Your guide to freight containers 2021

Approximately 80% of the world's cargo is moved by ships. It's no surprise that to accommodate such a vast amount of goods, there are different types of shipping containers. If your business hasn't used ocean freight before, working out which one to use could be daunting. So, here is a brief guide to everything you need to know about ocean freight containers.

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3rd May 2021

Written by: Jesper Frandsen, Rosa Izquierdo Guillen, Anna-Sophia Metzel

Do you want to ship products all around the world? Then we've got you covered with the most frequently asked questions and answers on shipping freight in containers internationally.

What types of container or equipment can I use to ship my cargo?

There are many different types of containers and equipment available for shipping your cargo. Because different types of cargo have different needs and with that, they also require different containers:

  • Dry containers: They are called 'dry' because they don't have any temperature controls – basic containers for cargo such as toys and clothes. Dry containers (DC) are the most used type of container in the world: 90% of goods shipped by sea are loaded in dry containers. They come in different sizes and variants:

    • 20-foot Container or 1 TEU: The standard 20-foot container or “dry van” is one of the most commonly-used containers for the shipment of goods in ocean freight along with the 40-foot container. 20-foot containers are designed to carry more weight than voluminous cargo. This includes heavy cargoes such as minerals, metal, machinery, sugar, paper, cement, steel coils.

    • 40-foot Container or 1 FFE: This type of container is by far the most common type of container, and as such it is used to load most types of normal cargo. 40-foot dry containers are designed to carry voluminous cargo rather than heavy cargo, for example, furniture, steel pipes, paper scrap or cotton.

    • 40 High Cube Container (40HC): They are made for even less heavy cargo. 40HC are taller (you can fit in more cargo) but due to weight limitations per container, you cannot fill in heavy commodity types.

    • Controlled Atmosphere (CA Container): This type of container is meant for offering the right conditions inside the container to help to slow down ripening, preserving perishable produce and vastly improving its shelf life especially during long-distance trips.

  • Refrigerated containers: These are containers, being able to control temperature. They are perfect for transporting perishables such as flowers or food that need to be kept cold across long distances. 

  • Special Dimensioned containers: There are many others for more specific cargo:  

    • Open Top Container: Suitable for cargo that is over-height and cannot be easily loaded through the door.

    • Flat Rack: Ideal for shipping goods that are oversized, such as heavy machinery, yachts and construction materials.

    • Platform: Used for odd-sized cargo which does not fit on or in any other type of container.

    • Transportable tank: Made of strong steel or other anti-corrosive materials for the transportation and long-life protection of liquid materials.

With Twill, you can book dry cargo in 20-40-45 (HC) box containers. You can sign up to our platform now to check prices and schedules easily.

If you want to book temperature-controlled cargo, dangerous cargo or LCL (less than container load) and out of gauge shipments, please reach out to the experts at Maersk. As we are supercharged by industry leader Maersk, you can book this specific kind of cargo with them. Just check out their services for fresh and frozen cargo as well as for dangerous cargo or LCL.

For some types of cargo, you might need additional documentation. Are you in doubt about which documentation is required when shipping for the first time? We have gathered the most important shipping documentation for your shipments on our knowledge hub.

What is the size of a container for ocean freight?

While there are many different sized containers, 20-foot and 40-foot containers are the most frequently used when it comes to ocean freight. We have collected the essential numbers for you:

1. 20-foot container: These are the sizes of a 20ft container:

  • Length: 19.4 ft (5.9 m)

  • Width: 7.7 ft (2.35 m)

  • Height: 7.9 ft (2.39 m)

2. 40-foot container: These are the sizes of a 40ft container:

  • Length: 39.5 ft (12.03 m)

  • Width: 7.7 ft (2.35 m)

  • Height: 7.9 ft (2.39 m)

How much cargo fits into a container?

A 20-foot container has a total capacity of 33 cubic metres (cbm). Now you might ask what it can fit. A 20-foot container can, for example, hold 50-60 fridges, 100 washing machines, 400 flat-screen TVs, 200 full-sized mattresses or 48,000 bananas.

Generally speaking, if the total volume of your cargo is lower than 15 cbm, then it's more economical to go for LCL. Meanwhile, anything over 15 cbm should probably go into its own container, also known as Full Container Load (FCL).

Getting the most out of your container

Container utilisation is another important factor. Big brands have their own tools to ensure they get the most out of their containers, including tools to forecast stock, demand, etc. For smaller businesses, it is essential to have a good relationship with your supplier.

A supplier with experience can have huge benefits. As you build a relationship with them over time, they will get to know your cargo better than anyone. They will be able to tell you precisely the kind of container you'll need for your cargo!

How much does it cost to ship a container?

Many different factors determine the cost of shipping cargo with a container. Here are the most important ones:

  1. Your shipping route: A container being sent on a common route, such as from Shanghai to Los Angeles, will be less costly than one being sent on a less common route.

  2. The size of the container: It will be more expensive to ship a bigger container than a smaller one. On top of that, the price will also be impacted by what exactly you ship.

  3. Supply and demand: The global shipping industry is affected by international economics. That means, for instance, during busy seasons such as ahead of the holiday season or Chinese New Year, prices are going up.

For more information on costs to ship a container, please sign up to our Twill platform and check prices from or to specific ports. You can also check expected transit times and further price details for additional services. It is completely free and doesn't mean any obligation for booking and shipping yet.

Get to know more about shipping with Twill

Are you curious to find out more important information to start shipping internationally? At Twill, we are here for you, providing you with the essential information to get started. Check our FAQ on logistics terms and read our latest knowledge hub articles to get a glimpse of what's happening in the industry.

This article has been refreshed over time for more comprehensive information.

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