP (Delivered Duty Paid) for Air Express Shipments 

If you live in United States, you're lucky, because you could just ship everything to your house by Air on EXW terms (using regular air express services, like DHL or Fedex) and pay the import taxes yourself. I live in Canada, so I have to hire a customs broker to pay the import taxes for me. If those are unpaid, Amazon would reject the shipment and send it back or even destroy it. So I have to use DDP for Air shipping, and my freight forwarder arranges all that for me for an extra fee. 

For sea shipments, it goes FOB until port, and then my freight forwarder takes over - they hire a customs broker to pay import taxes on by behalf and do all other paperwork for me.

Now I was curious to see how smooth this process is with Freightos. 

Could Freightos arrange Amazon UPS service in USA for me?

So I had this idea that maybe I could save some money, if I don't use regular forwarder to ship my cargo on land from the port of entry. Instead, I would ask Freightos to arrange Amazon UPS service for me. 

I sent the sales rep an email asking about it.

He said to pick one forwarder that I like the most, and then run a quote for sea shipping only, without the local shipping part by truck. I would basically enter forwarder's warehouse address in Freightos, to get the exact quote for sea shipping only.

After that, I would make the payment for UPS on Amazon Seller Central myself, using forwarder's warehouse as my From address. Then the forwarder would pass my shipment to UPS for me. 

Oook. A little confusing, but I can do it.

Trying to Choose the Best Forwarder

Step 1. "pick a forwarder that I like the most"? I have no idea.. Let me see which one is the cheapest..

I entered my shipment info to Freightos, and chose delivery without local shipping in USA.

Amazon assigns a random warehouse address to deliver to, so I had no idea which Port Code to use. But previously many times my shipments went to Moreno Valley, CA FBA warehouse, so I just put in USLAX as a destination port:

Freightos App Search Sea Cargo

Sort by Cheapest gave me these quotes:

Freightos Cheapest Quote Search Results

There were Amass, Sherwood and Eurasia as my cheapest options. I now had to choose one forwarder that I preferred.

Only Eurasia had reviews. They were not so amazing:

Freightos Eurasia Bad Review

Freightos Eurasia Review 4 stars

Looked like Eurasia had problems with Delivery Time and Customer Service. Plus, they had all these extra fees listed:

Freightos Eurasia Extra FBA Fees

Naaah, they were not going to work for me. 

Down to Sherwood and Amass.

Amass Freight International vs. Sherwood Global Logistics

Amass Freight International Logo Amass was charging $80 for Import Customs Clearance, while Sherwood was charging $125. Sherwood also had extra $75 unloading charge, while Amass didn't.

Amass Freight International Logo Sherwood was founded in 2016, and Amass in 2004. So maybe Sherwood did not have too much experience?

Sherwood Global Logistics Logo Sherwood, being a new company, had a clean reputation online, while Amass had a few pretty bad reviews:

Freightos Amass Bad Negative Reviews

Amass Reviews Online Bad Negative 

Main complaint was overcharging, which I was hoping will not happen with Freightos, as the fees are all declared upfront.

Sherwood Global Logistics Logo When I asked Freightos sales rep, which one is better to choose for Amazon FBA, he replied that Sherwood is a small company with good customer support, and Amass are larger:

Freightos suggestions about Amass and Sherwood Freight Forwarders

What I liked the most from his reply was that the owner of Sherwood has previously worked for Shenker. That's why I gave the thumbs up for Sherwood - it's a personal bias, as in my previous life I worked at Siemens and our office was next to Shenker, so we were friends with the guys there. Of course I don't know the owner of Sherwood, but still, ++ for them hehe.

Amass Freight International LogoAmass quoted my shipment to cost $448, while Sherwood was going to charge $571 for the same thing. Again, Amass wins.

So in the end, it looked like Amass will be a better choice for me, and I was going to ignore their bad reviews. They were mostly about overcharging and customer service anyway. Customer service will be handled by Freightos and they also promised to guarantee the fees. My sales rep said:

Freightos guarantees their rates

Winner winner chicken dinner. Amass.

Ordering Products from my Supplier and Deciding Pickup Date

First, I had to decide how many units to order.

To decide that, I used Shopkeeper app. I checked to see how long my current stock will last:

I had just enough stock until next shipment comes - it takes around 3-4 months for manufacturing + shipping by sea for my products. 

Then I had to decide how many units to order.

I had to put in how many normal months I want, and how many high season months.

I wanted to have just less than 6 months worth of stock, because I really don't like paying the long term storage fees on Amazon. Thats why I needed 5 months worth of product. But how did I know what months were going to be high season for my product?

Actually, in the next section, the app showed me the answer:

AMZPing Inventory Forecast How many Units to Order Screenshot

This was in July. So, ehm, ok, but if I wanted 5 months of stock, was there going to be a high season in those 5 months?

I needed to first figure out on what date the new units will arrive to Amazon.

So I roughly estimated how long the shipping and production will take:

AMZPing Inventory Forecasting toolShopkeeper told me it will arrive and be checked in on October 18th, with 329 units left.

So I needed to order stock for 2 High season months (November and December), and 3 normal months (January, February, March).

When I put those numbers in, the app told me I will need at least 1326 units:

AMZPing Inventory Forecasting Screenshot

I did a similar calculation for the other variation, and the app said I will need 700 units for that one.

So, in total I ordered 2000 units of my products, let's call them baby blankets. 1300 units of pink and 700 units of blue. 

My supplier said it will take 30-45 days to produce it. So if I was going to make the order and payment on July 10th, they would have it ready for inspection around August 15th. I pushed them to have it on 15th, and not later.

After that, I was planning to send an inspector to check the quality of all goods - which will take a few days. Then, my supplier will fix defects if any, and then ship the 40 boxes to Port of Xiamen. So about extra 2-3 days for that. 

I decided to give them some leeway with time, just in case something goes wrong (which always happens), so my date of 'shipment ready for pickup' for Freightos was going to be August 25th.

I made the order, and they started to work on my precious private label product. It was going to go something like this:

Chinese Linen Factory

Customs Bonds and Grey Area

Early this year, my regular forwarder told me that their customs bond was 'compromised', and if I want to avoid my shipments being audited I should purchase my own customs bond. I think by customs rules and regulations every company should be using their own customs bond, so I was operating in grey area until then.

I decided to purchase an annual bond, as I was shipping more than 5 sea shipments a year. 

When I checked out Freightos prices for customs bonds, I saw that I overpaid to my forwarder a little:

 

My Forwarder Icon Red Truck Transparent My Forwarder

Freightos Mini Icon Freightos

Single Bond

$120

$125

Annual Bond

$550

$500

On Freightos platform, selecting a customs bond looks like this:

Freightos Customs Bond Selection on Quote Search

When you select NO, a popup appears, where you can choose which one you would like to purchase:

Freightos Customs Bond Prices

So basically every time you ship by sea to USA, you will incur the extra cost for the customs bond, and there is no way around it.

Port of Los Angeles (USLAX) or Port of Long Beach (USLGB)?

I was still missing one piece of information, to make the booking on Freightos.

Which port will my selected forwarder use to deliver the cargo to? If I don't know the port name, I cannot get a quote. So how do I find out?

There are a few options that forwarders have, when shipping from China to USA by sea:

China to USA freight cargo shipping routes USLAX USLGB

So the ship could arrive to either East Coast or West Coast of USA. 

Apparently, most vessels go via the Pacific. It is faster and has less route restrictions. So I could assume that most likely Amass will ship to the West Coast. 

My sales rep said: "they will ship into USLGB most likely". But I also googled and saw that many forwarders ship to USLAX. And we could not ask the forwarder, before I actually made the booking. 

I became so stressed about this. Which port should I select when booking on Freightos?

USLAX or USLGB????

So I googled to see where the two ports were. I was going to check which one was closer to Moreno Valley, CA - where my most commonly used Amazon FBA warehouse was. 

Don't laugh. Here they were:

USA Port of Los Angeles (USLAX) and Port of Long Beach (USLGB)

Lol. Ok. Not so stressed anymore. They were 10 minutes away from each other ahaha. 

I decided to just use USLGB.

Now, what address do I use for estimating UPS cost, and printing shipping labels?

I really wanted to know how much it will cost to ship by Amazon UPS comparing to Amass Truck Services or comparing to my regular forwarder's land shipping price.

For that, I needed Amass warehouse address in California, so I could put that into Seller Central, to know what the UPS charges will be. Unfortunately, without making a booking, Freightos couldn't ask Amass which exact warehouse will be used. 

