commercial invoice, vietnam to uk, import license, lcl shipping, full container load, cost effective, vietnamese customs, vietnamese market, container space, destination countries, shipping goods

by Sam Franklin | July 29, 2022 | 19 min read

The comprehensive guide to shipping from Vietnam to the UK

Get funded

Last updated: September 03, 2022

Major technology and consumer companies manufacture goods in Vietnam. With multinational players like Samsung, Nike, and Foxconn producing goods in the Southeast Asian nation, it is transforming into a global manufacturing hub. Geographically, Vietnam is strategically located, with China to its north and the South China Sea to its east and south. It is also within close proximity to major international shipping routes.

Vietnam was one of the world’s poorest countries till about three decades ago, but institutional and economic reforms helped it grow its GDP per capita income to £3,117 in 2021, from less than £90 in 1990. Meanwhile, its trade has nearly quadrupled in the last decade. The country has benefitted from the rising costs of manufacturing in China, the China-U.S. trade war, and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with various countries and regions, including the UK-Vietnam FTA, which came into effect in January 2021.

Vietnam is the UK's 36th largest trading partner. In the financial year 2021, the total trade between the UK and Vietnam amounted to £5.5 billion, out of which imports from the Asian country accounted for £4.6 billion. Some of the major import items from Vietnam to the UK are telecom and sound equipment, clothing, footwear, furniture, and iron and steel.

If you are looking to import goods from Vietnam and are seeking information on shipping services, you are in the right place. In this article, we talk about shipping from Vietnam to the UK using sea freight and air freight services, major cargo ports and airports in the two countries, and the costs involved.

Table of Contents

Sea freight from Vietnam to the UK

Sea freight, or transporting goods on huge vessels, is usually the most cost-effective way to ship a large volume of cargo safely. Sea freight is used for nearly 90% of goods shipped internationally.

Sea freight is an economical and efficient means of transporting your goods from Vietnam to the UK. Vietnam has a coastline of 3,444 km and a number of large ports. It is an important trading country, especially since the U.S-China trade war made companies look at Vietnam as an option for manufacturing. According to Statista, Vietnam's total sea cargo throughput was about 398 million metric tons in 2020.

To make the sea freight process easier, you can also consider using the services of a freight forwarder between Vietnam and the UK. Freight forwarders act as intermediaries between manufacturers and buyers, arranging for the transport of goods via sea, air, or other modes. If you are looking for a freight forwarder, you can use this useful guide by the British International Freight Association, a trade association representing UK freight forwarders.

Curious about freight transport? Learn everything you need to know about freight transport here.

Ports in Vietnam

Sea shipping between the UK and Vietnam takes up to 4-6 weeks on average, depending on the types of goods and the origin and destination ports. Ports are located across the three important economic zones in north, central, and southern Vietnam. Smaller ports account for a major chunk of the total maritime freight traffic in the country, as large cargo ships cannot reach many locations along the coastline. Vietnam has extensive river basin systems, and smaller ports are used to transport goods.

Here are the five major ports of Vietnam.

  1. Hai Phong Port Located in Haiphong City, the Hai Phong port is one of the largest ports in northern Vietnam. Built by French colonists, the port has the largest cargo throughput in the North of the country, and it is located close to the Red River Delta, a strategic trading point. Haiphong city is well connected with other major cities in the north like Ho Chi Minh City. The port also serves the Kunming-Haiphong Transport Corridor, an important free trade route between ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China. According to business information service Lloyd’s List, the Hai Phong port was the 31st largest port in the world by throughput in 2020, handling 5.1 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), the standard measure for freight container volume.

  2. Da Nang Port Located in Da Nang Bay, the port is one of the largest in central Vietnam. It includes the Tien Sa Port and its subsidiaries. It can accommodate cargo vessels up to 70,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage – a measurement of total contents of a ship) and container ships holding up to 4,000 TEUs.

  3. Saigon Port/Ho Chi Minh City Port Located on the Song Sai Gon (Saigon) river, north of the Mekong River Delta and the South China Sea, the port was built by French colonisers. It is now managed by the Saigon Newport Company. According to Lloyd’s List, it was the 20th largest port in the world by throughput in 2020, handling 7.9 million TEU. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and an important economic centre. The Saigon Port is a deepwater seaport with channel depths ranging from 8.5-9.1 metres at different terminals.The maximum vessel capability accommodated by the port is 30,790 DWT.

  4. Vung Tau Port  The Vung Tau port is located in the Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu province in southeast Vietnam. It is a part of a cluster of multiple ports, and along with Ho Chi Minh City, it is a major international entry point into the country. The Vung Tau port is 14 kms long with an average channel depth of 4.5 metres. It can accommodate a maximum vessel size of 8000 GRT (gross register tonnage). The port has a common warehouse of 12,032 m2 and cool storage of 950 MT.

