I have had a prototype of my product made in China. It is about the size of a shoe box. My manufacturer reports that air shipping is $100US.
To people with experience getting stuff shipped from China (with tracking):
1) Best/cheapest way to air ship?
2) Any surface shipping methods worth considering?
The reason that the $100 sounds way more than one needs to pay is that I frequently order from Amazon vendors and the stuff arrives in under two weeks from China -- with low shipping costs.
I have shipped prototypes and samples from China, most of the companies/factories in China used DHL 2 days as default shipping method. it is expensive. You can ask to have your prototype shipped using EMS. it may save you half of the cost. if you do not need the prototype in a hurry, you can ask to be shipped using China post small parcel. it may just cost you $10-$20, but it will take a week and half to 2 weeks to get to US.
I have samples shipped from China to the US probably a dozen times a month. $100 sounds a little high for that size, but not high enough to spend your valuable time figuring out.
I've found it's usually cheaper to have them ship it via DHL, TNT, SF, etc. and then pay them. Vs use your own account. Don't know why. China suppliers know the best way to ship it, let them do their thing and move on.
Usually takes 4-6 days for me. Tracking is nice.
$100 sounds like a DHL shipment. China Post offers tracking. But understand the limitations of international tracking to begin with. It relies on people actually scanning at various steps. And if they stop scanning or it gets lost, it's not like anyone can actually find it. You just know where it was last time it was seen. The same applies with domestic tracking, though domestic tracking often includes insurance for loss. I get stuff from China on a regular basis. Most of it comes China Post with tracking, and it generally ranges from 5-10 days depending on where in China exactly it was coming from. It helps that I'm located in a big port city too.
China Post is considered surface shipping, but you know that the majority gets on a plane anyway. Nobody is putting it on a boat when it's that small. It just gets aggregated with bigger shipments by weight and goes on a plane. The additional days for surface mail are that time it takes to aggregate shipments, not because it's puttering across the ocean.
I've sent items sea freight too. And tracking is really not much better, though once in a while I can track the ship in the ocean. Mostly I can only see port stations, and no idea why it is sitting at a port stop for days before the next time I see a scan halfway across the country.
So, the answer is that China Post is aggregated air mail, not really surface mail because there is no surface mail from China. It's either sea freight or air freight. DHL shipment is charging $100 because they're handling an individual package the whole way through. More hands, more dollars. Big giant indistinct crate of 113 small packages, fewer hands, fewer dollars.
amazon seller uses bulk ems or ups freight rate. If you are only sending 1 item which will account for the actual dimension/weight of your item