The process of sea freight in Kenya

The process of sea freight in Kenya

Sea freight plays a crucial role in international trade, enabling the movement of goods between countries and continents. In Kenya, as an East African hub for commerce, sea freight is a vital component of the country’s import and export activities. Understanding the process of sea freight in Kenya is essential for businesses involved in international trade. In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the step-by-step process of sea freight in Kenya, shedding light on the key stages, documentation requirements, and important considerations.

1. Preparing for Sea Freight

The first step in the sea freight process is preparing for shipment. This involves several essential tasks:

a) Choosing a Freight Forwarder

Select a reputable freight forwarding company with expertise in sea freight and a strong network of agents and carriers.

b) Determining Incoterms

Establish the terms of the sale with the buyer or seller, specifying the responsibilities and costs associated with the transportation and delivery of the goods.

c) Packaging and Labeling

Ensure that the goods are properly packaged, labeled, and palletized for safe transportation, considering the nature of the cargo and any specific requirements.

d) Obtaining Export Licenses

If required, acquire the necessary export licenses or permits for certain goods, such as restricted or regulated items.

2. Documentation and Customs Clearance

a) Commercial Invoice

Prepare a detailed commercial invoice that includes information about the buyer and seller, a description of the goods, quantities, unit prices, and total value.

b) Bill of Lading

Arrange for a bill of lading, which is a legal document issued by the carrier or their agent. It serves as a contract of carriage, a receipt of goods, and a document of title.

c) Packing List

Create a packing list that provides a comprehensive description of the contents of each package, including weights, dimensions, and any special handling instructions.

d) Export Declaration

File an export declaration with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) or appointed agent, providing information about the shipment and its value.

e) Insurance

Consider obtaining marine cargo insurance to protect against potential risks and damages during transit.

f) Customs Documentation

Complete all necessary customs documentation, including the Single Administrative Document (SAD) and any applicable permits or certificates.

g) Customs Clearance

Engage a licensed customs clearing agent to handle the customs clearance process, ensuring compliance with all relevant regulations and requirements.

3. Booking and Transport

a) Freight Booking

Work with your freight forwarder to book cargo space with a shipping line or Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) based on the chosen Incoterms and desired transit time.

b) Port Selection

Determine the most appropriate port for departure and arrival based on the destination, proximity to the goods’ origin, shipping line availability, and efficiency of port operations.

c) Haulage and Delivery to Port

Arrange for inland transportation to deliver the goods to the designated port. This can be done using trucks, rail, or a combination of both.

d) Containerization

If shipping via containers, decide on the container type (e.g., 20-foot or 40-foot) and arrange for the loading of goods into the container.

e) Customs Inspections

Prepare for customs inspections, which may include physical examination of the cargo, verification of documents, and assessment of duties and taxes.

f) Vessel Loading

Once all customs formalities are completed, the shipping line or port operator will load the container onto the vessel. Obtain the container number and vessel details for tracking purposes.

4. Transit and Documentation

a) Transit Time

The duration of transit will depend on the destination and the shipping line’s schedule. It is important to factor in any potential delays or disruptions that may occur during the journey.

b) Documentation Management

Maintain proper documentation throughout the transit process, including copies of the bill of lading, packing list, commercial invoice, and any other relevant paperwork.

c) Tracking and Visibility

Utilize the tracking systems provided by the shipping line or freight forwarder to monitor the progress of the shipment and obtain real-time visibility.

d) Communication

Maintain regular communication with the freight forwarder, consignee, and any other relevant parties to address any issues or updates regarding the shipment.

5. Arrival and Customs Clearance at the Destination Port

a) Port Handling

Upon arrival at the destination port, the container will undergo port handling operations, including unloading from the vessel and transfer to the designated container yard.

b) Customs Clearance at Destination

Engage a licensed customs clearing agent at the destination to handle the customs clearance process, ensuring compliance with local regulations and requirements.

c) Duty and Tax Assessment

The customs authorities at the destination will assess any applicable duties, taxes, and fees based on the value and nature of the imported goods.

d) Delivery to Final Destination

Arrange for onward transportation of the goods from the port to the final destination, whether it is a warehouse, distribution center, or directly to the buyer’s location.

e) Return of Containers

If the shipment was made using containers, arrange for the return of the empty containers to the designated depot or container yard within the agreed timeframe.


Navigating the sea freight process in Kenya requires careful planning, documentation management, and collaboration with experienced freight forwarders and customs clearing agents. By following this step-by-step guide, businesses can ensure a smoother and more efficient sea freight experience, reducing the risk of delays, additional costs, and non-compliance with regulatory requirements. Successful sea freight operations facilitate international trade, connecting Kenyan businesses to global markets and driving economic growth in the region.

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