  5. Quang Ninh Port Managed by Vietnam National Shipping Lines, Quang Ninh port is a significant port along with Hai Phong in northern Vietnam. The Quang Ninh province is important as it produces most of the anthracite coal in the country. The port is well connected via road, rail, and maritime routes with the rest of the country. The Quang Ninh port has a total length of 36 km with a channel depth of 10-20 metres. Quang Ninh's seaports reportedly handle more than 40% of the northern region's total volume of cargo and passengers.

Ports in the UK

The UK has more than 120 commercial ports, and the industry is dominated by five major operators: Associated British Ports (ABP), Forth Ports, Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH), Peel Group, and PD Ports. Here are the major cargo ports in the UK:

Felixstowe Port

The UK’s biggest and busiest port for containers and one of the largest in Europe, Felixstowe Port, is located in Suffolk, East Anglia. It handles about 4 million TEUs and about 2,000 ships annually. About 17 shipping lines operate from Felixstowe, offering services to more than 700 ports worldwide.

Southampton Port

One of the busiest ports in the UK, Southampton is the second-largest container terminal in the country, handling 1.5 million TEUs per year. Located on the southern English coast, the port is less than two miles from the M27 motorway and connected to direct rail links for freight trains. It is also well connected with the Southampton and Heathrow airports.

London Gateway Port

Situated on the River Thames, the London Gateway Port is located on the edge of the capital city. It can handle large volumes of perishables because of its close proximity to distributors and shops.

Liverpool Port

The Liverpool port accommodates mega vessels at its massive terminal. It is spread across a 12 km area divided between Liverpool port 1 and port 2. The port handles over 900,000 TEUs annually and has over 150 km of rail services for cargo handling and transport.

Port of Immingham

Located on the East Coast, the Port of Immingham has a capacity of 55 million tons annually. It is managed by the Associated British Ports (ABP) along with others on the Humber at Grimsby, Hull, and Goole.

Want to find a port near you? Here’sour guide to major UK ports.

LCL vs FCL freight from Vietnam to the UK

There are two modes of container shipments available for your goods, depending on the volume and type of cargo you are looking to move.

Less than Container Load (LCL)

If your shipment does not occupy the entire cargo container, it can be grouped with other shipments. This type of container shipment is called LCL freight. The biggest advantage of LCL freight is that you only pay for the space you use. 

Full Container Load (FCL)

FCL means that only one shipment or part of it is included in a container. However, this doesn't imply that your shipment has to occupy the entire container space. FCL shipping can be used for its various advantages like:

  • It is economical for large volumes of cargo.

  • FCL shipments don't have to be loaded and unloaded with other shipments.

  • Containers used for FCL shipping can be sealed at the factory, which reduces the chances of damage.

Find out more about container shipping here.

Advantages and disadvantages of sea freight shipping

Before you make a decision on the right method of transportation for your cargo, you should consider the pros and cons of different modes. Here are the main pros of sea freight services:

  • It's more economical compared to rail, road, and air, especially for bulky cargo.

  • Cargo ships have a lower carbon footprint compared to planes as they consume less fuel.

  • Sea freight is best suited for big shipments like industrial goods, auto parts, machinery, cars, and other big, heavy objects.

  • You can ship all kinds of sensitive and dangerous materials, like chemicals, in ships. For perishables and temperature-sensitive goods, you can use reefer or refrigerated containers with temperature, humidity, and airflow control. You can even get containers customised if you need to ship specialised goods.

Read more about reefer containers here.

Disadvantages of sea freight:

  • Cargo ships take a long time to cover the journey between the ports of origin and destination. Door-to-door delivery takes even longer. Comparatively, road, rail, and air freight shipping are faster.

  • Some countries don't have a well-developed port infrastructure, which means that they cannot accommodate large vessels. Similarly, in Vietnam, many ports can only accommodate smaller ships.

  • Sea freight can be impacted by bad weather or port congestion, leading to unexpected delays.

How much does it cost to ship a container from Vietnam to the UK?

Sea freight rates can vary depending on the time of the year, festival seasons, or even Covid-related port delays. On average, it costs about £1,500-£3,000 to ship a 40-feet container from Vietnam to the UK. 

Sea freight rates have seen a massive spike since Covid. According to a report by the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), shipping costs to Southampton jumped to £4,190 by the end of 2020, compared to £1,340 per container at the beginning of the year. International shipping rates have stabilised since, but they remain elevated compared to before the pandemic.

