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What Are the Rules for Less Than Container Load Ocean Shipping?

Presenting the wrong documents to customs can cause all manner of delays. And working with out-of-date rules and regulations risks unexpected extra costs. Check your knowledge before you embark on less than container load (LCL) ocean shipping


Less than container load (LCL) ocean shipping requires strict adherence to the rules. You need the right documents for your specific goods and routes; you need to pay each country’s taxes and duties while conforming to government regulations; and you need to pack for safety and mitigate your risks.

This article looks at all of these issues in turn, providing you with an overview of the rules for LCL shipping. You may already be familiar with the rules for full container load (FCL) shipping and for air freight, and there is much commonality between these different modes. In particular, compliance is sure to smooth every journey.

What Should I Know About LCL Documentation?


With all shipments, including less than container load shipments, you need to present the right documents to the authorities when exporting and importing goods. The list of documents you require for LCL shipping depends on two things: the types of cargo you are moving and the locations you are shipping to and from.

To clear your LCL goods at customs, you will in any case need to present several key documents including:

  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Bill of lading
  • Export/Import customs declaration
  • Certificate of origin (if required)
     

What Are My Financial Liabilities and Requirements?

As with all methods of transportation, with LCL you are liable for fees levied by various entities. Depending on the origin and destination points, you could be charged by the warehouse where LCL cargo is stored and by the organization responsible for loading and moving your LCL cargo at port facilities. You may also be required to pay government taxes and duties. If you want transparency at all times, look for a reputable freight forwarder with reliable cost structures and clear itemization of each charge.

Can I Ship LCL to Every Country?


You can ship LCL to every country but with a couple of conditions. Firstly, you need to check with your freight forwarder whether they are able to ship to all countries. At DHL Global Forwarding, for example, we have a global presence in over 180 countries and territories (almost every country in the world) and we move LCL cargo between more than 45,000 different warehouse pairs. Secondly, bear in mind that it’s unlikely any freight forwarder can ship LCL cargo to or from high-risk or sanctioned countries, which currently include Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
 

How Can I Conform to All Government Regulations?

You will want to fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations in your LCL origin, transshipment, and destination countries. But it can be tricky to keep up with changing requirements, as government rules rarely remain static. So it makes sense for you to draw on the knowledge of an experienced freight forwarder, one that frequently conducts LCL business in your target countries and ensures all employees, agents, and suppliers meet the latest requirements.
 

What Are the Rules About Cargo Safety?


LCL shipment safety starts with how you pack your goods. Unless you do this correctly, your goods might get damaged and they might cause damage to other items of cargo in the shared container. You are responsible for selecting the most suitable packaging for your specific goods and ensuring your cargo is in safe, seaworthy condition. DHL Global Forwarding can help by providing specialist LCL packing facilities, materials, and services.

When you bring crated LCL goods for international transportation, particularly into Australia and New Zealand, you may be required to fumigate this wood and your cargo. It’s to protect the local forests and wildlife habitats from any foreign insects that try to catch a ride inside your goods and your shipping timber!

If you have oversized cargo, you should check whether your freight forwarder can handle this at the LCL origin and destination warehouses or container freight stations (CFS). Once again, it makes sense to investigate this in advance to avoid unpredicted charges and so you know whether you’ll have to pay an extra fee for this type of cargo.

When LCL cargo arrives at destination, the import consignee takes responsibility for the safety of the goods. 
 

Do I Need to Insure My Cargo?

You are not obliged to buy cargo insurance for LCL moves, but it is highly recommended. As with all modes of transportation, there are some risks and, at sea, a major incident can be catastrophic. A useful backgrounder is DHL Global Forwarding’s brief guide to why shippers need cargo insurance.

The standard liability clauses in the policies of freight forwarders and carriers mean that – if you can prove they were at fault, which itself is tricky – compensation is typically well below commercial value. This is because the pay-out calculation is based on international standards. Every claim is different, of course, but we worked through an ocean freight claim to illustrate this significant gap between compensation without your own insurance and compensation with your own insurance – the figures were US$7,980 versus US$70,000. You can find the details in this DHL Global Forwarding article: How can you lower risk?

Taking into account the growing climate-change risk of earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding and more, and calculating the amount your organization could afford to lose if disaster strikes, you may well decide that your own insurance policy represents money well spent.
 

Are There Special Rules for Dangerous Goods?

Generally you can ship dangerous goods (DG) by LCL but you need to avoid mixing some types of cargo inside the same container. Fireworks and matches, for example, are not a perfect combination! Bear in mind that some destination countries do not accept DG cargo or only accept these goods with certain approvals. You should discuss the details of this with your freight forwarder.
 

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