How to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda
How to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda. Photo Illustration: Shutterstock

Many small business owners in Uganda have no idea on how to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda. They are afraid of doing business on the internet or dealing with a supply business partner on the other side of the world.

With advancements in internet technologies, It’s now easier to source cheap products from Alibaba with just a tap of a button. In this article, I will take you through all you ever wanted to know about buying goods from Alibaba and shipping to Uganda.

International shopping is now at your fingertips. It is time to cut off that middle man of “Buy from China, receive in Uganda”. You will no longer need to pay anyone to buy for you anything from China. You can do it yourself. It is fast and easy.

But before we proceed to steps to buy from China and ship to Uganda through, let’s first understand what Alibaba is!

Also read: How To Import Goods from China to Uganda For Your Small Business

What is Alibaba?

Alibaba is a massive online wholesale ecommerce platform based in China founded by Chinese businessman Jack Ma. It is essentially a directory of Chinese factories and trading companies in China.

Despite being a Chinese founded platform, Alibaba has suppliers from all over the world, but majority of them are located in China. In fact, their website and mobile app have a feature where you can filter suppliers by country.

The platform was designed for Business-to-Business (B2B) transactions, meaning it targets small and large businesses that buy goods in bulk for resell.

The sellers on Alibaba are manufacturers, wholesalers and suppliers with factories that specialize in manufacturing and selling products to resellers world over.

Alibaba is not meant for single unit buyers as it was designed for retailer or wholesalers who source products in large quantities for their businesses. Most sellers on Alibaba have set Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) which must be met before you do business with them. Their MOQs are in tens, hundreds or even thousands.

Whereas some sellers set their MOQ to 1, it becomes too expensive to ship one item from China to Uganda. For example you can spot a nice shoe which costs UGX 150,000/- in Uganda going for only UGX 5,000/- on Alibaba. But if you are shipping just 1 pair here, it could cost you UGX 300,000/-, whereas if you were shipping 200 pairs, it could cost the same amount to ship. This is why Alibaba is not for single unit buyers or those who are looking buy few items for personal use.

However, the Alibaba Group have another ecommerce platform called AliExpress which is specifically designed for final consumers who are want to buy goods in small quantities for personal use. AliExpress offers a wide range of really cheap products, some of which ship to Uganda for free.

Also read; How To Shop On AliExpress From Uganda

Things you should know about sourcing products on Alibaba

  1. Alibaba is not used for single unit purchases. It is for bulk purchases.
  2. Alibaba is primarily used to source products from China.
  3. Alibaba is not your ordinary e-commerce website like Jumia
  4. Buy at own risk. Alibaba does not offer any buyer protection. If you receive defective goods or get scammed, expect no refund.

Also read; The Expert’s Guide To Online Shopping In Uganda

Why you should source goods from Alibaba

The most common reason Ugandan entrepreneurs want to source products from China, and in particular through China’s ecommerce platform Alibaba, is because they want to take advantage of the low manufacturing costs in China. The cost of manufacturing in China is way cheaper than it is in Uganda, Africa, Europe and other parts of the world.

Cheap products are great for small businesses that are looking to make a profit by selling them at competitive prices, however, that isn’t the only reason Alibaba is an attractive place to find goods. Below I list the reasons why you should source your goods through Alibaba:

  • Alibaba has a huge number of suppliers you can choose.
  • Extremely low priced products, giving you a high profit margin
  • Alibaba is dominated by Chinese manufacturers who are great at designing products
  • You can get any quantity of products you need. Chinese are masters ta mass production
  • China’s production lines are more refined and organized than for Uganda or Europe.
  • You can find and order for unique and rare goods.
  • You can get goods customized specifically for you.
  • The platform has great talents which can make anything even if you just give them an idea.
  • Rumors of all Chinese products being poor quality are not true.

Downside of ordering goods from Alibaba

  • The biggest problem with Alibaba is that their Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) is always high. Finding goods with a value less than UGX 1.5M can become a little problem.
  • The shipping process can be confusing to new buyers, as the platform offers no direct way to ship goods. Buyers have to link up with third party couriers and forwarders to have their goods delivered which is a whole lot of tough task.
  • Uganda being a landlocked country, and far away from China where Alibaba is located, it can be too costly to ship from China to Kampala, especially if you are buying in small quantities. This is why Alibaba is best for bulk buyers not small quantity (single item) buyers.
  • While Alibaba is a trusted platform, it is not safe to say it is trusted 100%. The platform harbors a good number of scammers who are always looking to defraud unsuspecting victims. Many people have been scammed through Alibaba. But these scams are avoidable.
  • There’s also a possibility of counterfeit goods from dishonest suppliers. This is why you should never order goods in bulk if it is your first time to buy from a particular seller. First order for sample.
  • Inability to visit the factory yourself makes it difficult to verify the legitimacy of the manufacturer or supplier.
  • Payment security is too low as the platform allows transactions through some insecure methods like Moneygram and Western Union. Generally Alibaba offers no transparent buyer protection policy. You literally buy at your own risk.
  • Some Asian sellers on the platform completely don’t know English which may present a communication barrier between you and the seller.

