How Big is a Shipping Container? Essential Dimensions and Types Explained

Standard shipping containers come in various lengths, with the most common being 20 feet and 40 feet long.


Shipping containers have become an essential part of global trade, serving as the primary method for transporting cargo efficiently and securely. These versatile structures are not only used for transportation but also for storage and various other applications, making it important to understand their dimensions. The size of a shipping container plays a crucial role in determining the amount of space available for cargo, as well as its compatibility with different modes of transportation.

Standard shipping containers come in various lengths, with the most common being 20 feet and 40 feet long. The height and width of these containers typically remain the same, measuring 8 feet 6 inches in height and 8 feet wide. However, there are also high cube containers that offer an additional foot of height, standing at 9 feet 6 inches, for increased storage space or better air circulation. These standard sizes provide a benchmark for the dimensions of shipping containers, but it is important to note that special container sizes and types exist to accommodate specific requirements.

In addition to these standard dimensions, it is crucial to consider factors such as payload capacity and weight limits, as these affect the overall utility of a shipping container. By understanding the various sizes and types of shipping containers available, it is possible to select the right container for your cargo, transportation, or storage needs, ensuring that your goods are safe and secure throughout their journey.

Standard Shipping Container Dimensions

Standard 20-Foot Container Specifications

A standard 20-foot shipping container is a common choice for various purposes, including storage and transportation of goods. The exterior dimensions of a 20-foot container are approximately 6.06m in length, 2.44m in width, and 2.59m in height, while the interior dimensions are around 5.9m long, 2.35m wide, and 2.39m tall1. The most common height for a 20-foot container is 8 feet 6 inches, but some containers are also available in “high cube” models with heights of 9 feet 6 inches2.

These containers generally have a maximum gross weight of 30,480 kg and a tare weight of approximately 2,230 kg, leaving a payload capacity of about 28,250 kg. One of the main advantages of using a 20-foot container is its versatility and compatibility with different modes of transport, such as road, rail, and maritime3.

Standard 40-Foot Container Specifications

For businesses or individuals requiring a larger storage or transportation capacity, a standard 40-foot shipping container can be an ideal choice. The exterior dimensions of a 40-foot container are approximately 12.19m in length, 2.44m in width, and 2.59m in height, with interior dimensions of roughly 12.02m long, 2.35m wide, and 2.39m tall4.

Similar to the 20-foot models, 40-foot containers are also available in “high cube” variants with heights of 9 feet 6 inches5. These containers have a maximum gross weight of 32,500 kg and a tare weight of around 3,880 kg, providing a payload capacity of up to 28,620 kg. The 40-foot shipping container is a popular option for large-scale storage, international shipping, and intermodal transport6.


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  4. – Shipping Container Dimensions
  5. – Shipping Container Sizes
  6. – Shipping Container Dimensions and Sizes – Complete List

Types of Shipping Containers

Dry Containers

Dry containers are the most common type of shipping container used for transporting goods. They are made of weather-resistant, corrugated steel and come in various sizes, like 10 ft, 20 ft, and 40 ft. Dry containers are designed to carry general cargo such as textiles, furniture, appliances, and non-perishable items. Pallet wide containers and insulated containers are variations of dry containers that cater to specific requirements.

Reefer Containers

Reefer containers, or refrigerated shipping containers, are designed to maintain a specific temperature range, making them ideal for transporting perishable goods like fruits, vegetables, and meat products. Equipped with a refrigeration unit, they provide a controlled environment to keep temperature-sensitive cargo fresh and safe throughout the journey.

Open Top Containers

Open top containers are designed without a fixed roof, allowing for the transportation of oversized cargo or items that cannot be easily loaded through the container’s side doors. These containers are particularly useful when transporting heavy machinery and equipment or cargo with irregular shapes.

