shipping container types and sizes

Do you know about the different shipping container types and sizes?

Are you thinking of importing products from China?

Shipping containers are the most important aspect of the entire transportation and trade process.

Today, containers are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. And, different container types are suitable for different uses.

Therefore, understanding your container type will offer you an edge over competitors. And, it gives the best opportunity of making the ideal business decisions possible.

Are you not sure which container will fit your needs?

No worries anymore! In this blog post, we’ll give you a complete overview of shipping container types and sizes.

We’ll also explain things to consider before choosing any container for shipping products from China.

So let’s get started!

Table of Content

Chapter 1: Overview about Shipping Containers

Chapter 2: 3 Common Sizes of Shipping Containers

Chapter 3: 10 Most Common Types of Shipping Containers

Chapter 4: What are the Different Grades of Shipping Containers?

Chapter 5: FAQs about Container Types

Chapter 1: Overview about Shipping Containers

Overview about Shipping Containers

Packing the goods with care is regarded as the best practice when delivering a shipment.

The concept is to pack the shipment in such a way that it moves as little as possible while providing the necessary long-term support.

When it comes to international consignments, the goods must be dispatched in such a way that they can withstand the harsh conditions of transportation.

 Additionally, they must arrive at their destination while retaining their quality regardless of weather conditions.

That’s where the role of shipping containers comes into play.

So let’s start understanding the concept of shipping containers and what the ideal container type for your goods would be.

1. What are shipping containers?

In simple words, we can define shipping containers as the storage units that are used to transport goods through one location to another without causing damage to the products or other products in the shipment.

The shipping containers are reusable and can handle the hurdles of transportation.

 Therefore, shipping containers significantly reduce transportation costs— allowing for long-distance trade.

The invention of these containers had a substantial impact on the global economy of business and trade.

2. Which things to consider before choosing container type & size

things to consider before choosing container type & size

Now that you know the basic purpose of shipping containers, it’s time to understand some key factors before choosing a container type for your products.

So let’s get started!

  • Utilize the entire volume of the container.

The calculation of CBM of products by your supplier may be inaccurate.

This means that the actual CBM could be lower or higher than the CBM the supplier tells you.

In this situation, we suggest you order more products than estimated in order to avoid blank space in the shipping container.

If any products remain after the container has been completely filled, they can be stored in a warehouse or loaded into the next container.

In most instances, freight forwarders can adjust products very expertly and leave no space in the container due to their extensive experience in freight loading.

 Such experts could even load 30 CBM of products into the 28 CBM container.

  • To avoid being overweight, confirm the maximum weight limit.

Another important factor while deciding on container type is to confirm the weight limit with a freight forwarder.

On the one hand, various freight forwarders set different weight limits for containers.

The maximum weight limit on cargo, on the other hand, varies greatly depending on the shipping season and shipping route.

Let’s understand by an example.  Take the Southeast Asia line into consideration where the weight restriction of a 20GP container is 24 tons.

Contrary to this, 20 tons isn’t a big deal in Dubai. However, cargo cannot exceed 17 tons in the United States.

So, you must confirm the maximum weight limit of cargo before importing products.

  • Select the container types that are most appropriate for your goods.

container types that are most appropriate for your goods

Every container type is for different purposes. For example, dry containers are generally used within sea shipping to transport consignments.

 However, if you are shipping perishable goods, there will be a shipping duration of 30 to 45 days which will be a disaster for the products.

Whereas, air freight saves time but is too expensive. In this situation, the refrigerated container will be the ideal choice for you. Why?

 It is because of its normal low temperature within the container that helps keep the products fresh regardless of how far they travel.

Besides, there are also a variety of special containers to choose from. To mention some, car carrier containers are used to ship vehicles internationally.

 Whereas, an open-top container is commonly used for oversize products.

A fluid tank is used to transport liquids including beer, soy sauce, glucose, and cooking oil.

Additionally, animal containers are utilized to transport poultry by sea, including cows, sheep, chickens, and ducks.

  • To consolidate the goods, find a freight forwarder or a sourcing agent.

Every container has a cargo weight as well as a volume limit. However, using both maximum size & maximum weight at the same time is difficult.

For instance, in the case of a 20-foot standard container, the maximum weight is 17 tons and the maximum CBM is 28.

So, if you fill up with heavy cargo, including metal, the majority of the container storage would be vacant even though it will reach the weight limit.

