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Understanding Shipping Container Sizes

Published by Joe Webster.

What's in this article?
  1. Choosing The Right One
  2. Standard Shipping Container Sizes
  3. 20-Foot
  4. 40-Foot
  5. 45-Foot
  6. Specialized Shipping Container Types
  7. Taller storage
  8. Refrigerated storage
  9. Flat rack
  10. Open-top
  11. How to Choose the Right Shipping Container Size
  12. Dimensions
  13. Weight
  14. Type of goods
  15. Transit time
  16. Other Considerations
  17. Container leasing or buying
  18. Costs
  19. Company size
  20. How Can Each Size Be Used?
  21. 20-foot
  22. 40-foot
  23. 45-foot
  24. High cube
  25. Pros and Cons of Different Sizes
Understanding Shipping Container Sizes

If you're not familiar with the shipping or container industries, fleets, and services, you may believe that one shipping container is similar to another.

Regardless of how you intend to use a shipping container, whether to ship to various locations around the world, for your office, as a part of your business package, or for moving, and whether you go with a lease agreement or buy one, you'll need to search for the appropriate size.

Choosing The Right One

When it comes to shipping containers, the size of the container matters. It's important to choose one that is just right to ensure that you don't pay extra for unneeded space.

But with so many different sizes and types of containers available, and with such a wide range in terms of price, how do you know which one is right for your shipment?

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Standard Shipping Container Sizes

There are two main types of shipping containers on a fleet: standard and specialized. The most popular sort of container is the standard container, which is available in various sizes.

The most common (standard) sizes are 20 ft (6 m) and 40 ft (12 m) long, but there are also smaller 10 ft (3 m) and larger 45 ft (14 m) options available.

The different types vary in pricing and insurance.

Each size has different internal and external dimensions and its own capacity and will have a shipping label indicating that.


The 20-foot container is the most common size used for international shipping. It has a freight shipping capacity of 1,169 cubic feet (33.2 m3) and can hold up to 10 standard pallets.

They can hold up to 33,000 lbs (15,000 kg) of load.


The 40-foot container is the next largest size, with a capacity of 2,325 cubic feet (65.4 m3).

It can hold up to 21 standard pallets.


The 45-foot container is the largest size offered by most shipping companies.

It has a capacity of 2,686 cubic feet (76 m3) and can hold up to 23 standard pallets.


Specialized Shipping Container Types

Specialized shipping vessels are designed for specific purposes and come in a range of non-standard sizes.

The most common specialized ones are high cube, which is 10 ft (3 m) tall, and refrigerated containers used to transport perishable goods.

Other types of specialized shipping vessels include flat racks, which have collapsible sides for easy loading and unloading, and open-top, which have a removable roof panel for taller items.

Shipping containers are also available in other varieties. These are less prevalent, but they can be useful for specific goods.

It is better to go with container leasing for the specialized containers, as these are more difficult to service and can be costly.

Taller storage

Standard storage is 8 feet 6 inches tall, while taller (high cube) storage is 9 feet 6 inches tall. High cube containers have a cargo capacity of 1,764 cubic feet (50 m3).

They have the space to hold up to 18 conventional pallets. They can hold up to 37,500 lbs (17,000 kg) of assets.

Refrigerated storage

Refrigerated storage is used to transport perishable goods and needs to be kept at a specific temperature to keep the goods fresh.

These can come in 20 ft (6 m), 40 ft (12 m), and 45 ft (14 m) sizes.

Flat rack

These have collapsible sides, making them easy to load and unload.

These types are available in 20 ft (6 m), 40 ft (12 m), and 45 ft (14 m) sizes.


Open tops have a removable roof panel, making them perfect for taller loads.

These open tops are available in 20 ft (6 m), 40 ft (12 m), and 45 ft (14 m) sizes.

How to Choose the Right Shipping Container Size

The size of the shipping container you need will depend on the amount and type of package, box, or equipment you need to transport.

For example, suppose you're transporting large or awkwardly shaped items. In that case, you'll need a larger container so that your cargo can fit comfortably, as, unfortunately, the boxes can't always fit in perfectly like Tetris.