Flat Rack Containers

Flat rack containers have collapsible walls and no roof, providing an open platform for loading large, heavy, or irregularly shaped cargo. They are often used for transporting construction equipment, vehicles, and large industrial machinery. Flat racks are available in different lengths, with or without side walls, offering versatility for various types of cargo.

Tank Containers

Tank containers are specifically designed to transport liquid cargo, such as chemicals, fuels, and even food grade liquids like wine and edible oils. With a cylindrical container made of stainless steel and enclosed within a protective frame, they provide a safe and secure way to transport liquids without leakage or contamination.

High Cube Containers

High cube containers are similar to standard dry containers but have a taller height, usually 9 feet 6 inches instead of the standard 8 feet 6 inches. This additional height provides extra storage space and better air circulation, making them ideal for transporting lightweight, voluminous cargo or goods requiring proper ventilation.

Specialized Shipping Containers

Specialized shipping containers cater to specific transportation needs and come in various designs, such as side-door containers, double-door containers, and tunnel containers. They are often customized to accommodate unique cargo requirements, offering flexibility and convenience for transporting a wide range of goods.

By understanding the various types of shipping containers available, it becomes easier to choose the most suitable container for your specific cargo and transportation needs.

Container Capacity and Measurements

Cargo Volume Capacity

Shipping containers come in various sizes, most commonly 10-feet, 20-feet, and 40-feet long, with a width of around 8 feet and heights ranging between standard (8 feet 6 inches) and “high cube” (9 feet 6 inches) 1. The container’s size will directly impact its cargo volume capacity. For example, a 20-foot container has an approximate cubic capacity of 1,172 cubic feet 2, while a 40-foot container would have roughly double that, at 2,386 cubic feet 3. High cube containers are used when increased storage space or better air circulation is required 4.

Tare Weight and Payload Capacity

The tare weight of a shipping container refers to its empty weight, without any cargo. This is a critical factor when considering the overall load capacity and transportation costs. Containers’ tare weight may differ slightly based on their build and materials, but to give an idea, a standard 20ft container might have a tare weight of approximately 5,015 lbs (2,280kg) 5, while a 40ft container would likely be around 8,450 lbs (3,830kg) 6.

Payload capacity is the maximum weight a container can safely carry, which is determined by subtracting the tare weight from the maximum gross weight (MGW). The maximum gross weight of most shipping containers is typically between 30,000 lbs to 60,000 lbs (13,600 kg to 27,216 kg). For example, a 20ft container might have a MGW of 52,900 lbs (24,000 kg) and a payload capacity of 47,885 lbs (21,720 kg) 7.

To summarize, the table below provides a general overview of some common container sizes, their approximate cargo volume capacities, tare weights, and payload capacities:

SizeCargo Volume CapacityTare WeightPayload Capacity
10ft561 ft³ (15.9 m³)2,646 lbs19,354 lbs
20ft1,172 ft³ (33.2 m³)5,015 lbs47,885 lbs
40ft2,386 ft³ (67.5 m³)8,450 lbs60,000 lbs
40ft HC2,684 ft³ (76 m³)8,750 lbs59,300 lbs


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Shipping Container Construction and Features

Materials and Durability

Shipping containers, also commonly known as conex boxes, are primarily made from Corten steel, a type of weathering steel that forms a protective rust-like appearance, providing enhanced durability against corrosion. This material ensures the containers can withstand harsh weather conditions and maintain structural integrity during transit. Additionally, the floors are typically made from marine-grade plywood, which offers moisture resistance and adds more strength to the container.

Doors and Security

A key feature of shipping containers is their cargo doors, designed for easy access and secure storage. The doors come with locking mechanisms, such as twist locks and lashing rings, providing excellent security for the container’s contents. The standard door height of a shipping container is around 8 feet, allowing for the efficient loading and unloading of goods.

To increase the rigidity and strength of the container, corner castings are integrated into the structure. These castings consist of steel reinforcements positioned at each corner of the container and are critical in the stacking and connecting of containers, ensuring safe transportation on land and sea.