However, if you fill up over-sized but light goods, including plush toys, the 28CBM container may only hold 3 tons of plush toys when it is full. In this situation, a cargo consolidation is an option.

Shipping companies or sourcing agents such as EJET Sourcing can obtain various products into their storage facilities, estimate their weight and size, and manage to combine plush toys and metal materials into a single container.

 In this manner, they can make the most of the container’s capacity.

  • Some items cannot be shipped in containers.

In reality, the vast majority of products can be delivered by sea in containers, with only a few exceptions.

 Let’s have a look at the type of goods that containers cannot transport:

  • Fresh products, such as shrimp, live fish, and other seafood, because shipment by sea takes more time than other means of transport.
  • As a result, fresh products will deteriorate while transportation if shipped in a container.
  • Cargo that exceeds the maximum weight restriction allocated for a container cannot be shipped by container.
  • Oversized cargo also can’t be transported by container. This is because some large items are extremely high and broad. Such types of cargoes should be shipped on the deck or by bulk carriers.

Chapter 2: 3 Common Sizes of Shipping Containers

Common Sizes of Shipping Containers

If you are transporting enough products to fill the container, you will have to plan for an FCL (Full Container Load) cargo.

The most popular container types in use today are general purpose and dry storage containers.

These container types come in standard sizes of 20feet, 40feet, and 40feet High Cube (often abbreviated to HQ or HC).

 Such containers are used to deliver dry products and are used by the vast majority of importers.

It is always a great idea to be using container sizes to account for the volume of products you’re buying.

If you buy items just to discover that they are a few cubic meters above the limit, you will have to pay for a larger container – which no one wants!

If your products are unusual in shape or weight, you must seek clarification from your supplier about how they typically fill the products and, more specifically, how the products fit into a container.

1. 20ft general purpose shipping containers

1.20ft general purpose shipping containers

 A 20ft container can typically hold between 25 to 28cbm of products, but it heavily depends on the nature of the products being carried.

 It is because of the fact that some goods cannot stack or take up too much space.

So it’s important to make sure you know exactly how much room you have before embarking on any long-distance trip.

If your goods will total more than 15 tons per cargo, you may be required to pay a “heavyweight surcharge” – depending on the carrier you choose and their particular rules.

These rules are based on risk factors that vary from shipping line to shipping line.

  • A 20ft container has the following dimensions: 2.38m x 2.35m x 5.87m.
  • The volume of fresh air in a 20ft container: 33cbm.
  • Cartons in a 20ft container: between 25 to 28cbm (probably less if quite large cartons are used— resulting in much more wasted space.
  • However, it will be probably more if relatively small cartons are used— resulting in less wasted space.)
  • Pallets in a 20ft container: 16 double-stacked pallets which are about 110cm tall or if pallets are about 220cm tall, then it would be 8 pallets.


Remember that if you have large products, there would be a bunch of empty space, so check with your supplier prior to making the assumption you can fit 28cbm of products into a 20ft container type.

2. 40ft general purpose shipping containers

2.40ft general purpose shipping containers

A 40ft container has roughly double the capacity of a 20ft container. And, a 40ft container can usually fit between 54 to 58cbm of products within.

This, too, is determined by the size of the cartons and the characteristics of the products. Over 20,000kg can frequently be loaded without incurring a ‘heavyweight surcharge.’

  • A 40ft container has the following dimensions: 2.38m x 2.35m x 12m.
  • The amount of fresh air in a 40ft container: 67cbm.
  • Cartons in a 40ft container: 54-58cbm of cartons (probably fewer if quite huge cartons are used, resulting in more empty space. And, probably more if relatively small cartons are used, resulting in less empty space.)
  • Pallets packed into a 40ft container: 36 double-stacked pallets which are about 110cm tall or if pallets are about 220cm tall, then it would be 18 pallets.


Remember that if you have bulky items, there would be a bunch of empty storage, so check with your supplier prior to making the assumption that you can fit 58cbm of products into the 40ft container.

3. 40ft high cube shipping containers

The 40ft High Cube container is ideal for importing as much as physically possible products.

There is only one factor that differentiates it from a 40ft container is that it has a little more height.

More height will allow you to store an additional row of products.

Despite the fact that this is only a 27cm height increase, it tends to add up to an additional volume of 9cbm.

  • 40ft High Cube container is still 40 feet long, but 2.65 meters tall.
  • The Internal dimensions of a 40ft High Cube container are 2.65m x 2.35m x 12.0m.
  • The amount of fresh air in a 40ft High Cube container: 67cbm.


