Containers are widely applied to ship cargo by sea, railway, etc. The cost is not low especially in cross-border and long-distance cargo transport like shipping from China to USA. So it’s very important to know container volumes and choose the right one to save costs. 

In today’s post, I share practical information on shipping containers mainly from the following significant aspects.

Standard Container Dimensions (20GP, 40GP, 40HC)

Within the ISO (global) standard, there’re currently 13 kinds of container sizes. All the width is the same as 2,438mm. There’re 4 lengths: 12,192mm, 9,125mm, 6,058mm, 2,991mm. And there exist three heights: 2,896mm, 2,591mm, and 2,438mm. 

The largest shipping container size should be 45HC, with a length of 45ft (13.72 m), a width of 8ft (2.44 m), and a height of 9.5 ft (2.9m). The smallest container size is located in the standard 20ft container, 8ft (2.44m) wide, 8.5ft (2.59m) high, and 20ft (6.06m) long.

High Cube (also called extra tall) containers are 9.5ft (2.9m) high. Smaller 8ft (2.44m) containers are also available but different from 20ft and 40ft containers in the aspect of shipping.

Dry containers commonly used internationally include:

  • 20GP – the external dimension 20ft x 8ft x 8.5ft
  • 40GP – the external dimension 40ft x 8ft x 8.5ft
  • 40HC – the external dimension 40ft x 8ft x 9.5ft

I make size charts for your intuitive understanding of 20ft, 40ft, and high cube container CBM, specific sizes in feet and meters, as well as weights and capacity in lbs, kg, and tons.

Charts of ISO Container (40ft, 20ft, 40HC) Dimensions & Sizes

Type 20GP 40GP 40HC
External

L

20 ft 
(6.06m)

40 ft
(12.19m)

W 8ft (2.44m)
H 8.5ft
(2.59m)
9.5 ft
(2.9m)
Internal L 19.36ft
(5.9m)
39.37 ft
(12m)
W 7.64 ft (2.33m)
H 7.71 ft
(2.35m)

8.73 ft
(2.66m)

Door Opening W 7.51ft (2.29m)
H 7.41ft
(2.26m)
8.43 ft
(2.57 m)
Type 20GP 40GP 40HC

Internal Volume

1,130 cu ft (32m3) 2,401 cu ft (68m3) 2,649 cu ft (75 m3)

Empty Weight

2,200 kg
4,850 lbs
2.2 tons
3,800 kg
8,380 lbs
3.8 tons
3,900 kg
8,600 lbs
3.9 tons 
Payload 28,280 kg
62,350 lbs
28.28 tons
26,680 kg
58,820 lbs
26.68 tons
26,580 kg
58,600 lbs
26.58 tons
Max Gross Weight
30,480 kg / 67200 lbs / 30.48 tons
Type 20GP 40GP 40HC
External

L

20 ft 
(6.06m)

40 ft
(12.19m)

W 8ft (2.44m)
H 8.5ft
(2.59m)
9.5 ft
(2.9m)
Internal L 19.36ft
(5.9m)
39.37 ft
(12m)
W 7.64 ft (2.33m)
H 7.71 ft
(2.35m)

8.73 ft
(2.66m)

Door Opening W 7.51ft (2.29m)
H 7.41ft
(2.26m)
8.43 ft
(2.57 m)
Type 20GP 40GP 40HC

Internal Volume

1,130cuft
32m3
2,401cuft
68m3
2,649cuft
75m3

Empty Weight

2,200kg
4,850lbs
2.2tons
3,800kg
8,380lbs
3.8tons
3,900kg
8,600lbs
3.9tons 
Payload 28,280kg
62,350lbs
28.28tons
26,680kg
58,820lbs
26.68tons
26,580kg
58,600lbs
26.58tons
Max Gross Weight
30,480kg / 67200lbs / 30.48tons

Remark: the above dimensions are the basic sizing data of containers, followed by a bit of fluctuation in different situations.

Useful Takeaways

Container dimensions are determined by 3 key factors: measurements (length, width, height); internal sizing (length, width, height); weight (tare weight, gross weight, and payload).

In practice, you need to pay attention to the following 5 key points.

