Exporting & Importing Goods/shipment from china
I have a shipment of goods due to arrive in Houston from China in a couple of months. I will drive down From Dallas to pick up. I would like to be prepared. Do I need a freight forwarder? Where will the goods go from the ship? What costs might I incur? What can I do on my own?
If the shipment is small enough for you to put in your car then you should have the shipper send it via regular surface MAIL (i.e. slow boat from China). It will be cheap and uncomplicated. Just have them box it up and bring it down to their local post office and literally mail it to you. But if it contains anything with a big magnet, batteries, or anything hazardous this will not work.
It sounds like you are "shopping", not importing, from China. Importing indeed requires a freight forwarder with their own customs broker to move the freight and get it through customs when it arrives in the U.S. But the costs to import your tiny shipment will certainly far exceed the value of the goods themselves. There are two main components to freight forwarding charges -- fixed and variable costs. The variable costs are calculated based on the size and weight of the shipment, but the fixed costs are just that: the same regardless of the size/weight of the shipment. So, right off the bat there will be hundreds of dollars of miscellaneous fees, taxes, port charges, security surcharges, etc. that the forwarder will charge you. For normal importers these fees are negligible because they are amortized over a large qty of goods (e.g. 40' containers filled with goods). In your case they will be absurdly expensive. Call a few freight forwarding companies to ask for a quote and you'll see what I mean. Before you call make sure you know the port of origin, trading terms (FOB, CIF, ex factory -- if you don't know what this means Google "incoterms"), and the exact size and weight of the shipment (# of boxes, dimensions and weight of each box).
The bigger and more important issue here is that you are shopping from China. This is so risky. How do you know that you can trust the shipper to deliver on what they promise? How do you know that the goods will be exactly what you're expecting? How do you know that they'll even ship the goods to you after you send them payment? The answer is that you don't. Importers know their suppliers well. Before they send money they do their full due diligence on their suppliers. When you shop on line from strangers in the U.S.A. you have the rule of law and all sorts of other insurance and verifications to protect you. You have zero protection when shopping from China. Caveat Emptor is the bottom line. Please read through some of my other answers on this topic before you go any further.