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Do you know how high is a 20 foot shipping container? How much cargo can it load? Can you name its main components? You’ll find such information here.

Shipping container dimensions

Shipping containers tend to be 20 or 40 feet in length, but we are going to focus on 20-footers as the more commonly-used container type for individuals and families moving abroad. A 20-foot long container is 8 feet 6 inches tall, and 8 feet wide.

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This gives you an internal space of 19 feet and 4 inches in length, by 7 feet 8 inches in width and 7 feet and 10 inches in height. The container door is 7 foot 8 inches tall and 7 foot 5 inches wide – worth considering before you start planning to pack that enormous Welsh dresser or grand piano.

As a matter of fact, all these sizes need to be in compliance with the international standard ISO 668:1995. This way, shipping receptacles can be used smoothly worldwide on different modes of transportation including sea, land, and train (we call such combined activities intermodal transport).

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Container’s Capacity

The capacity of a 20 foot shipping container is around 37 cubic meters(cbm). That volume is an approximate rather than an exact figure. That’s because the capacity depends on actual inside dimensions, which are slightly vary as I mentioned above.

It should be kept in mind that here we’re talking about container’s inside capacity rather than the cargo volume loadable in a 20ft box. In fact, cargo volume loadable into a container should likely be less due to air space left among cargo packages. That means with a 37 cbm container, you can only stuff less, say 32 cbm of cargo.

Limit Weight

Max gross weight of 20’ container is 24 tons including weight of container itself and cargo loaded inside. That limitation is stipulated in ISO 668:1995.

Exceeding the such limit may trigger fines, liability claims, equipment damage, and extra costs such as forced transloading.

How much fits in a 20-foot container?

Given the above dimensions and restrictions, a family of two adults and two children could reasonably expect to fit the contents of a two bedroom house into a 20 foot container, including a car. See below for an idea of what will fit in your 20-footer, along with cubic volumes.

Container loading capacity
Item Cubic feet Quantity Total cubic feet
King size Bed 60 1 60
Single Bed 30 2 60
Armchair 25 2 50
3 -Seater Sofa 45 1 45
Washing Machine 15 1 15
Fridge 10 1 10
Small TV 5 2 10
Medium Boxes 18″ x 18″ x 18″ 4 5 20
Large Boxes 8 5 40
Suitcases 5 4 20
Dining Table 50 1 50
BMW 3 SERIES 325i M Sport 2dr Step Auto Convertible 3.0 670 1 670
Grand total 1050

The full load capacity of a 20-footer is 1170 cubic feet, but normally you’d be able to fill it to a up to 90% capacity, or 1053 cubic feet. These estimates, however, are only valid if you fit in the items perfectly – which rarely happens – so make sure to leave some extra room. A sneak peak on the number of identical products that a 20-foot container can hold:

  • 200 full size mattresses
  • 48,000 bananas
  • 50-60 refrigerators
  • 400 flat screen tv’s

Loading a vehicle

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If you’re shipping a vehicle in your container you need to build a wall or barrier of some sort to keep it separate from your other things – either out of plywood or timber. This process is called embarkation and is an essential measure when shipping a vehicle in a container.

You must also declare your vehicle non-hazardous by draining all fuel from the car or motorbike, then disconnecting the battery and alarm system. Also, don’t forget to remove all vehicle documents from the glove box as you will need them at a later stage.

Wheels need to be blocked from the front, back and from the sides with wooden blocks or wheel chocks, and the wheels then need to be lashed securely within the container. Sometimes your shipping agent will want this to be done professionally and will provide someone to secure the vehicle in your container for you. Your local garage may be able to load your vehicle into the container using a flatbed for a small hire out charge.

Container loading dos and don’ts

  • Do plan ahead. Use the chart above to identity what you can expect to load into your container and what you’ll need to leave behind, donate or sell.
  • Do start stockpiling boxes and other packing materials as soon as possible. You can never have too much newspaper in these circumstances.
  • Do think about where to position the container when it arrives as it will need a sturdy, flat surface to rest on. Make sure its position won’t obstruct any passage ways.
  • Do get help loading your container, and don’t injure yourself trying to do it all on your own.
  • Don’t overload your container as it’s unsafe to transport it if loading is not level – your truck driver will actually refuse to take it away until any overage has been removed.
  • Don’t try to ship any items that are prohibited in your new country. Read up on restricted and prohibited items, and estimated shipping costs and times to your specific country.
  • Don’t leave your container unattended at any time during loading. Always have someone keeping an eye on it for security purposes.