1. High Cube containers are more popular with a height of 9.5ft.

2. Two eye-measurement tips to easily tell if a container is a high cube.

  • A high cube container is 1 ft (about 0.3048 m) higher.
  • It’s a high cube if you could see black and yellow tape next to the corner castings.

3. Payload (or Net weight) = Gross Weight – Tare Weight.

This tells you the definite cargo weight that a container can hold. 

  • The maximum gross weight is related to the bridge crane load and road weight limit.
  • Since July 1, 2016, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) stipulates that containers without Verified Gross Mass (VGM) shall not be loaded. “NO VGM, NO LOAD” is the unified regulation of all major ports and shipping companies.
  • Notably, the US line has very strict requirements on cargo weight. That is closely related to the highway weight limit, with the small container of 17.3 tons and the high container of 19.5 tons. And there’re different weight limits according to different ports.

4. Typically, container sides are corrugated and the corrugation is 1 inch (25mm) thick.

  • The inside width is 2 inches (50mm) less than the external’s.
  • Together with 2 inches (50mm) thick doors, the inside length is 3 inches (75mm) less than the external.
  • The height is reduced by approximately 8 inches (200mm). Besides the 1-inch thick corrugation of the roof, the floor itself is 27mm (1.1 inches) thick, with an underside clearance of 6 inches (150mm).

5. The 20/40ft steel container is widely used in retail, restaurant, and construction industries.

How Many Boxes Can Fit in a 20ft/40ft Container?

In real business, 20GP is suitable to load heavy cargo, with a general weight limit of 21.5 tons and a general cubic capacity of 28 mÂł. That means you can put 100 household washing machines.

For 40ft regular shipping containers, it is suitable to load light cargo, with a general weight limit of 26 tons and a general cubic capacity of 58 mÂł. 40HC (40ft high cube container) is better suited for light-foamed cargo such as textiles and electronic products, with a general weight limit of 25.5 tons and a cubic capacity of 68 mÂł.

You’d better consider which way is the best to load more cargo, though there is no restriction on whether packages are erected.

Step-by-step calculation via an example

Case Background: the box size is 85cm x 72cm x 103cm. How many boxes will fit in a 20ft container?

The container’s inner dimensions are L x W x H: 5.9m x 2.33m x 2.35 m; the maximum volume is 32 mÂł; with generally 28mÂł fittable.

Step 1 – Determine which side of the box is appropriate to be the height.

  • If the side of 85 cm is the height (2.35 / 0.85 = 2.76), 2 layers are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.76m.
  • If the side of 72 cm is the height (2.35 / 0.72 = 3.26), 3 layers are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.26m.
  • If the side of 103 cm is the height (2.35 / 1.03 = 2.28), 2 layers are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.28m.

In this case, we choose the smallest loading gap side as the height, that is, 72 cm.

Step 2 – Figure out which side of the box is appropriate to be the length.

  • If the side of 85 cm is the length (5.9 / 0.85 = 6.94), 6 rows are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.94m.
  • If the side of 103 cm is the height (5.9 / 1.03 = 5.73), 5 rows are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.73m.

In this case, we choose the smallest loading gap side as the length, that is, 103 cm.

Step 3 – The remaining side is the width.

With a width of 85 cm in this case (2.33 / 0.85 = 2.74),2 rows are fittable, with a loading gap of 0.74m.

Step 4 – Calculate how many boxes will fit.

In this case, we can fit a total of 3 layers (height) * 5 rows (length) * 2 rows (width) = 30 (boxes).

Ideally, we can divide 0.630 mÂł (the single packing box volume) into 28 mÂł (fittable cubic meters of a 20 ft container), and the answer is 44 (boxes). This result is obtained without considering the matching of box size and container size. In practice, we need to ensure that the box size shall meet (lower than) the container length, width, and height.

How about fitting a 40GP/40HC?

The calculating method is the same. Usually, the capacity of a 40ft container is double compared with that of a 20ft container. In general, 18 large pallets (220 cm high) or 36 small pallets (110 cm high) can be loaded into a 40ft container.

With regards to a 40HC, it’s about 30 cm higher than a 40GP. In an ideal setting, 68cbm cargo can be loaded.

