International Container Shipping Costs 2018
If you’re planning on moving abroad then, firstly, congratulations! It’s an exciting time ahead. However, there are some logistical things that you need to think about. You’ll most likely have some belongings that you want shipping somewhere. Depending on the size of the move, this can range from a couple of boxes to the contents of a five-bedroom house.
International container shipping rates can sometimes be a pretty complex business but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. On this page we’ll break down all the factors that determine shipping costs and help you make the best decision for your move. To start collecting quotes now, simply fill in the form at the top of this page.
Before you go on and read, take a look at Ben Tyrrell (Head of MoveHub) explaining the basics of international container shipping costs:
Shipping container prices by country and container types
This guide to international container shipping will help to give you an indication of how much your move is going to cost. We’ve focused specifically on rates from some of our most popular countries but this can function as a rough indicator for everyone. We’ve even added a lovely map to help you visualise where you’re going.
Moving from London, UK
20ft Container vs 40ft Container Comparison
|Destination Port||20ft Container Rate||40ft Container Rate|
|New York, USA|| |
|Los Angeles, USA|| |
|Vancouver, CAN|| |
|Montreal, CAN|| |
|Sydney, AUS|| |
|Auckland, NZ|| |
|Singapore, SIN|| |
|Shanghai, CHI|| |
|Hong Kong, HK|| |
|Barcelona, ESP|| |
|Marseille, FRA|| |
|Cape Town, SAF|| |
The shipping rates displayed above have been sourced from WorldFreightRates.com and they are based on the port-to-port transportation of a full 20ft container load of household goods worth $70,000. This value is based on an estimate from the Association of British Insurers, who suggest that the average value of the contents of a three-bedroom house is about £55,000, or $70,000. The data was accurate as of January 2018.
How are shipping quotes calculated?
International shipping prices are generally determined by four things:
- The volume or weight of the goods
- The journey distance
- The type of transportation
- The destination port
1. The volume or weight of the goods: It is a question of volume or weight because shipping companies normally use whatever is greatest to determine their price. Hence the industry-wide term ‘w/m’ (‘weight or measure’). However, when it comes to household moves, it’s rarely the case that weight exceeds volume.
2. The journey distance: This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re shipping your stuff halfway across the world then it’s going to cost more than a short trip across the Mediterranean. Whether your move is port-to-port or door-to-door will also affect costs. If your shipping company is going to transport your goods all the way from your old front door to your brand new one then this will bump up the price. Despite this, we thoroughly recommend door-to-door services as they can prevent logistical headaches.
3. The type of transportation: Will your goods be flying or sailing? The mode of transport will determine both the price and the amount of time it takes for your goods to arrive. Air freights tend to be the quicker and more costly alternative to sea freights. See our detailed breakdown below to decide which shipping option is best for you.
4. The destination port: Customs duties and service charges are unavoidable but they will vary from country to country. Naturally, the arrival destination of your goods will determine how much you have to pay in the way of customs and taxes. Check out our explanation of these various charges towards the end of the page.
Select the size of your move to get free quotes
Shipping container sizes
It turns out there are over sixteen different kinds of shipping container, but there are really only two that you need to know about: the 20-foot container and the 40-foot container. The rest are generally for business-related and industrial moves. Fortunately, most domestic movers find all of their needs sufficiently served by the following:
|Measurements||20ft Container||40ft Container|
|Exterior Length||6.06m / 20ft||12.2m / 40ft|
|Exterior Width||2.44m / 8ft||2.44 / 8ft|
|Exterior Height||2.60m / 8ft 6in||2.60m / 8ft 6in|
|Interior Length||5.9m / 19ft 4in||12.03m / 39ft 5in|
|Interior Width||2.35m / 7ft 9in||2.35m / 7ft 9in|
|Interior Height||2.39m / 7ft 10in||2.39m / 7ft 10in|
|Cubic Capacity||1170cf / 33.13cbm||2387cf / 67.6cbm|
|Max Gross Weight||30480kg||30480kg|
20-foot container versus 40-foot container
Generally speaking, the contents of anything up to a one- or two-bedroom house should fit into a 20-foot container. Anything beyond that and you’ll probably need to upgrade to a 40-foot container. This big brother can roughly transport the contents of a four-bedroom house with large appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers. Take a look at the diagrams below to get a better idea of what will fit into each container:
Shipping a car
A 20-foot container is big enough to hold a car or even a 4×4, but it won’t leave a lot of room for other cargo . Therefore, if you want to ship a car along with the contents of a household then you’ll most likely need a 40-foot container. Find our comprehensive guide to shipping cars here.