Container Modification Options

Shipping containers offer a wide range of modification options that can suit various needs and applications. Some popular modifications include installing insulation, adding additional doors or windows, and even converting containers into living spaces, offices, or custom storage solutions. The versatility of shipping containers is a major advantage, allowing them to serve various purposes beyond their initial role in the transportation of cargo.

Regulations and Standards

ISO Standards and Classifications

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) establishes standards and classifications for shipping container dimensions. ISO containers, also known as intermodal containers, are designed to allow easy transportation through various modes like ships, trains, and trucks. ISO standards ensure uniformity, safety, and compatibility during transportation. The most common ISO container sizes are:

  • 20 ft: 20 x 8 x 8.6 ft (L x W x H)
  • 40 ft: 40 x 8 x 8.6 ft (L x W x H)
  • 40 ft high-cube: 40 x 8 x 9.6 ft (L x W x H)

Other sizes are available based on customers’ requirements. Apart from size, ISO containers are classified depending on their intended use, such as general purpose containers, refrigerated containers, and tank containers.

Container Safety and Inspection Requirements

To ensure container safety and compliance with ISO standards, there is a mandatory inspection process for all shipping containers. One crucial aspect of container inspections is determining whether a container is cargo-worthy. A cargo-worthy container is a unit that meets the structural integrity and safety requirements set by the ISO and is deemed suitable for transporting goods.

There are several critical inspection points for containers to be considered cargo-worthy, such as:

  1. Structural Integrity: The container must not have any significant dents, holes, or structural damage.
  2. Doors and Hardware: Doors must be functional, and door seals must be intact and watertight.
  3. Flooring: Floors must be sturdy and free from any damages that might affect the container’s strength or safety during handling.
  4. Signs and Markings: Proper labels and markings must be visible, ensuring the container’s identity and compatibility with transportation modes and storage systems.

In summary, the safety and reliability of shipping containers are ensured through ISO standards, classifications, and regular inspection processes. Containers must be cargo-worthy to maintain their structural integrity and protect the goods inside during transportation and storage. Maintaining compliance with these regulations and standards is essential to ensuring the smooth and efficient movement of cargo globally.

Operational Uses and Versatility

Transportation and Logistics

Shipping containers are extremely versatile due to their standardized dimensions, which allow for easy transportation and handling. They can be transported by trucks, ships, and trains. The most common sizes include 20-foot and 40-foot containers, but there are also variations such as high-cube containers and reefer containers for temperature-sensitive cargo. These intermodal containers enable efficient and secure movement of goods across the globe.

Storage and Cargo Handling

Beyond transportation, shipping containers, also known as conex boxes or storage containers, offer a practical solution for storing and handling various types of goods. They are made from 14-gauge corrugated COR-TEN steel, which provides excellent durability and resistance to harsh conditions. This makes them ideal for a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, where large warehouse areas are required for storing raw materials and finished products.

Non-Shipment Uses

The versatility of shipping containers extends to non-shipment applications as well. They can be repurposed for various purposes, such as office spaces and temporary structures. For example, modified shipping containers can incorporate insulation, windows, and doors, making them suitable for constructing offices, retail spaces, and even homes.

Market and Cost Considerations

Purchasing and Leasing Options

When it comes to acquiring a shipping container, there are generally two options: purchasing or leasing. Purchasing a container can range from around $1,600 to $3,400 for a brand new 20ft dry container, while a new 40ft dry standard container can cost anywhere between $2,500 to $4,500. The exact cost highly depends on its size, age, and condition, with highly modified containers reaching up to $50,000, particularly if they are being converted into fully functional homes1.

Leasing is another option that provides flexibility, especially for short-term projects or when a lower initial investment is preferred. In this case, it is essential to evaluate leasing prices and contract terms concerning the requirements and usage patterns specific to your needs.

