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, shipping containers come in different sizes 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 the standard sizes and are referred to in feet, not metres or centimeters.

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

Only length of the container is used because the width (8ft) and height (8ft 6in) of containers are the same for all but the smallest containers. The smallest 8ft shipping container is 7ft wide and 7ft 6in high.

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

Shipping Containers for Different Uses

Containers come in different configurations to make them suitable for transporting all types of cargo. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) means each container is built to standard specifications so its suitable for multiple transportation methods such as a ship, truck and rail. The most common types include:

  • Dry Storage Container – As the name suggests, they are standard shipping containers ideal for carrying dry materials.
  • High Cube Dry Container – Suitable for bulky, light cargo that needs a container with extra volume, usually 45ft in length.
  • Open Top Container – With a top that can be removed entirely so goods of any height can be shipped.
  • Flat Rack Container – Collapsible and non-collapsible containers with and without walls for transporting heavy cargo and easier loading of a wide variety of goods.
  • Tunnel Container – With doors at both ends, the container can be loaded and unloaded quickly.
  • Open Side Container – Large goods can be shipped with two doors on one side of the container.
  • Double Doors Container – Larger doors on one side of the container allow the whole side of the container to be opened to allow for construction materials of 20ft and 40ft standard sizes to be loaded and unloaded.
  • Insulated/thermal container – regulated temperature control to allow goods to be transported long distances without damage due to high temperatures in regular containers.
  • Refrigerated ISO Container – low-temperature containers for transporting perishable food items long distances. Also known as reefer containers, the container’s refrigeration unit is connected to the ship’s electrical power supply.
  • Half height containers – At around half the height of a standard container, these are suitable for transporting minerals.
  • Car Carrier Container – Collapsible sides and ramp for shipping new cars without damaging them.
  • 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 can hardly be called a ‘container’, but some large, odd-sized cargo will only fit on the floor or platform of a container.   
  • Special purpose containers – custom made to ship unusual cargo such as weapons often requiring extra security.      

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.