Do you pay taxes when you buy from Alibaba?

While you won’t have to pay sales tax when you purchase items from Alibaba, you will have to pay import duties by Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) since you’ll be importing products from another country.

All goods imported into Uganda attract customs taxes except for goods imported for personal use and whose value is below $50. Any goods imported into the country whose value is more than $50 (about UGX 180,000/-) are taxable.

The taxes range between 24-65% depending on the type of goods being imported. The basic customs duty is 24% on most products. But before you order anything on Alibaba, make sure you first get tax information for that particular product from URA website or any URA office near you.

Below are import customs tariff for commonly imported products:

SNITEMImport DutyVATExcise DutyWithholding TaxInfrastructure Levy
6Wedding Gowns25%18%6%1.5%
7Beauty accessories e.g necklaces, bangles, hair, decorations25%18%6%1.5%

Why is Alibaba shipping too expensive?

Before we proceed, I want to make you understand that Alibaba does not make any shipping arrangements for the products you buy on their platform, and therefore they do not charge any shipping fees. It is the supplier that sets the charge which reflects what it costs them to get the job done.

The first time I visited the Alibaba site, I was looking to buy a big TV screen because I had been told such electronics are cheap in China. I had no idea that Alibaba was a B2B site, I thought it was a regular ecommerce site like Jumia Uganda.

During my search for a TV set, I spotted a really nice 85 inch TV screen going for only $500 (about UGX 1.8M) and its MOQ was only 1. A similar TV set goes for UGX 17M-UGX20M in the local Ugandan market. Excited about the really cheap deal and so ready to pay for it, I messaged the supplier inquiring about how much it would cost me to ship the said TV to my address in Kampala, Uganda. The supplier gave me a hefty shipping quote of $3000 (about UGX 11M).

It didn’t just make sense for me to buy an item at $500 and spend $3000 on shipping alone, and on top of that pay a 24% URA tax when the item finally gets to Kampala.

I later used my second Alibaba account with different names and contacted the same supplier about the same product. I pretended I wanted to buy 500 pieces of the 85 inch TV screen. To my surprise, he quoted me only $6500 (about UGX 24M) as shipping fee. This means with such a bulk order, I was to ship each piece of TV for only UGX 48,000/-.

From this, I learnt that shipping is really cheap on Alibaba if taking bulk orders but too expensive if you are taking one unit, small orders or samples.

The main reason suppliers charge high shipping fees on small orders and low fees on bulk orders is because they want to encourage people to take only make large orders, which is the original idea of Alibaba.

If you are taking samples, they will charge you high shipping fees for express delivery in 3-6days (usually via DHL) just to prove you are a legitimate potential bulk buyer not just someone trying trick them to get small orders at factory prices and then disappear. The high shipping fee on samples is to find out who is really serious about doing business with them. If one spends a decent amount of money on something, they must be serious about what they are doing and what they want.

But why do sellers on other ecommerce marketplaces like eBay and AliExpress ship for low fees or even free when they do single unit sales? Good question. The reason is simple. Alibaba sellers use express couriers such as DHL and UPS to ship samples which usually arrive in less than a week, while most eBay and AliExpress sellers use economy shipping via China Post Mail which takes 3-6 weeks.

Of course Express shipping is speedier and most expensive than economy shipping. Economy shipping is the cheapest way of shipping a package. It takes a little longer than express or expedited courier services, but it provides an excellent means of transporting your goods, while keeping the cost of shipping on the low. So it’s impossible to compare suppliers with retailers, as they both use different delivery methods.

If you regularly import with DHL, you can open an account them. So each time you make an order, shipping costs are charged to you by DHL instead of the supplier. This way, you will be able to get an actual shipping invoice and you will know the real cost. If a supplier organizes and pays for shipment on your behalf, they can take advantage of you and charge you extra money.

Now you know why Alibaba shipping cost is too high, and what you need to do to bring the cost down to make it too cheap. Alibaba’s business model is fundamentally designed to benefit vendors/merchants not singular buyers – if you buy in bulk, you will pay less.

So, what is the actual Cost of shipping from Alibaba to Uganda?

Alibaba is located in China and most of its suppliers are Chinese. So under this section, I will be discussing the cost of shipping from China to Uganda.

The cost of shipping goods from China to Uganda depends on several factors. Some of these factors are predictable while others are not. Below are some of the factors affecting shipping cost from China to Uganda.

