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Home » Shipping Containers » What size shipping container do I need?

What size shipping container do I need?

Choosing a Shipping Container.

When selecting a shipping container, the most common decision is whether you will want a 40′ or 20′ container.

There are other types of shipping containers available, however, they are typically only relevant for specialised usage.

Much of this decision will be based upon the volume of goods you want to transport. The internal storage capacity of the chosen container, or containers, will partially determine your requirements.

Whilst we can provide you with more specific technical information, the basic standard dimensions, as mentioned above are either 20ft or 40ft long. The widths for these standard shipping containers are the same and the heights come in two variations;

  • 20ft or 40ft long x 8ft wide x 8ft 6inches high. These are known as “GP” or General Purpose shipping containers.
  • 20ft or 40ft long x 8ft wide x 9ft 6inches high. These are known as “HQ” or High Cube containers.

Whilst it does not seem like much, the additional foot of headroom in the HQ containers provides approximately 13 percent more capacity. Be aware, though, that the High Cube shipping containers are less commonly available than the General Purpose containers.

As a general rule of thumb, it is accepted that a 20′ container is large enough for the contents of a ‘normal’ 3-bedroom house. If you want to take your car, boat or other vehicles, you are more likely to need a 40′ container. If you are importing or exporting commercial goods you will need to consider box or pallet dimensions when calculating capacity.

Internal storage capacity should not be the only reason to choose a container, however.

Other Factors For Choosing a Container.

After the choice of 20ft vs 40ft, the decision can get much more complicated (but we are here to help).

The questions you need to ask yourself are;

What is the end destination for the container (and it’s contents)?
Whilst the vast majority of ports globally can handle both 20′ and 40′ containers, your goods may need to travel onwards from the port. Transportation and infrastructure at the destination may be of concern, especially with regard to the 40ft containers. For example; some Pacific Island countries will struggle to handle 40′ containers outside of the port.

What is the availability of specific shipping containers?
We will not have any difficulty sourcing GP containers, however, HQ containers are less commonly available. This will need to work with your timeframe for shipping.

Do you want to purchase a container, or just lease for the period of transportation?
The cost to buy a shipping container may become a factor. Additionally, if you purchase a container, where will it be stored long-term? See our guide to buying a shipping container.


Your freight costs for the shipping lines and/or purchase of containers are dependent on what you require.

There are no hard and fast rules, and each set of circumstances will be unique. Please contact us to discuss your requirements and options.