What are container shipments?Let's preparing for container shipment !

What are container shipments?Let's preparing for container shipment !

What are container shipments?
Container shipments include any cargo transported in shipping containers along fixed routes. A shipping container may travel on multiple modes of transport, including trucks, trains and ships, before arriving at its final destination.

There are two kinds of container shipments: FCL (full container load), and LCL (less than full container load).

        FCL If you have enough goods to fill an entire container, your load is referred to as a ‘full container load’. FCLs work out cheaper per unit than LCLs, and importing fees are fixed. FLCs are also the most secure, as only your items are packed into the container, so other shippers’ cargo can’t contaminate or damage yours.
       LCL If you’re only looking to ship small quantities of goods, it’s more economical to share a box with other shippers, rather than using a whole container for yourself. LCL is more expensive per unit, but cheaper overall, as volumes are lower than with FCLs.


Depending on the type of cargo you’re shipping, you’ll need a specific container type for your goods. We’ll go over some of the most commonly used container types in the next section.

Container shipments: Sizes and types

Shipping containers are so much more than steel boxes. They’re the building blocks of global trade. Almost all of the goods we consume now days arrive in a shipping container of some kind. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance that they are strong and sturdy, reliable and completely standardized.

For a shipping container to be allowed onboard a ship, it needs to meet the standard requirements, regulated by ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

ISO standards require that all cargo containers are built to withstand extreme weather conditions, and have strong structural integrity (many fully-loaded boxes need to be able to be stacked on top of one another safely). They also have to adhere to certain standard measurements.

Shipping containers also need to be intermodal. Intermodal containers are boxes that can be used across multiple transport modes, including trains, trucks and ships.

Now let’s take a look at some of the most commonly-used container types for shipping.

Standard dry shipping containers

Standard dry containers can be used to transport dry goods, including grains, clothing, electronics, pallets, barrels, and more. They come in these main sizes: 20ft and 40ft standard containers, and 20ft, 40ft and 45ft high cube containers.

Take a look at the measurements for the 3 standard sizes:




      40ft HC

Internal length

5.9m / 19.4ft

12.03m / 39.5ft

   12.03m / 39.5ft

Internal width

2.35m / 7.8ft

2.4m / 7.9ft

       2.35m / 7.8ft


       2.39m / 7.9ft

2.39m / 7.9ft

    2.70m / 8.10ft

Cubic capacity

1,172 cu ft / 33.2 cu m

2,389 cu ft / 67,7 cu m

2,694.5 cu ft / 76.3 cu m

Payload capacity

55,126.9 lbs / 25,000 kg

61,200 lbs / 27,600 kg

63,052 lbs / 28,000 kg

Tare weight 

5,071.5 lbs / 2,300 kg

8,268.8 lbs / 3,750 kg

8,598 lbs / 3,900 kg


Whilst standard boxes are great for transporting dry goods of all kinds, you’ll need a special box if you’re moving temperature-sensitive items, extra-large, or oddly-shaped goods that won’t fit into a normal container.

How Does Container Shipment Work?

Container shipping is an extremely complex process, involving many players, and lots of moving parts. It all begins with an order. Usually, a client will order goods from a manufacturer, and work with a freight forwarding service to get the goods shipped to them.

Most of the time, shipping containers are needed, as well as multiple modes of transport, depending on where the factory is, in comparison with the final destination and The freight forwarder will be in charge of finding the most efficient, and cost effective route from point A to point B, taking care of everything in-between to ensure the smooth and efficient transportation of goods.

Packing and Loading

The process of container shipment begins with the packing and loading of goods into containers. At the origin, the shipper or exporter carefully packs the goods into the appropriate containers based on their nature, fragility, and size. The containers used can vary in size, with 20-foot and 40-foot containers being the most common.

Once the goods are packed, they are loaded into the containers, taking care to maximize space utilization and ensure the safety of the cargo. The containers are sealed and labeled with the necessary information, including the shipper's details, destination, and any special handling instructions.

Documentation and Customs Clearance

Before the containers can be shipped, proper documentation and customs clearance procedures must be completed. This includes preparing the necessary paperwork such as the bill of lading, commercial invoice, and packing list.

The bill of lading serves as a contract between the shipper and the carrier, documenting the terms and conditions of the shipment. The commercial invoice provides details of the goods being shipped, including their value and description. These documents are essential for customs clearance and will accompany the containers throughout the journey.

Port of Departure

Once the containers are packed, sealed, and the documentation is in order, they are transported to the port of departure. At the port, the containers undergo various checks, including customs inspections and security screenings. The containers are verified against the documentation to ensure accuracy and compliance.

Once cleared, the containers are loaded onto the shipping vessel using specialized equipment such as cranes or gantry cranes. The containers are carefully stacked and secured on the vessel, taking into account weight distribution and stability.

Ocean Freight Transportation

The containers are then transported via the ocean vessel to the destination port. The duration of the voyage depends on the distance between the ports and the chosen shipping route. During the transit, the containers are subject to the movement of the vessel and the conditions of the sea.

Container vessels are specifically designed to carry large quantities of containers. They are equipped with advanced navigation systems and safety measures to ensure the secure transportation of the cargo. In some cases, the vessels may make intermediate stops at other ports for transshipment or to take on additional cargo.

