The Hidden Costs of Shipping (That Every Importer/Exporter Should Know)

Shipping costs. Perhaps you are new to shipping or maybe you have worked in the industry a while. Either way, at some point you will have likely experienced a sense of fear when your final invoice arrives and charges you haven’t accounted for appear. Understanding the hidden costs of shipping and key factors that influence your final bill, will help you manage your budgeting effectively.

This hidden costs of shipping guide will help you plan for unexpected charges in shipping.

Hidden Costs of Shipping chart

Duties and GST

The most crucial charges that must be factored into your shipping are duties and GST. These are government taxes that will be passed on to you to cover the cost of importing or exporting your product. As a general rule taxes for importers in Australia are charged as follows:

  • Duty                   5 % of the FOB Value
  • GST                     10% of the CIF plus Duty value
  • Processing       AUD 85.00  up to AUD 200.00 based on the FOB value

Australia has some excellent free trade agreements in place with other countries that can reduce or even completely remove any duties chargeable. You will normally need to provide a Certificate of Origin with your shipment prior to arrival to benefit from these. Read our guide on how to obtain this document.

Storage Charges

shipping cost - storage charge

Once your goods arrive, the wharf or airport will only hold your shipment on site for free for around 3 days. If your goods need to be held longer than this you could run into storage charges. Storage at the wharf or airport is extremely expensive and should be avoided where possible. Some of the reasons your goods could go into storage are:

  • You have not provided commercial documents in a timely manner for your goods to be cleared
  • The documents you have provided are incomplete or incorrect
  • You are missing import permits
  • You have not paid your duty and/or GST invoice and your goods cannot be released
  • Container has been stopped by customer, police or other authorities for inspection of the cargo which may take longer than expected
  • Consignee (buyer) was unaware of the arrival of the cargo and was unable to do the customs clearance in time
  • Cargo received was not as per the sales order

Where possible your forwarder may move your goods “underbond” to a bonded location. This will reduce storage charges whilst any issues get resolved. 

By being prepared and providing commercial documents in advance of a shipment arrival, you reduce your risk of paying storage. 

Demurrage Charges

Demurrage charges are raised when the full container is not moved out of the port/terminal for unpacking within the allowed free days offered by the shipping line. The charge is levied by the shipping line to the importer.

Demurrage charges can vary country to country as well as by carrier. To complicate matters further, fees are applied per container as well as per day after a designated free time which varies from carrier to carrier. If for some reason your cargo gets held up at the terminal for more than a week, chances are the daily fees will increase. The longer your cargo sits in a port, the more you’ll end up paying per day.

Is Demurrage The Same As Despatch?

Despatch is the complete opposite to demurrage. It is the fees which are paid by the owner of a vessel to the charterer. The costs are specified in the voyage charter and these costs are payable when the ship is loaded or unloaded in a time which is less than permitted in the charter party.


If you are importing Full Container Loads (FCLs) you have a fixed amount of free time to keep the container following its arrival. Free time is usually 7 days, however you can apply for more time in advance. The 7 days allows your forwarder to collect the goods and deliver them to site, for you to unload the cargo and for the container to be returned to the wharf. 

Charges after the 7 days free time can vary by shipping line. As a general rule, you can expect charges of $150-300 per container per day. 

Demurrage vs Detention

port worker calculating demurrage and detention

Detention may refer to multiple situations, and shippers often confuse detention with demurrage. Despite the similarities, they are still very different fees.

The best way to distinguish the two is to think of demurrage as fees assessed on containers inside a port, and detention as fees assessed on containers outside a port. In practice, this means that even after you’ve moved your cargo out of the terminal, you need to be prompt in returning the empty containers.

Many terminals use the terms detention and per diem interchangeably. In both cases, the fees are the result of a late container return and are applicable to both imports and exports.

Attention To The Contract Terms

Just as importantly, you’ll want to read your contract with carriers carefully and make sure you are up to speed on the port regulations and customs process wherever your goods are headed. Although all of the aforementioned information is fairly standard, demurrage and detention fees are officially determined by the terms of your individual contract. Not to mention, different countries could apply definitions differently and leave more or less room for negotiation, so be sure to read the fine print. Being informed is your best defense.

Inspection Charges

Australia has strict biosecurity regulations and will at times request random inspections of goods. Unfortunately, as an importer, you are liable to pay any costs associated with inspection activity. If your goods have been selected at random and your consignment complies with all biosecurity requirements you will not usually be charged. If your goods are directed for treatment you will need to accept any associated costs. 