Full container load versus less than container load
Depending on the volume of goods you want to ship, you may not need to pay for the use of a whole container. Shipping companies have devised a system for people with smaller amounts of cargo whereby several customers can share the space of a single container. This is called a ‘less than container load’ (LCL) or a part-load shipment. Typically, people who are moving the contents of a one-bedroom flat can opt for LCL, but volumes greater than that will usually require a whole container. This is called a ‘full container load’ (FCL) or sole-use shipment.
Full container load
It’s better value. In terms of cost per cubic metre, you get more bang for your buck with an FCL. The shipping company will charge you a flat rate for the use of the container rather than making you pay for the specific volume of your goods.
It’s faster. When an LCL shipment reaches its destination port, the cargo has to be unloaded there and separated out before it can be taken anywhere else. This process can also lead to cargo being delayed by document processing. In contrast, an FCL shipment doesn’t need opening before it leaves the port. Naturally, shipping companies prefer customers to choose FCL!
You can ship a car. If you’re sharing the use of a container with other people, transporting a car is too risky. Cars are very safely secured in shipping containers but they are big and heavy things, meaning there is always the potential for damaging other people’s cargo. FCL is the solution here.
Your goods are safer. Due to the loading and unloading procedures that have to happen at each port, LCL shipments are handled more regularly than FCL shipments. Naturally, this puts your belongings at greater risk of being damaged. FCL is consequently more advisable if you have fragile goods to transport.
Less than container load
It’s the cheapest way to ship small volumes. If the size of your cargo is less than about 20 cubic metres (CBM), it is cheaper to ship using the LCL option. This is the most cost-effective method for smaller moves. LCL can be particularly useful for students travelling abroad for a year or so, as they are normally only transporting the contents of one bedroom. However, after the 20 CBM mark it generally becomes more economical to go for FCL.
Ultimately, the choice between FCL and LCL comes down to the size of your move. Your shipping company will be able to advise you on what to opt for.
Air freight versus sea freight
Choice of transport is another big factor when it comes to international shipping costs. It’s all about balancing your priorities. What’s more important to you, getting your things shipped quickly as possible or keeping costs down? Moving your belongings by sea and by air are the two most popular options for international moves:
Container ships are the most eco-friendly option. In contrast to air or road transport, ships on the ocean are the least detrimental in terms of carbon emissions.
“Sending a container from Shanghai to Le Havre (France) emits fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that takes the container on to Lyon” (Rose George, Ninety Percent of Everything).
Cargo planes are faster. If you’re in a hurry to ship your belongings, then transporting them as air freight is by far the fastest method of shipping. Between any two global destinations, it will usually take about 1 to 3 days. Compare this with a container ship’s journey from the UK to Australia, which takes on average 32 days. The ocean is a big place and a ship laden with thousands of steel containers can only go so fast.
Sea transport is comparatively low cost. To give you an idea, shipping the contents of a one-bed flat from the UK to Australia by sea costs around £1700. Ship those same contents by air and you’re looking at a bill of around £7000. See our price comparison table below for more details.
Flying your stuff is safer. Shipping by air can be a fantastic way to safely transport a small amount of your more valuable and time-sensitive possessions. Air freight tends to be more closely tracked and monitored than sea freight, making losses less likely. You’ll find insuring your belongings as air freight is cheap, reflecting the low risk involved.
You can use this table to get a general idea of the difference in price between shipping via sea and via air. As you can see, there is a pretty huge difference. Even when transporting 2000kg of cargo by container ship, it’s still substantially cheaper than transporting 250kg of cargo by plane. You’ll have to wait a lot longer for your belongings to reach their new country, but the benefits to your bank account are significant.
|Destination Port||Sea Freight Rate (2000kg)||Air Freight Rate (250kg)|
|New York, USA|| |
|Vancouver, CAN|| |
|Sydney, AUS|| |
|Auckland, NZ|| |
|Singapore, SIN|| |
|Shanghai, CHI|| |
|Hong Kong, HK|| |
|Cape Town, SAF|| |
The costs displayed above have been sourced from WorldFreightRates.com and they are based on a) the port-to-port transportation of a 2000kg load of household goods and b) the airport-to-airport transportation of a 250kg load of household goods, both worth $50,000. The data was accurate as of January 2018.