This was a real chicken and egg problem. I couldn't estimate my shipping costs via UPS without booking first. And I couldn't book without estimating my shipping costs first! I wanted to know if it will be cheaper or not.

So I just had to go in blindly, and book the shipping on Freightos - hoping that it will be less expensive for me to use UPS than hire a truck delivery service. I had a hunch that it will be.

Booking the Shipment

By then I had pretty much all the info I need, to make the booking on Freightos. 

When I clicked button 'Book', they asked me to enter some additional info. As my sales rep instructed, I put all FBA details to comments field:

Freightos screenshot booking details more info Amazon FBA shipmentI asked for the forwarder's warehouse address, so I could print the shipping labels and then finally see how much I will be paying for UPS. 

Yay, the order was booked and paid for.

Dollar iconSo far, I spent:

  • Sea Shipping - Freightos - $448.64
  • Payment Processing Fee - Freightos - $8.97

Total: $457.61

Consignor and Consignee - Confused

Freightos screenshot shipment management page welcome message

First, I had to enter who the Consignor and Consignee were. 

This was confusing. They say Consignor is the Goods Pickup location, but my supplier will deliver to port, so should I put in port address, or my suppliers address? And, my supplier is actually a sourcing agent - her company address is different from the manufacturer address. So what should I put for Consignor? 

Then, the Consignee, Goods Drop-Off location. Should I put the LA port address, or Amazon FBA warehouse address (which I don't know yet), or something else?

Freightos operations rep explained to me, that the Consignor is the main contact person in China, for arranging the pickup of goods. So I gave my sourcing agent's info to them. For Consignee, he said I should put the Importer of Record, which is my company. 

To summarize, I should put:

Consignor - Goods Pick-Up Location - my sourcing agent's contact info in China.

Consignee - Goods Drop-Off Location - my own address in Canada.

Very confusing, but ok:

Freightos screenshot consignor consignee amazon fba

Uploading Documents and Feeling Guilty

Freightos shipment page also asked to upload the Commercial Invoice, and I was told I should also upload my customs bond here:

Freightos screenshot documents upload customs bond commercial invoice

My old forwarder seemed really stressed out when I asked them to forward me my customs bond. They started offering promo prices and other deals, for me to just stay with them and not leave. It made me feel guilty, and in a weak moment I may have been convinced to stay. They would've given me cheaper price, and I would not have to spend time learning some new unexplored shipping methods. But I was going to stick with my plan. Life is more fun this way.

I asked my supplier to provide a commercial invoice for me, which they were not very fast with. I was really eager to move the process along. This invoice was the only thing holding me from getting my order confirmed, and finally getting the forwarder's warehouse address. I couldn't wait to find out the UPS cost and see if all this experiment was worth it.

Changing HS Code - to Save $920 on Import Taxes

Finally my supplier sent me the invoice. I decided to double check the HS Code on it, to estimate how much my import taxes were going to be.

If you don't know, HS Code is Harmonized Tariff which determines the import tax rate upon the arrival into United States. Sometimes choosing the right HS code can save you a lot of money. For example, the code that my supplier entered into the invoice, was going to have 17.5% import tax applied, while the one I wanted to use, was going to be only 6%. 

$8000 declared value - with the regular HS Code, I would have paid around $1400 for customs duty. With the corrected HS Code, it was only going to cost me $480. Savings of $920, which is a lot! 

So I asked my supplier to change the HS Code on the invoice.

As you will see later, things didn't exactly go my way.

Upon arrival to USA, a customs agent opened one of the boxes and decided to use the old HS Code anyway. I already imported the same product before, so maybe they saw a history of it on my importer file.

Tip: I would recommend choosing a good HS Code before you ship your first shipment, so that you could potentially save some money. Here is the official Harmonized Tariff Database, where you can search for your product. You will have to discuss this with your forwarder and your supplier, to agree on the code that you will be using. 

Getting the Chicken after the Egg - Finding out UPS cost for local shipping

Finally, I received the invoice from my supplier, so I could submit the shipping details to Freightos for processing:

Freightos screenshot Shipment Details Sent

One Day Later.

Freightos rep sent me the address of Amass warehouse in California, which they will use to store my cargo until UPS comes to pick it up. 

I quickly went to Amazon Seller Central, to create the shipment - couldn't wait to find out the cost of UPS already. 

.. and here's what address Amazon assigned to me:

Amazon PA Address FBA

I am from Canada, so I had no idea where that is. So I checked it on Google Maps:

Amazon UPS CA to PA to FBA

Ahh, hell. 

This was going to be costly! Now what. 

I tried deleting the shipping plan and creating a new one.. same. 

I also tried disabling the Inventory Placement Service:

Amazon FBA Inventory Placement Service Settings

But then Amazon decided I needed to split up my shipment into 3:

Amazon FBA split to three warehouses

And they were all far from Long Beach sea port.. 

Ok, so I enabled Inventory Placement Service again, and ran the UPS cost calculation:

Amazon FBA UPS Service Quote

There you go. 

$625 to deliver from sea port to FBA warehouse ... which was more than shipping by sea from China, unfortunately.

How to Calculate the Cheapest Shipping Option

There are two options for sea shipping that will affect your cost in a major way:

1. the East Coast

2. the West Coast

My cargo was 40 boxes, and it was going to cost me $448 to ship to the West Coast, and $772 to ship to the East Coast.  You can make your own estimates by running quotes on Freightos - use USLGB for the West Coast, and USNYC for the East Coast. But in general, shipping to New York is more expensive than shipping to Los Angeles. Because of all those land obstacles I guess.

I ran quotes for both UPS and LTL on Amazon, as well as forwarder trucking on Freightos. 

Here's my summary of all available options:

Sea Land Total Cost
 My Forwarder Icon Red Truck TransparentMy Shipper $800 - LA  Amazon Logo Redesigned Round TransparentUPS $625 $1425
Freightos Mini IconFreightos $448 - LA Amazon Logo Redesigned Round TransparentUPS $625 $1073
Freightos Mini IconFreightos $448 - LA Amazon Logo Redesigned Round TransparentLTL $478 + $100* $1026
Freightos Mini IconFreightos $772 - NY Freightos Mini IconFreightos $306 + $175* $1253
Freightos Mini IconFreightos $772 - NY Amazon Logo Redesigned Round TransparentUPS $238 $1010
Freightos Mini IconFreightos $772 - NY Amazon Logo Redesigned Round TransparentLTL $120 + $100* $992

*Extra Costs on Land shipping are palletization fees, loading, FBA service fees. 

I chose Freightos + UPS option for $1073. It was going to be the fastest and cost only $0.54 per product unit.

Considerations:

1. Sending to New York would make the total about $50 - $100 cheaper, but it would add a lot of days at sea:

China - Los Angeles: 13 - 18 days 

China - New York: 30 - 40 days

If you're lucky to get FBA warehouse on the West Coast, you will definitely save a good deal of money sending by sea to Los Angeles and then using UPS.

2. Using Amazon LTL instead of UPS would save a few dollars, but it would take around 3 weeks for delivery, instead of a few days by UPS.

3. My old forwarder's price turned out to be so much higher than Freightos + UPS option.  I was going to save $352. That's a lot of PPC ads:)

Palletization Requirement for Amazon FBA

I've heard that Amazon requires all deliveries to be palletized, so I needed to find out how to arrange that for my shipment.

One of the forwarders that I dismissed early on (Eurasia), had listed palletization fee of $30 per pallet. That would be a lot of extra cost!

I found out, that there could be three different cases:

1. Amazon's UPS - Does not have to be palletized

2. Amazon's LTL - Must be palletized

3. Forwarder's Trucking - Can be either palletized or not, it depends on number of boxes

Hm, ok, but first I needed to choose either UPS or LTL. I wondered which one will work better for me.

Small Parcel Delivery (SPD) vs. Less Than Truckload (LTL) 

I used pallet calculator, to see how many pallets my 40 boxes would take up. I put in Amazon requirements for palletization and my box dimensions. Turns out, it would be 1 and a half pallet. 30 boxes would fit on one, and I would put 10 on another:

Pallet Calculator Screenshot

That means 2 x $30 = $60 fee for palletization. Hmm. Expensive.

