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Average costs for shipping containers: dimensions matter

Shipping containers dimensions

Aside from air freight, shipping containers are one of the most popular methods for transporting goods and services overseas. In fact, they’re often the preferred method for bulk quantities and heavy or oversize items due to their extreme affordability, especially when compared to other modes of shipping. And no matter what your size requirements, you can probably find a shipping container with the dimensions you need.

A shipping container, also known as an intermodal container, freight container, ISO container, hi-cube container, Conex box, or even a “sea can,” is a standardized reusable steel crate that provides a durable and secure way to store and move products by train, barge and other means of transportation within the “intermodal” freight transport system. The term intermodal is simply a way of referring to a container that doesn't need to be unloaded and reloaded on each stop between originating and final destinations.

Most containers have two doors hinged onto one end and are constructed of corrugated weathering steel. Usually watertight, they provide extreme durability during transportation and protect valuable goods like electronics, fabrics and other perishables from ruin. Thanks to their standardized dimensions, storage containers can be stacked up to seven units high, and can be secured at each corner through castings that contain openings for twist-lock fasteners.

Types of shipping containers

Many times, having a container that’s "usually" waterproof isn’t enough, especially when transporting food and similar items. In these instances, variations on the standard container are available and include refrigerated containers, tanks in a frame for bulk liquids, open-top units that allow easy top loading, and even collapsible versions.

In addition, there are a number of special coal carriers and 'bin-liners' that are used throughout Europe for the safe and efficient transportation of trash and recyclables from refuse stations to dump sites.

shipping containers pricesCosts for shipping containers by size

To provide simplicity, efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the storage and transportation of goods, shipping container dimensions have been standardized, varying from 8 feet to 56 feet long with heights that are typically around 8 feet high. There is a variation in height, with some shipping containers reaching up to 9 and a half feet, but these are the exception to the rule, with most containers adhering to the 8-foot limitation. There are five standard lengths: 8 feet, 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet and 40 feet.

Depending on what you’re shipping, it’s often far more affordable to buy a used container with an acceptable level of wear, as most containers will stand up to the rigors of the shipping process for a decade or more. When evaluating the difference between the two options, here’s what you can expect to pay based on current offerings and reported purchase prices from around the web:

It’s important to note, especially when buying online, that most prices do not include the cost of delivery which will need to be negotiated and arranged between buyer and seller. If you're located far away from the container you're purchasing, you can expect a significant delivery charge. Keep in mind that it’s almost always more cost effective to have it delivered on a flatbed truck as opposed to a tilt-bed truck due to the prevalence of flatbed trucks.

You’ll need to arrange for either a forklift or crane at the delivery site to offload the container. And don't forget to inspect your container upon delivery to ensure it wasn't damaged during delivery. 

How used is that shipping container, exactly?

Though new shipping containers typically contain no flaws or dents, the same cannot be said of used containers. And the prices you see above reflect the age and condition of that container, specifically how many trips it’s been used for. As a result, the condition of a used cargo container is the direct result of its age, with older containers reasonably expected to have logged more trips.

Specific dimensions that contribute to pricing also include:

Availability – Shipping containers of certain dimensions can be particularly hard to find: 8, 10, and 30 footers are massively outnumbered by the 20 and 40 footers that dominate intermodal shipping, and so they may be more expensive relative to their size.

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