Average container shipping rates from Vietnam to the UK

Here are the average container shipping rates from some of the ports in Vietnam to ports in the UK. These may vary from actual rates.

sea freight, air freight, air freight services, sea freight shipping, sea freight services, customs clearance, shipping costs, air freight shipping

Air freight services from Vietnam to the UK

If you have a small volume of goods of higher value that you need to deliver quickly, you can opt for air freight. Air freight is best suited for your cargo if:

  1. It is less than 200 kg or 2 cbm.

  2. You have a limited amount of time. Air freight shipping between Vietnam and the UK takes between 1-3 days, compared to sea freight which can take a few weeks.

Airports in Vietnam

Here are the major airports in Vietnam for air freight shipments:

1. Noi Bai International Airport of Hanoi

The busiest airport in northern Vietnam, the Noi Bai International Airport, is well connected with international destinations for cargo flights. The airport covers 44,000 square metres and handles about 203,000 tons of cargo a year.

2. Tan Son Nhat International Airport

One of Vietnam's largest airports, the Tan Son Nhat International Airport is located in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. The airport serves Ho Chi Minh City and other regions of southeastern Vietnam. About 50 passenger and cargo airlines operate at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport. It plans to invest in a cargo terminal to enhance its capacity up to a million tons/year by 2030.

Main cargo airports in the UK

Here are the major UK airports that you can consider if you are looking to use air freight for shipping from Vietnam to the UK:

1. Heathrow International Airport

One of the world's busiest international airports, Heathrow International Airport handles over 500,000 tonnes of cargo every year. It plans to increase freight volumes to 3 million tonnes a year by 2040. The airport manages 32% of all UK goods by value and 70% (£107 billion) of the total UK air-cargo trade.

2. East Midlands International

East Midlands Airport is one of the country’s largest pure air cargo airports. It is also one of the most important airports for express freight. The airport handles about 440,000 tonnes of goods each year and is a hub for DHL, UPS, FedEx, and Royal Mail.

3. London Stansted Airport

London Stansted Airport is one of the UK’s largest cargo airports. It handles more than 258,000 tonnes of cargo each year. Managed by the Manchester Air Group (MAG), it offers services to all major continents and has a diverse portfolio of carriers operating here.

4. Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport is the UK’s fourth-largest pure freight airport. It handles more than 120,000 tonnes of freight every year, including 5% of the country’s belly-hold cargo. The airport also offers direct access to the UK’s motorway network.

The other important airports for cargo in the UK are:

  • Belfast International Airport: An important regional airfreight centre. 

  • London Luton Airport: Managed by London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL), the airport’s cargo centre handles about 28,000 tonnes of cargo annually.

Advantages and disadvantages of air freight

If you are thinking of using air freight for your cargo between Vietnam and the UK, here are the main pros you should consider:

  • Air freight is the most suitable option for transporting goods which need to be delivered quickly over long distances. 

  • It also works for perishable goods, which cannot spend too much time in transit on cargo ships.

  • Air freight is easily accessible. Not all countries have a coastline that can be easily accessed for transporting goods using sea freight. 

  • As air freight is faster, it is a comparatively safer shipping mode with a low risk of damage. 

Disadvantages of air freight:

  • It is expensive compared to sea freight services but can sometimes be more cost-effective than LCL shipping.

  • It has a certain degree of risk associated with it as weather-related or other disruptions could lead to delays.

  • Air freight may not be suitable for bulky and voluminous goods. In comparison, container ships can carry a massive amount of cargo at a time. For example, some container ships can accommodate more than 20,000 TEU.

Curious about shipping container sizes? You can learn more here.

Express air freight from Vietnam to the UK

Express shipping from Vietnam to the UK takes about 1-4 days, making it a fast option if you are looking to ship a small amount of goods. The average cost of door-to-door express shipping between Vietnam and the UK is about £500 for 50 kgs. You can consider express shipping if you have freight which is under 100 kg. For cargo that is heavier than that, air freight is a better option.

Express shipping is best suited for goods that you need urgently. It can be used for luggage, personal effects, or household goods.


What documentation do I need for shipping from Vietnam to the UK?

Here is a list of all important documents you need to have for shipping your goods between the two countries:

  1. Bill of lading A bill of lading is a legal document issued by a carrier to a shipper as an acknowledgement of the receipt of cargo. It includes details on the type of cargo, its quantity, and the final destination. It is signed by an authorised representative from the carrier, shipper, and receiver. Want to know more about what a bill of lading is? Read about ithere.

  2. Packing list A packing list documents the details of a shipment, including its weight, value, and volume of the cargo. It helps shippers, importers, and freight forwarders. It’s also useful during customs clearance in case of an inspection. 

  3. Commercial invoice A proof of sale is a commercial invoice that includes details of the shipment, information on the importer, exporter, freight forwarding services, and banks.

  4. Certificate of origin This is a trade document detailing the origin of goods. It is made by the manufacturer and certified by a government authority. This is an important document for customs clearance.