Let me compare the two options:

  SPD - Small Parcel Delivery LTL - Less Than Truckload
Delivered By UPS or Fedex Amazon Trucking Partner
Number of Boxes Recommended < 50, max 200 1-11 pallets, no loose boxes
Speed of Delivery Few Days 3 Weeks
Extra Fees $0 $30 per pallet for palletization
Cost for 40 boxes $625 $478 + $60 + loading maybe

LTL makes you wait 3 weeks, which is so long. My shipment had to cover the early Christmas rush, and I could not spare any time waiting.

I wanted it fast - so UPS was my obvious choice.

Surprise from Amazon

July 17.

My shipment was only going to be ready for pickup a month later, and arrive to USA almost two months later. 

But Amazon already applied the UPS shipping cost to my account:

Amazon UPS local shipping charge

I did not expect such an early charge.

So it looks like as soon as you click 'Accept Charges' and mark your shipment plan 'Complete', Amazon applies this charge on the current pay period. 

Keep that in mind, when trying to manage your cashflow. 

I have only paid 30% to my supplier so far, and was planning to use money from this Amazon payout, for the remaining 70%. Now I had to rethink it and pull the money from somewhere else. 

You can choose to wait and only click 'Accept Charges' for UPS, once the ship arrives to USA.

Dollar iconSo far, I spent:

  • Sea Shipping - Freightos - $448.64
  • Payment Processing Fee - Freightos - $8.97
  • Delivery by Truck from LA to PA - Amazon UPS - $625.47

Total: $1083.08

Product Inspection Results

August 12.

I hired my usual inspection company to go to the factory and do a Full product inspection.

If you are curious to see how inspection reports look like, how much does it cost and what's my advice for Amazon FBA inspection - check out my Q&A and a Big List Of Inspection Companies.

Inspection company sent two people to check all 2000 units. They spent two days working on it, and I paid $400 for everything.

Afterwards, they emailed me a 120-page report with images.

I'm always most curious to look at the factory pictures - I like to get a sneak peak at where the action took place:

Inspection Report Picture of Factory in China

They tested a couple boxes in a drop test. Here's how it was reported to me:

China Quality Inspection Box Drop Test

I asked the factory to use at least 5ply box, because 3ply gets crushed and tears so easily when transporting. They decided to use 7ply, which is the best of all:

3ply 5ply 7ply box single wall double wall triple wall carton

I highly recommend you use the same for your shipments.

Amazon allows a maximum box length of 25 inches.

Boxes containing multiple standard-size items must not exceed 25" on any side.

Amazon Packaging and Prep Requirements

My boxes were 20'' x 14'' x 14'' (50cm x 35cm x 35cm), so all good. I previously warned my supplier to not put more than 150 units in one box, and keep the box size under 25''. And they followed it.

China Quality Inspection Box Carton Length Amazon FBA

Inspectors found a total of 106 major defects out of 2000 units that they checked:

China Quality Inspection Report Defect Rate

That's 5.3% defect rate. It's pretty standard, and I was ready for it. 

The reason I always choose to do a full inspection, instead of partial, is because I ask inspectors to separate defective units from the quality ones.

I don't want to send 100 defective units and then get 100 negative reviews on my product. I recommend you do the same and choose a Full Inspection instead of Partial.

Minor defects were taken care of right away, they were mostly dirt marks.

My supplier always manufactures some extra units to replace defective ones during inspection, so in the end I had 2000 high quality units for shipping to Amazon. And I also had 15 extra units leftover, because my supplier had a few too many for replacements. I asked them to send those to me to Canada by express air, as I was going to use them for giveaways and photos.

Amass Changes Port of Pickup

August 16.

My factory was contacted by Amass, and they agreed that the goods will be shipped out from Guangzhou Port, instead of Xiamen.

Xiamen to Guangzhou Map

They changed it because the factory was actually located closer to Guangzhou.

I was hoping it would not change the quoted price for shipping, as I already paid for my order on Freightos, using Xiamen:

Freightos search Xiamen

On the other hand, 660 km may seem quite far to us on land, but for a cargo ship which will be sailing 11,000 km from China to Los Angeles - it's probably nothing. 

An Email from Freightos gives me a Scare

August 18.

I received this email: 

Freightos Support Email Screenshot

But wait! Didn't we already agree that the shipment will go to Amass warehouse in California? We already confirmed the address with another support person and I sent him the shipping labels for UPS and everything.

And now, if I sleep too long and not check my email for a while, they might ship it to Canada to me? AAAh..

I would then have 2000 units in my driveway.

Container in Driveway Loading Cargo

Then what, lol.

The email should have said, 'confirming delivery address to Amass warehouse in California'. Then I would've been very calm and reassured. 

Oh well. I just shouted on him with all caps a little. Being mad is not my thing.

Freightos = a Freight Forwarder wrapped in an Onion

One big drawback of interacting with a 3rd party like Freightos instead of dealing with the forwarder directly, is the extra overhead on communication.

It introduces an extra layer of time needed to pass the information from me to the forwarder and back, and some things may get lost in translation.

Just like a game of broken telephone.

Broken Telephone Phone Game Shipping Cargo

At Freightos, you will not get to connect and bond with a single account manager. Instead, you will deal with many different people.

Avatar Man Blue EyesAt first I connected with a sales rep.

Avatar Man Blue EyesThen, when my sales rep was busy, someone else stepped in.

Avatar Man Brown EyesThen, I had a question that sales rep could not answer, another person answered it. 

Avatar Woman Blond Blue EyesThen, when the sale was completed and I paid, the support team took over.

Now I had to open support tickets, to ask my questions about my shipment.

And every time a different person replied. 

Three different people. Avatar Woman Blond Blue EyesAvatar Man Blue EyesAvatar Woman Blue Eyes

So where is my bonding? 

I dont want to repeat the same story every time someone new joins in.. 

I want a single account manager.

Not my forwarder Amass wrapped in an onion.

Freightos Onion

Other than that, I like Freightos. More on my verdicts later.

ISF Filing

August 22.

Amass contacted me by email, asking me to fill out a Power of Attorney form for them to be able to represent me as my customs agent. They needed to get an ISF for my shipment. 

What is an Importer Security Filing?

Under the new rule, before merchandise arriving by vessel can be imported into the United States, the “Importer Security Filing (ISF) Importer,” or their agent (e.g., licensed customs broker), must electronically submit certain advance cargo information to CBP in the form of an Importer Security Filing. This requirement only applies to cargo arriving in the United States by ocean vessel; it does not apply to cargo arriving by other modes of transportation. US Customs and Border Protection

So it's basically a document, listing seller, buyer and what goods you're bringing. It's needed, because US Customs try to control smuggling and identify high-risk shipments.

I already knew from Amass price breakdown, that there was a $50 ISF fee. Now I knew why - they had to actually work for it.

Amass email said:

"Dear Customer, 

We are the freight forwarder handling your shipment coming from China (i.e. it is coming in one of our containers). My overseas office has asked me to contact you and help you file the ISF.

Please complete the attached POA (digital signatures are not acceptable MUST physically sign) and send it back to us ASAP so we can proceed with the ISF filing.  If you are filing under your SS#, please send us a copy of your photo I.D. (driver’s license or passport). Attached samples in case you have question on how to complete the POA. And attached ISF information just for your reference so you know which shipment we are speaking of.

Let me know if you have any questions. 

Thanks!

p.s. CBP may issue liquidated damages of $5,000 per violation for the submission of an inaccurate, incomplete or untimely filing. Please be sure to correctly file ISF no later than 24 hours prior to the cargo being loaded on the vessel that is destined to the United States."

And he attached this form:

Amass POA Agreement power of attorney sea shipping brokerage

The form asked me to either put in my USA Social Security Number, or my USA-based company EIN.

If you're from United States, you will have no issues at this point. But being from Canada, I had neither of the numbers. 

What if I don't have an EIN or SSN number, because I am not from USA?

Usually if you don't have the USA IRS business tax number (EIN) or a social security number, you can request that an importer number be assigned to you by US Customs.

I already previously did that, with my old forwarder. If you still need to do it, your forwarder will ask you to fill out CBP form 5106:

CBP Form US Customs

When they submit this form for you, you will be issued a CBP Identification number, which will uniquely identify you to US Customs. 

CBP Identification Number US Customs

Later US Customs will be keeping a file on all your imports.

So be careful todo everything legally and by regulations. Sure, you will do your best. But watch out for grey areas.

For example, let's say you're importing blue baby blankets on a regular basis, and your supplier creates commercial invoices using the price of $4.50 per unit. 