Cost Factors and Price Fluctuations

Several factors affect the cost of shipping containers, such as the container’s age, condition, and location. Moreover, real-time container prices2 can vary significantly, due to changes in supply and demand, currency fluctuations, and regulations affecting transportation and logistics.

It is also crucial to consider additional costs associated with shipping and permits when choosing a container. Furthermore, having a well-informed understanding of global container market trends3 and anticipating economic shifts can help you make more cost-effective decisions when acquiring a shipping container.

Container Xchange and Market Platforms

Container Xchange2 is a digital platform that connects container buyers, sellers, and lessors globally, providing insights and real-time market data on container prices, availability, and market trends. This platform enables users to make more informed decisions by offering xchange insights and access to a wide range of container options, including different sizes, materials, and types.

By leveraging the data and resources provided by platforms like Container Xchange, interested parties can better understand market dynamics, leverage trends, and identify cost-saving opportunities in shipping container acquisition. In addition, these platforms can help optimize inventory management and streamline the process of finding suitable containers across various locations globally, thereby simplifying shipping and reducing overall costs.


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Impact of Environmental Factors

Temperature and Climate Resilience

Shipping containers are designed to withstand a variety of environmental conditions. Reefer containers, specifically, are used to transport temperature-sensitive items and have insulation and built-in refrigeration systems to maintain a specified internal temperature. These containers can withstand external temperature fluctuations, protecting the goods inside from extreme heat or cold.

Common temperature-sensitive items include perishables like fruits, vegetables, and pharmaceuticals. Shipping containers are capable of maintaining temperatures as low as -25°C and as high as 25°C, depending on the cargo requirements. In extremely hot or cold environments where the shipping container is exposed to direct sunlight, ice, or rain, the insulation helps ensure that the contents remain within the desired temperature range.

In such circumstances, ice can be used as a supplementary cooling agent for items that require additional cooling during transportation. This provides an extra layer of protection and helps maintain the required internal temperature.

Wind and Weather Resistance

Apart from temperature fluctuations, shipping containers must also withstand extreme wind and weather variations. The sturdy construction of the container allows it to resist damage from rain, wind-driven debris, and water ingress.

Shipping containers are manufactured to endure harsh winds, including powerful storms and hurricanes. Load-bearing and stacking capabilities are important considerations when designing containers as they need to withstand the forces exerted by strong winds. Containers are built to have a high wind resistance, ensuring that they can be safely stacked on top of one another without collapsing.

To further enhance a shipping container’s resilience, specific coatings and materials are used to prevent corrosion and water damage. These measures increase the longevity of the container and protect the cargo from potential weather-related damages.

In conclusion, shipping containers have been designed with various environmental factors in mind, ensuring that they maintain their integrity and protect the contents in various climatic conditions. Reefer containers enable the transportation of temperature-sensitive goods, while strong construction methods and materials assure resilience against wind and weather forces.

Container Sizing for Specific Goods

Accommodating Different Cargo Types

When transporting goods, it is essential to find the right shipping container size and type that caters to specific cargo requirements. Container sizes vary to accommodate different types of goods, such as heavy cargo, oversized cargo, and euro pallets. One common factor taken into consideration is the number and size of pallets used. For instance, euro pallets typically measure 120 cm x 80 cm.

Standard container sizes include 10 feet, 20 feet, and 40 feet in length, while high-cube containers offer a height of 9 feet and 6 inches, compared to the traditional 8 feet and 6 inches. High-cube containers come in various sizes such as 10ft HC, 40ft, 45ft HC, and 53ft HC. These taller containers are useful for accommodating bulky or oversized items.

For shipping cargo on euro pallets, pallet wide containers are an excellent choice. These containers are specifically designed to allow for the efficient loading of euro pallets side-by-side, maximizing space and minimizing potential cargo movement during transportation.