Common forms of biosecurity control issued by The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are inspection, treatment, isolation, hold pending further information or insect identification.

Inspection of goods and containers may be required:

  • on arrival at the seaport or airport of first entry
  • at a third party site that has been approved by the department.

All break bulk or goods transported without a container, is inspected as it is unloaded from the transporting vessel.

Goods that do not meet import requirements and cannot be treated are directed for export or disposal at the importer’s expense. So planning ahead is a must when it comes to avoiding expensive charges and potential losses.

Waiting Time

truck picking up cargo during the waiting time

Transport for container and LCL (Less than Container Load) shipments will normally be subject to a certain amount of free time. This means the transport company has allowed for waiting time at the wharf and at the unloading point. Most truck drivers will allow for 1-2 free hours of waiting to pick up the full container and 1-2 hours to unload the full container. After the free time expires, they will begin charging for additional time on a prorated hourly rate — the trucking wait fee.

The purpose of this is to enable an efficient operation. If a driver has to wait over the allotted free time for loading/offloading, he is losing time and cannot complete other jobs. 

Unfortunately, you can be liable for waiting time payments if the transport company is kept waiting. By communicating with your forwarder regarding arrival times and ensuring your staff are prepared, you can avoid costs associated with waiting time. With FCLs, you also have the option to choose a drop and return service if it will take you more than an hour to unload your goods.

Rural Tailgates

Going to a rural destination in Australia? If you are delivering a container to a rural location your goods will need to go via a rural tailgate inspection

A rural tailgate inspection involves directing containers to an approved arrangement site. At the site, all external surfaces of the container are inspected before opening the doors and checking for biosecurity risks including signs of:

  • pests
  • plant material
  • non-compliant packaging

You should allow up to a day for this extra activity and should expect additional charges. You can check in advance if your location is classified as rural here

Also To Be Considered: Terminal Infrastructure Fees

Infrastructure fees are levied by stevedores in Australian ports. Stevedores are essentially the workers responsible for loading and unloading ships. The fees are payable to firms carrying containers to and from terminals (terminal operators).

These access fees are a means for terminal operators to recover scaling costs, like port rents, taxes and council rates, maintenance fees, labour rates and electricity bills. They also should provide ongoing investment in infrastructure that will increase efficiency and allow ports to receive even bigger vessels.  

Nevertheless, over the last years, there has been increasing debate on how importers and exporters are now paying exorbitantly higher stevedoring infrastructure charges. The reason is an ongoing rise to fees by the leading industry operators, pushing other key players to follow the lead.

As the political clash evolves and an upshot of the ongoing spiking fees is unlikely to happen soon, it is inevitable that these fees will flow down the supply chain and ultimately be borne by importers. 

What You Can Do To Avoid These Charges

cargo container yard

1. Handle The Job To An Experienced Professional

Preparation is key, and working with a trusted freight forwarder can do wonders for your stress level. Putting in the work to pre-clear your cargo, issue instructions to delivery drivers in advance, prepare the receiving facility to handle incoming containers, and communicate effectively with customs and terminal officials may seem time consuming, but it will more likely be time-saving.

2. Allocate More Time. And Extra Time. 

Dispatch your cargo as far in advance as you can. As per detailed above, there are many factors that are not in the shipper’s control and can go far from the plan. A little time buffer can go a long way in keeping extraneous fees at bay. The same attitude applies when considering loading/unloading times. Never underestimate the delays that could derail the process and have your drivers eyeing the clock.

3. Negotiate

Always try to negotiate terms instead of accepting a freight quote as it is. Negotiate with your carrier and request more free days to buy you more time. That might work as a strategy to avoid Demurrage and Detention as carriers sometimes grant shippers with large volumes of cargo some more time.

Additionally, identify if there are any special requirements for the import of your cargo which may be held by customs or other authorities. If you have identified that your cargo requires some special permissions (like foodstuff, animal products, etc) then consider requesting the shipping line and/or shipper to arrange for extra free days to cater for this potential delay.

4. Communicate Everything

In line with preparing in advance, ensure that you communicate clearly and regularly with the shipping line about the status of the shipping documents and the shipment respectively. Shipping lines generally do not accept liability for non-notification of your cargo’s arrival.

If your shipment is under a Letter of Credit, then it is imperative that the time taken for the communication with the banks and the release of documents is considered.

