Sea freight is traditionally based on volume and container size whereas air freight is based on chargeable weight.

Volume and Container Sizes for Sea Freight

20’ Container

To give you an idea of how big a 20’ container is, it can hold 25 average size American refrigerators. A 20’ container can typically hold all items in a medium sized (2 bed room) apartment or house. That includes the typical amount of boxes used to hold all the various personal effects belonging to two adults and perhaps a child: a lot of books, clothes, dishes, pictures, pillows, rugs extra “stuff” already stored in cartons, and so on…

Let’s say, regarding all those miscellaneous cartons of personal effects, this could be / may be / might be… quite “liberally” estimated … to take up around 300-cubic feet. Since a standard 20-ft ocean container can hold 1,050 – cubic feet of volume, this would mean there would still be a lot of room left over for furniture. Let’s say you want to include a “fair amount” of furniture: a living room set (approximately 300-cft), dining room set (150-cft), a bed room set (200-cft), misc. stored goods (100-cft). This equals approx. 750-cubic feet. Combine about 750-cft of furniture with 300-cft of personal effects and this gives you a fully loaded 20-foot container.

Dimensions of a 20′ container:- Length: 5.919m Width: 2.340m Height: 2.380m

To calculate the volume you multiply them together: 5.919 x 2.340 x 2.380 = 32.96cbm

Practically though the usual maximum loading volume is around 28 cbm, depending on the size of the cartons you are loading in it. You can hardly ever pack it right to the edge and the top.

Tip # 1: If your estimated volume is between 1050 Cu Ft and 1250 Cu Ft then you may save money going for a 20’ container instead of a 40’ container if you prioritize your items as ‘Essentials’ and ‘Nice to Haves’ and ensure that the essentials are packed and loaded first. If you have space left you can load in your nice to haves.

40′ Container

A 40’ container can hold larger (3-4) bedroom household items. In addition to the above you can ship a second pair of couches, bed room set, large appliances, barbecue grill and additional 50 – 75 boxes.

The dimensions of a standard 40′ General Purpose container are as follows:-

Length: 12.051m Width: 2.340m Height: 2.380m (12.051 x 2.340 x 2.380 = 67.11cbm)

Same applies when loading as with a 20′, drop roughly 5 cbm to be safe with your capacity if you are planning a shipment.

Tip # 2: 40’ containers do not cost twice as much even though they offer two times the capacity. Ocean freight and destination services for 40’ containers usually cost only approx 60% more than 40’ containers so you may want to factor this into your calculation when determining container size.

40′ Hi Cube Container

The length and width of a 40’ Hi Cube container are similar to a 40’ Standard but you get an extra 1 feet in height. This translates to an additional 8 CBM or 280 Cu Ft of loading volume.

Nominal Dimension Length Width Height Cubic Feet Cubic Meter Cubic Feet Cubic Feet
External 20′ 8′ 8’6″        
6.096 m 2.438 m 2.591 m
Internal 19’4.25″ 7’8.625″ 7’10” 1170 cft 33.131 cbm 1050 cft 28 cbm
5.899 m 2.353 m 2.388 m
External 40′ 8′ 8′ 6″        
12.192 m 2.438 m 2.591 m
Internal 39’5.375″ 7’8.625″ 7’10” 2385 cft 67.535 cbm 2050 cft 58 cbm
12.024 m 2.353 m 2.388 m
External 40′ Hi Cube 8′ 9′ 6″        
12.192 m 2.438 m 2.896 m
Internal 39′ 5.375″ 7′ 8.625″ 8′ 10″ 2690 cft 76.172 cbm 2350 cft 66 cbm
12.024 m 2.353 m 2.692 m


  • Containers with the same external length may not have exactly the same internal length and width.
  • The Recommended Load Volume (RLV) refers to the suggested maximum cube to use in calculating a full container load.
  • The RLV can be about 10-15% less than the container capacity, depending on the export pack dimensions.

The most common container options for personal effects are 20’, 40’ and 40’ Hi Cube.




40′ Hi Cube

Add new menu item below Container Dimensions called “Volumetric Weight” and add below content.


Volumetric weight applies when shipping by air.

The cost of an air shipment can be affected by the amount of space that it occupies on an aircraft, rather than the actual weight. This is the volumetric (or dimensional) weight. This is due to the fact that the size of some items will take up a larger amount of space on an aircraft in relation to the actual weight of the item. For example, a 5 Kg box of potato chips would be much larger and therefore take up more space than a 5 Kg box of potatoes.

Airlines therefore apply a weight to volume ratio to compensate for the space that is used in an aircraft cargo compartment. The volume ratio is normally calculated 6 to 1 – that is 6000 cubic centimeters of space used is the equivalent of 1 Kilo of weight.

Air Freight charges are calculated using the greater of the actual gross weight or volumetric weight, based on 166 cubic inches per pound or 6,000 cubic centimeters per kilogram. The formula for volume weight is as follows: (L x W x H ÷ 166 (cu in.) or 6,000 (cu cm) = volume weight).

Here’s an example –

A package that has dimension of 100 x 40 x 30 cms would have a volumetric weight of 20 Kilos (100cm x 40cm x 30 cm divided by 6000 = 20 Kg)

If the package has an actual weight of 15 Kilos you would be charged on the volumetric weight of the package – that is 20 Kilos.

Conversely, if the package weighed 25 Kilos, you would be charged on the actual weight – that is 25 Kilos.