Customization for Heavy or Oversized Items

Heavy or oversized items might require specialized containers, such as open-top or flat rack containers, to facilitate their secure transportation. Open-top containers lack a solid roof, making it easier to load oversized cargo that wouldn’t fit in a standard container. A tarpaulin cover is often used to protect the loaded cargo from weather elements.

On the other hand, flat rack containers feature collapsible walls or no sidewalls at all, allowing for easy loading and unloading of heavy or irregularly-shaped cargo. These containers can also be combined with other flat racks to create a platform for extra-long items.

Here is a quick comparison of container types and their primary uses:

Container TypePrimary Use
StandardGeneral cargo and pallet stacking
High CubeCargo with more height requirements
Pallet WideEfficient loading of Euro pallets
Open TopOversized items with height restrictions
Flat RackHeavy or irregularly-shaped cargo

In conclusion, choosing the appropriate container size and type is crucial for efficient and secure transportation of various goods. Understanding the specific requirements of your cargo will help you select the right container for your needs, ensuring a smooth shipping experience.

Global Shipping Container Usage

Trade Routes and Regional Variations

The use of standardized shipping containers, such as 20-foot and 40-foot containers, allows for seamless transportation of goods across numerous trade routes. These ISO shipping containers are widely used in international trade, with China playing a prominent role as the world’s leading exporter.

In Europe, shipping containers are essential for facilitating trade between EU nations and ports within the Mediterranean, Baltic, and North Sea regions. Trade routes across the Atlantic connect Europe with North America, while routes extending southeast towards Asia and the Middle East provide access to critical consumer markets.

The standardized size of TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers allows for streamlined logistics and improved efficiency in handling, shipment, and storage.

Container Availability and Trends

In recent years, global cargo shipment has been steadily increasing, resulting in higher demand for shipping containers. Total global cargo shipped in 2021 was approximately 1.95 billion metric tons, up from 0.1 billion metric tons in 1980.

The global shipping container market is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade. According to a recent report, the market size was valued at USD 11.3 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.2% during the forecast period (2022-2030). This growth is driven by the continued demand for sea containers to transport goods effectively over long distances.

The most common container sizes are 20-foot and 40-foot containers; however, smaller and larger sizes are also available. As the market evolves, trends show an increasing demand for specialized containers, such as refrigerated containers for perishable goods, and open-top containers for oversized cargo. The availability and flexibility of these container options help enhance global trade and meet the requirements of various industries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Shipping containers are essential for transporting goods across the globe. Here are some common FAQs related to container dimensions and real-time shipping container prices.

What are the standard dimensions of shipping containers?

Shipping containers come in various sizes, but the most common are:

  • 20-foot container: approximately 20 ft long, 8 ft wide, and 8.5 ft high
  • 40-foot container: approximately 40 ft long, 8 ft wide, and 8.5 ft high

There are also “high cube” containers, which are 1 foot taller, providing additional storage space. These containers are available in both 20-foot and 40-foot lengths.

Do the dimensions vary by container type?

Yes, there are some variations in dimensions based on the container type. For example, refrigerated containers, also known as “reefers,” have different sizes compared to general-purpose containers. A 20-foot reefer container has a payload capacity of 27,400 kg.

How are real-time shipping container prices determined?

Real-time shipping container prices are influenced by various factors, such as the container’s size and type, the buyer’s location, the seller’s current inventory, and market demand. Prices may also be subject to fluctuations based on changes in global trade and economic trends.

How can I find the best price for a shipping container?

To find the best price for a shipping container, it’s recommended to obtain quotes from multiple suppliers. Compare the quotes based on the container size, type, and condition (new vs. used) to determine the best option for your needs.

In summary, shipping containers come in several sizes, with the most common being the 20-foot and 40-foot containers. The dimensions may vary based on the container type, and real-time shipping container prices are determined by factors such as size, type, location, and market demand. To find the best price, obtain multiple quotes and compare them based on your specific requirements.


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