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About Containers

International Shipping Containers vs. Domestic Shipping Containers

By August 31st, 2011 About Containers 35 Comments

An international shipping container looks like and is constructed very similarly to a domestic shipping container. They are made of corrugated steel panels, have lockable double doors and hardwood flooring on the interior. Domestic shipping containers are not typically utilized for international shipping because of their size. The vessels used to transport containers overseas are constructed to handle twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs. A 20ft international shipping container is one (1) TEU and a 40ft international shipping container is (2) TEU. The majority of international shipping containers are 20ft and 40ft in length. The idea is to get as many containers as possible on a vessel when transporting cargo.

Domestic shipping containers are usually 48ft and 53ft long. In addition to the length domestic shipping containers are also wider than international shipping containers. Domestic containers are 8ft 6in wide, whereas all of the 20ft and 40ft international shipping containers are 8ft wide.

The container ships are able to handle far more 20ft and 40ft international containers than the 48ft and 53ft domestic containers. In turn this allows for more cargo to be transported overseas. You will primarily see the 48ft and 53ft domestic containers utilized for over the road or rail purposes.

Often times, cargo coming into the U.S. is trans-loaded from 20ft and 40ft international containers to 48ft or 53ft domestic containers in order to be railed to inland locations. The reverse also occurs when export cargo is trans-loaded from domestic containers to international containers for loading on a shipping vessel.

Whether a container is used for international shipping or for domestic purposes, many of them are utilized in the aftermarket. They are mainly used for on-site storage. However, containers are also being converted into mobile offices, storm shelters, mini storage units, residences and much more.


  1. Tom
    April 22nd, 2013

    What is the availability of these in the US for purchase?

  2. admin
    April 22nd, 2013

    Hello Tom,

    Thank you for your interest in Container Technology. The availability depends on what size container you are looking for and where you are located. We are able to supply 20′ and 40′ containers out of most port areas and some inland areas. I’d be happy to provide you with pricing and availability. Where do you need the container(s), what size container(s) are you interested in purchasing and how many?

    Thanks, Ray

  3. John Rogers
    May 26th, 2013

    looking for some 20′ (high cube ok) 8’W (or) 8’6″ W for local domestic service. Don’t need the weight (OR) strength of sea containers. thks

  4. admin
    May 28th, 2013

    Hello John,
    Thank you for your interest in Container Technology. Depending on your location, we should be able to provide you with new/used 20′ containers. What is your delivery zip code? I’m happy to check availability and get back to you with pricing.
    Thanks, Ray Gregorio (800) 266-1266

  5. bill torrence
    October 20th, 2013

    8′ 6″ wide is only available in 48′ and 53′ long ?

  6. admin
    November 6th, 2013

    Hello Bill,

    That is correct. All other container sizes are only 8’W (unless they have been modified in the aftermarket). Please let us know if you have any additional questions.


    January 21st, 2014

    When the international containers that are old by more then 10 to 15 years are used for storage purpose, is it necessary to pay duty and proper papers as record before buying the containers from the seller. how much is the duty to be paid

  8. admin
    January 21st, 2014

    Hello Shanti,
    Thanks for the comment! Containers that have been terminated out of international shipping service are typically de-commissioned by the leasing companies. The leasing companies then sell them to wholesalers/retailers like us. We then sell them in the aftermarket for general storage and other uses. When containers are resold for general storage purposes, there is not duty required. However, the company selling you the container should provide you with a sales agreement/contract for the purchase. If you are buying the container from an individual, I would definitely have them provide you with a bill of sale for the container you are purchasing. I hope this information is helpful.

  9. March 13th, 2014

    What if any restrictions apply to shipping 53′ High Cubes internationally? Do all steam ship lines handle these?

  10. admin
    March 13th, 2014

    Thanks for the question. 53’HC containers are not utilized for international shipping. They are primarily used for domestic (in the US) over the road and rail service. Container vessels are not set up to handle 53’HC containers. The steam ship lines base everything off of a twenty foot equivalent unit or TEU. A 20′ container equals 1 TEU and a 40′ container equals 2 TEU’s. Some containers vessels have room for 45’HC containers. The 45’HC are the largest containers you will see utilized for international shipping, but not nearly as frequently as 20′ and 40′ containers. I hope this information is helpful.

  11. Peter
    April 15th, 2014

    Is there a way to check if a domestic container number is correct? What I mean is, for international shipping containers there is an algorythm for a check digit. Is there something similar for domestic containers? If so, how is the calculation of the check digit done?

  12. admin
    April 15th, 2014

    Pieter, Thanks for the comment. Here is a link to the Container Handbook website –
    The information you are looking for is contained on this site. I hope this information is helpful.

  13. chris whitaker
    June 23rd, 2014

    what is the empty weight of a 48′ domestic aluminum container

  14. admin
    June 24th, 2014

    Hello Chris,

    Thanks for the question. The domestic aluminium 48′ containers weigh approximately 8,500 lbs. Hope this information is helpful. Ray

  15. September 26th, 2014

    is there any duty involvement if we use a container buying from shipping line for domestic tranport purpose.

  16. admin
    September 29th, 2014

    Unfortunately this is outside of our area of expertise. I’m not sure if there would be any duty required for this type of transport. I would contact your freight forward/logistics company or whoever is handling the move for you. Sorry we could not offer any help.

  17. September 26th, 2014

    is there any duty involvement if we use a container buying from shipping line for domestic tranport purpose….

  18. admin
    September 29th, 2014

    Unfortunately your question is a bit outside of our area of expertise. I’m not sure if you would be required to pay any duty for this type of transport. I would contact your the logistics company or freight forwarder that is handling the transport for you. Sorry we could not be more help.