If you later decide to save on import taxes and ask your supplier to reduce the price to $2.50 per unit - US Customs will notice the change and may hold your whole shipment in customs for audit.

This will incur extra expenses for you, like customs agent hours and product storage while on hold. It will also potentially flag you as a high risk importer, so you will be audited more often.

Just don't do it - try to wear the white hat at all times.

Wearing white hat with customs officers

I emailed Amass back saying I don't have EIN or SSN, here is my annual bond pdf, there is a CBP identification number on it, maybe it will help. They quickly reacted saying it will work! Awesome.

Digital Era Fail

And.. I NEEDED to physically sign the form? Schucks.

Why is it called a Digital Era, if I am still asked for a physical signature? 

I was on my laptop in a vacation house in Turkey at that time. Love the life of a digital nomad.

Digital Nomad on the Beach Definition Amazon seller

But I had no printer here.

...(digital signatures are not acceptable MUST physically sign)...

This is like stone ages. At least they didnt ask me to send it by fax, lol.

99% of the time I just use my digital signature, which I just copy and plop on the pdf form.

Signature

But I arranged it. Went to a local print shop. Brought my USB key along. Signed, scanned. Paid $1.50. Came home. Uploaded it. Sent it. Hated it.

If you don't mind grey areas, you could just use some tool that makes your pdf look like scanned. But I didn't want to mess with a legal document.

Witness? I didn't have one, so I left it blank.

So in the end my form was missing the EIN, SSN and a witness signature.

I was hoping Amass will not make me run to the print shop again.

And they didn't. 

I remember my old forwarder made me get a witness somewhere, and I suffered for it - nobody wanted to sign any legal documents and be involved in something they don't understand. My old forwarder was always picking on every detail.

It all went so smooth with Amass. 

Shipment Departs China - What's the Estimated Time at Sea?

August 25.

I thought my indicated pickup date was more like a guideline, and it was going to depend on the circumstances, when they will actually manage to pickup the goods. 

But it all worked out very nicely, and they picked up the goods on August 23, to put them onboard on August 25 - on exact day I wanted it. 

Freightos platform updated the status of my shipment in their visual timeline diagram like this:

Freightos port departure visual timeline diagram

They estimated 18 days for the ship to reach Los Angeles.

Just like it was indicated in the quote in my initial search on Freightos:

Freightos Amass Estimated days at sea china to Los Angeles LA

So the shipment was now on the way. Yay!

Onion. Onion. Onion.

August 29.

This is the part where Freightos gets all its negative points. 

Thumbs Down RedThumbs Down RedThumbs Down Red By now I was getting quite upset with people asking me the same thing multiple times..

Look at this.

Freightos asked me to send my UPS labels, so I emailed them over.

Freightos email asking about UPS labels

Later on, Freightos told me Sherry from Amass will handle the UPS pickup:

Omar Freightos Email

But Sherry has no idea what's going on, lol:

Amass Freightos Email

So I gave her the Container numbers - the only reason I even had them is because I was searching for how to track my shipment online, and was asking everyone for shipment tracking ids (more on that later).

I also mentioned about UPS to her:

Paulina email to Freightos about UPS Labels Amass

In fact, I was originally hoping that Freightos will pass this info to Amass. But I guess they didn't.

Ok, now read this email thread. In this email thread all Freightos reps and also Amass is CC'ed.

The ending is very funny to me.

UPS labels Freightos Amass Email

Please provide the UPS labels? Wait a minute.

LOL. What is this. They are really lost...

I am tired explaining to everyone the same thing over and over. 

Feeling less and less safe that my shipment will actually be delivered to Amass Warehouse, and information will get to the right person in the end.

I replied, 

Email reply to Freightos question about UPS Labels

This is disappointing. 

I want my single account manager please. What is this onion about.

How to Track your Amazon Sea Shipment

Most freight forwarders don't have visual tracking available on their websites, and Freightos did not have it either.

But I wanted to see a map with my ship on it. So I figured out an easy way to do it.

Here's what you will need, if you want to track your shipment visually:

1. Container number

2. Sea Shipping Company name

Please note, that shipping company name here is the actual sea shipping company, which owns the cargo fleet. Here's the difference between the shipping companies involved:

Layer 1: Freightos - an online Marketplace, where you get your shipping quotes and place an order. They provide a way to compare shipping estimates, and you can choose the best deal. 

Layer 2: Amass - a freight forwarder, who takes care of your shipment all along the way, arranges pickup, loading, sea shipping, customs brokerage, land shipping, unloading etc.

Layer 3: Wan Hai - a sea shipping company, who owns the actual fleet. They physically ship the cargo by sea for you, nothing else.

So you need a company name for Layer 3.

It was not trivial for me to get this info from Freightos (because of the multiple layers of people, as I previously mentioned), but in the end, I got what I needed.

Mine were: 

Container number - TCNU7588519

Sea Shipping Company name - Wan Hai.

Ok.

Step 1.

Find a cargo tracking page on your sea shipping company website. It can sometimes be hidden away, just explore their website to find it.

Here's how mine looked like:

Wan Hai Sea CargoTracking page Screenshot

I created a table with the most popular sea shipping companies and links to their tracking pages below.

Just for fun: Notice how many ships each company has - the bigger the fleet, the more likely it will happen to carry your cargo.

Company Info

CMA CGM Container Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Freight

CMA CGM

Cargo Ship Icon 445

Calendar Icon 1978 

Tracking Icon Track

Maersk Cargo Ship Ocean Sea Freight

MAERSK LINE

Very famous.

Cargo Ship Icon 630

Calendar Icon 1928 

Tracking Icon Track

MSC Cargo Ship

MSC

Cargo Ship Icon 497

Calendar Icon 1970

Tracking Icon Track

APL Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

APL

Cargo Ship Icon 90

Calendar Icon 1978

Tracking Icon Track

OOCL Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

OOCL

Cargo Ship Icon 55

Calendar Icon 1969

Tracking Icon Track

Cosco Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

COSCO

I heard of them a lot, before I even started FBA.

Cargo Ship Icon 311

Calendar Icon 1997

Tracking Icon Track

Hapag-lloyd Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

Hapag-Lloyd

Cargo Ship Icon 219

Calendar Icon 1970

Tracking Icon Track

PIL Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

PIL

Cargo Ship Icon 161

Calendar Icon 1967

Tracking Icon Track

UASC United Arab Shipping Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

UASC

Cargo Ship Icon 60

Calendar Icon 1976

Tracking Icon Track

Yang Ming Cargo Ship

Yang Ming

My Amazon FBA cargo carrier.

Cargo Ship Icon 98

Calendar Icon 1972

Tracking Icon Track

Hyundai Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

Hyundai

I thought they only make cars.

Cargo Ship Icon 73

Calendar Icon 1976

Tracking Icon Track

Safmarine Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

Safmarine

All their ships look so rusty.

Cargo Ship Icon 119

Calendar Icon 1946

Tracking Icon Track

Zim Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

ZIM

Cargo Ship Icon 80

Calendar Icon 1945

Tracking Icon Track

MOL Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

MOL

They also have a lot of oil tankers. 

Cargo Ship Icon 90

Calendar Icon 1884

Tracking Icon Track

Wan Hai Lines Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

Wan Hai Lines

Cargo Ship Icon 74

Calendar Icon 1965

Tracking Icon Track

K Line Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

K-line

Cargo Ship Icon 70

Calendar Icon 1919

Tracking Icon Track

NYK Line Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

NYK Line

Cargo Ship Icon 98

Calendar Icon 1885

Tracking Icon Track

Hamburg Sud Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

Hamburg Süd

Cargo Ship Icon 116

Calendar Icon 1871

Tracking Icon Track

MCC Transport Cargo Ship Sea Ocean Container Freight

MCC

Their ships have integrated cranes - pretty cool.

Cargo Ship Icon 90

Calendar Icon 1988

Tracking Icon Track

Step 2. 

On the shipping company's tracking page, search by your container number, and look for a vessel name there. 

For example, I first entered my container number:

Wan Hai Container Tracking Screenshot

And then looked for a vessel name:

Wan Hai Container Tracking Screenshot YM Uniform

So my Vessel Name was 'YM UNIFORM'.

Step 3.

Go to marinetraffic.com, signup for a free account, and enter your vessel name to the search field:

Marine Traffic Screenshot Search by Vessel Name

You will get to see some pictures of your vessel. The pictures are not current, but you can imagine it looks pretty much like that, carrying your precious cargo:

Marine Traffic YM Uniform Cargo Ship Picture Screenshot

Then, click Route Forecast button:

Marine Traffic Route Forecast Button Screenshot

And voila, you will see a map showing where the ship is now, and the route it will follow:

Marine Traffic YMUniform passing Japan going to LA

So, my shipment was passing Japan on September 4th.