  • Distance between Uganda and China. Too long thus costly.
  • Uganda’s landlockedness – goods can’t enter directly.
  • Delivery times. Low cost for long times and high cost for shorter times.
  • Price fluctuation of fuel. When fuel prices rise, shipping costs too go up.
  • Trading currency. Most sellers trade in dollars which is way stronger than Uganda shilling
  • Season of shipping. Busy seasons cost more.
  • Terminal fees

Breakdown of Shipping Cost from China to Uganda

Below is a breakdown of the cost of shipping from China to Uganda by air freight:

  • From 1-2kg = $15 per kg
  • From 3-5kg = $7 per kg
  • From 6-45kg = $6.8 per kg
  • From 46-100kg = $6.4 per kg
  • From 101-300kg = $6.3 per kg
  • From 301-500kg = $5.7 per kg
  • From 501-1000kg = $5.5 per kg
  • From 1000-3000kg = $5.2 per kg

Below is a breakdown of the cost of shipping from China to Uganda by sea freight:

  • 8ft Container = $400
  • 10ft container = $600
  • 20ft Container = $1000
  • 40ft Container = $1900

The above are estimated shipping costs from China to Uganda, not actual or universal costs. They are only estimated overall average costs. Every shipping or courier company has its own shipping charges. So contact your courier company for the actual cost.

Also remember shipping cost does not include local customs fees (tax) charged by URA. The URA tax is determined depending on the value and nature of goods. Different goods attract different taxes. But most shipping companies include clearing fees in the shipping cost.

Does Alibaba have free shipping?

When you hear the term free shipping, keep it mind that it doesn’t exactly mean that.

There are a handful of Alibaba suppliers that have indicated free shipping on some of their products but it is not free in anyway because shipping costs are hidden in the final product cost.

Actually, in reality, there’s nothing like free shipping. The free shipping thing is done by some suppliers though it is not a recognized trait of Alibaba.

So, literary, we can say some Alibaba suppliers do offer free shipping but it is not something you can count in your favor as they secretly charge you for it.

How long does it take to ship goods from China to Uganda?

If you ship your order via Sea freight, it will take approximately 45-60days for your goods to reach the nearby port for offloading. Most goods entering Uganda via sea freight are offloaded at Port Mombasa or Port Dar es Salaam.

Once your goods are offloaded at the port, it will take extract 2-3 days for your goods to enter Uganda. Inspection and clearing processes at the port can delay your goods leaving for Uganda as soon as they are offloaded.

Similarly, if your goods are shipped by air, it will take 10-15 days for them to reach Uganda. It is also possible to receive your goods in less than 7 days if you choose Express courier services. Same day delivery is also possible. But remember the faster the shipping service is, the more costly it becomes. This is why ship by sea is the cheapest because it takes longer.

Also read; How To Start An Online Store In Uganda

Alibaba Uganda – Does Alibaba have offices in Uganda?

No. Alibaba does not have any offices in Uganda neither does it have any agents here. Alibaba is located and sell products through the internet on their website The goods on Alibaba are sold by companies and individuals, and most of them are in China.

Steps to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda

Most non-consumer goods used in Uganda are purchased from abroad, and most of them are imported from China. If you plan to import goods from China to Uganda for your small business, in this section I will take you through a complete process of sourcing goods from China to Uganda via China’s biggest B2B platform, Alibaba.

The process of sourcing goods from Alibaba to Uganda is not as simple as it may look on the outside. There is a looming confusion regarding finding the right suppliers, finding the best deal, paper work, shipping and above all there’s a possibility of getting scammed or receiving counterfeit goods.

Below are the simple steps to follow while importing goods from China to Uganda via Alibaba:

  • Create an Alibaba Account
  • Get familiar with the Alibaba website
  • Search for products
  • Find the Right Supplier
  • Dealing with the Supplier
  • Negotiating with Suppliers
  • Ordering your product
  • Arranging Import Logistics
  • Payment and Completion
  • Track your goods
  • Identify the Port of offloading
  • Collecting Your Goods

Step 1: Create an Alibaba Account

Before you can look for products on Alibaba and interact with suppliers, you definitely need to first create your Alibaba account. Anyone can create an Alibaba buyer account and it is free.

To get started with Alibaba, download the Alibaba app for Android or iOS or head over to their website and click signup or create account option.

On the next page, you will be asked to enter your name, email address, country, phone number, shipping address and company name. Having a company is not mandatory. If you do not have one, just enter your name or whatever you want to use as your company name.

You will also have to indicate whether you are registering as a buyer, seller or both. Make sure to select “Buyer”.

Once all the required information is entered, click “Agree and Register” at the bottom. You will be sent a mail to verify your email address. Click the link in the mail to verify it and your account will be ready for use.