One Last Tip

Your forwarder will guide you through all foreseeable charges at the time of booking.  The information in this guide should allow you to factor in added costs that you may encounter but also allow you to best prepare so you may avoid additional charges. 

Should you have any questions regarding shipping costs your ICE team member is here to help. You can contact the ICE team on 1300 CARGO1.

Request a Free Quote or call us on 1300 227 461



I’m got goods coming from China to Townsville
I asked the supplier will my goods arrive at Townsville port, they said yes and once I paid they informed me my goods will only be getting shipped to Brisbane.
Will I have extra cost to get it to Townsville


Hi Rachel,

We will need to check what incoterms your shipment has been organised on. Please can you send any paperwork you have received from your supplier to . We can then check for you and confirm back any additional charges.

Robert Martin

Hi….I am contemplating purchasing a NEW tractor from China. I am asking what are my responsibilities and rerquirements at this end (Brisbane)? Thank you. Regards


Hi Robert,

Sounds exciting. You will need to ensure your supplier provides you with all commercial documents required to import this into Australia. This includes:

1. Commercial Invoice
2. Packing Declaration
3. Certificate of Origin (To benefit from Free Trade)
4. A New and Unused Manufacturer’s Declaration

You should also ensure the item will be completely new and clean as any sign of soil/contaminants could lead to quarantine concerns. You will then need a customs broker to handle clearance on your behalf and arrange delivery to you depending on your incoterms. If you would like to forward your documentation and further details of this shipment to we will be happy to help.

Noelle Khodr

Hi Alice

I am a small business owner. I recieved my first container of charcoal from Indonesia in mid 2021. It was held by customs for up to 4 weeks prior to being released to me, due to covid situation (lack of man power) . The shipper has forwarded the additional costs on to me. The situation with covid is unprecedented and I would like to respond and negotiate with the shipper request for the exorbitant fees, to hopefully waiver or reduce the requested amount.
Not sure how to proceed. What iare acceptable points i can make that the shipper would consider ?
I appreciate any assistance you can provide.

Kind regards
Noelle khodr


Hi Noelle,

Apologies for the delay. Unfortunately it is a really challenging market at the moment and we are seeing lots of importers and exporters bearing extra costs due to delays in the supply chain. It is painful to experience but until the congestion and COVID related delays ease, there is very little that can be done. We hope you managed to get this situation resolved and wish you all the best for the future.

Trent Challenger

Always get a quote. I found out the expensive way, paying 8.5k in Port charges on a trailer that cost me 12k


I just order a machine from China which cost 12k included was shipping only to find out they have split my shipping but put in the same container (would have been cheaper to hire the container) to find out the port fees from China have been past on and now a covid fee “ making the grand total without import fees $6300 who said the port doesn’t get all the money it’s handed back to China but charged to me how is this free shipping ?
And the company I have to pay is Chinese’s owed ! Watch out Brisbane logistics is a scam

International Cargo Express

Hi Joss!

Sorry to hear this story! Your forwarder should be able to provide you with a door-to-door price prior to shipping to avoid any hidden fees. If you need further support from our team, email through your requirements to and we will be happy to help.

ANh tran

Hi there, I bought fabric from VietNam valued around 800s, and it will arrived in Port of Sydney. Please advise what and how I receive my goods , and draftly how much I have to pay to get my goods? Can I book truck in the port to carry them to my place or I have to book truck in advance. Is the procedure to clear paper work complicated?


International Cargo Express

Hi Anh, the answer to all the above is to engage a freight forwarder to manage all this for you. It can be very risky to do it by yourself as you have to be aware of all rules and potential extra costs involved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

What Others Are Saying About International Cargo Express

Managed goods end to end

Due to critical stock levels we needed a fast solution to urgently meet growing client demand. Presented with this challenge, ICE quickly identified appropriate freighter services and proactively managed the movement of goods end to end.

Eddie Liaw – Supply Chain Director

ICE offered flexibility

ICE offered flexibility, high levels of communication and attention to detail during our pick, pack and delivery project. With their professional support we were able to meet the demands of our supply chain knowing our freight was in safe hands.

Tony Kealy – National Distribution Manager

Without exception and on time

Since having International Cargo Express handle my ocean freight , I have had my bookings and equipment available without exception and on time. Communication between ICE and my supplier is very good and I receive information via my shipper before my supplier.

Michael Caiacob – Purchasing and Supply Officer

Find Out How Our Team Can Help

Our team are ready to take your call on 1300 CARGO1