Contact JingSourcing to Arrange Your Shipment in a Smart and Cost-effective Way

How Much Does a 20ft/40ft Container Cost?

Referring to data provided by ModuGo, we can find:

  • Renting a 20ft steel container will cost you $75-$90, and the buying price ranges from $1,100 to $5,000.
  • Renting a 40ft steel container will cost you $95-$120, and the buying price ranges from $1,350 to $9,800.

Together with further information search and communication with industry professionals, I summarize the following points to give you a general overview of container costs either in hiring or buying.

  1. Standard 20ft and 40ft containers are cheaper to buy and hire. Custom sizes are generally pricer. That is because adjusting fabricating machine requires a cost. 
  2. Buying a brand new 40ft container would roughly cost $3500-$5000 and a used one about $1600-$2600. By the way, many people buy 40ft containers to build a house. It’s the right size for container homes.
  3. Remember there exist new container pricing fluctuations every quarter (caused by changes in labor and material costs worldwide), if you focus on new containers.
  4. The degree of depreciation determines the price of used containers. And the price varies slightly from one manufacturer to another one. Remember to ensure containers can be used normally. Most manufacturers recommend a lifespan of 10-12 years for containers in active shipping applications.

Dimensions of Other Commonly Seen Containers (20HC, 45HC)

Actually, we can also encounter container standards at the national, regional, and company levels.

  • National Standard –  Governments formulate container standards appliable to specific national conditions. For instance, China implements GB1413-2008 nationwide as standards for external dimensions, limit deviation, and rated weight of different containers.
  • Regional Standard – Formulated by regional organizations according to special conditions and hence is only applicable to the region, such as container standards set up by the International Union of Railways (UIC).
  • Company Standard – Some large container shipping companies formulate their standards tailored to specific corporate conditions, for example, 35ft containers of Sealand, 45ft and 48ft containers of APL (American President Lines).

In today’s container markets, 20HC and 45HC are also commonly seen sizes. 

For your intuitive understanding, I make a size chart (dimensions in feet and meters, lbs, kg and tons, cu ft, and CBM).

Type 20HC 45HC
External

L

20 ft 
(6.06m)

45 ft
(13.72 m)

W 8ft (2.44m)
H 9.5 ft (2.9m)
Internal L

19.36ft
(5.9m)

44.42 ft (13.54m)
W 7.64 ft (2.33m)
H

8.73 ft (2.66 m)

Door Opening W 7.51ft (2.29m)
H 8.43 ft (2.57 m)
Type 20HC 45HC

Internal Volume

1,307 cu ft
(37m3)
3,037 cu ft
(86 m3)

Empty Weight

   2,300 kg   
5,071 lbs
2.3 tons
4,800 kg
10,580 lbs
4.8 tons 
Payload 28,180 kg
62,126 lbs
28.18 tons
  25,680 kg
56,620 lbs
25.68 tons
Max Gross Weight
30,480 kg / 67200 lbs / 30.48 tons

Remark: the above dimensions are the basic sizing data of containers, followed by a bit of fluctuation in different situations.

Note

Ideally, a 45HC can hold 86 cubic meters or 26 tons of cargo. But in practice 75 mÂł cargo generally fit.

Remember to consider the weight limit when shipping it to the US. For heavy cargo, the container weight can not exceed 19.5 tons, even if there’s extra space. If overweight, you shall be fined according to pounds. Recommend you to reserve a certain space. If the box is square and not very big, without cardboard, you could reserve 2-4 cubic meters. It’s best to keep more, especially when making a letter of credit.

Dimensions of Less Common Containers (8GP, 10GP, 10HC, 48HC, 53HC)

Apart from the aforementioned, there exist rarely seen container sizes across the world. As more types of cargo need to be shipped, containers with the nonstandard length, width, and height are developed. We can access 35ft/48ft/53ft long containers, 9ft/9.5ft high containers, plus 8.2ft wide containers. However, it’s not easy to get 8.2ft wide second-hand containers.

Notably, 48HC and 53HC are common North American containers. Beyond the ISO (global) standard, 53HC comes as the biggest shipping container size. 