The Alibaba platform is easy to use and if you have an Alibaba account, you can be able to search for products, chat with suppliers, send inquiries about products, contact customer service and make payments within either the app or website.

Once your account is ready, the next thing is to search for products you want to import from China.

Step 2: Get familiar with the Alibaba website

Before searching for any products and suppliers on Alibaba, it will be a lot easier if you are familiar with their website. Explore their platform and get familiar with their website features and learn how they work. If there’s any feature on their website that you don’t understand, you can always contact their support for clarification.

Knowing how to navigate through their website will allow you to take advantage of their unique features so you can search for the best products and suppliers with success.

Also utilize the “help and community” section of their website. The help section has very useful information about Alibaba. Help is a place to go to if you want to learn how to get started with Alibaba, Find Products, Contact Suppliers, Order and Payments, Inspection and Logistics and Feedback & Disputes. Under the Community option, you can also join the discussion forum and  share or read about the experiences of other Alibaba users.

The homepage has all the information you need to get started sourcing products from Chinese suppliers on their platform.

Step 3: Search for products

Unlike ordinary ecommerce sites, Alibaba does not have a shopping cart where you can add the products you want to buy. What you can do on Alibaba is search for the product you want and get in touch with the supplier for more discussion about your order.

You can search for a product using a photo or by directly typing a search term in the search bar and hit enter or go.

After discovering products in search from different suppliers, you will want to go ahead and choose the right supplier to buy from.

Step 4: Find the Right Supplier

Suppose you have the right products you want to import in mind, the next thing to do would be finding a trusted and legit supplier who can give you good quality products at competitive factory prices.

When you spot a supplier that interests you, don’t just go ahead and place an order with them right. You need to first talk to them, discuss your order, just to make sure they will be able to meet your expectations.

While using Alibaba, it is important that you take your time interacting with the supplier before you can make a decision to work with them or buy from them. Not all suppliers on the Alibaba platform offer top quality products. In fact, a good number of them are scammers who exist on the platform to fleece unsuspecting victims of their hard earned money. This is why you must individually do your due diligence to ensure that you choose a reliable and trustworthy supplier.

Finding a trusted supplier on Alibaba is not a walk in the park. One way to spot a good supplier on Alibaba is by checking whether they have a Gold Supplier badge or not. The Gold supplier badge indicates premium membership on AIibaba and Gold suppliers are vetted by Alibaba and their actual existence on ground is verified.

Keep an eye on other information such as the length of time they have been operating on Alibaba, their origin, physical address, company website, contact details, their customer rate response and the total number of transactions they have completed.

Browse their entire company profile on Alibaba so you can get a better understanding of their business and the kind of products they make. Use this information and your common knowledge to analyze and validate the legitimacy of their business.

Besides that, also ensure that the supplier offers Trade Assurance and accepts payments through more secure payment methods such as PayPal or Credit Card. Following this criteria will protect you from falling prey of nasty scammers or receiving improper goods.

Once you have selected a supplier you believe is legit and trusted, go ahead to contact them and inquire about their products through the Alibaba platform. You can do so either through their website or mobile app.

Step 5: Dealing with the Supplier

Connecting with suppliers on Alibaba is straightforward and fairly easy. You can chat with the supplier within the Abibaba website or mobile app. If you are buying from the supplier for the first time, it is strongly advised that you hold all your communication with them within the Alibaba platform. Do not communicate with the supplier outside the Alibaba app such as email or WhatsApp, because you will not be protected by Alibaba if by any bad luck you are scammed outside the platform.

Keep in mind that the person you will be talking to is a professional sales person trained to handle customer inquiries day in and day out. Be polite to them but don’t forget to exercise maximum caution.

Begin your engagement with the supplier by requesting for information about their products. Insist on getting description and photos of products you intend to buy. The supplier should be in position to provide all these things. If he refuses to give answers to questions you ask then it is most likely that he’s a fake supplier or sells deceptive goods. Professional sales agents usually have at hand answers to common customer questions. Inquire about the following:

  • Specification sheets
  • Delivery time
  • Price lists
  • What is their Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ)?
  • What payment methods do they accept?
  • Do they offer samples?
  • Do they ship to Uganda?
  • How about the shipping process?

Feel free with supplier and try to hold their attention. Remember these people are businessmen who are looking to close sales, competing with millions of other suppliers on the same platform.

Study the professionalism in their customer service. This would determine whether they can be good long term business partners or not. Make sure that you ask the right questions about their products right from the beginning so as to know whether they are worth buying from or not.

Step 6: Negotiating with Suppliers

If you come across a product you are interested and its price or MOQ is way too high, do not be afraid to negotiate with the supplier. Alibaba is a free market where you can bargain or negotiate on anything. Never be afraid to negotiate!

