China Container Tracking & Container Types – The Ultimate Guide

China Container Tracking

The shipping container revolutionized international trade when it was introduced back in the 1950s. The world wouldn’t be the same without them. In this article we introduce you to the three most common shipping containers, how they can help you to save money and how to track containers online.

Get 10% off on your first shipment with Freightos

Yes, I want my 10% shipping coupon now
The offer is valid for both sea and air freight (maximum amount: US$100)

Shipping container sizes

Did you know that there are more shipping containers in this world than there are people living in New York City? There are 17 million of them to be specific. Neither did I until I started writing this article. Alright, you don’t care. Let’s get to the point. Most businesses importing from China are only concerned with the three standard sizes that make up most of the container volume shipped worldwide. The volume, dimension, maximum load and estimated price of these container types follow below:

20’ Container

  • Internal volume: 33.1 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 5.71 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 28,200 kg
  • Estimated price (Felixstowe, UK): $1,620 – $1,790
  • Estimated price (Sydney, Australia): $780 – $860
  • Estimated price (San Fransisco, USA): $2,560 – $2,820

40’ Container

  • Internal volume: 67.5 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 12.192 m (L) x 2.352 m (W) x 2.385 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 26,600 kg
  • Estimated price (Felixstowe, UK): $2,420 – $2,670
  • Estimated price (Sydney, Australia): $1,160 – $1,280
  • Estimated price (San Fransisco, USA): $3,810 – $4,210

40’ HQ (high-cube) Container

  • Internal volume: 75.3 cbm
  • Internal dimensions: 12.0 m (L) x 2.311 m (W) x 2.650 m (H)
  • Maximum load: 26,580 kg
  • Estimated price (Felixstowe, UK): $2,420 – $2,670
  • Estimated price (Sydney, Australia): $1,160 – $1,280
  • Estimated price (San Fransisco, USA): $3,810 – $4,210

Ordering by container volume

When importing from China, the shipping cost is often a lot easier to reduce than the product price. While a reduction in the product price is often accompanied by a quality reduction, the shipping costs can be lowered without such a compromise. The easiest way of doing this is by ordering full container loads. While it’s possible to ship smaller volumes, using LCL shipping, the shipping companies often charge 2 – 3 times as much per cubic meter, compared to FCL shipping.

It makes sense. The workload is actually higher, for the shipping companies, when managing LCL shipping. While FCL shipments can be unloaded and delivered directly to the buyer’s location, LCL shipments must be unloaded at the Port of Destination – before being loaded once again prior to the final delivery.

Alright, I think you get the point. In practice, this means that you should ask your supplier to quote you a price based on a full container load of products, instead of a predetermined quantity (which is often the case when importing from China). However, the supplier should still calculate how many product units fit inside the container.

Even if you can’t reach a full container volume, FCL shipping might still make sense. As a matter of fact, LCL shipments larger than 15 cubic meters cost more than an FCL 20’ shipment (even if half the container is empty).

There are also situations when you need to go even bigger than a 20’ container. A 40’ container is more than twice as long as a 20’ container, which makes a big difference on the bottom line when ordering large volume items (i.e. vehicles, machines and furniture). Let’s assume that you’re importing banner printers. Those things often have a length of around 4 meters. While only one unit fits inside a 20’ container, three units can be loaded inside a 40’ container.

Container tracking

Most international shipping lines, such as China Shipping, Maersk and MSC, offer online tracking. This means that you can track the location and estimated arrival date of your container shipment from China. While most companies have their own container tracking system in place, tracking websites, such, helps you track containers shipped by several companies.

However, small businesses importing from China are not dealing directly with the shipping lines. Instead, the shipping is outsourced to a freight forwarder, which in turn orders the shipment from the shipping line. In my experience, most Chinese freight forwarding companies don’t offer online container tracking. This means that you need to go through the back door.

In order to track a container, you need to know which shipping line is transporting your cargo, and the container number, booking number or document number (any of them is usually good enough). You should find both on your Bill of Lading, which might look something like this:

bill of lading sample

See that big logo in the top left corner? That’s the shipping line (Yang Ming). If there’s no such logo your Bill of Lading (or one which is not the shipping line) you’ll find it elsewhere in the document. Possibly under “shipper” or “freighter”. Apart from the name of the shipping line, we also need the container number. However, in this example there’s no such number. Instead, you can use the Bill of Lading number, which you can find in the top right corner (B/L no) of the sample document.

Tracking Website

Most international shipping lines operate container tracking websites. Below follows a list of container tracking websites for some of the world’s major shipping companies:

Do you need help with shipping and customs?

We know how hard it is to understand the shipping and customs process, especially if you have never imported from Asia before. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid scams and overcharging shipping agents – we created the Starter Package:

a. Tutorials, Video Walkthroughs and Task Lists that guide you step-by-step through the entire shipping and customs process

b. Import duties, taxes and calculation examples for the US, Europe, Australia & more

c. Licenses, permits and how to obtain the required documents for the US, Europe, Australia & more

In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.

  • Tags:

    8 Responses to “China Container Tracking & Container Types – The Ultimate Guide”

    1. Renaud April 14, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      Interesting ideas for tracking, thanks.

      I would add a note of caution regarding the internal volume. It is theoretical!
      If you plan to use more than 29 cubic meters in a 20′ container, there is a high risk that cartons don’t fit… And the factory might use their forklift to push them inside. Not good for protection of your products. That’s why I advise buyers to control the carton size and make sure the total is no more than 28 or 28.5 cbm.

      • ATStoneCarving April 27, 2014 at 4:51 am #

        Renaud is right. You usually have to make the shipment less than 29 cm.
        And expecting Fredrik’s next article about exporting packing.

    2. Fredrik Grönkvist April 14, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Renaud,

      Yes, I agree. I plan to write a post on exporting packing and preventing transportation damages.

    3. komba April 21, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      Good article! just learned a lot..

    4. terry king March 21, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

      One thing very important that is overlooked here is the seasonal increases in shipping costs and the need to allow extra time for ordering before Chinese new year. the savings for ordering during the quiet times is actually quite substantial and when you consider the lead times from the factories around the Chinese new year it makes it even more advantageous.
      Many suppliers are happy to take orders and will take orders when they know the factory cannot possibly deliver on time.
      Off Season ordering = savings = on time delivery = better quality due to less rushed production.

    5. Steve July 12, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

      hi! I am going to buy disposed shipping containers from a leasing company like Triton from the local depot in Edmonton where they stocked their disposed containers. My question is how to know the containers they are offering me are custom free? Should they release invoice with adding 5% of GST to their US$ pricing?

    Leave a Reply

    * Checkbox GDPR is required


    I agree