A 40ft high cube container holds between 60 to 68 cubic meters of stackable commodities.

  If you’re going to be transporting a variety of items, it’s important to ask your supplier whether they’ll all fit inside so that you can avoid damage or suboptimal storage.

Chapter 3: 10 Most Common Types of Shipping Containers

Now that we have explained the concept of shipping containers in the previous chapters.

We have also highlighted the essential factors you must consider before choosing an ideal container type.

Let’s move further and boost your knowledge about shipping container types.

In this chapter, we will put light on the top 10 common types of shipping containers.

These container types are best for shipping purposes, mainly when importing goods from China.

1. Dry storage container:

Dry storage container

The dry storage container is one of the most common shipping containers.

They are structured in 20 40 and 45 feet lengths, regularized by ISO. Dry Storage containers are usually used to transport dry goods.

Freezing units are not installed in this container type.

Therefore, we cannot use it to transport anything that needs cooling for survival, such as heat-sensitive foods, chemicals, etc.

Spreaders are used to handle the movement of dry storage containers.

Not to mention, the spreader is a device attached to the lifting machine that helps lift and move containers.

  • 20′ dry container dimensions
Tare weight Payload capacity Internal length Cubic capacity
2,300 25,000 kg 5.9 m 33.2 m3
5,071.5 lbs 55,126.9 lbs 19.4 ft 1,172 cu ft
Internal width Internal height Door opening height Door opening width
2.35 m 2.39 m 2.28 m 2.34 m
7.7 ft 7.9 ft 7.5 ft 7.7 ft
  •  40′ dry container dimensions
Tare weight Payload capacity Internal length Cubic capacity
3,750 27,600 kg 12.03 m 67.7 m3
8,268.8 lbs 61,200 lbs 39.5 ft 2,389 cu ft
Internal width Internal height Door opening height Door opening width
2.35 m 2.39 m 2.28 m 2.34 m
7.7 ft 7.9 ft 7.5 ft 7.7 ft

2. Flat rack container:

Flat rack container

A flat rack container is another container type with just two sides. The top covering of this container is also absent.

The absence of the upper roof of the container makes room to place heavy and oversized objects extending upside.

The two missing sides of the flat rack container make it convenient to load heavy pieces of machinery. Its length varies in size; it may be 20 or 40 feet in length.

Flat rack containers are pretty solid and durable because steel is used in their making.

 This container type is collapsible, and two spare steel walls are also provided.

Therefore, we can change its shape by using the extra walls depending upon our needs.

 Over-height frames are used to handle flat rack containers.

3. Open top container:

Open top container

The open-top container is used to store and transport dry materials. Its roof is also absent for loading massive objects without any difficulty.

We can cover the top of these containers with a plastic sheet.

Covering of the roof protects the loaded things from rain or any other aerial contaminants like wind, fog, snow, etc.

over height frames necessarily handle open-top containers to prevent cargo from protruding.

4. Open side storage container:

Open side storage is a type of container with a vast door on one of its sides.

One sidewall can completely open to provide maximum space for loading any giant object.

Open side storage containers are suitable to load relatively more comprehensive objects because their door is quite broad, which makes it possible to load these objects comfortably. Spreaders can easily handle this container type.

5. Refrigerated ISO containers:

Refrigerated ISO containers

Refrigerator ISO containers are also known as reefers. Cooling units are installed in this container that runs either with an electric supply or diesel-powered generators.

This container type is used to transport different goods that require refrigeration to prevent decay during the journey.

Refrigerated ISO containers can regulate temperatures from -60°C to 40 °C. We can use spreaders to handle these containers.

6. ISO Tanks:

ISO tanks are the containers used to transport liquid materials such as chemicals.

These tanks are made of special metals that resist all types of rusting and corrosion.

We can also use this tank to transport dry goods, but it is exclusively designed to carry liquid objects. Standard spreaders handle ISO tanks.

7. Half-height containers:

Half-height tanks containers are shorter in height than regular containers.

Standard containers have double-height than these containers. These containers are made up of steel.

Half-height containers are used to convey coal, stones, gravels, etc.

These containers are perfect for transporting such materials for easy and quick loading and unloading.

We can handle half-height containers via ordinary spreaders, but it is more accurate to use rotatory spreaders.

 The rotatory spreader can easily tackle their immense weight.