You can do all the negotiations through the Alibaba chat/inquiry feature. Remember to keep all the conversation on the Alibaba platform. Do not accept to chat with the seller via email, whatsapp or any other external platform.

The sellers are on the platform to make sales and they are likely to accept prices and MOQs below their set minimums that is if it makes business sense to them.

While you make your negotiations, understand that the supplier must also make a decent profit. Do not try to ask for prices way below the market standards, otherwise the supplier might accept but produce substandard products just to meet your budget.

Tips for negotiating

  • Try to know much about the product you want to buy. Images lie. Check YouTube for more information about the product.
  • Know the price of product in the local Ugandan market before you negotiate. Price must be at least 2x cheaper than price in Uganda.
  • Never think the listed price is the best just because it is really too cheap. Always negotiate like a pro.
  • Be friendly with the supplier.
  • Research Costs and Competitors
  • Send an RFQ to Alibaba suppliers
  • Pretend you are not the decision maker (you’re buying for your boss)
  • Don’t give away your weaknesses. Don’t show supplier you are desperate.
  • If the deal is not good for you, walk away to another supplier.

Step 7: Ordering your product

After negotiating and agreeing on things like quantity, price, specifications and shipping, the supplier will send you a document called Proforma Invoice (PI). The proforma invoice details a list of items and corresponding cost of your order. Take your time to review the document thoroughly and take the following notes:

Calculate the exchange rate of a dollar against Uganda shillings. Do not overlook this as it can significantly affect your entire budget.

If you plan to pay for your order using PayPal, some suppliers often add an extra fee to cover PayPal transaction fees on your end. Find clarification if this has already been included or not.

Delivery method and estimated delivery time should be clearly discussed when finalizing prices. Your invoice may or may not include delivery to the port. Clarify this to avoid confusion and additional costs.

Once the invoice and all costs are clear to you, you will be required to make a full payment before the supplier can start your order. Remember suppliers do not always have goods readily available. They only manufacture them once they confirm an order from a client.

How to pay for goods on Alibaba

Alibaba supports several payment modes. The primary method of payment is using Alibaba’s Trade Assurance. Trade assurance offers protection to buyers incase their order is not shipped or the products shipped do not meet the buyer’s desired or agreed quality. With Trade Assurance, you can make a payment using Telegraphic Transfer (T/T) or credit card. Telegraphic transfer is an ancient system of money transfer. It is the same as Bank Transfer or Wire Transfer. Learn more about using Trade Assurance on Alibaba here.

Another option to make payment is by use of Secure Payment. With this method, your payment is held in escrow third party, Alipay, which is a member of Alibaba Group. The payment is only released to the seller once you confirm you have successfully received you goods and they are exactly as advertised.

There’s also an option to pay for your order using PayPal. This is the simplest payment method Ugandans can use to make payments online but it is the least secure as compared to the above mentioned methods.

Under no circumstances should you ever risk making a payment using unsecure methods like Wire Transfer (direct bank transfer), Moneygram or Western Union. These methods are accepted on Alibaba but they are mostly used by scammers. You get no protection using these payment modes as the risk of fraudulent suppliers vanishing after receiving your payment is too high.

Before you make a payment, be sure you have fully assessed the supplier and can trust them with your money.

Step 8: Arranging Import Logistics

Now that you have finalized all your discussions and negotiations with the supplier, it is time to get your goods delivered from China to Uganda.

At this stage, the first thing you need to do is to determine the intercoms of your transaction. In simple terms, intercoms are the rules on ownership which you and the supplier have to abide to while transporting your goods.

The most commonly used terms in as far as intercoms are concerned are Free on Board (FOB) and Ex Works (EXW). Free on board means the seller’s responsibility of good ends when goods leave the shipping vessel, while Ex Works means the seller’s responsibility of goods ends when the goods leave the seller’s door.

In both agreements, the buyer foots all the transportation fees. You can learn more about Incoterms here.

You will also have to decide how you are going to get your goods shipped from China to Uganda.

There are two ways you can have your products shipped to you:

  • Air freight
  • Sea Freight

Air Freight

This is the shipment of goods via an air carrier, usually an airplane. This method generally takes 5-10days to get your goods delivered but it can be pricey depending on the size of your cargo.

The air freight is ideal for smaller cargos that weigh below 200kgs. Any cargo weighing over 200kgs will be more cost-effective if shipped via sea freight.

The use of Air Freight is significantly more expensive as it is usually charged based on weight but it is fast and ensures speedier delivery of your cargo. Usually, with air freight, your goods arrive within just a few days and same day delivery is also possible if you choose the express delivery service.

It is advisable to go for Air Freight if you are shipping in small and light weight items or very urgent orders.

