What are the types of container units for shipping cargo?

Shipping containers are large, standardized metal boxes designed for transport and storage of goods. Learn more about its different types, benefits and uses in this blog.
Types of containers for shipping
Container units play a pivotal role in cargo shipping, ensuring safe and efficient transportation of goods across vast distances. For exporters, it is important to understand the various types of containers in shipping since this enables them to determine the optimal shipping container sizes for their business needs.

What is a shipping container?

A shipping container, also known as a cargo container or just a container, is a large, standardized metal box designed for transport and storage of goods. These containers are specifically engineered to withstand rigors of transportation, including being stacked, lifted by cranes, and transported by various modes such as ships, trains, and trucks.

Uses of shipping containers

Shipping containers have a range of uses across various industries and applications. Some of the key uses of shipping containers are1:

International trade:

Shipping containers enable smooth movement of goods across borders, facilitating international trade.


Containers provide a standardized and secure means of transporting goods via ships, trains, and trucks, ensuring efficient logistics and reducing handling risks.


Containers serve as temporary or long-term storage solutions for businesses, construction sites, and individuals needing secure and accessible storage space.

Disaster relief:

Containers are deployed in disaster-stricken areas to provide temporary shelters, medical clinics, and storage facilities for relief supplies.

Agriculture and farming:

Containers find versatile uses such as greenhouse structures, hydroponic farms, or portable storage units for agricultural equipment and supplies.

Retail and pop-up stores:

Containers are converted into attractive retail spaces and pop-up stores, offering flexibility, mobility, and unique branding opportunities.

Benefits of shipping containers

Here are some key advantages of shipping containers2:


Shipping containers follow uniform dimensions and specifications, ensuring compatibility and seamless intermodal transportation.


Containers are built to withstand harsh environments, providing a secure and protected space for cargo during transit.


Containers can transport a range of goods, from dry goods to temperature-sensitive products and hazardous materials.


Containers optimize cargo storage and transportation, reducing shipping costs and minimizing the need for additional packaging and handling.

Easy handling:

Containers are designed for easy loading, unloading, and intermodal transfers, simplifying logistics operations.


Containers can be easily scaled up or down based on cargo volume, providing flexibility in transportation.

Global connectivity:

Containers enable efficient movement of goods across continents, connecting economies and fostering international trade.

Environmental sustainability:

Reusing and repurposing shipping containers reduces the demand for new production, minimizing waste and promoting sustainability.

Types of shipping containers

Here are some common types of containers in shipping4:

Dry containers

Standard dry containers are the most common type of containers in logistics. These containers are used for general cargo, dry goods, and non-perishable products. They are usually available in sizes like 20ft, 40ft, and 45ft.

Reefer containers

Reefer containers are equipped with built-in refrigeration units, temperature control systems, and insulation. They are designed to transport perishable goods, such as fruits, vegetables, and pharmaceuticals.

Flat rack containers

These containers have collapsible sides and are open on the top and ends. They are suitable for oversized cargo, machinery, vehicles, or goods that cannot fit within the dimensions of a standard container.

Open top containers

These types of containers in logistics have a removable roof, allowing for top-loading of cargo that exceeds the height of a standard container.

Tank containers

These containers are specifically designed to transport liquids and gas. They have cylindrical or rectangular tank compartments.

Open side containers

This type of container in shipping has full-length doors on one or both sides, providing easy access for loading and unloading cargo. They are often used for furniture, machinery, or long-length goods.

ISO tank containers

These are specialized types of containers in logistics that are designed for transportation of bulk liquids, chemicals, or gas.

Specialized containers

Specialized shipping containers cater to specific cargo requirements. For instance, ventilated containers provide airflow for goods that require it.

Cargo storage roll containers

Cargo storage roll containers are equipped with wheels and collapsible sides, providing easy mobility and storage for smaller cargo goods.

Half-height containers

Half-height containers are characterized by their reduced height compared to standard containers. They are designed to transport heavy and dense cargo such as coal, gravel, or steel.

Tunnel containers

Tunnel containers are designed with doors on both ends, allowing easy access to the cargo from either side. This feature simplifies the loading and unloading process, especially when goods need to be accessed or retrieved from the middle of the container.

Car carriers

Car carriers are specialized containers designed exclusively for transporting automobiles.

Shipping containers have indeed revolutionized the logistics industry, thanks to their standardized design, versatility, and numerous benefits. By reducing waste through reuse and repurposing, these containers also contribute to environmental sustainability.

Amazon Global Selling: Your passport to easy exports and logistics

If you’re an Indian business owner looking to export from India, Amazon Global Selling – an e-commerce exports program – provides the required platform and support at every step. With Amazon, you can sell to hundreds of millions of customers across 18+ international marketplaces. You can also benefit from its extensive logistics network like FBA and Amazon SEND.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are shipping containers of different colors?
Shipping containers are painted in different colors to signify ownership, indicate specific cargo requirements (such as refrigerated or hazardous materials), or comply with regulations. It helps identify and categorize containers easily during transportation and storage.
What is the lifespan of shipping containers?
The lifespan of shipping containers varies depending on factors like usage, maintenance, and environmental conditions. Typically, they can last anywhere from 8 to 15 years or more.
What are the different types of containers in air cargo?
In air cargo, some common types of containers include Unit Load Devices (ULDs) like LD3, LD8, and LD11 for passenger aircraft, as well as PMC and PAG containers for dedicated cargo aircraft. These containers are designed to fit the specific dimensions and requirements of aircraft cargo holds, facilitating efficient and secure transportation by air.
Published on May 25, 2023.


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