It had 6 more days until planned arrival date - plenty of time to sail slowly and peacefully, without flipping over.

Cargo Ship Accident containers falling out

I did not pay for cargo insurance, so any of these would be pretty sad for me:

Cargo Ship Accidents Fire Container Damage Ship flipped over

If you're worried about accidents, or your shipment value is high, you may want to opt-in for cargo insurance. On Freightos, this option looks like this:

Freightos Insurance

I didn't. I am Scrooge McDuck.

One more Layer?

My ship name was 'YM UNIFORM'.

YM = Yang Ming. 

So I guess Wan Hai re-traded my cargo to another sea shipping company, Yang Ming.

So many layers..

Freightos Amass Wan Hai Yang Ming Layers

All those companies make money, so how much was the actual shipping cost??

It probably went something like this:

Freightos Amass Wan Hai Yang Ming Layers Cash

I should just call Yang Ming directly next time, hehe.

Nah... but I won't - it's much easier to let someone else handle all documents and forwarding for me.

I would not want to become a freight forwarder myself - maybe in another life.

In the Unknown

September 7. 

I checked on marinetraffic.com, to see where the ship was now.

Marine Traffic Without Satellite No Movement Screenshot

But wait. This is the same as 3 days ago.

So it turns out the free account of marinetraffic.com only gives rare updates. I would need to pay for satellite tracking, to see the updates more often. 

It was showing Position Received on September 3, which was 4 days ago: 

Marine Traffic Latest Position Screenshot

Ahh, so no real time data for me. I was sad about that, but oh well. I could manage without it.

Arrival Suprises - the Good and the Bad

I received an email from Amass saying the ship has arrived on September 7th. Very nice surprise. 5 days early.

They sent me a formal Arrival Notice document, which listed some reference numbers and an arrival date:

Amass Arrival Notice Early Arrival document

But.. there was another surprise at the bottom of this document:

Amass Arrival Notice Invoice

Hm. Some fees that I did not expect. Are these the same fees that I already paid when I paid Freightos?

Let me check what I already paid for.

Amass Freightos Quote Arrival Check

Yes, I already paid some items mentioned in the new invoice, but smaller amounts.

For example, for Terminal Handling I paid $50, and now Amass invoice said $75. I paid a few other fees as well. But there were some new charges, like I.T. Charge and ISPS - I have not seen those before. 

Oooky Doky not so Doky, so I had to ask Amass about those. Maybe it was just a pre-set form and they did not expect a payment for it.

Unfortunately for me, Amass sent me a note with even more extra fees:

Amass UPS handling fees extra fees

Bah. 

Originally, Freightos promised me this:

Freightos guaranteed rates

So 'if freight forwarder comes back with additional charges, there are no additional charges for you'. 

I was going to see if it was true.

Tip: You saw the $80 fee they would have charged for attaching labels? I was lucky I already asked my supplier to apply them. I recommend you do the same.

Regular FBA labels look like this: 

Amazon FBA Shipping Label Example

But if you choose to do local shipping in USA using Amazon UPS service, your labels will look like this:

Amazon FBA UPS Shipping Label Example

Amazon Seller Central generated 40 labels for me like the one above - one for each box.

I sent them to my supplier when they there packing my products, and they applied the labels for me.

Looks like doing this saved me $80. Yippee.

Ok, no extra fees. I think.

I emailed Amass quite a few times to get a response about the extra fees and unexpected invoice.

One time they only answered half my questions, another time they ignored it, another time they replied asking what shipment id are we talking about.. oh amass amass.. In the end, here's what I managed to pull out. 

Amass answers are in red, on top of my email:

Amass Fees Removed Email

St George CFS Warehouse fee: $85 - Voided. Maybe.

'NO need pay us IF UPS will pay directly while they pickup cargo.'

Hm. So do I need to pay or not? It's very hard to understand from this email.

I guess if I pay to UPS myself for their services, then I don't pay the $85 warehousing fee to Amass?

Ok.. I will assume that I don't need to pay anything. 

Warehouse UPS pickup processing fee: $65.00 - Voided.

Email said 'fees been removed, no need to pay this'. Awesome.

Then, I asked about the extra invoice. They said:

Amass Freightos Emails

Eeehm, I am not removing anything. Not sure what she's talking about. 

Probably Freightos email system somehow resends my emails to her and changes the subject? 

She said "Will send you correct/total invoice with duty once receive customs release". 

So, 

Additional Strange Invoice of $171.75 - Voided. For Now.

Quite a rocky road so far. I had hopes that no extra fees will be charged.

Freightos Arrival Email - 4 Days Late

September 11.

My shipment arrived to LA port on September 7. Amass sent me arrival documents.

Four days later, I received an email from Freightos, saying my cargo is about to arrive..

Freightos Shipment Arrival Email

Little bit late, my friends. It's already old news here.

I guess this was an automated email, scheduled to be sent on the estimated Goods Handover date:

Freightos Platform Timeline Screenshot

I think this email is always a miss for every customer, as most of the time the estimated date is probably not the same as the actual date of arrival. 

In the shipping process, facts are really important to me. You can't say "your shipment is scheduled to arrive at the destination port shortly", when it already arrived. You can't ask about UPS shipping labels after we have already made an agreement about them. You can't ask if the delivery address is Canada, when we already set up the LA delivery address... 

Freightos is always two steps behind on whatever is happening with my shipment. Makes Freightos seem unnecessary and quite unhelpful in the whole process.

Maybe I will ditch Freightos next time, and only use them for estimating my shipping costs.

Verdicts later.

When will my cargo be released from Customs?

September 16.

My cargo was still in Customs and I felt a little worried about the whole process.

It has been 9 days since arrival, and still no news. I was thinking customs clearance would be much faster than that. But it wasn't.

One of Freightos emails had some info about the process:

Here is what you can expect next:

  • The vessel will berth at the dock and the cargo will be unloaded. Meanwhile the customs broker will start the customs clearance process. The cargo will then be sent to the forwarder’s warehouse for deconsolidation and processing. 
  • The customs broker  will contact you to clarify any customs clearance questions. They will  bill you directly for any applicable duties/taxes. The cargo will clear customs and then be made available at the warehouse for pickup. 
  • If your final destination booked is the port- you will be notified about the amount of time you have to arrange pickup until storage fees are incurred.

Well, it did not say how long I will be waiting for the customs clearance to complete. I guess it varies a lot.

So I waited.

Cargo released. Unexpected wire fees.

September 18.

I received an email from Amass, saying cargo was released from customs. Finally.

It took 11 days to be cleared.

Amass Customs Cleared Email Payment Request

The invoice she sent me had fees again! All the same ones, which I already paid for on Freightos:

Amass invoice fees again

I complained to Freightos. What is this. How many times I will have to make sure I don't get double charged? 

Freightos didn't like it either. They sent a cross email to Amass:

Freightos email to Amass extra charges

After that Amass revised my invoice to only have Duty Charges and Wire transfer fee.

Beware, if you will be sending a wire transfer from Canada or any other country, their wire transfer fee will be $65 instead of $25. I had a USA-based bank account, so they only charged me $25.

I had to send them a wire transfer over the phone, because my bank account is USA-based and I am not. And my bank is so basic that it does not provide a way to do wire transfers online.

If you don't live in USA, you could have a similar arrangement with a USA-based bank, where you do wire transfer over the phone. Or you may get lucky and get a modern bank which has an option to do it online. In addition, having a USA-based bank account is useful for the speed of the wire transfers. It would take 3-4 days for wire from Canada, and it took only 1 day for USA to USA. 

The wire cost me an additional $25 on my side, so a total of $50 went away to just being able to exchange the money with Amass. 

Tip: If you want to avoid wire transfer fees with Amass, you can overnight them a Cashier Check or a Money Order in USD. Then they will not charge you for receiving the money, and you will only spend for getting them the Money Order.

Dollar iconSo far, I spent:

  • Sea Shipping - Freightos - $448.64
  • Payment Processing Fee - Freightos - $8.97
  • Delivery by Truck from LA to PA - Amazon UPS - $625.47
  • Wire transfer fee - Amass - $25.00
  • Wire transfer fee - Royal Bank - $25.00

Total: $1133.08

Stuck Forever at St George Warehouse in LA

This is the most embarrasing and frustrating part for me.  My cargo was stuck at the warehouse for 14 days, due to my poor knowledge of shipping with UPS Ground, confusion with Pay Cargo account and problems with palletizing.