Truck freight versus train freight
For some people, their international move may only involve crossing land borders, for example moving from USA to Canada or France to Germany. In this instance, your choice generally lies between rail and road.
Rail is more economical and more ecological. Trains are the container ships of the land, offering a cheaper and greener alternative to trucks. Trains are also generally more reliable when it comes to reaching their destination on time, as they are not subjected to the traffic problems and bad weather that can blight road travel. Old, dependable locomotives!
Trucks are more flexible. If you’re looking for more flexibility than rail shipping can provide, transporting your belongings by road can offer a tailored door-to-door service with minimal loading and unloading along the way. In contrast, opting for rail means cargo has to be taken to the station in a truck and then loaded onto the train. Bearing in mind that most breakages occur when cargo is being moved from one mode of transport to another, shipping by road can be a huge bonus.
If your move involves crossing an ocean then shipping by sea is generally the most popular option, but it involves a lot of forward planning due to the lengthy transit times. Likewise, choosing rail for land transit can be more time consuming, but it is for the benefit of the planet and your wallet!
Other costs to consider
Once you know the volume of your goods, the container size, whether it’s an FCL or LCL shipment and what kind of transport you’ll be using, there are still a few additional costs that you need to think about:
You can’t do much about these. Your destination country will tax your cargo whether you like it or not. Obviously these will vary from country to country so you should talk to your shipping company about what to expect. Fees such as port service charges and terminal handling charges will also add to your overall cost. Likewise, these will vary from port to port and you should speak about them to your shipping company or freight forwarder beforehand. Take a look at this video to understand more about customs and to learn about what shipping companies can do to help you through them.
Container inspection fees
With the technological advance of electronic scanning machines, it’s unlikely that your container will be physically inspected. In the USA, just 5% of inbound containers receive physical inspection, and it’s even less common in European ports. However, if the scans give customs staff any reason to be suspicious, then your container will often be opened and investigated. In this scenario, shipping companies will usually ask you to cover all the charges incurred by this process.
General Rate Increase (GRI)
A General Rate Increase (GRI) is the average increase in base shipping rates implemented by shipping companies. They are designed to cover the continually increasing costs faced by freight carriers and they used to occur at the end of each year. However, in recent years they have become much more regular. For example, 2012 saw thirteen GRIs, more than one per month. A continual cycle occurs: shipping companies implement GRIs, demand falls, they lower their prices, demand rises and another GRI is implemented. This is what makes container shipping prices so volatile. Consequently, once your Cargo Ready Date (CRD) has been agreed with your shipping company, be sure to check whether it falls before or after a new GRI as this can make a significant difference to the price.
Do I need shipping insurance?
International shipping isn’t always smooth sailing; insuring your cargo is a no-brainer. There are, however, several reasons why international shipping has become an increasingly safe prospect for your belongings, including:
This fancy term basically means the use of several different types of transport. By utilising steel containers with standardised, universal measurements, the global shipping industry has found a way to move cargo seamlessly between sea transport and land transport without having to unload each time. The same container can travel by ship, train and truck all the way to your new house. Handling of goods is less frequent which means damages are far less likely. There are 50,000 merchant ships in the world fleet and they have all embraced intermodal transportation.
Most international container ships can hold over 10,000 twenty-foot containers with the world’s largest container ship carrying up to 18,000 – the mighty Maersk Triple-E. To put that into context, the biggest container ship in 1956 could hold only 800 containers. With all the steel boxes on board these modern vessels, it’s vital that they are all accounted for. Most shipping companies use ISO codes to track every container electronically.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulates all global shipping. The sea can bea dangerous place so it is vital that the IMO hold all container ships to rigorous standards.
So, although international shipping is safe, it doesn’t mean that accidents don’t happen. Getting shipping insurance is a sensible option and shipping companies strongly advise it. You can check out our specific guide to international removals insurance here.
Hopefully we’ve made international shipping costs a little easier to navigate. There is a long list of factors and considerations but nothing that MoveHub or your shipping company can’t help you with. The next step would be to find your best price. There’s an easy way to do this: simply fill in the form at the top of this page and up to 6 suppliers will get back to you with their quotes. If you’re having to choose between several shipping companies, we go through 2018’s best shipping companies here. To make your money go even further, you may also like to read our guide on the ten cheapest ways to move abroad.
Fun fact: In one year, the average container ship travels the same distance as a journey to the moon (and halfway back)!