Sea Freight

This is a method of transportation of goods via sea using carrier ships. This method is ideal for transporting large amounts of goods. Goods are packed into containers and then loaded onto a vessel.

Typically, a cargo ship can carry about 18000 containers which means sea freight is a very cost-effective way to transport big quantities of goods over long distances.

Whereas sea freight is a cheaper method of shipping, your goods can take longer to get to its destination. For example it can take a cargo ship from China 45-60days to reach Port Mombasa where most goods entering Uganda are offloaded.

The downside of shipping by sea freight is your goods take much longer to arrive, often takes several weeks to months. If you want to receive your goods as soon as possible, you may need to look into another option.

Whether you choose to use air freight or sea freight, the best way is to go through a shipping or courier company. A courier company will take care of everything for you ranging from shipping, forwarding, customs clearing and if in agreement deliver goods to your door-step.

Find a courier that delivers goods from China to Uganda. Such courier companies are available at every port in China. It is advisable that you go for a courier that has offices in Uganda. Do not go for a courier that delivers goods internationally but has no physical presence in Uganda. Going for one with an office here would make cargo tracking and delivery process much easier. If you can’t locate a good and reliable courier on your own, the supplier will help get for you the best deal. Suppliers have connections with reliable courier companies that they use to ships orders of their other clients.

However there are instances whereby a courier company may not be in position to process your shipment beyond customs points. This can be due to improper paperwork which needs to be verified or slow clearance process by the local revenue authorities. In this case, upon arrival of your goods at the destination port or airport, you will have to go there in person and clear taxes before your items are released. Ensure that you follow the right procedures to avoid such instances from happening.

If your goods were shipped by sea transport, you will have to clear the fees at the port (likely Mombasa in Kenya) or at the local URA customs unit (likely at Malaba if your goods passed via Mombasa port). URA has several customs units at different boarder points. Some goods pass via Kenya, Congo while others pass via Port Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Below are the major courier companies operating worldwide shipping services in China and have physical presence in Uganda.

Alternatively, if the above process is too complicated for you, you can choose to use services of a forwarder to facilitate the entire shipping process from China to Uganda. A forwarder is a logistics company or individual that organizes shipments and handles the entire delivery process for customers from trucking, shipping, customs clearance and door delivery.

However it can be more costly to use a forwarder than handling everything on your own. Depending on the classification of the cargo you are importing, it is much better to rely on services of a forwarder in terms of costs and paperwork verification than trying to do everything on your own, especially if you are a first time buyer from China. If you choose to use a forwarder, there are plenty of local freight forwarders that have presence in China such as;

To get a quotation from a forwarder or shipping company, you will need to have a Proforma Invoice (PI) and Packing List (PI) that your Alibaba supplier should provide. A proforma invoice is a preliminary bill of sale sent to buyers in advance of a shipment or delivery of goods whereas a packing list is a document that details information about your items such as weight, volume, how it is packed, delivery and pick up destinations. This will be the basis of the cost of your shipping.

Step 9: Payment and Completion

Once you have received and accepted a quote (based on your proforma invoice) from a shipping company or forwarder, you can now proceed and finally place an order with your supplier by completing the payment. Instruct your supplier to release the goods to your shipping company or forwarder.

You can also choose to link your forwarder or shipping company with your supplier so they can communicate directly to ensure everything is ready before the order is cleared for shipping.

Once this is done, the remaining thing is for you to sit back and relax as you wait for your goods to be shipped to Uganda. The forwarder will give you a tracking code so you can know the whereabouts of your goods in real time.

Step 10: Track your goods

This is a very important step in shipment. At this point, after your goods have left a warehouse in China, you will want to know where they have reached on their way to Uganda. Not knowing where your goods are can create serious anxiety especially to first time importers.

Your supplier or shipping company should provide you with a tracking number once your goods have been shipped. If you don’t get one, make sure you ask for it.

You can track your order using international parcel tracking solutions like 17 Track. To get started, simply visit their website and enter your tracking number.

The website will show you information about the status of your order and where it is at that time. If your order arrives at the offloading port or arrives in Uganda, you will be able to see that as well.

Step 11: Identify the Port of offloading

If your goods are shipped by sea freight, you will need to identify the port where they will be offloaded. Remember goods shipped over sea cannot enter directly to Uganda since Uganda is a landlocked country.

Before goods enter Uganda, they are first offloaded at nearby ports in countries that are not landlocked. Most goods that enter Uganda by sea are offloaded at Port Mombasa in Kenya, others via Port Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The offloading port information will be availed to you by the shipping company and can also be viewed under tracking information.

Step 12: Collecting Your Goods

If you choose to ship your goods via air freight, it will go straight to Entebbe airport where you will have to collect it from. At the airport, you will be required to pay customs duties and inspection fees. The payments are made at the URA customs unit located at the airport.

