Types of Shipping Containers – Uses, Sizes and Dimensions


Different types of shipping containers

Shipping containers look a bit like Lego bricks; coloured blocks stacked neatly on top of each other. Just like pieces of Lego, there are different types of shipping containers, with differences in size and dimensions to suit different purposes.

Standard Sizes of Shipping Containers in Australia

Shipping container dimensions are standard around the world to make sure that containers from different locations can be efficiently stacked and transported. Containers used in Australia will typically fit into one of these standard sizes and are referred to in feet, rather than metres or centimetres.

Shipping containers are referred to by their (outside) length in feet. The most common sizes are:

  • 40 foot container
  • 20 foot container
  • 10 foot container
  • 8 foot container

Containers are only measured by their length because the width (8 feet) and height (8 feet and 6 inches) of containers are the same for all but the smallest containers. The smallest 8 foot shipping container is 7 feet wide and 7 feet, 6 inches high.

The door height and width is typically the same for standard 40, 20, and 10 feet containers. This table shows more detailed sizes and specs for different sea containers.

Shipping Container Types and Uses

Containers come in different configurations to make them suitable for transporting all types of cargo. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have helped to develop international standards when it comes to container sizes - with each container now built to standard specifications so that it is suitable for multiple transportation methods such as a ship, truck and rail. Some of the most common container types include:

Dry Storage Container

As the name suggests, dry storage containers are simply standard shipping containers that are ideal for carrying dry materials. Any goods that do not have requirements in terms of the container that they must be shipped in can be transported in a dry storage container.

High Cube Dry Container

High cube shipping containers are similar to dry storage containers in that they are used to transport all types of dry cargo. Being slightly taller than standard containers, the height of high cube containers helps to create extra space. This makes high cube containers suitable for goods that are light and need to be transported in high volumes.

Open Top Container

Open top shipping containers are used so that goods of any height are able to be transported. These containers, while having an open top, allow for plastic sheets or tarps to be attached in place of a solid roof in order to keep the cargo protected and held in place.

Flat Rack Container

Flat rack shipping containers are collapsible and non-collapsible containers with and without walls. These containers are used for loading and/or transporting heavy cargo that may have unique dimensions and be awkward to handle during the transportation process.

Tunnel Container

A tunnel container is a general purpose shipping container that has doors at both ends, which allows for it to be loaded and unloaded quickly and easily, thanks to increased access.

Side Open Container

Side open shipping containers are another type of general purpose container for dry goods that has one door at the end and another door along the side. This makes it easier for wider cargo that can't fit through the end door to be loaded and unloaded during the shipment process.

Double Door Container

A double door container is another type of container that can be used for the transportation of wider materials (such as construction materials) as it has double doors along the side. This means the whole side of the container can be opened.

Insulated/Thermal Container

An insulated or thermal container is one that uses thermal insulations to help transport goods that need to be stored at an internal temperature that is higher than the external or outside temperature. This means that goods can be transported long distances without being damaged due to issues with temperature.

Refrigerated Shipping Container

Refrigerated shipping containers, also known as reefers, are a type of ISO container - meaning they are manufactured based on standards set by the International Organisation for Standardization. These containers are similar to general purpose containers used for dry goods, though they are refrigerated, therefore allowing the container to be kept at lower temperatures than the outside temperature. This facilitates the transportation of goods that are required to be kept at specific temperatures, with the refrigeration unit itself being connected to the ship's electrical power supply.

Half Height Container

At half the height of a standard container, these containers are suitable for transporting heavy loads. Half height containers are a popular option for shipments within the mining and mineral industries, whilst also being a competitive option for shipments containing sand, vehicles and other heavy loads.

Car Carrier Container

A car carrier container is a specialised container built with collapsible sides that help to safely secure cars in place during transportation.

Intermediate Bulk Shift Container

Large amounts of cargo can be removed from the container for further packing and shipping to final destination.   

Platform Container

With no roof, sides or ends and only a floor, it may not be referred to in many lists of container types, though some large, odd-sized cargo will only fit on the floor or platform of a container. 

Special Purpose Shipping Container

Special purpose shipping containers are custom made in order to ship unusual cargo, where standard container sizes may not be suitable.

As you can see, there are many different sizes and types of containers. If you are importing from China, Vara Allied can advise on all stages of the sourcing, freight and shipping process to make sure you choose the best option.

If you need assistance with sourcing a Chinese manufacturer and shipping to Australia, contact Vara Allied on (08) 6115 0118 or contact us online.