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Ocean Freight Shipping from China: FCL or LCL?

Ocean freight shipping is the best option for bulk goods transportation, sometimes it’s the only option. When importing from China, you can choose FCL, or LCL if your overall cargo volume does not meet one full container requirements.

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Sounds easy enough. But in our years forwarding practical experiences, we have heard many sad stories about how importers are shocked by the invoice they had to pay at the LCL destination. Since there are LCL destination fees, sometimes it’s more than you prepaid.

My shipment volume was about 14 cbm, and I chose LCL.
What did I do wrong?

In fact, if you can’t reach a full container volume, FCL shipping might still make sense. Actually, LCL shipment larger than 15 cubic meters cost more than a 20 feet container, even if half the container is empty.


Keep reading and find out how to make the right choice between FCL and LCL.

FCL/LCL Definition

FCL = Full Container Load
LCL = Less than Container Load, aka Groupage

They are two of common shipping terms used in the international logistics industry for export and import ocean freight cargo.

fcl-lcl-cargoLCL means you share space with others, also share cost

LCL enables importers to ship smaller amounts of cargo that’s not of a large enough volume to make FCL a viable option. This means your cargo is combined with other shipping consignments headed for the same destination.

Unlike FCL, which usually has a flat rate per container, LCL is charged based on the volume, set in cubic meters. LCL shipping is a cost-effective solution for smaller shipments as you only need to pay for the volume space used. At the same time it almost always cheaper than air freight.

When it comes to FCL, three most common container types list below for your evaluation. Most businesses importing from China are only concerned with these three standard sizes that make up most of the container volume shipped worldwide.

FCL container volume


  20ft Container 40ft Container 40ft High Cube
Inside Length 5.89m 12.01m 12.01m
Inside Width 2.33m 2.33m 2.33m
Inside Height 2.38m 2.38m 2.69m
Door Width 2.33m 2.33m 2.33m
Door Height 2.28m 2.28m 2.56m
Capacity 33.18cbm
(28 cbm in practical)
(58 cbm in practical)
(68 cbm in practical)
Tare Weight 2229kg 3701kg 3968kg
Maximum Load 28000kg 28000kg 28000kg


  • 20ft container = 20′ container = 20’GP
  • 40ft container = 40′ container = 40’GP
  • 40ft high cube container = 40’HQ = 40’HC

You have to learn to be comfortable with CBM measurements, if you do not use the same unit in your country. Also please note the difference between the volume in theory and in practical. Most Chinese suppliers could advise the exact quantity loading in a full freight container. If you don’t have a clear idea on that, just feel free to ask.


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