However, there are certain goods that are exempted from taxes (tax free), meaning if you imported an item that is tax free, you won’t have to pay taxes. Some of the goods that are exempted from taxes include raw materials, unprocessed foodstuffs, unprocessed agricultural products, agricultural equipment, medical equipment, medicines, postage stamps, supply of financial services, supply of insurance services, educational materials, and supply of social welfare services among others.

Some couriers can bring your goods closer to you ie at their nearby warehouse or even deliver to your business location if that was in your initial agreement.

On the other hand if your goods are shipped via sea, they will first land at a nearby port, probably in Mombasa or Dar es Salaam, where you will be required to pay warehouse, handling and inspection fees before your goods are loaded onto trucks to Uganda. However, some goods don’t go through inspection; you only pay handling and warehouse fees. Before goods finally enter Uganda, you will also have to pay another customs fees at URA customs office at the border unit.

Like I said in the previous section of this article, if you use a forwarding agent, everything will be done for you and you would only wait to receive your goods at your door step or store.

Also read;100 Small Tech Business Ideas You Can Start In Uganda

Is Alibaba Safe? Tips to buy safely from Alibaba. Don’t get scammed!

The question i hear most people in Uganda ask is, “Is Alibaba legit?”. The answer is “YES”. Alibaba is a trusted and reputable global B2B platform with over 770M active buyers, and over 2million suppliers. But this does not mean it is safe 100%. If you follow the minimum Alibaba safe buying precautions, you will certainly always receive your goods. For the 4 years I have used Alibaba to source goods for my small business, I have never been scammed because I have always been very cautious. Below are some basic precautions to follow while dealing with anyone in Alibaba:

1. Beware of Scammers.

Scammers are everywhere on the internet, and Alibaba is not an exception. While searching for products on Alibaba, look for suppliers who have the Alibaba premium Gold membership and accept payments by Trade Assurance. Generally, the Gold supplier’s basic company information has been authenticated and verified by a third-party agency authorized by Alibaba. These checks are conducted to ensure that Gold Suppliers are legitimate and their companies exist in reality.

But still don’t buy from a supplier just because they have premium membership. Anyone can buy the Gold premium membership. Some suppliers can have a gold badge but still scam buyers.

2. Do not deal with free account members

Try as much as possible not to deal with free account members. Sellers with free accounts have not been checked or verified by Alibaba or its 3rd party entities. Free accounts are likely to be run by scammers or suppliers that are not serious with their business. Only deal with members holding premium accounts and must offer goods by trade assurance. Although premium members can too be scammers but chances of getting scammed by a premium member are too low.

3. Go for long time members

Look at the length of time a member has been using Alibaba. Long time members are least likely to be scammers. If Alibaba receives and verifies reports of a certain member scamming buyers, their account would be immediately banned from the Alibaba platform. So it is unlikely that a member can scam buyers for 10 years without getting caught. Some suppliers have been using Alibaba for as long as 15+ years.

4. Do not communicate will seller outside Alibaba Platform

Never communicate with the supplier outside the Alibaba platform. Do not accept to chat with them on external platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or email. All communication should be done within the Alibaba app or website. Just in case of any dispute with the seller, these chats would be used as evidence during investigation.

5. Do not pay using unsecured payment methods

Never pay for goods via unsecured payment methods such as Moneygram, Western Union, or Wire Transfer (direct bank transfer). When you send money to someone via Western union, you have sent it to an individual not a company. So you can’t really tell where your money is going to end up. It could even be a sales person working with a genuine company trying to scam you or the company itself is a scam.

6. Only Pay via Paypal, credit card or Telegraphic Transfer

When making payments for your goods, the only payment modes you should use are Credit card, PayPal or Telegraphic Transfer (TT). And the payment should be made within the Alibaba website or app. Do not make a PayPal payment outside the Alibaba platform. If a supplier does not accept one of these payment methods, do not buy from them. The only exception to this rule is; if you are paying for samples, and you have fully assessed the supplier company and it totally looks legit and you are not dealing with high risk items, you can pay via western union.

7. Never place a large order before seeing samples

When dealing with the seller for the first time, do not order goods in bulk from them. First request for samples. Some Chinese sellers offer counterfeit and poor quality goods. Importing poor quality goods can make your business incur very huge losses. If the seller says he can’t offer samples, then you can suspect he’s either trying to scam you or his products don’t meet the advertised standards. Most sellers give samples for free while others charge for them but refund on your bulk order. If a seller offers you free samples, you only to pay for shipping.

8. Large MOQs

Do not be scared by the extremely large MOQs presented by sellers. Usually, many suppliers are willing to accept shipping orders way below their set MOQs. The tradeoff may however attract slightly higher prices.