If you want other sizes, custom services are also popular. Commonly bespoke container lengths are 8ft, 12ft, 16ft, 24ft, and 32 ft.

Here I make a size chart to explain 8GP, 10GP, 10HC, 48HC, 53HC (with dimensions in feet & meters, lbs, kg and tons, cu ft, and CBM).

Container Type 8ft 10ft 10ft HC
External

Length

8ft (2.44m)

10ft (2.99m)

Width 7.22ft (2.2m)

8 ft (2.44m)

Height 7.41ft (2.26m) 8.5 ft (2.59m) 9.5 ft (2.9m)
Internal Length 7.51ft (2.29m)

9.28ft (2.83m)

Width  6.92 ft (2.11m)

7.71ft (2.35m)

Height 6.79 ft (2.07m)

7.84ft (2.39m)

8.86 ft (2.7m)
Container Type 8ft 10ft 10ft HC

Internal Volume

350 cu ft (10m3) 560 cu ft (16m3) 636 cu ft (18m3)

Tare (Empty) Weight

950 kg
2,094 lbs
0.95 tons

1,300 kg
2,866 lbs
1.3 tons

1,350kg
2,976lbs
1.35 tons
Payload (Net Weight) 5,050 kg
11,133 lbs
5.05 tons
8,860 kg
19,533 lbs
8.86 tons
10,000 kg
22,046 lbs
10 tons
Max Gross Weight 6,000 kg
13,228 lbs
6 tons

10,160 kg
22,399 lbs
10.16 tons

11,350 kg
25,022 lbs
11.35 tons

Type 8ft 10ft 10ft HC
External

L

8ft (2.44m)

10ft (2.99m)

W 7.22ft (2.2m)

8 ft (2.44m)

H 7.41ft (2.26m) 8.5 ft (2.59m) 9.5 ft (2.9m)
Internal L 7.51ft (2.29m)

9.28ft (2.83m)

W 6.92 ft (2.11m)

7.71ft (2.35m)

H 6.79 ft (2.07m)

7.84ft (2.39m)

8.86 ft (2.7m)
Type 8ft 10ft 10ft HC

Internal Volume

350cuft
10m3

560cuft
16m3
636cuft
18m3

Empty Weight

950kg
2,094lbs
0.95tons

1,300kg
2,866lbs
1.3tons

1,350kg
2,976lbs
1.35 tons
Payload 5,050kg
11,133lbs
5.05tons
8,860kg
19,533lbs
8.86tons
10,000kg
22,046lbs
10tons
Max Gross Weight 6,000kg
13,228lbs
6tons

10,160kg
22,399lbs
10.16tons

11,350kg
25,022lbs
11.35tons

Type 48HC 53HC
External

L 48 ft (14.63m) 53 ft (16.15 m)
W 8.5ft (2.59m)
H 9.5 ft (2.9m)
Internal L 47.5 ft (14.48m) 52.5 ft (16m)
W 8.17ft (2.49m)
H 8.86 ft (2.7m)
Type 48HC 53HC

Internal
Volume

3,454cuft
(98 m3)
3,830cuft
(109m3)

Empty
Weight

4,920kg
10,850lb 
4.92tons
5,040kg
11,110lb
5.04tons
Payload 25,560kg 
56,350lbs
25.56tons
25,440kg
56,090lbs
25.44tons
Max Gross
Weight
30,480kg
67,200lb
30.48tons

Remark: the above dimensions are the basic sizing data of containers, followed by a bit of fluctuation in different situations.

4 Important Factors You Should Consider Whether Hire or Buy Shipping Containers

The Duration of Container Use

  • Although the purchasing price is higher than the renting, it’s not always cost-effective for you to rent. If you use it for a long time, it’s more economical to buy.

Enough Space for Effective Delivery of the Container

  • Overweight issues might cause extra fees, and more seriously, the container would be consigned back, thereby causing shipping delays. Some shipping companies directly ask the consignor to tow cargo and leave the port. These fees are hard to control.
  • If your cargo is indeed overweight and cannot be divided, you can choose heavy container loading by adding extra costs.
  • If overweight within a certain range at the port, you can negotiate to pay a fine or unload (reload) cargo. In the case that the crane at the destination port can’t load containers, you could only unload them at the nearby port or go back by the same route.

