Shipping Lithium Batteries by Air from China

As an expert in Chinese logistics and international freight, we receive many inquiries from international customers willing to ship lithium batteries by air, and we are fully aware that many customers face some problems with this.

In this article, we will explain how to proceed, by putting an emphasis on the transport of lithium-ion batteries from China.

Today, lithium batteries have become the preferred source of energy for a wide variety of electronics products, with a widespread use in our daily lives: mobile phones and laptops, cameras, power tools, e-bikes, electric cars, etc.

Lithium batteries are generally considered as dangerous goods when transported by air and

belong to the IATA * DGR 9 class. iataThus, the procedures for this type of goods are different.

You have to make sure you are in full compliance with the applicable rules when transporting batteries by air. If not, the airline may not accept your cargo.

Several Definitions of Lithium Batteries

The term “lithium battery” refers to a family of batteries of different chemical components, including many types of cathodes and electrolytes. To meet the standards set by the RDG, they are separated into several categories:

1) Lithium metal batteries

Sometimes called “primary” batteries, lithium metal batteries are generally non-rechargeable batteries containing lithium metal or lithium components such as anode and cathode. Lithium metal batteries are typically used to power devices such as cameras, small electrical appliances, electric toys and long-life devices such as watches, calculators and emergency locator beacons.

2) Lithium ion batteries

Sometimes called Li-ion batteries, these batteries are a type of secondary (rechargeable) battery commonly used in consumer electronics. Lithium-ion batteries are also included in the category of lithium polymer batteries (Li-Pol).

Some information on the Classification 

Lithium batteries are classified in class 9 – Other dangerous goods: battery transport

  • UN 3090, lithium metal batteries
  • ONU 3480, lithium-ion batteries

or, if contained in a device or packaged separately:

  • UN 3091, lithium metal batteries contained in equipment;
  • UN 3091, lithium metal batteries packaged separately;
  • UN 3481, Lithium-ion batteries contained in equipment;
  • UN 3481, lithium-ion batteries packaged separately.

United Nations (UN) numbers are four-digit numbers used in international trade and transportation to identify hazardous chemicals.


Required documents and product tests 

When importing goods containing lithium batteries, it is essential to check that your supplier can provide all the necessary documents before placing an order.

It is common for the customer to order goods from suppliers without even checking the transport requirements and without ensuring that the supplier provides the documents and certificates required for the export process.

Always remember that it is the responsibility of the importer to check if his supplier is able to provide all the necessary export documents before ordering.

When you plan to transport batteries by air, the first thing to check with your supplier is:

Your supplier must provide you or your forwarding agent with a UN.38.3 or UN Transportation Testing (UN / DOT 38.3) for every product manufactured or sold by them. This is one of the most important document that the airline will require before booking space for your freight.

This report assesses the response of your cargo to flight conditions and includes 8 parts:

  • T1 – Altitude simulation (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
  • T2 – Thermal test (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
  • T3 – Vibration (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
  • T4 – Shock (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
  • T5 – External short circuit (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
  • T6 – Impact (primary and secondary cells)
  • T7 – Overload (secondary batteries)
  • T8 – Forced discharge (primary and secondary cells)

Some of the UN numbers that have been classified for packing instructions 966 and 969, Section II also include the requirement for a 1.2 meter drop test for the filled package containing batteries. Another very important document is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for lithium batteries. This report contains 16 sections, such as:

  • Identification of chemicals, plant and supplier
  • Information about materials and ingredients
  • Identification of dangerous products
  • First aid
  • Handling and storage
  • Stability and responsiveness
  • Transport information and more …

Your agent / forwarder must provide the carrier, upon request, with all relevant supporting documents (ie UN38.3 test report, MSDS, etc.). Carriers will request and review any documentation supporting the shipment prior to booking space on a flight. Your supplier and forwarder must work hand in hand to ensure a smooth and fast export process. As an importer, you need to have very good communication with your freight forwarder, which will save you a lot time, money, and troubles. It’s impossible to work with a freight forwarder who does not fully understand your case and your logistics needs.


Airports in China have different requirements for the export of lithium batteries via air freight.

Thus, the requirements in terms of paperwork and certification of goods can be very different from one airport to another.

Responsibilities of the supplier and the forwarder

As a professional freight forwarder, our job is not just to ship cargo from one place to another, we also need to stay close to the interests of our customers. We have encountered many situations where Chinese suppliers are not 100% comfortable with the process of exporting goods containing lithium batteries.

Before a supplier offers such products for air transport, he must ensure that:

  • the cargo is not prohibited for air transport
  • the goods are properly classified, marked and labeled
  • the goods are properly packed in accordance with the packing instructions for the dangerous goods (PI-xxx)
  • all relevant documents have been correctly issued and the shipping declaration has been signed. It’s up to your freight forwarder to make sure everything is up to standard BEFORE the cargo is removed. This will save you a lot of troubles.

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