Here's what happened.

As soon as cargo cleared customs, Amass sent the whole container to St George Logistics warehouse in LA. 

St George Logistics CFS is a Cargo Freight Station facility. This company de-consolidates freight shipments and stages them for the next transport leg.

With any CFS facility that you use, it goes like this:

Import CF Facility Explanation

I was expected to pay warehousing and handling fees to this warehouse directly, and then arrange the pickup of my cargo from them.

Amass said:

StGeorge Logistics Pick Up UPS Ground

So, fine, I was going to pay the fees for warehousing.

But how was I supposed to give some documents to UPS driver to bring with him, and also arrange him to bring an empty pallet for exchange?? UPS service does not do that. They just come, pickup what's already ready with shipping labels and go. I had to figure out how to handle this.

Warehousing and Handling Fees

First, I decided to pay all required fees to St George Warehouse.

On their website, I could see the amount due:

StGeorge Logistcs Charges Screenshot

Amass had previously told me about the following fees:

Amass Email about St George Logistics Fees

When I emailed St George Warehouse, they told me slightly different numbers:

St George Logistics Email Fees

Ok, so there was $85 plus $35 for skipping the line, a total of $120. 

Paying the warehouse directly

I asked them if I could pay by Paypal or credit card, but they said they only accept Pay Cargo or a cheque.

Cheque was not going to work for me, I am from Canada and I don't even have cheques. It's for people from the 90s.

Pay Cargo.. never heard of them. So I googled.

Pay Cargo Homepage Screenshot

I found out they are kinda like Paypal, but for freight payments only. And they were my only option, so I signed up.

Then I wasted 2 days on trying to create an account with them. Their app got confused with my company address being in Canada, but my bank account being in USA. I talked with support, created a second account, redid the transaction to St George warehouse etc = spent 2 days on this. 

Time was ticking. St George Warehouse was going to start charging me for storage after September 26, and it was September 25 when I was still figuring out Pay Cargo app.

In the end, they received my payment on September 28, and I was lucky they did not charge me for any additional storage.

At least, not yet.

St George Logistics Email Cargo Released Payment Received

Dollar iconSo far, I spent:

  • Sea Shipping - Freightos - $448.64
  • Payment Processing Fee - Freightos - $8.97
  • Delivery by Truck from LA to PA - Amazon UPS - $625.47
  • Wire transfer fee - Amass - $25.00
  • Wire transfer fee - Royal Bank - $25.00
  • CFS Warehouse fee - St George Logistics - $85.00
  • UPS Handling - St George Logistics - $35.00

Total: $1253.08

Coordinating UPS pickup myself

Ok, so I had to figure out how to arrange UPS pickup. I did not really want to deal with it, so I tried asking Amass to do it for me.

Amass did not want to do it:

Amass UPS email to coordinate on your own

St George warehouse did not want to do it either:

Email asking St George Logictics to call UPS for pickup

St George Logistics Email saying I should arrange UPS myself

Why was I avoiding it? Sounds easy, just ask UPS to come! But it wasn't so easy.

To make a pickup request, you need to tell them your UPS account number, which I did not have. In fact, it was going under Amazon's UPS account number, so only Amazon themselves could make the pickup request online. Even if you try an put in Amazon's UPS account number (X05 7A9) when requesting a pickup, it will give you an error:

UPS Online Pickup Form Amazon FBA Shipment Screenshot

If you're wondering where did I get the Amazon's UPS account number from, the answer is from the shipping labels. UPS shipper account numbers are embedded in the tracking number, like this:

UPS Ground Amazon Account Number from Tracking Number

Third party charges (such as pickup fees) cannot not be billed to Amazon's UPS Account.

Most sellers just drop off their packages at UPS location. I could not make the drop - I was in Turkey, sitting on my sofa, trying to solve this UPS pickup puzzle. And even if you're in USA, you would not drive to Los Angeles, just to pass your cargo from CFS warehouse to UPS. Drop off works only if you're shipping from home. You then load your car with boxes, drive to the UPS office in your local neighborhood and you're done. My situation was not so simple.

There is also a UPS pickup fee for UPS Ground service pickups - it's usually around $10 or so. 

I went ahead and requested a pick up online, using the following info:

UPS Amazon FBA Pickup Online Form Example Screenshot

Two days later, this pickup request started showing "Your pickup request has been successfully completed.":

UPS Ground Pickup Successfully completed - screenshot

Liars. I checked the tracking numbers, none of the packages were picked up yet. Checked with the warehouse - my cargo was still there. I chatted with UPS support, but they were pretty much clueless - they could only see the same status I saw. 

So UPS did not pick up my shipment, but they did charge me $7.31 for it. I checked on my Visa statement. It was there. Together with one more mystical dollar.

UPS Pickup Charge on Visa Statement

Maybe something else was missing with this arrangement. Maybe the driver came to pick up, but he did not have the documents required, or the pallet they wanted - so he left.

I found out a lot of Amazon sellers were having similar experiences with UPS, where no one picked up the cargo:

UPS Pick Up Amazon FBA did not show up

Tip: whenever you're stuck with Amazon FBA question, and Google does not know the answer, try searching on Facebook groups. Most of the time, you will find tens of answers to your question. For this to work, you will need to:

  1. Join as many Facebook groups as you can. Big list of FB groups for Amazon Sellers.
  2. Once accepted, set Notifications to OFF. Otherwise you will get a load of notifications on new posts.
  3. When you want to learn something or get an answer to your question, search on Facebook search like this: 

Facebook Amazon FBA Group Search

So yep. UPS did not pick up my cargo. I was going to pay 70$ for every extra day at the warehouse, and I still had no clue how to resolve this.

Lightbulb Icon YellowAnd then my brightest moment came. I decided to make a phone call to St George Warehouse. Multiple people were on the same email thread about my pickup, and they were giving me conflicting information. Plus, we were exchanging emails for many days - I was 8 hours ahead of USA time, which slowed everything down. Free storage time ran out a long time ago and I needed everything resolved ASAP.

Aahh.. I hate phone calls. I am an introvert and get stressed out, when I need to talk to real people. That's the reason I work online, from home, where I don't need to deal with the intricacies of human relationships. But there was no other option.

Her name was Claudia Ramirez. She was strict and to the point. Exactly what I needed. To my big surprise, after I complained how lost I was in figuring out how to setup a UPS pickup, she said: "I never said you need to call UPS. They come here everyday, due to the volume of UPS Ground shipments that we have. We will simply give them the cargo, if you send me the DO and make the payment that is due on your account."

Oh my. I spent 10 days figuring out how to arrange UPS pickup, when they did not need me to call them at all.

I was so sure I needed to do it myself, because another lady from their company said:

St George Logistics Email saying I should arrange UPS myself

She confused me! Oh well. At least I finally knew what to do.

1. Send the DO.

2. Pay the extra fees applied to my account.

What is a DO she needs from me? And where do I get it from?

I was confused, so I emailed asking Claudia what is a DO. This is an acronym that you cannot google. It has at least 69 meanings.

DO meanings definitions

Did she mean the shipping labels? 

No. She clarified it was a 'Delivery Order'. Aaaah. OK.

St George Logistics Email Deliver Order DO

So I dug up an email from Amass, in which I totally missed the attachment before.

There it was:

Delivery Order Amass Example DO

So apparently a CFS warehouse cannot release the cargo without a Delivery Order (DO). This is good, because you would not want someone unauthorized to pick up your cargo. Deliver Order is given to you directly, right after you pay customs duties. After your cargo has been cleared, it is released for pickup, and a DO is your pickup ticket.

I did not need to give it to UPS driver like I thought. I simply needed to email it to the CFS warehouse. That's why they were charging $35 fee for handling UPS - they had to spend time collecting a DO from me and coordinate a pickup with UPS. 

St George Logistics Email Pending Additional Fees Do received

Extra Fees and a Pallet I did not want

So I also had another pending payment to St George Warehouse, even after I paid the original $120 to them. ($120 = $85 warehousing fee + $35 UPS handling fee.)

It was a $20 fee, for 1 pallet.

Why did I need a pallet, if my cargo was going in loose boxes?

This pallet question wasted me 2 precious days.

Amass told me:

Amass Email about pallet exchange

I couldn't give UPS a pallet to bring for exchange, of course. They are not that kind of service. 