Port of Destination and Customs Clearance

Upon arrival at the port of destination, the containers undergo customs clearance procedures similar to those at the port of departure. The customs authorities inspect the containers and verify the accompanying documentation. Once cleared, the containers can proceed to the next stage of transportation.

Intermodal Transport and Final Delivery

After customs clearance, the containers are transported to their final destination using various modes of transportation, such as trucks or trains. The containers can seamlessly transition between different modes of transport without the need for unpacking and repacking, thanks to their standardized size and design.

At the final destination, the containers are unloaded and delivered to the consignee or importer. The containers are opened, and the goods are unpacked and inspected for any damage that may have occurred during transit. The entire process is meticulously managed to ensure the safe and timely delivery of the cargo.

Here’s a flowchart of the shipping process, so you can see how it works from the time the cargo is loaded into the box, until the time the empty container arrives at the shipping yard to await it’s next trip.

Preparing for container shipment

So, what do you need to do to make sure your cargo is ready for shipping? Keep in mind the following:

Packaging: Make sure that your packaging is lightweight, and doesnt add too much bulk to your overall container load, as this will make your shipment more expensive. Packaging your cargo with quality materials, and in the correct way will ensure that your shipment is protected from damage.

How a container is packed is also of vital importance. Make sure that items are packed tightly, with heavier cargo at the bottom. Also check that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the box, in order to prevent it from toppling off a truck or ship!

Container seals: Always have a good quality container seal on your box. Otherwise, you run the risk of your container being tampered with, which could lead to goods being stolen or damaged. A good container seal is also essential in order to pass customs, and you wont be able to insure your boxes without one.

CSC plate: A CSC plate is a safety approval plate, and no container will be allowed onboard a ship without one. To get a valid CSC plate, the containers youre using must have passed a safety inspection.

Shipping documents needed for customs clearance

Customs clearance is important for your boxes to be allowed onboard a vessel. If your boxes dont get clearance, you could be liable for fines, not to mention the delay in delivering the cargo.

There are a few important documents youll need to have to pass through customs successfully including

Commercial Invoice: The commercial invoice is a key document provided by the seller or exporter. It includes details such as the description of the goods, quantity, unit price, total value, and currency. The commercial invoice helps determine the customs value of the goods and calculate applicable duties and taxes.

Bill of Lading (B/L): The Bill of Lading is issued by the shipping line or carrier and serves as a contract of carriage. It contains information about the shipper, consignee, description of the goods, container numbers, and terms of shipment. The Bill of Lading is essential for establishing ownership and facilitating the release of cargo at the destination port.

Packing List: The packing list provides a detailed breakdown of the contents of each container, including the quantity, description, weight, and packaging details of the goods. Customs authorities refer to the packing list to verify the accuracy of the cargo and ensure compliance with import or export regulations.

Certificate of Origin: The certificate of origin confirms the country in which the goods were manufactured or produced. It may be required to determine eligibility for preferential trade agreements, calculate applicable tariffs, or comply with import restrictions or quotas.

Customs Declaration: The customs declaration, also known as the customs entry or import/export declaration, is a form that provides comprehensive information about imported or exported goods. It includes details such as the HS code (Harmonized System code), customs value, quantity, and a description of the goods. The customs declaration is crucial for customs officers to assess the goods accurately and determine the appropriate duties, taxes, and regulatory requirements.

Import/Export Licenses and Permits: nCertain goods may require specific licenses, permits, or certificates for import or export. These documents vary depending on the nature of the goods and can include licenses for controlled substances, agricultural products, or intellectual property.

Transportation Documents: In addition to the above documents, transportation documents such as the delivery order, container delivery receipt, or waybill may be necessary for customs clearance. These documents provide proof of the movement and delivery of the cargo.

Two types of freight container shipping

There are two ways of shipping freight, you can either use: COCs (carrier owned containers) or SOCs (shipper-owned containers). Each has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at some of the differences below:

COC freight shipping

Using COCs means that you use boxes owned by a carrier or logistics company. In this case, you can book a complete package with the shipping line, and everything is organized for you. Sounds simple enough. The catch? You’ll be liable for demurrage and detention fees if there are any delays or issues along the way.

SOC freight shipping

With SOCs, you basically ‘bring your box’ and just book a slot on the vessel. SOCs are usually owned by individuals or business owners. A container is considered a Sa when the Beneficial Cargo Owner (BCO), freight forwarder, or NVOCC organizes its box.

How to choose between coc and soc?

Here are some of the benefits of using SOCs over COCs for your shipping needs:

Avoid demurrage and detention charges

With COCs, you’re responsible for any demurrage and detention charges that occur. And let’s be honest, delays and hold-ups happen often. With SOCs, you can avoid these carrier surcharges, which can start to add up.

Source shipping containers yourself

You can control the supply of boxes by sourcing containers that suit your unique requirements. This is often essential for locations where carriers are unable or unwilling to provide boxes/only offer them at very high rates.

Choose exactly what you need

With SOCs, you can select the exact containers you need at a rate you’re comfortable with. You can also choose the container condition and leasing period.


Container shipment has revolutionized the global trade industry, providing a standardized and efficient method for transporting goods across long distances. From their purpose and types to the logistics involved, understanding container shipment is essential for anyone involved in international trade. By simplifying the transportation process and ensuring the safety and security of goods, container shipment continues to play a vital role in driving global commerce forward.

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