Choosing Which Container Load Is Best For Your Business

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FCL (Full Container Load) and LCL (Less than Container Load) are two shipping terms that refer to the amount of cargo being shipped. The main difference between FCL and LCL is the amount of space the shipment takes up in the container. FCL refers to a shipment that fills an entire container, while LCL refers to a shipment that doesn’t fill an entire container.


FCL shipping is a mode of ocean freight where a shipper leases an entire container to transport their goods. This means that the container is loaded with cargo from a single shipper, and the shipper is responsible for the cost of the entire container. The shipper also has the option to share the container space with other parties, but they will still be responsible for the cost of the entire container. FCL is typically used for large shipments that require the entire container’s space, such as heavy machinery or bulky items.


LCL shipping is a mode of ocean freight where a shipper’s cargo is consolidated with other shipments in a container. The shipper is only responsible for the cost of the space their cargo occupies in the container, which is calculated based on the volume or weight of the cargo. LCL is typically used for smaller shipments that do not require an entire container’s space, such as household goods or smaller commercial shipments.


In some cases, a shipment may be too large for LCL but not large enough to fill an entire container. In these cases, shippers can use a combination of FCL and LCL shipping to transport their cargo. This is called a “consolidation shipment,” and it involves combining multiple LCL shipments into a single FCL shipment. This allows shippers to take advantage of the cost savings associated with LCL shipping while still having the flexibility of FCL shipping.

In conclusion, understanding the difference between FCL and LCL shipping is crucial for shippers to optimize their company’s operations. FCL shipping is ideal for large shipments that require an entire container’s space, while LCL shipping is suitable for smaller shipments that do not require an entire container. Shippers can also use a combination of FCL and LCL shipping to transport their cargo in some cases.


LCL vs FCLLCL: Less than Container LoadFCL: Full Container Load
Shipment’s Volume
  • It can be used for shipments of 1 CBM or less, though the minimum billable volume is 1 CBM. (It is also suggested to look into air possibilities if the shipment is less than 1 CBM and the chargeable weight is less than 200kg.).
  • LCL is suited for shipments with a volume of less than 15 CBM.
  • The FCL agreement can be used for any cargo, regardless of size. However, if the entire volume of the shipment is 15 CBM or over, it is preferable to consider renting a complete container.
  • The following are the most popular container sizes for FCL shipments, as well as their approximate capacities:
    • 20’ – 33 CBM
    • 40’ – 67.5 CBM
    • 40’ HQ – 76 CBM
Shipment’s Weight
  • The maximum weight allowed per CBM is one tonne (1,000 kg). If the weight of the shipment exceeds the allowed load, the chargeable weight will be based on the gross weight.(For example, if a 1CBM load weights 1,300 kg, the chargeable weight will be 1.3 CBM rather than 1 CBM).
  • Small shipments weighing less than 1 CBM but weighing more than 150kg or more may be more cost-effective to send via LCL rather than air freight. This is because airlines base a shipment’s charged weight on its gross weight or volumetric weight, whichever is greater.(For example, a 0.8 CBM shipment with a gross weight of 300 kg will have a volumetric weight of 133 kg. However, regardless of how little the item is, airlines will charge a basic weight of 300kg for freight charges.)
  • Each container size has a different maximum permissible weight, which is always displayed as a reference on the container. Some countries have different maximum load regulations. The maximum payloads for the basic container sizes are listed below.
    • 20’ – 18.6 tons
    • 40’ and 40’ HC – 28.6 tons
  • The United States has numerous maximum gross permitted cargo weights for different states; the safe payload weight per container is listed below:
    • 20’ – 17 tons
    • 40’ and 40’ HC – 21 tons

When the maximum weight is reached, the shipper must relocate the remaining cargo to a different container.

