What container is right for me?

If you ship enough goods to fill a container, you will need to arrange an FCL shipment. FCL stands for ‘Full Container Load’.

Currently, dry storage, general-purpose containers that come in the standard 20ft, 40ft, and 40ft High Cube (often referred to as HC or HQ) sizes are the most common containers in circulation. These are used to ship dry goods and are what would be used by the majority of importers.

It’s usually sensible to use the container sizes as a consideration for the number of products you purchase. If you’re buying goods just to find out that they are a few cubic metres over capacity, you will be faced with having to pay for a larger container. 

Remember; if you order a full container you should also prepare for unloading yourself. Can your premises handle a 40ft lorry at its access? Do you have a forklift or sufficient labour on hand? It’ll take around 4 hours on average to manually unload a container and you generally get 3-4hrs free before waiting time begins.

If your products are in an unusual shape or particularly heavy, you should verify with your supplier how their products are normally loaded. You can find our guide on what to fit into different sized containers below:

Shipping container sizes

How much will fit in a 20ft container?

In general, a 20ft container can fit around 25-28cbm worth of products. This is subject to the share of the items, as some goods cannot be stacked, and some boxes are too wide to make efficient use of the space. You can load over 15,000kg without a ‘heavyweight surcharge’ being imposed.

  • Dimensions: 2.38m x 2.35m x 5.87m
  • Fresh air: 33cbm
  • Cartons: 25-28cbm (depending on size of cartons)
  • Pallets: 8 pallets (if they are up to 220cm tall, or 16 double-stacked pallets 110cm tall)

Please note that if you are shipping large items there will be a lot of wasted space, so you will need to check with your supplier before making the assumption that 28cbm of goods will fit into a 20ft container.

How much will fit in a 40ft container?

As expected, a 40ft container can bit around twice as much as a 20ft container. It is possible to load over 20,000kg without the ‘heavyweight surcharge’.

  • Dimensions: 2.38m x 2.35m x 12m
  • Fresh air: 67cbm
  • Cartons: 54-58cbm (depending on size of cartons)
  • Pallets: 18 pallets (if they are up to 220cm tall, or 36 double-stacked pallets 110cm tall)

How much will fit in a 40ft High Cube container?

The 40ft High Cube container is ideal if you are trying to import as much as physically possible. The only main difference between a 40ft and a 40ft HC in dimensions is that there is a little height added, which will make space for an additional row of products for you. Although it offers a rise of just 27cm, this adds up to a total additional volume of 9cbm.

  • Dimensions: 2.38m x 2.65m x 12m
  • Fresh air: 76cbm
  • Cartons: 60-68cbm
  • Pallets: 18 pallets (if they are up to 220cm tall, or 36 double-stacked pallets 110cm tall)

The 40ft High Cube is the largest container currently being used regularly by shipping lines.

Other container types

The above are the standard type of containers, but we have included alternatives below in the rare event that you require them:

1. Open Top 

At times it may be too difficult to transport heavy or bulky goods by hand or forklift, and so these open-top containers make the loading and unloading process simpler. These are ideal for tall items, using a roof made from removable tarpaulin and bows. Open tops make loading and unloading a simpler process and provide access for a crab or crane.

2. Reefer

For foods or fruits or other goods that need to be kept below 15 degrees, refrigerated reefer containers would be your best choice. However, they are usually costly and will increase in price the cooler the temperature.

3. Flexitank

Flexitank containers have a flexible tank inside, much like a bag, and are designed for shipping large volumes of liquid, carrying between 10,000 and 24,000 litres of non-hazardous liquid. 

4. Ventilated 

These containers offer small ventilation systems in the top 6 inches of the walls to prevent moisture build-up and are aimed at products that can be damaged by condensation.

5. Flat racks

Flat racks are used for oversized or over height cargo, with the goods lifted onto the platform and strapped for the journey. They have no side walls and no roof and can be fixed end or collapsible end form. 

6. Insulated

This type of container is typically used by food processing, perishable foods, speciality foods, pharmaceutical, or biotechnology industries, and are designed to keep the goods inside at a consistent temperature from when they were first loaded using dry ice or bubble wrap.

7. Dress hanger

As the name describes, these containers have straps or ropes and buckles to hang luxury garments such as wedding dresses that can’t be folded during transit.

Do I have to buy a shipping container?

No. When importing via sea freight, you don’t need to purchase a container, as these are all owned and provided by shipping lines. Buying a container would actually put you out of pocket as it will cost thousands just to purchase it, as well as the cost of transporting it. They are, however, available to buy from companies secondhand for £2,000+ if you wanted to, for example, keep it to store goods in.