8. Special purpose containers:

Special purpose containers are customized containers specially designed to perform extraordinary services.

 These containers are used mainly by the military to carry weapons and arsons securely.

Such containers are best for these services because their unique manufacturing protects the loaded artillery in all aspects.

Ordinary companies do not use special-purpose containers because manufacturing these containers is pretty costly. It is made of rare material that is quite expensive to buy.

9. Tunnel container:

Tunnel container

Tunnel containers are the ones with two giant doors. These are the two walls facing each other along its width.

 Both borders open as doors to provide adequate space for loading goods.

We can load and unload different goods on the tunnel container without difficulty.

10. Insulated or thermal container:

The name itself reflects the manufacturing and working of these containers. Insulated or thermal containers are heat and temperature-proof containers.

Their building material can resist high temperatures without damaging the container surface.

Insulated containers are used in shipping temperature-sensitive goods on long-distance routes.

Chapter 4: What are the Different Grades of Shipping Containers?

Different Grades of Shipping Containers

Observing and invigilating the working condition and overall appearance of used things before purchasing them is the natural response.

 Similarly, if we are willing to buy a used container, our priority will always be checking its physical condition.

Nobody wants to spend money to buy trash and useless container.

In this chapter, we will discuss the different qualities of used containers and their grading procedure.

Some container sellers alphabetically denote different grades of shipping containers like A Grade, B Grade, C Grade, and D Grade concerning the condition of containers.

 But, this grading system is less likely to be used by reputed companies.

Most sellers use the official grading system prescribed by the Institute of International Container Lessors.

0.0……. ICCL containers are always in suitable conditions to ship the goods.

Following are the different grades of containers that define the physical and cosmetic appearance of used containers.

1. New “One-trip”

New “One-trip” is a container type only used once to carry goods through cargo.

This is the best quality of container among the used containers.

 This used container is almost new, without any damage and deep scratches.

A new “One-trip” container can be used for different purposes, which include homes modifications, storage, shipping, etc. They do not require much repairing.

2. Cargo-worthy

Cargo-worthy refers to an adequate quality of containers eligible for international shipping.

Certified surveyors have also approved this quality and permitted its use in shipping.

There must be a CSC (convention for safe containers) plate located on the container’s door as permission to use it for shipments.

3. Wind & watertight

Wind and watertight containers quality indicate that it has some physical damage which makes it unsuitable for shipping purposes.

However, this type of container can be used for household and commercial storage and modifications.

4. As-is

As-is is probably the poor grade of container type. It has a critically damaged physical condition.

It needs comparatively much repairing to make it applicable for some purposes.

This grade of containers is used in making stages for functions or festivals and for building pop-up bars.

This quality is primarily used for purposes where a heavy load is not required.

Chapter 5: FAQs about Container Types


1. What are the most common types of containers?

There are numerous container types. Among all, the most common container types are 20ft general purpose containers, 40ft dry containers & 40ft high cube containers (with additional height).

 There is a long row of containers to select from if you need to ship special cargo.

2. How is cargo delivered in containers?

There are 2 kinds of container packing:

  • LCL; abbreviated as Less-than-container Load.
  • FCL; abbreviated as Full Container Load.

For all those searching to source, limited quantities of products do not need a full container’s worth of products.

 In this case, it is ideal to choose less-than-container load shipping.

The unit price per kg is higher than a full container load, however, the estimated shipping cost is lower.

3. Do I need to buy a container for shipping goods from China?

You will not need to purchase a shipping container for importing products through sea freight.

Shipping companies will provide their own shipping containers to deliver your goods.

Typically, the container is first directed to your supplier, where your products will be loaded.

The container is then transported to the port, loaded onto a vessel, and delivered to the destination port.

4. What is the maximum weight that a 20ft container can hold?

The maximum weight which could be filled up into any container is determined by the capabilities of the cranes at the loading port as well as the shipping companies that own & ship the container.

A 20ft container can hold a maximum weight of 25,000kg. Whereas, a 40ft container can hold up to 28,000kg.


With that said, our article on container types comes to an end.

We hope this blog has helped you in deciding on the container type you require for sourcing products from China.

If you want to know further information or need to source high-quality products from China, then EJET Sourcing is a one-stop solution for all your sourcing needs.

EJET Sourcing is China’s top sourcing agent, with customers worldwide.

We have great relationships with a vast range of Chinese shipping companies.

So, if you want any information regarding importing products from China, then please contact us and one of our agents will get in touch with you.