Freight Cost
  • Smaller loads under 15 CBM usually have lower expenses.
  • Depending on the route, the overall cost for loads greater than 15 CBM may be higher.
  • Local fees are generally greater than FCL fees. If the shipment is within +/- 2 CBM of 15 CBM, the full container load option is recommended.
  • FCL might be less expensive for shipments weighing less than 15 CBM. Because charges vary depending on the route, there is no set volume when an FCL is less expensive.
  • The container price per CBM (maximum load divided by container cost for maritime freight) is not necessarily lower than LCL. However, because the local charges for an FCL are a fixed amount per container, the overall cost for a full container load may be less expensive.
  • In comparison to FCL, LCL can take at least four days or more in total transit time. Unloading, sorting, and deconsolidation all require additional days.
  • If customs selects one consignment within the same container for inspection, the entire container will be placed on hold.
  • Because the containers are unloaded from the vessel and delivered to the ultimate destination, the overall travel time is usually less than for LCL.
Security and Damages
  • Because the container is shared with other cargo, there is a larger chance of damage, theft, or loss.
  • Freight insurance is available to provide the buyer with an added layer of safety.
  • Because the container travels a direct path with a single consignee, the cargo is less likely to be damaged, stolen, or lost.
  • As an added layer of security, insurance and container loading inspections are provided.
  • The information on the Bill of Lading can be used to track the vessel and container. Unfortunately, tracking stops when the container arrives at the port or when the contents is unloaded. Tracking may sometimes be inaccurate, especially if numerous handlers are involved. For situations like this, you can acquire more information from your goods forwarder.
  • The tracking for FCL and LCL is the same. The information on the House Bill of Lading can be used to trace the position of the vessel or the container. Because the entire container is transported under one consignee, FCL is significantly easier to track than LCL. Your goods forwarder will also provide you with a shipment plan estimate.
Split Shipment
  • Because the entire container is headed to a warehouse for sorting, it is easier to split shipments to be distributed to different locations for an LCL shipment.
  • If the shipments are travelling to numerous distant addresses, LCL may be a better alternative depending on the total amount. The load can be separated so that multiple ports can be used depending on where the shipment is being delivered.
  • You can also split the shipment under an FCL agreement; however, it’s best to check what your options are and which will be more economical. Since the container for an FCL doesn’t need to be transported into a warehouse, splitting the shipment will require this extra step, equating to warehousing fees, labeling fees, sorting fees, loading, and unloading fees, delivery fees, etc. It is best to consult your freight forwarder on the best route for your shipment not to end up paying more.
Delivery Appointments
  • Depending on where the shipment is going, LCL shipments might be easier to book with fulfillment warehouses for deliveries than higher volume, loads, because the overall size is not as large as a full container’s volume.
    • There are times wherein the wait time for a delivery appointment to deliver an FCL container to a fulfillment warehouse takes a longer time for approval compared to an LCL delivery. Shippers sending their cargo to Amazon FBA have been known to face these issues.
Booking a Container Space During China Holidays
  • There are times when booking space in an LCL shipment is easier before a long holiday in China compared to FCL. Because there is a demand for space, LCL consolidators maximize availability by allowing a significant amount of shippers to share space and not ship partially empty containers.
  • Because of the high demand for shipping before a China holiday such as the Chinese New Year, the availability of the containers for an FCL shipment might have scarcity.
Amazon FBA
  • The carrier will make an appointment with the Amazon warehouse for truckload delivery. Cartons are usually palletized under Amazon’s requirements during deconsolidation and before the load is shipped to Amazon’s warehouse.
  • Like LCL, the carrier will also make an appointment with Amazon’s warehouse for truckload delivery under an FCL shipment. Cartons are usually palletized with pallets acceptable to Amazon in the country of origin before the goods are loaded into a container.

Pallets can either be added by the supplier or by the freight forwarder. It is much easier if the supplier can include pallets to avoid delays and possible additional fees incurred by bringing the goods into a warehouse for sorting and palletizing.

Local Charges
  • Shipments under LCL shipments are billed per CBM. Rates include the local charges for both outgoing and incoming ports. It is common to pay more on the local charges when you’re doing LCL compared to your previous FCL shipment.
  • The local charges for an FCL shipment are a fixed amount and are usually billed per container. These charges are generally lower than the costs incurred on LCL shipments.
Customs Clearance and Customs Exam
  • There is no difference with how an LCL and FCL shipment clears customs. Although the challenging part for LCL is that if a single consignment gets flagged by customs from an examination, the whole container would need to undergo an examination. This can be as simple as an X-Ray exam or as thorough as the intensive CET (Contraband Enforcement Team) Exam. Either way, due to the increased number of consignees in a single container, the chance for an examination increases.
  • The cost for the custom examination, and any corresponding warehousing and port fees will be shared among all of the consignees using the container.
  • Customs do a random inspection of containers. That being said, the risk of a container being checked or inspected is always possible, even if you are consistently shipping the same product and using the same route.
  • The cost for the customs examination, as well as any port or warehousing fees incurred during the exam, will all be shouldered by the buyer. That is why it is best always to consider the possibility of paying customs examination when you’re making a shipment.


If you would like more information about LCL & FCL Shipping then please contact Tuscor Lloyds.