9. Negotiating

It is acceptable to negotiate prices with the supplier. Don’t be afraid to ask for the best price. Numbers mean nothing. Any number you see on Alibaba can be negotiated and you actually must negotiate.

10. Don’t waste time with agents. Only deal with manufacturers.

Some sellers on Alibaba are actually agents and sometimes call themselves suppliers. The problem with these people is they are just middlemen or at most wholesalers. When you deal with them, they will go find the product you need in the local Chines market, bundle it and ship it to you. If the product arrives and it is defective or not exactly what you ordered, there is nothing much you can do about it, because once such a businessman has been paid, he goes out of the picture and he won’t care. So always deal with only manufacturers.

11. Compare prices

Always compare prices of similar items between suppliers. This would be used as your negotiating tool. The Alibaba platform also has a feature called Request for Quotation (RFQ) where you can input details of the products you are looking for and several suppliers will contact you with quotations.

12. Check locations of suppliers

Ensure to check locations of suppliers, as this can increase the cost of shipping. In my personal experience, I landed on a supplier that offered products at really very low prices, but he was located in the Northern end of China. Even with lowest prices, the estimated costs of transporting goods to the port turned out to be too high. I had to switch to another supplier who was located near the port.

13. Too good to be true

Finally, if something is too good to be true, don’t go for it. Be wary of pricing that is way below what seems to be the standard pricing as compared with other suppliers.

Also stay away from deals like “Buy 2, get 1 free” especially on expensive branded items. Big brands like Apple, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft etc do not sell on Alibaba, and if they do, their MOQs are really too high.

For example, recently I stumbled upon a supplier who claimed to be selling 1TB Sony PS4 consoles, and was promising to give 2 for free if one bought 3.

Digging deep into his listing, I discovered that this seller was actually a scammy hacker who had hijacked a store of a verified supplier and put there his scam listings. The hijacked seller had specialized in making plastics which had no connection with the Gaming equipment the hacker was claiming to be selling.

This is why it is very important to analyze the supplier’s store and ensure that the listed product matches their general product niche.

Always be willing to walk away from a deal if something doesn’t feel right.

Also read;How to start an online business in Uganda

Alternatives to Alibaba

There are several alternatives to Alibaba that exist, although none of these alternative are anywhere close to the mighty Alibaba. They include:


Sourcing products from China to Uganda through Alibaba can seem complicated at first, especially to first time importers. But as you can see, the process is more convenient and easy. Like anything else, buying from Alibaba has pros and cons but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

So now you know how to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda. Go starting importing goods from China to Uganda for your small business or start an import business in Uganda.

If you follow the advice discussed here it won’t be long before you have a large inventory of profitable products that can make you a lot of money.

What are your thoughts on how to buy goods on Alibaba and ship to Uganda? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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Mun Gerald is the founder of ICT Guy blog and a seasoned technology expert with over 4 years of experience in the field. With a degree in Information Systems and Technology and a range of industry certifications including CSDP, CCT, CCNA, MTA, and AWS, he has built a reputation as a self-taught digital entrepreneur and a go-to source for all things technology. He has expertise in a variety of areas including consulting, design, support, coaching, analysis, e-commerce, web development, digital marketing, SEO, and content development. His ultimate goal is to create a world-class technology hub in Uganda where Ugandan technologists can come together to share knowledge, experiences, and relationships in order to drive innovation in the field.


    Am surely saving this document for me to use in my world. I don’t know how i narrowly i missed being stolen because i lacked the information on the very last minute my guts told me it wasn’t right.And i ended up getting someone else who helped bring in my goods. Everything about getting products seemed like a very big puzzle and i believe after this information and attempt i will surely get back to give my review.A million thanks and be blessed

  2. This is very generous of ue
    Thnx for that great info
    I got so excited when I saw the prices for the pdts and thout it was very easy but I can now use this information

  3. Thanx man I’ve been fearing alot to order something on alibaba but after reading this surely I’m turning to be expert and make money

  4. If all people had like your heart, life wouldn’t be hard. Your information will guide me much, thanks bro.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad to hear that you found my article helpful and informative. I strive to provide valuable information to my readers and it’s great to know that I was able to do that for you.

  5. Like for real GOD bless you..cause the info I have received here have gratetly helped me understand what albaba is..Thanks very much for the guidance

  6. Thank you so much,I’ve learnt a lot had no idea about this Alibaba thing. yet I wanted to import some few products for my small business.Thanks a million times.

  7. I have found this helpful and I thank you for the good explanations however if at all you could give us your contact for some personal guidance it could be more helpful cz yiu seem to be familier with this. I doesn’t matter if yiu charge some consultation fee but I my self I would like to have a real conversation with you


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