Likewise, you'll need a refrigerated container to keep your goods fresh during transit if you're transporting perishable goods. If it is a once-off delivery of refrigerated goods, container leasing is a better option than owning the container.


Make sure to measure the length, width, and height of your shipment to ensure it will fit comfortably in the container.


Be sure to check the maximum weight capacity of the container so that your shipment doesn't exceed it. This is important so that the ship doesn't go overweight.

Type of goods

If you're transporting dangerous goods, you'll need a container that's been certified for these types of items. For example, military equipment needs to be signed off.

Transit time

For instance, if your goods are in transit for an extended period of time, you may need a larger container so that your goods have enough space to breathe.

You'll be able to determine the correct shipping container size for your needs and contact firms once you've evaluated all of these aspects.

Other Considerations

The location where your cargo and package are to be delivered can also affect which shipping vessel you choose.

Container leasing or buying

You should also think about the cost of leasing the storage system or if you want to buy it outright. It is good to talk to different container leasing companies about lease agreements to see which storage contract is best for you.

If you are a small business, going for the lease option will be more cost-effective than being an owner.


You should also consider any additional costs when deciding the size of your cargo holder, like maintenance costs and any other expenses you may need to pay because of the size of the container.

If you are leasing, make sure you have already negotiated these things before signing a lease agreement.

Company size

Finally, what is the size of your company? It may be wise for small businesses to discuss and search for other transportation methods, as they can be too big for your needs and too expensive.

You want to deliver to your customers effectively without increased freight shipping costs; sometimes, it is better to be low scale to begin with.


How Can Each Size Be Used?

The three main sizes of intermodal containers can be used like so:


  • Smaller machinery or construction equipment
  • Household goods
  • Commercial products, boxes, and packages
  • Better for small businesses
  • Easier to stack and ship
  • More on-shore delivery options are available


  • Large construction equipment
  • Multiple vehicles
  • Relocating to a new country
  • Bulkier items such as lumber or steel pipes (example for rail)


  • Bulkier items such as lumber or steel pipes
  • Heavy equipment
  • Large vehicles
  • Often used for military equipment and tools

High cube

  • Heavy equipment
  • Large vehicles
  • Awkward-shaped boxes and packages
  • Over-sized goods

Pros and Cons of Different Sizes

Here are some benefits and negatives about each size of the shipping container, which should help you decide which size shipping container is best for you and your needs.



  • Less expensive to purchase
  • Cheaper container leasing
  • More accessible to pickup
  • More access to transport and maneuverable to different locations
  • Used for storage in smaller spaces


  • Limited capacity
  • Not suitable for large shipments



  • A happy medium between small and large containers
  • More affordable cost than large containers
  • Still manageable to transport and maneuver to new locations
  • More options for leasing


  • Limited capacity to store packages compared to large containers



  • It can hold a lot more than small and medium-sized storage
  • Great for large shipments


  • More expensive than small and medium-sized leasing containers
  • More difficult to pick up, ship, transport, and maneuver



  • Customizable for specific types of shipments and clients
  • Often have features and tools that make them easier to load and unload
  • Easier to lease


  • More expensive than standard container fleet storage
  • It might not support all types of shipments
  • Costs more money to get serviced

Which Size Is Best for You?

20-ft and 40-ft intermodal containers are the most common relative size requested by customers, likewise the most popular for container leasing. In addition, there are a variety of other measures to accommodate your needs.

Not sure which sizes and dimensions are correct for you? We are always here for our customers. Our team can help you determine the best option for your cargo and delivery location and get you top-rated services.

Contact us today for all your shipping needs. At A-1 Auto Transport, we have the tools and expertise to help you with any shipping solution.

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Joe Webster always knew the auto transport industry would be a great career option. And with decades of experience, Joe is now an established consultant for A1 Auto Transport.

Joe was born in Santa Cruz, California. During high school, Joe worked as a mechanic; a job continued to work part-time during his bachelor's degree.

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus Drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd,
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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