  5. Letter of credit A letter of credit guarantees that a payment from the buyer will be made to the seller when the conditions of the letter are met. It is issued by the importer/buyer’s bank.

  6. Shipper’s Letter of Instruction (SLI) This document includes shipping instructions to the freight forwarding services for moving goods across international borders. If you are looking for more information on documentation and procedures for customs clearance in the UK, click here.

What are incoterms, and how do they impact freight prices from Vietnam to the UK?

Incoterms or international commercial terms are a set of rules that define the role of a buyer and manufacturer in international trade. These determine the responsibility for the transportation of goods and for payments along the way. The incoterms you agree to with the manufacturer will determine the cost that each one of you will incur and the risk you undertake while the goods are being shipped from Vietnam to the UK. Here are the incoterms that are currently in use:

Free on board (FOB)

These are commonly-used terms while shipping goods from Asian countries. According to these terms, the supplier and buyer split the shipping cost and risk in an even 50/50. If you are buying goods from a seller in Vietnam and agree to FOB shipping terms, the supplier agrees to pack and load the goods onto a truck or another form of transportation. The supplier is responsible for the goods being loaded on a cargo ship. Once the goods are on board, they are the buyer's responsibility. FOB essentially implies that the seller takes responsibility for the goods till the time they are "on board" a vessel at an agreed-upon port.

ExWorks (EXW)

EXW refers to an agreement wherein everything in the shipping journey is a buyer's responsibility. The seller's only responsibility under this agreement is to get the goods ready for collection. The buyer pays shipping costs to transport the goods from the manufacturer up until the final destination.

Cost and Freight (CFR)

Under CFR shipping terms, the seller is responsible for shipping the goods to the agreed destination. The buyer takes care of the goods once they reach the destination port and pays for terminal handling and the costs thereafter.

Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF)

CIF terms are similar to CFR, but the buyer pays for insurance in this case. Apart from that, the buyer takes care of the payments after the goods have arrived at the destination port.

Do I need customs clearance for goods in the UK?

The UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (UKVFTA) includes provisions on preferential tariffs, tariff rate quotas, and rules of origin. According to the UK Government, you can claim preferential tariff treatment by submitting a proof of origin to customs authorities. If the UK has an agreement with a country you buy goods from, you may be able to get a lower rate of  customs duty (tariff preference or preferential rate of duty) for your goods. 

Here’s how the UK customs process works:

When your goods arrive in the country, they will be checked by customs to ensure that you have all your documents and paperwork in order. The UK customs office then calculates your duties and collects the payment before releasing the goods. If you have engaged a freight forwarder, they can help you with the customs process.

All goods entering the UK need to go through customs. For customs clearance, you will need an EORI number that starts with GB if you are importing goods to England, Wales, or Scotland. If your EORI number does not start with GB, you will need a new one. However, if you are moving goods to Northern Ireland, your EORI number will start with XI.

Learn more about how to get an EORI numberhere.

If you are importing goods like medicines, textiles, plant and animal products, or chemicals, you must be registered as an importer. You will also need a licence or certificate if you are importing certain goods like animal products, chemicals, or high-risk foods (foods that are more likely to harbour dangerous bacteria).


The UK charges a value-added tax (VAT) on all goods except for gifts worth £39 or less sent from outside the country. VAT is charged when you buy the goods or to the delivery company before you receive your shipment.

You can check VAT rates applicable to your goods here.

Customs duty

Customs is charged on all goods sent from outside the UK that are either excise goods or worth more than £135. You will not be charged customs duty on non-excise goods worth £135 or less. For gifts above £135 and up to £630, you have to pay 2.5% customs duty (rates are lower for some items). For goods worth more than £135 and gifts above £630, the customs duty depends on the type of goods and their place of origin.

What items cannot be shipped from Vietnam to the UK?

Here is a list of restricted items that cannot be brought into the UK:

  • Self-defence sprays and electric shock devices.

  • Endangered animals and plant species.

  • Indecent and obscene materials like magazines, films, DVDs, software, etc.

  • Rough diamonds. For bringing in uncut or unpolished diamonds from outside the EU, you need a valid Kimberley Process Certificate.

  • Controlled drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), and cannabis.

How long does air and sea freight take from Vietnam to the UK?

Here is the approximate time it takes to ship goods via air and sea freight services to the UK from Vietnam:

freight forwarding services, british international freight association, container load, container shipping, express air freight, international trade, shipping cost, uk customs, freight forwarder, express freight, vietnam to the uk, shipping services, sea shipping

Written by

Sam Franklin
Sam Franklin

Sam founded his first startup back in 2010 and has since been building startups in the Content Marketing, SEO, eCommerce and SaaS verticals. Sam is a generalist with deep knowledge of lead generation and scaling acquisition and sales.


Latest articles