When it comes to moving your belongings abroad, hiring a shipping container is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly method. However, before you go ahead and book it, it’s a good idea to do some research to find out what kind of size you need, how to load it, and what kind of costs you’ll be looking at.

Below you can find a comprehensive guide to hiring and loading a 40-foot shipping container. It covers everything from practical information and what kind of stuff you will be able to fit in it, to some helpful packing and loading tips. Use this guide to make the move a smooth and stress-free experience!

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40-foot shipping container dimensions

There are two main sizes of shipping container which are 20 or 40 feet in length. In this article, we are going to look at the larger of the two, the 40ft shipping container which is mainly used for families moving abroad who have large houses or big items such as vehicles they need to ship across. The outside of a 40-foot long container is 8’ 6” tall, and 8’ wide.

This gives you an internal space of 39’ 6’’ in length, by 7ft 8 inches in width and 7 ft and 10 inches in height. Knowing the size of the container door is important, so you can work out exactly what you can fit it. On a 40ft container, the door will be 7 foot 8 inches tall and 7 foot 5 inches wide.

So if we are looking at the overall capacity of a 40ft container it’s 2,390 cubic feet or 67.7 cubic meters (a huge amount of space). The maximum weight of a 40ft container is 4000 kg. There are other sizes of container available however the 20 and 40ft containers are the industry standard.

How to fill a 40ft container

On the day you are ready to load, your shipping container will arrive at your house/ office/ storage unit (wherever you have directed the pickup point to be). Storage units are delivered attached to a truck and ready to go. You can expect the container to be empty and clean. You should also note that it will be on a chassis which is around four feet high so you may need to arrange a ramp to ensure you can get your belongings into the container with ease.

All the furniture and other items you wish to load into the storage container should be packed up and ready to go. Be organised! Don’t wait for the storage container to arrive before you start packing. Remember, you need to provide all the packing materials yourself, and you need to be able to load everything too so if you need help moving heavier items make sure you have booked someone to assist you or get a few strong friends over to help! Also, think about how you are going to pack the container to make maximum use of the space and arrange your items so they are in the order -it will save a lot of time and effort when it comes to loading up.

How much can I expect to fit in a 40ft container?

A 40ft container gives a hugely generous amount of storage space. Taking into consideration the restrictions and dimensions previously noted, it is reasonable to expect that the contents and belongings of a 4 bedroom family home can fit into a 40ft container. Contents of rooms, as well as larger household appliances, for example, bath fixtures, trunks, washing machines, a piano, extra mattresses etc should all comfortably fit in.

Remember that while the total space available in a 40ft container is 2,390 cubic feet itis unlikely that you will be able to pack it to 100% capacity due to items that are an awkward shape. If you plan carefully you should be able to pack your storage container to 90% capacity -though it is advisable to estimate less than this and make sure you have extra room so you don’t get caught short. Most, if not all, shipping companies will generally offer to pack your container for you, this is advisable as they will have more experience fitting all the awkward sized objects together, like a giant game of tetris.

Find a full list of what you can fit into a 40ft container at the bottom of the page.

Some helpful tips to pack and load your shipping container

Ask friends or relatives to give you a hand. Loading a 40ft shipping container will take around 10 hours. however the more pairs of hands you can find to help you load up the less time it will take. Be organised and have everything ready to go -the trucker will be working to a schedule so it’s important to be organised! Make sure you take time to invest in good quality packing materials well before your move. The last things you want is boxes breaking and your belongings getting damaged or lost. Newspaper, bubble wrap, boxes and masking tape are all packing essentials and make sure you have enough to pack up your entire household.

Make sure you know the container number and note this and keep it somewhere safe. When it arrives check it is clean and empty, and keep the doors open to let air circulate for as long as possible.

