International trade has become very easy and convenient with the advent of shipping containers. Introduced by Malom Mclean in 1952, these containers have revolutionized world trade. Currently, they are responsible for almost 90% of intercontinental trade. Today, these containers are the most significant aspect of the shipping industry and are also accountable for their enormous growth and development.

What are shipping containers? 

With utmost safety and security, large metal boxes used to transport your goods from one part of the world to another are called shipping containers. They are also referred to as intermodal containers, cargo containers, shipping units, container units, etc., made of corrugated solid steel; these containers protect transported cargo from shock and harsh weather conditions. The average lifespan of a shipping unit is known to be from 25-30 years. The longevity of containers remains even after they are retired from cargo ships. After they retire from ocean shipping, they are used for various other purposes like building homes, creating office space, workshop restaurants and many more.

Types of containers used in international shipping

A wide variety of shipping containers are available in the market today. Depending on the requirement, the type of product to be shipped or the particular services needed, these containers may differ in dimension, structure, materials, construction, etc. Various cargo containers, from dry vans to ISO tanks, are being used in international trade to meet all cargo shipping requirements.

Below are some of the most common shipping container types used in international shipping.

Dry van

Dry van containers are closed on all sides and have two doors on the front. They are the most commonly used containers in the shipping industry. They are best suited for general or dry freight as they have no temperature control system for transporting temperature-sensitive food and chemicals. Dry vans are known by other names, such as dry cargo containers, standard containers, or boxes.

Dry van containers are available in dimensions 20 ft dry van, 40 ft dry van, 40 ft high cube dry van and 45 ft high cube dry van.

Flat rack container

Flat rack containers feature only two sides and no top, giving them the appearance of a rack. They are a good option for transporting heavy loads and bulky cargo, such as machinery, timber, buses, boats, etc., that cannot be moved using conventional containers due to space constraints. Such containers come with 20ft and 40ft flat rack dimensions.

Types of the flat rack container

  • Non-collapsible Flat Racks: It has fixed walls at both the short ends and a higher top load.
  • Collapsible Flat Racks: It comes with collapsible walls, making it very easy and convenient to transport cargo.
Refrigerated containers

Refrigerated containers, also known as reefer containers, are equipped with internal refrigerated units with temperature control. They transport temperature-sensitive cargo like fruits, meat, seafood, dairy, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, and flowers. Standard reefer containers can maintain a temperature between +25° C and -25° C. A certain amount of the global reefer fleet can also keep a temperature down to -35° C or even lower. Special containers, aka super freezers, can maintain a temperature below -70° C.

Five reefer containers are widely used for international trade: Closed reefer, modified/ controlled atmosphere reefer container, cryogenic cooling reefer containers, automatic fresh air management containers, and redundant refrigeration reefer containers.

ISO tanks 

Tanks containers are cylindrical and are primarily used to transport liquids. Food, wines & Spirits, chemicals, oils and fuels, and toxic substances are cargo types that are transported using an ISO container. These containers are made of anti-solid corrosive material and have a protective outer layer of polyurethane or aluminium. They can only fill up to 80% of their capacity to prevent spillage during international trade.

Baffle tanks, refrigerated or cool tanks, lined tanks, heated hanks, and gas tanks are some types of ISO containers.

High cube containers

High cube containers, also known as HC containers, are similar to the standard cargo container, with the only difference being their height. They are a foot higher than conventional containers, providing freight forwarders with extra storage capacity. Most high cubes are 40 ft tall but can also be 45 ft depending on the requirements.

Standard high cube, high refrigerated cube, side open high cube, double door high cube, and pallet wide high cube containers are some types of high cube containers.

Open top containers

As the name suggests, an open-top cargo container has an opening from the top side. These are used for transporting wide merchandise such as raw mining materials, pipes, tools, cable spools, bulky non-uniform cargo, logs, scrap metal, etc., that may not be easy to get through a standard cargo container. 

Special purpose containers 

Special purpose containers are those cargo units customized for a specific cargo transfer. One can build these particular units in any shape or dimension as the requirement. 

Most shipping container businesses avoid using special containers because manufacturing and transportation are very costly.

Half height containers

These cargo containers come with half height compared to standard shipping containers. Heavy loads can be easily transported using such containers because they have a lower centre of gravity. They are used for transporting goods like coal, mined minerals, ores, stones etc., which need easy loading and unloading. They come with open-top formats: no top, removable hardtop, and removable soft top. 

Advantages of using shipping containers in international shipping


The use of shipping containers is wider than carrying any specific type of cargo. The different types of containers used in international shipping can transfer various goods, including commodities such as coal and wheat, manufactured items, automobiles, and refrigerated items.


The cargo container is a standard transport product efficiently handled and managed globally through specialized modes (ships, trucks, barges, etc.), equipment, and terminals. Each cargo unit has a unique identification number and code attached, permitting it to be a distinctive transport unit that can be managed as such.

Security and safety

While transferring goods via shipping container, one need not worry about safety and security. These cargo containers are made of solid corten steel and can effortlessly secure commodities from harsh climatic conditions. Their robust steel body also helps to keep burglars at bay. Nowadays, different types of container locks are available in the market, which provides additional protection for goods.


Shipping containers take around 10-12 years in sea transportation; after retirement, they are used for various other purposes. Refurbishing and using old cargo containers as living quarters is gaining popularity internationally. It’s far less expensive to set up, and, at the same time, they appear pretty stylish when done correctly.

Fast transportation

With the advent of more robust and powerful ships and standard handling equipment like cranes or heavy-duty lifts, the transhipment time has decreased excessively. Moreover, standardized MHE (Material Handling Equipment) has also made loading and unloading quicker nowadays at ports and warehouses.

International Trade’s growth has increased enormously since the introduction of different types of shipping containers in international shipping. As we discussed above, many shipping containers are available today. Be it any container you need, a dry van, reefer, iso tank or a particular purpose container, you can easily acquire one per your needs and requirements. These ocean freight containers have numerous advantages like durability, fast transportation, safety and security.

With BOXXPORT, buying and selling steel shipping containers is now simple. We are a prominent digital container trading platform that enables you to trade from the convenience of your home.