  19. Deirdre
    June 24th, 2016

    We are presently researching shipping containers for use as a home. We’d like to ascertain all the costs (or as many as possible) before moving too far down the road.

    From my findings so far, I think we’d like to use 2-4 40′ high cubes. So the questions I have: 1) can we get containers which have not been chemically treated; 2) would buying refrigeration containers solve insulation issues? (I’ve heard there are problems with condensation when insulating containers on the inside); 3) could you guestimate costs on (a) 40′ high cube; (b) refrigeration containers…and do they come in 40″ high cube size; (c) costs for shipping these containers to the build site (per mile?)

    I’ve asked for quite a bit of information and hope that you will be able to help. If there are other considerations you think I should be aware of, please do let me know.

    Thank you.

  20. Ray
    July 12th, 2016

    Hello Dierdre,
    Thank you for your inquiry. I’m going to pass your information along to Troy Hudson in our office. He can assist you with container pricing and answer your questions. I will have him email you directly. Thanks, Ray

  21. August 8th, 2017

    Thanks for helping me understand more about the differences in these containers, despite them being so similar. It’s interesting to think that container ships that are coming into the US are trans-loaded with these two containers, especially if they need to go into inland locations. It would be interesting to learn how this transportation process works, and how one would go about taking out the cargo and putting it into a new container with a different size.

  22. Toney
    October 23rd, 2017

    I want to purchase a modified shipping container in the U.S. that has been cut down from 20′ to 16′ and have it shipped overseas. Are there any laws or regulations that would prevent me from doing so?

  23. Ray
    October 24th, 2017

    Hello Toney, Thanks for the comments/question. When containers are stacked on a vessel for shipment, the deck of the ships are set up to handle 20′ and 40′ containers. Because of the odd length, the 16′ container cannot be stacked. However, depending on where it’s being shipped, you may be able to have it barged over. I would check with your freight forwarder and inquire with them regarding the methods of shipment that they can provide. Depending on where it’s going and the type of vessel being used, you may be able to get it done. Hope this information is helpful. Ray

  24. February 26th, 2018

    Hi Ray,

    I am looking to build a mobile laboratory that can be shipped anywhere in the world. Your mobile offices look ideal. However, I wonder about the exterior HVAC, and whether that prevents overseas shipping.

    Can the Mobile Offices go on container ships? Can they go on aircraft?


  25. Ray
    March 1st, 2018

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for finding us and for the questions. When shipping a containerized mobile office, there are some restrictions when it comes to putting the unit on a container ship/vessel. If the container is being stacked on the deck of the ship (which is the typically how they are shipped), any modifications must be inside of the exterior dimensions of the container. Nothing can stick out beyond the corners. This ensures that the container can be stacked on the ship. I have heard of the units being transported by aircraft. However, we are not familiar with the requirements (if any) when shipping a container using that method. I hope this information is helpful. Ray

  26. Kyle
    May 8th, 2018

    Can international shipping containers (20′ or 40′ high cube) have side open or top open doors/access. Are these style of containers allowed on cargo ships.

    Thank you

  27. Ray
    May 16th, 2018

    Thanks for the questions. Yes. Containers come with side opening doors. They are called open side containers. They also come with the standard doors (one one end) but have an open top. These units are called open top containers and typically have a tarp to cover the opening. The open side and open top containers can be stacked and are able to be transported on a container vessel. Hope this information helps. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact us directly at
    Thanks, Ray

  28. David
    July 26th, 2018


    Loving the information on your site, thank you very much. I am wanting to ship 48ft containers from China to NZ and Australia but I saw your comment above – “Some containers vessels have room for 45’HC containers. The 45’HC are the largest containers you will see utilized for international shipping”.

    This was in 2014, any chance things have changed since then and 48′ can be used now? If not, a 45′ might work, do you know if these are the extra wide high cube 45′ containers like the 48′?

    Many thanks

  29. Ray
    July 31st, 2018

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the comments and question. There are some vessels that are able to carry larger containers. However, you would need to reach out to your freight forwarder or logistics company for confirmation. Depending on the shipping line, those vessels may not be available in certain regions. The 45ft high cube containers are typically 8ft wide (like a 40ft container). I hope this information finds you well and that it is helpful to you. Thanks, Ray

  30. Peggy O'Brien
    February 8th, 2019

    I am interested in a domestic shipping container 48′ long x 8’6″ wide x 9’6″ tall.
    Will you please let me know availability and cost delivered to Marfa, TX?
    Many thanks, Peggy O’Brien.

  31. Ray
    February 11th, 2019

    Hi Peggy, Thanks for finding us! I’m sorry but we do not have any equipment available in your area. You may have some luck contacting a company out of Dallas. Here is a link the the NPSA’s website (National Portable Storage Association) – I hope this is helpful. Thanks, Ray

  32. Samuel
    March 19th, 2020

    I am interested in the twist lock position of corner casting on 53ft container. I would like to confirm that the spacing between two casting’s aperture in the intermediate corner casting which is fitted on 40ft position of 53ft domestic container is as same as 40ft international shipping container or not.
    Many thanks, Samuel

  33. August 11th, 2020

    Thanks for sharing such a great blog. You have explained international shipping container vs domestic shipping containers is very well. Containers can play a massive role in the world of business, and they are incredibly useful for sending and receiving goods across the world, as well as storing important and valuable items. So, if you are going to benefit from or use shipping containers, it is important that you know what to expect from them, and this means being au fait with sizes and measurements.

    We recently wrote a blog about shipping container size guide (Here is the link:
    Sorry for the link but We thought it might be helpful.

  34. Andy
    September 25th, 2020

    Are ISO 53’HC being shipped more now or are they still not common for sea trade?

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