The shipping container revolutionized international trade when it was introduced back in the 1950s. The world wouldn’t be the same without them. This article introduces you to the three most common types of shipping containers, how they can help you to save money and how to track containers online.
Shipping container sizes
Most businesses importing from China are only concerned with the three standard sizes that make up most of the container volume shipped worldwide. The volume, dimension, maximum load and estimated price of these container types follow below:
• Internal volume: 33.1 cbm
• Internal dimensions: 5.71 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
• Maximum load: 28,200 kg
• Estimated price : $1,100 – $2000 (African countries and other countries)
• Internal volume: 67.5 cbm
• Internal dimensions: 12.192 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
• Maximum load: 26,600 kg
• Estimated price : $2,200 – $3,500 (African countries and other countries)
40’ HQ (high-cube) Container
• Internal volume: 75.3 cbm
• Internal dimensions: 12.0 m (L) x 2.311 m (W) x 2.650 m (H)
• Maximum load: 26,580 kg
• Estimated price : $2,500 – $3,500 (African countries and other countries)
Ordering by container volume
When importing from China, the shipping cost is often a lot easier to reduce than the product price. While a reduction in the product price is often accompanied by a quality reduction, the shipping costs can be lowered without such a compromise. The easiest way of doing this is by ordering full container loads. While it’s possible to ship smaller volumes, using LCL shipping, the shipping companies often charge 2 – 3 times as much per cubic meter, compared to FCL shipping.
It makes sense. The workload is actually higher, for the shipping companies, when managing LCL shipping. While FCL shipments can be unloaded and delivered directly to the buyer’s location, LCL shipments must be unloaded at the Port of Destination – before being loaded once again prior to the final delivery.
Alright, I think you get the point. In practice, this means that you should ask your supplier to quote you a price based on a full container load of products, instead of a predetermined quantity (which is often the case when importing from China). However, the supplier should still calculate how many product units fit inside the container.
Even if you can’t reach a full container volume, FCL shipping might still make sense. As a matter of fact, LCL shipments larger than 15 cubic meters cost more than an FCL 20’ shipment (even if half the container is empty).
There are also situations when you need to go even bigger than a 20’ container. A 40’ container is more than twice as long as a 20’ container, which makes a big difference on the bottom line when ordering large volume items (i.e. vehicles, machines and furniture). Let’s assume that you’re importing banner printers. Those things often have a length of around 4 meters. While only one unit fits inside a 20’ container, three units can be loaded inside a 40’ container.
Most international shipping lines, such as China Shipping, Maersk and MSC, offer online tracking. This means that you can track the location and estimated arrival date of your container shipment from China. While most companies have their own container tracking system in place, tracking websites, such Searates.com, helps you track containers shipped by several companies.
However, small businesses importing from China are not dealing directly with the shipping lines. Instead, the shipping is outsourced to a freight forwarder, which in turn orders the shipment from the shipping line. In my experience, most Chinese freight forwarding companies don’t offer online container tracking. This means that you need to go through the back door.
In order to track a container, you need to know which shipping line is transporting your cargo, and the container number, booking number or document number (any of them is usually good enough). You should find both on your Bill of Lading (illustrated in a picture below), which might look something like this:
See that big logo in the top left corner? That’s the shipping line (EVERGREEN). If there’s no such logo your Bill of Lading (or one which is not the shipping line) you’ll find it elsewhere in the document. Possibly under “shipper” or “freighter”. Apart from the name of the shipping line, we also need the container number. However, in this example there’s no such number. Instead, you can use the Bill of Lading number, which you can find in the top right corner (B/L no) of the sample document.
Most international shipping lines operate container tracking websites. Below follows a list of container tracking websites for some of the world’s major shipping companies: