Sea vs Road vs Air freight – Which one is right for you?

Sea Ocean Air Freight Shipping

The debate is on, which method of transportation is best suited for the expansion of your business when importing/exporting your goods. There are many factors to evaluate when determining how you are going to move your goods from one location to the next. Some of this may depend on where the countries you are exporting to are located geographically, and it’s always important to consider what mode of transportation is most economical for your business as well.


Typically, you will hear that shipping by ocean is cheaper than shipping by air when shipping by road isn’t an option. This is usually true, however, this is not necessarily in all instances. Airlines bill you by what is called a chargeable weight when utilising this as a shipping method. Chargeable weight is calculated from a combination of both the size and the weight of a shipment. As a shipment gets smaller, the increments between the prices is and sometimes air will even end up being cheaper than sea freight.

 Benefits of ocean freight:

  • Suitable for a wide range of products
  • Large volume shipping
  • Most environmentally friendly within all modes of transport
  • Economical and cost effective.
  • Extensive worldwide coverage
  • Multiple carrier options

Sea shipping is different in that sea carriers charge per container rates for shipping in standard containers. While weight can factor into the price for sea freight, their charge tends to be primarily based on the size of a shipment. If you are shipping less than a container load, your price will likely be determined by cubic meter. With larger and heavier shipments, shipping by sea tends to be the more cost-effective route.

Benefits of air freight:

  • Quick transit
  • Reliable arrival and departures
  • Enhanced level of security for your cargo


When it comes to speed it is without a doubt that air freight is usually much faster than ocean, and train is faster than road. When it comes to business time is money, this factor alone could make a huge difference when determining what freight method is best for you. Many sea shipments can take roughly a month to arrive at their destination while an air shipment often takes only a couple days. For most import and export businesses, faster is better. It should be noted that technology keeps moving forward in the world of international shipping. Ships are constantly getting faster, and canals have created shorter shipping routes. There are many ocean freight shipments that are crossing oceans with delivery times as short as eight days.

Rail, Another Option

Another mode of transport which is also considered an eco-friendly option is rail. Trains burn less fuel per ton mile than road vehicles and can have as many 100 wagons for storage, requiring only one driver. There are some additional costs which are incurred in a rail journey which must be considered. At each end of the rail shipping a road delivery will be required, and there will be an additional lift cost to transfer the container between the train and the road vehicle. For the most part longer journeys tend to be less expensive by rail, and shorter journeys are more cost effective by road.

Benefits of rail freight include:

  • Reliable transit times and schedules
  • Railroads are the most efficient form of transportation by land. One train can haul the equivalent of over 400 trucks.
  • Trains are fast and cost for effective deliveries over long distances.


Road Freight

Road freight is the most common of all modes of transportation, it is widely used in Europe, Africa, and North America. The single customs document process provides an effortless means of transporting goods across various states and countries. This being said, truck transport is limited in some ways as to what it can be carried by the size of the employed vehicles, and the cargo size and weight restrictions. Another limitation of road freight is that it is affected adversely by weather, road conditions and traffic.

 Benefits of road freight:

  • Very cost effective
  • Quick and reliable delivery
  • Flexible service options
  • Complete door-to-door service and it is one of the more economical means of transport.


There are many factors to weigh when considering what method of transportation you are going to use for moving your goods from one location to the next. Most of these decisions are determined by what countries you are doing trade in and cost effectivity factors. Do your research, weigh all your options, talk with some professionals and go from there. After all, you know what is best for the progression of your business!