But why did I even need it at all?? Amazon allows shipments by UPS Ground to be loose boxes, unpalletized. If the warehouse would put it on a pallet, I would have to redo the shipment on Seller Central, print new labels, print pallet labels, pay for labelling to the warehouse - it would be a lot of work and cost me extra $$.

St George Warehouse said:

St George Logistics UPS Ground pallet exchange email

I still didn't quite understand, why exactly the pallet is needed.

So I asked Claudia on the phone and she explained it to me.

Pallet is only needed to load the boxes to the UPS Ground truck. The shipment will still go to Amazon as loose boxes. There are too many boxes ready daily for UPS Ground, to take them without pallets. Plus, UPS does not wait in line - so they have to quickly load the pallets to their truck, and move out of the way.

Maybe the drivers who have been waiting for their turn a long time, are looking angrily at them for jumping the line.

Transport Trucks Lineup loading

Ok then. I will pay $20 for the pallet, I thought. Let UPS be quick. No need to upset the other drivers.

Just for fun, I zoomed in on St George Warehouse in Google Maps. Wow. 

St George Logistics Warehouse CFS Trucks Loading Dock

So many trucks loading at the same time. Crazy. 

How much did I pay for the extra days of storage?

There was an extra $105 outstanding, for the extra days. All my fault for not making the phone call on the first day.

I paid that via Pay Cargo as well. And again, it took 24 hours to be completed. With some hiccups due to incorrect bank routing number.

Finally, finally. All was paid and my cargo was handed over to UPS.

I paid a grand total of $245 to St George Warehouse.

What can you do to Avoid Issues I had

My cargo was available for pickup since September 20:

St George Logistics Platform Screenshot

I had 6 free days to quickly do all the arrangements.

But by the time UPS picked up my cargo, it was already October 3 - a total holdup of 14 very long days, to finally get my cargo out of there. 

All my 'buddies' from the same container picked up their cargo a long time ago - I was the only one left:

St George Logistics Screenshot

Next time, I will know what to do.

Here is a tip for you, not to get stuck the same way I did:

Tip: Talk to the CFS warehouse on the first day your cargo arrives there. Learn what they are expecting from you, what paperwork you will need for them to release your cargo, what payment methods they have. Get things ready early - setup a Pay Cargo account, get it approved, or get some cheques from your bank. Ask your customs broker to send you a Delivery Order as soon as you pay them for customs duties. It will make things much easier.

If I had to do ship another cargo via CFS warehouse again, I would send them the DO on the first day, make the payment the same day as well, and let them know I will be needing UPS handling service. My cargo would be released the next day, after the payment clears. I wish I knew all that when I started. At least now, you do.

Certainly, to avoid dealing with CFS warehouse at all, you can choose to use freight forwarder's services for delivery to FBA warehouse, instead of using Amazon's UPS. That will cost you a few hundred $$, but you will be stress free. It's up to you.

On the road again 

My cargo was now on the way to the Amazon FBA warehouse in Pennsylvania.

UPS Ground Departed Tracking Screenshot

UPS tracking was showing an estimated 3 days for delivery. It was much quicker service than I expected. I thought UPS Ground was slow, and it would take them forever to get my 40 boxes from West Coast to East Coast. But I thought wrong.

If you want to estimate how long it would take UPS Ground to deliver your cargo to an Amazon FBA warehouse, use this:

UPS Ground Transit Map from Los Angeles

Most likely you will be shipping your shipment to Los Angeles. When you know your FBA warehouse address, you can plan how many days it will take to be delivered. Comparing to Amazon's LTL service or freight forwarder's trucking, which takes 3 weeks, UPS is a really good option with a maximum of 5 days delivery time.

Delivered

I was very excited to receive this email:

UPS delivery Cargo Delivered Email Notification

It took them a total of 3 days to deliver my cargo to Amazon. Super fast.

The next day, Amazon notified me that my shipment has been checked-in:

Amazon FBA Shipment Checked-in email

Two days later, inventory has become available on my Seller Central. Awwwesome.

Shopkeeper was now showing a lovely number of units available for each of the variations. Just enough to hopefully avoid the long term storage fees:

AMZPing Inventory Overview Screenshot

Final Timeline

Here's how long every step took.

Timeline for Amazon FBA Sea Shipping

My product arrived to Amazon FBA warehouse on October 9 - just in time for the Holidays. 

Tip: When you're planning inventory for Christmas rush, if you want to have products available on Amazon on time - you have to place an order with your supplier very early, in the middle of summer.

My Total Costs for Shipping with Freightos + UPS

Dollar iconSo, I spent:

  • Sea Shipping - Freightos - $448.64
  • Payment Processing Fee - Freightos - $8.97
  • Delivery by Truck from LA to PA - Amazon UPS - $625.47
  • Wire transfer fee - Amass - $25.00
  • Wire transfer fee - Royal Bank - $25.00
  • CFS Warehouse fee - St George Logistics - $85.00
  • UPS Handling - St George Logistics - $35.00
  • UPS Pickup Request Online - UPS - $8.31 - my fault
  • Pallet Exchange fee - St George Logistics - $20.00
  • Extended CFS warehousing - St George Logistics - $105.00 - my fault

Total: $1386.39

My cargo was a total of 520 kg, so it came out to be $2.66 per kg. (Usually freight forwarders will quote on kg. But per pound that is $1.21.)

When you're planning your own shipment, consider this.

To ship by Sea + Amazon UPS Ground, on top of base sea shipping and land shipping costs, you will incur these charges:

  1. Processing fee for initial booking (mine was $8.97, but it may vary)
  2. Wire transfer fees to pay for Customs Duties (mine were $50, it will depend on the forwarder and your bank)
  3. CFS Warehouse fees (I would have paid $85, if there would have been no delay and related extra storage costs)
  4. UPS Handling ($35 plus $20 for pallet exchange, so around $55 if all fits on one pallet - this may vary depending on your CFS warehouse)

Total additional fees you could expect, if you will have less than 2 pallets - around $200. (If larger shipment, scale accordingly.)

How did the cost of shipping affect profit?

Total cost for shipping became $0.54 per unit, which is pretty awesome! I used to pay around $2 per unit when I was shipping by air.

I entered those to Shopkeeper app, to see what profit I will now be making:

AMZPing Shipping costs affect profit calculator amazon fba

Almost 7$ profit per unit sold.

This number makes me very happy - when I first started selling this product, I was only making 2$ profit. I optimized, negotiated, and now also reduced my shipping costs. 

With some sales, my numbers now look like this:

AMZPing Screenshot Profitability View Shipping Cost Profit Margin

I feel like mission accomplished. 

Was it worth it, switching from the old forwarder to Freightos?

When I did the initial price comparisons with my old forwarder's quote - I was thinking I will save $352 using Freightos instead. 

My old forwarder's quote was $1425 - all inclusive price with sea shipping, UPS Ground handling and CFS warehouse fees.

Now with Freightos, I paid only $60 less and spent a lot of my time arranging everything. Sure, if I wouldn't have made any boo-boos, I would've paid $175 less than my forwarder's quote. But I am pretty sure that much would have been negotiable. I should have stuck with my old forwarder.

Verdict: It's not about the price of shipping - all shippers offer a very similar price. It's about the experience with a forwarder. 

The process with Freightos/Amass was so hands on for me, I had to double check everything, they kept wanting to double charge me, asked the same questions multiple times, as if they were not sure what they were doing. It was much more work than simply using my old forwarder. 

I loved my old forwarder's style of business: I would only talk to them twice - when I make an order for shipping, and when I need to pay customs duties. All other things were handled automatically for me. Now I know. I love them. ❤❤❤

What's the name of this ❤ forwarder?

Heh. I am not going to be telling you this.

In Amazon business, things like our product, our supplier, our inspection company, our freight forwarder - the whole distribution chain - is our Intellectual Property (IP). Through sweat, stress and hard work - you discover what works and how it works, what makes money and what doesn't - and this knowledge is your power. Any new competitor will first have to spend a lot of time learning and discovering, to get to where you are. So protect your IP.

But hey, I can tell you a little hint. My old freight forwarder is one of the companies on the list below. Maybe you'll get lucky and discover them yourself. 

Tip: Whatever forwarder you test, don't look at the quotes too much. They can be negotiable, to match the market prices. Look for experience and the ease of working with them. The less you have to do with shipping arrangements yourself, the more time you will have to run your business.