Suitable Shipping Container Supplier

Right Type of Containers Meeting Your Needs

  • The price of a used container is lower than the new one. It’s up to your actual demands.
  • Choose a standard container size or custom size according to your cargo. There exist differences among the container size for tomatoes, plants, peppers, and other cargo types you import.

Choose Your Container Size Wisely

FAQs

What Terminology is Involved in Shipping Container Sizes?

ISO – International Organization for Standardization

Many product and industry standards are made by ISO. ISO 668 and ISO 1496 are for shipping container sizes and dimensions. “ISO Shipping Containers” or “ISO Boxes” tell that they conform to ISO requirements.

Intermodal

It refers to transport across different modes. Intermodal containers are widely used because of their high efficiency and security. From ship to rail to truck, there is no need for intermodal containers to unload or reload their cargo. You can identify intermodal containers by their unique ISO 6346 reporting mark.

General Purpose (GP)

GP stands for general-purpose containers, which are also called dry containers or flat containers. For example, 40GP refers to 40 ft regular containers

High Cube (HQ)

A high cube container is 1 ft (about 0.3048 m) higher than a standard container.

TEU – Twenty Equivalent Unit

It’s the conversion unit for calculating the number of containers, also known as 20 ft conversion unit and international standard container unit. Remember that a natural container is a “physical container” without conversion. Whether the container is 40ft, 30ft, 20ft, or 10f, it’s counted as one.

Shipping space sale is calculated according to the standard of TEU = 14 tons or 16 tons, with overweight units unallowed to board.

Tare (Empty) Weight

It means the empty weight of a container, without cargo inside.

Max Load Capacity (Net Weight/Payload)

It means the maximum loading weight of a container. We can obtain it by subtracting the maximum weight of the container itself from its tare weight. Container doors are directly marked with payload.

Maximum Gross Weight (MGW)

It equals the maximum total weight of a container that is fully loaded. We can obtain it by adding up the tare weight and payload.

What are the Main Markings for Containers?

major markings for containers

As you can see, there are some identifying words and symbols marked on shipping containers. 

  • Container ID (BIC Code + Check Digit)
  • Size + Type
  • ISO Code
  • Max. Gross Weight
  • Tare Weight
  • Max. Payload
  • Capacity in Volume
  • Height Warning
  • Manufacturer Details
  • High Cube Warning
  • Classification Society
  • Owner Details
  • Warning/Handling Instruction
  • CSC Plate, ACEP, or other Certificates

How do Shipping Container Markets Develop Since COVID-19?

According to data, we can discover the reduced shipping container transportation capacity due to the epidemic influence. In the face of the severe epidemic, the shortage of dockworkers, port congestion, and suspension occur from time to time in many overseas countries, followed by a decrease in ship turnover efficiency. For example, Ports of Auckland has a lot of overstocked empty containers. Differently, major Asian ports are busy in transportation but are often plagued by “the lack of containers”. Container prices soared, with some shipping routes rising nearly tenfold in 2021. Even so, you might face difficulties in container booking.

From the demand standpoint, some key points drive up container prices: the recovery of global trade, the slowdown of container turnover, and the shortage of container ship capacity caused by the decline of port handling efficiency. Before the arrival of the US peak shopping season, retailers’ orders are increasing and brings pressure on the global supply chains. The shipping rates from China to the US have risen to a new high of $20,000+ per 40ft container.

From the manufacturing cost perspective, raw materials such as steel rose in price. The data shows stainless steel rose from 8,200 RMB per ton in 2020 to 14,000 RMB per ton in 2021, and iron plate rose from 4,200 RMB per ton in 2020 to 8,300 RMB per ton.

In the second half of 2021, the key factors influencing the container market are closely related to whether the epidemic could be effectively controlled and whether the supply chain and industrial chain were smooth. China’s export transportation market is expected to maintain a good situation.

Conclusion

We often provide “sea freight plus courier” solutions for small shipments, even if your cargo is around 50-100kg. Also, this combined shipping solution is faster than traditional sea freight and more cost-effective than commercial express or air freight.

Start with JingSourcing

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