Have your items arranged in a sensible order with the things you want to be loaded into the container first at the front of the line. It’s advisable to get all the larger items in initially, positioning them at the back of the container and at the sides, you can also attach these to the sides securing them so they won’t move during the journey. Then you can load boxes in front of these items which will also help stabilise them, then any other belongings and soft furnishings. Try to pack as tightly as possible and fill all the gaps where you can so that everything stays in place during transit. Clothing, bedding and other soft materials can be used to protect for fragile items and are great for padding the container and covering up items you want to protect from knocks and scratches.

Remember if you are shipping a vehicle special rules apply. Firstly you must ensure all fuel has been emptied, and the battery and alarm systems have been disconnected. Keep all vehicle documents on your person. Make sure the wheels are blocked and the vehicle is securely lashed -it may be that your agent provides someone to do this for you, so check whether this is the case, otherwise, your local garage may be able to help if you are unsure of how to do this properly. You also need to separate the vehicle from your other belongings in a process called embarkation. This is a barrier around the vehicle and is usually made from plywood or timber.

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Container loading checklist

Make sure you understand the dimensions of the container and what you can expect to fit in it -always leave some room rather than think you can squeeze extra in. Your truck driver can refuse to drive any container they deem to be unstable or unsafe, so pack carefully and well.

Ensure you have enough boxes and packing materials for your entire household

Make sure you know where you will position the container when it arrives -it needs to be on a flat and stable surface and not in the way of any doors you need access to or the neighbour’s driveway!

Enlist some help in advance and make sure everyone knows how long it’s going to take and how heavy items are. If you can’t get friends or relatives to step up, pay a labourer to help you, you don’t want to start your new life with an injury!

Research any restrictions or items that may be prohibited in the country you are travelling to.

Research costs

Be safe and smart -always make sure someone is watching the container during the loading process and keep young children away – don’t let them play in or around it.

Here is a list of dimensions of typical household items in cubic feet, which will give you an idea of what you will be able to fit in.

ItemCubic FeetCubic Meters
Sofa 3 Seater501.42
Sofa 2 Seater350.99
Sofa Bed501.42
Sofa Sectional (per section)300.85
Arm Chair100.28
Occasional Chair150.42
Lazy Boy250.71
Book Case200.57
Coffee Tables50.14
Wall Unit Small100.28
Wall Unit Large200.57
Cupboard Small150.42
Stereo / Hi-Fi200.57
Lamps Floor or Pole30.08
Upright Piano601.70
Baby Grand Piano701.98
Grand Piano802.27
Carpet & Rug100.28
Clock Grand Father200.57
Breakfast Chair50.14
Breakfast Table100.28
Kitchen Cabinet300.85
Utility Cabinet100.28
Refrigerator Small401.13
Refrigerator Med451.27
Refrigerator Large or DBdoor551.56
Freezer Small451.27
Freezer Med501.42
Freezer Large601.70
Washing Machine350.99
Vacuum Cleaner50.14
Bed, King Size701.98
Bed, Double Size551.56
Bed, Single401.13
Bed, Bunk (set of 2)701.98
Dresser, Chest of Drawers300.85
Ironing Board100.28
Side Tables100.28
Wardrobe Boxes (30 hangers)100.28
Dining Table Small200.57
Dining Table Medium250.71
Dining Table (large or glass)300.85
Dining Chair550.14
China Cabinet250.71
Corner Cabinet200.57
Barbecue or Portable Grill100.28
Chair, Lawn50.14
Chair, Porch100.28
Ladder, Extension100.28
Lawn Mower350.99
Outdoor Swings300.85
Picnic Table200.57
Bookcase, Large150.42
Chair, arm100.28
Computer desk200.57
Desk, executive401.13
Table, conference501.42
Table, drawing200.57

Next steps

Now that you’re up to date with how much you can fit in your container, it’s time to start shopping around for prices. Each shipping supplier will quote different amounts, so make sure to shop around.

We know, we know – that’s easier said than done. To avoid any stress, use our hassle-free form to receive free quotes from our trusted suppliers. Just answer a few simple questions about your move and you’ll be good to go.