List of Freight Forwarders for Amazon FBA

I compiled a list of most popular shippers for sea shipping to Amazon FBA. Try a few, and stick with the one you like most. First time sea shipping is the hardest, after that it is no big deal.

p.s. You can pretty much ignore the style and look of their websites, as these companies are not in the software business, so it's not what they do best. Apart from Freightos and Flexport, which are funded by venture capital, all of the companies are small. Don't worry if their website looks basic - freight forwarding world is still very much based on fax, phone and other old fashioned business methods, so a good website is not so necessary for them. Your experience will depend on their process and the people you'll work with.

Company About
Freightos Logo Icon Freightos

Calendar Icon 2012

House Icon Israel Israel Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Flexport Logo Icon Flexport

Calendar Icon 2013

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Universal Cargo Logo Icon Universal Cargo

Calendar Icon 1985

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FBA Forward Logo Icon FBA Forward

Calendar Icon 2014

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Shapiro Logo Icon Shapiro

Calendar Icon 1915

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

China Freight Logo Icon China Freight

Calendar Icon 2012

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

RAK Logistics Logo Icon RAK Logistics

Calendar Icon 2011

House Icon Singapore Singapore Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Forest Shipping Logo Icon Forest Shipping

Calendar Icon 2010

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

AMZ Transit Logo Icon AMZ Transit

Calendar Icon 2015

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Regional Express Logo Icon Regional Express

Calendar Icon 2012

House Icon UK United KIngdom Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FIC Logistics Logo Icon FIC Logistics

Calendar Icon 2006

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Goodhope Freight Logo Icon Goodhope Freight

Calendar Icon 2014

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FBA Shipping Company Logo Icon FBA Shipping

Calendar Icon 2010

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FBA Transport Company Logo Icon FBA Transport

Calendar Icon 2016

House Icon USA United States Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Forwarding Logistics Logo Icon Forwarding Logistics

Calendar Icon 2003

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FBA Achiever Company Logo Icon FBAchiever

Calendar Icon 2015

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Myhome Forwarder Logo Icon Myhome

Calendar Icon 2015

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

CPS Logo Icon CPS

Calendar Icon 2008

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

FBA Freight Forwarder Company Logo Icon FBA Freight Forwarder

Calendar Icon 2016

House Icon China China Flag

Cargo Ship Icon FBA Info

Beware that your Sea Shipment Details are Publicly Available to Anyone

There is one drawback of using ocean freight. 

Information from the import bill of lading will be made publicly available by US Customs. Then, a few services online will collect this data and make it available to anyone. 

Unfortunately, this allows your competitors to find out what exact supplier you're using to manufacture your private label product.

For example.

Let's say my competitor makes a very popular Yoga Mat, selling like crazy. And I want to make a very similar product of my own.

And their Amazon store name is BalanceFrom:

Amazon BalanceFrom Yoga Mat

First, I need to find their company name. Very often, it's exactly the same as their store name, so it makes it all very easy.

If not, company name is often listed on the Shopify website. Or, they may be selling on Amazon EU, and it shows their full company name like this: 

Amazon UK Seller Info Screenshot

Then, I go to USA Import Data website, put in their company name there, hoping that it matches the Importer of Record:

USA Import Data Search Screenshot

And yep. It's there. 

USA Import Data Screenshot

Then, I can open the record details, to see exactly which supplier they are using to buy the Yoga Mat from:

USA Import Data Details Screenshot Bill of Landing

You are now suddenly worried, and want to check your own company data in the USA Import Data database?

Go ahead, I will wait. Check these as Importer:

  1. your brand name
  2. your store name
  3. your company name
  4. your First and Last name

(waiting)

Ok, now that you're back, let me tell you what you can do about it.

How to hide my import data from public access?

Before you even ship your first shipment, you should get yourself excluded from the public US Customs database.

Otherwise, as soon as the Bill of Lading is made public by US Customs, websites like USAImportData will copy it and add to their own databases. After that it will be very hard to track all of those sites down, manually asking for removal. Some of them will not even consider your removal request.

So do it right away, as soon as you're getting ready to ship your first shipment.

Here's what US Customs say:

"an importer may request confidential treatment of its name and address contained in inward manifest, and of the shipper and shippers name and address." U.S. Customs and Border Protection

They allow you to send them an email, with a request for confidentiality. Email address is vesselmanifestconfidentiality@cbp.dhs.gov.

You will need to provide them:

  1. Your Company Name - make sure it's exactly as it will appear on the Bill of Lading. That means when your forwarder will ask you what's the Importer of Record name, you will always give your company name, in exact same format. For example, I would give Leviatan Inc. Not Leviatan, or Leviatan Incorporated, etc. Always same format. Just use the official company name. If you don't have a company, use your personal name.
  2. USA Company EIN - just give them the EIN number. If you're not based in USA, you will need to provide them the CBP Importer ID, and I already showed you how to get this ID. If you don't have a company, I believe you will need to provide your SSN.
  3. Your Company Address - give them the address you will be using as Importer of Record. I just gave my Canadian address.

You can use any free form email, to request it. Here's how my email to them looked like:

US Customs Import Confidentiality Request example Email

Their auto-reply was a little disappointing:

US Customs Confidentiality Request Response

60-90 days!!!??

ook. np. I will wait. At least they will do it.

Here are all the details about this service on the U.S. Customs website.

p.s. You should set up a reminder to email them again in 2 years. The exclusion from public manifests will only last for 2 years.

One more way to hide the supplier info:

Actually, there is another way as well. It's to simply use a trading company, when purchasing your products. I use a sourcing agent in China, and it's always just a trading company name there, instead of the actual factory name. Most of the time though, I would not recommend working with trading companies.

How to hide import data, if you already shipped by sea before

If you have already shipped something by sea and have your Bill of Lading record showing up online somewhere, it's going to be tough for you.

But you can do some things. Here are a few things for you to go through.

First,

get yourself excluded from U.S. Customs public records, so that all new shipments that you send from now on, would be kept confidential. Maybe in the future, you will change supplier, or create a new product line with another manufacturer. You don't want your sensitive company data be accessible to anyone.

I explained how to get yourself excluded, in the previous section.

Second,

try to email sites like USAImportdata asking to remove your information. Google the number of your Bill of Lading, see what other sites show it, and try to clean it up by emailing each site individually. 

This might not work so well, because they are not motivated to remove anything. Some of them may charge you for it.

And, not all pages on those websites are indexed by Google, which will make it much harder for you to find them. But anyone using a search option on their website could still lookup your results, so you want to find as many import data websites as you can, and contact them all.

Tip: You can outsource this task to a VA, if you have no time to do it yourself. I found my VA on Manila Craigslist, tested five of them and chose one, who now works for me full time.

Here's a few websites that share Import Data. Search within each of them separately, to see if they have any data on your shipments. Google your bill of lading number to see if any other websites publish it.

Website
USAImportData Logo Icon USAImportData
Import Genius Logo Icon ImportGenius
Tradesparq Logo Icon Tradesparq
Panjiva Logo Icon Panjiva

How do they get the data from U.S. Customs? Can I see it online somewhere?

The way websites like USAImportData and ImportGenius obtain information from U.S. Customs is this.

They subscribe to a paid Manifest CD-Roms Service, to receive CDs with new data every 24 hours. (What an old 90s way of doing things... Ancient.) Then, they read the data from them, and upload to their database. That's it. 

The business model is simple - sell this data to others. Some make it partially available for free, and if you want full data, you pay. There is no motivation for them to do any removals, unless they charge for it.

In the end, if you cannot remove your shipment info from the internet, you will have to hope that your competitors are not such bad people, and they will not be contacting your factory and ordering a similar product to yours.

Bad Karma points to them, if they will. Thumbs Down IconThumbs Down IconThumbs Down Icon

 

PART 2.

How I shipped with Flexport

I will not be repeating what you already know about sea shipping from my experience with Freightos. 

But I wanted to show you how modern Flexport platform is, comparing to all other forwarders.

...{to be continued - maybe}...

If you would be interested in Part 2, let me know by Liking this article. If I get 100 likes, I will continue.

 
Paulina
Paulina

I am the founder of Shopkeeper and an Amazon seller myself. When I started selling on nine different Amazon marketplaces, including Amazon Japan, I realized there were no software tools on the market which would sum up my sales from all countries. I also did not like the cluttered, spreadsheet look of most apps. So Shopkeeper was born. My articles are primarily about software tools for Amazon sellers and case studies where I explore all things Amazon.