Types of shipping container for export use

This guide is an introduction to the different types of shipping container that are available, with the most popular types of shipping container for export use used in the industry as well as the specialised types of shipping container used for moving temperature controlled goods, liquids and more.

The most popular types of shipping container

In the vast majorly of cases your cargo is best shipped in one of these 3 container types (if it fits):

  • 20ft standard container (20ft long x 8ft wide x 8ft 6 high)
  • 40ft standard container (40ft long x 8ft wide x 8ft 6 high)
  • 40ft high cube shipping container (40ft long x 8ft wide x 9ft 6 high)

You can check out the full range of shipping containers for sale on our website, but this this article specifically covers the available types of shipping container for export use. These 3 sizes of dry cargo container cover around 80% of all the shipping containers in circulation. If your cargo can ship inside one of these 3 containers this will likely be the most cost effective way to move your goods.

Generally, other types of container are only used if you need to temperature control your cargo or if your cargo is too big to fit inside one of these containers.

Specialised types of shipping container

If your cargo can’t or won’t fit inside one of the above types of standard dry container it may be worth knowing about the other types of containers often used for oversized or special items

  • Side opening containers (20ft and 40ft) – these have side opening doors as well as end opening cargo doors and its much easier to load large oversize items through the side doors if needed.
  • Open top containers – like a standard dry container but with no roof (we’re a simple bunch in this industry when it comes to names). Available with soft tops (tarps) or hard tops (Removable steel roof)
  • Tunnel containers – These have double cargo doors at each end of the container, extremely rare in the shipping industry and if needed for export use you will likely have to buy your own.
  • Flat Rack containers – these are a flat base with 2 ends (no sides and no roof) – These can have fixed or collapsible ends although all modern flat racks have collapsible ends meaning they can be stacked and moved more efficiently when not carrying cargo.
  • Refrigerated shipping containers – used for the movement of temperature controlled goods. Whilst called refrigerated containers these units can operate anywhere in the -20 to +20 Celsius range. Modern refrigerated containers (or reefers) have a wider temperature range and humidity controls.
  • Tank containers – used to move bulk liquids and occasionally compressed gas around the globe. These can be heated or chilled and come built to a wide variety of specs.
  • Platform containers. Just a big base only – like a flat rack without any ends.
  • Curtain-sided containers, with removable curtains on the side to make it much easier and quicker for fork lifts to unload pallets and part loads. Very rare thee days and only in circulation for specific specialised projects. they used to be very popular for the shipment of fruit and veg to and from Europe but now refrigerated shipping containers are much more common for this traffic.
  • DNV / Offshore spec containers. These are designed and built to a different set of standard and are designed for use in the offshore industry (e.g. delivering cargo to oil platforms) as well as being approx. 5x the cost of a standard shipping container, they are built with every part traceable to origin, they are deigned to be hit by very high waves and stay standing, they should float for a reasonable time if they topple off a boat and offer a better level or protection for cargo if your container were to take a knock.

The above listed types of shipping container for export use is not an exhaustive list. To a degree if it fits with ISO standards and can be handled by the port cranes and container boats one can even make their own design of container (at considerable expense). However the above ranges cover all but the most specialised of applications.

Check your cargo will fit!

It may sound obvious, but we frequently hear about this problem. An extra 15 minutes checking this out before you order your container may save you £500-1000 in wasted delivery costs.

Most of the types of shipping container for export use listed on this site include a Technical specifications tab providing both the external and internal dimentions of a container plus any other technical info we have handy. We can check specific containers out for you in advance of sale if there’s any doubt at all.

More technical info on the numbers and locations and rating of lashing points are available on request if being sourced from us, however different shipping lines do specify their containers slightly differently to each other so you may find line a has more lashing points in their containers than shipping line B. If the specs are important for your job check with the person providing your specific container.


Budgetshippingcontainers.co.uk offer the UK’s largest online range of shipping containers for sale with a nationwide network of storage and conversion yards and crane equipped delivery vehicles.

If you need a shipping container feel free to browse our online range of shipping containers for sale, which also includes our ranges of flat pack sheds, container canopies and more. You can also call us on freephone 0808 1234 215 any time 9am – 5pm weekdays and our team will be happy to discuss your requirements. Alternatively, you can use our online shipping container quote form or request a telephone callback. In both cases we aim to get back to you within 1-2 working hours (may take longer for more detailed quotes).

Back to top