FCL vs. LCL: Choosing which Container Load is Best for Your Business


Full Container Load vs. Less than Container Load: the Difference in Shipping


Table of Contents

What is the difference between FCL and LCL in Shipping Terms?

The main difference between FCL and LCL is that the buyer is sharing space in a container for an LCL shipment, compared to renting the full container space under an FCL agreement. To help you understand and navigate these options, we’ve created a table that can guide you in deciding which shipping method makes the most sense for your needs.

How to Choose Between FCL and LCL: it’s in the Fine Details

There are numerous factors that a shipper should consider when choosing an ocean freight arrangement. There is more to consider apart from the shipment volume when deciding to use FCL or LCL. To help you understand the in and outs of FCL and LCL shipments, we’ve created the table below to guide your decision making.


LCL: Less than Container Load

FCL: Full Container Load

Shipment’s Volume

  • It can be used for shipments as little as 1 CBM, or less, although the minimum chargeable volume is 1 CBM. (Note: It is also advisable to check the air options if the shipment is less than 1 CBM and the chargeable weight is less than 200kg).
  • LCL is ideal for shipments with a volume of less than 15 CBM.
  • Any shipment can use the FCL agreement, regardless of the volume. However, it is best to consider booking a full container if the total space that the load consists of 15 CBM or more.
  • Below are the most common container sizes for FCL shipments as well as their approximate capacity:
    • 20’ – 33 CBM
    • 40’ – 67.5 CBM
    • 40’ HQ – 76 CBM

Shipment’s Weight

  • The maximum weight per CBM is 1 ton or 1,000 kg. If the shipment’s weight exceeded the allowable load, then the chargeable weight will be based on the gross weight. (Ex: a 1CBM load weighs 1,300 kg, the chargeable weight is going to be 1.3 CBM instead of 1 CBM)
  • Small shipments below 1 CBM but weighs more than 150kg or more can be more economical to be shipped using LCL instead of Air freight. This is because airlines base the chargeable weight of a shipment either by its gross weight or volumetric weight, whichever is higher. (Ex: A 0.8 CBM shipment with 300 kg gross weight will have a volumetric weight of 133 kg. However, no matter how small the shipment occupies, airlines will charge 300kg as the base weight for charging the freight.)
  • Each container size has a different maximum allowable weight, which is always posted on the container as a reference. Some countries have various rulings on the maximum load. Below are the maximum payload for the basic container sizes.
    • 20’ – 18.6 tons
    • 40’ and 40’ HC – 28.6 tons
  • The US has several maximum gross allowable cargo weight for different states; below is the safe payload weight per container:
    • 20’ – 17 tons
    • 40’ and 40’ HC – 21 tons

After exceeding the maximum weight, the shipper must move the remainder of the cargo to a different container. 

Freight Cost

  • The costs are usually cheaper for smaller loads under 15 CBM.
  • The overall cost can be higher for loads over 15 CBM depending on the route. 
  • The local fees are usually higher than the FCL. If the shipment is +/- 2 CBM of 15 CBM, it is best to check the full container load option. 
  • FCL can be cheaper for shipments with a volume of around 15 CBM. There is no specific volume when an FCL is less expensive since rates differ depending on the route.
  • The price per CBM of the container (maximum load divided by the container cost for the ocean freight) is not always lower than LCL. However, the overall cost for a full container load can be less expensive since the local charges for an FCL is a fixed rate per container. 


  • LCL can take at least four days or more in total transit time compared to FCL. Additional days required to account for unloading, sorting, and deconsolidation. 
  • If one consignment in the same container gets chosen by the customs to undergo an inspection, the entire container will be put on hold by the customs. 
  • The total transit time is usually shorter compared to LCL because the containers are unloaded from the vessel and delivered to the final destination. 

Security and Damages

  • There’s a higher risk for damages, theft, or loss since the container is shared with other shipments. 
  • Freight Insurance is available for an extra layer of protection on the buyer.
  • There is a lower risk of the cargo getting damaged, stolen, or lost because the container travels are direct route with a single consignee. 
  • Insurance and container loading inspections are also available as an extra layer of protection. 


  • The vessel and container can be tracked by using the information found on the Bill of Lading. Unfortunately, the tracking ends when the container arrives at the port or when the cargo unloads from the container. The tracking might also not be accurate, especially for multiple handlers. You can get more information from your freight forwarder for instances like this.
  • The tracking for FCL is the same for LCL. You can either track the vessel or the container’s location using the information found on the House Bill of Lading. FCL is much easier to follow than LCL since the full container is transported under one consignee. Your freight forwarder will also give you an estimate of the shipping plan. 

Split Shipment

  • It is easier to split shipments to be delivered to different places for an LCL shipment since the full container is going to a warehouse for sorting. 
  • If the shipments are going to several addresses that are far from each other, LCL might be a better option depending on the total volume. The load can be divided so you can use different ports depending on where the shipment will be delivered. 
  • You can also split the shipment under an FCL agreement; however, it’s best to check what your options are and which will be more economical. Since the container for an FCL doesn’t need to be transported into a warehouse, splitting the shipment will require this extra step, equating to warehousing fees, labeling fees, sorting fees, loading, and unloading fees, delivery fees, etc. It is best to consult your freight forwarder on the best route for your shipment not to end up paying more. 

Delivery Appointments

  • Depending on where the shipment is going, LCL shipments might be easier to book with fulfillment warehouses for deliveries than higher volume, loads, because the overall size is not as large as a full container’s volume.
    • There are times wherein the wait time for a delivery appointment to deliver an FCL container to a fulfillment warehouse takes a longer time for approval compared to an LCL delivery. Shippers sending their cargo to Amazon FBA have been known to face these issues. 

Booking a Container Space During China Holidays

  • There are times when booking space in an LCL shipment is easier before a long holiday in China compared to FCL. Because there is a demand for space, LCL consolidators maximize availability by allowing a significant amount of shippers to share space and not ship partially empty containers.
  • Because of the high demand for shipping before a China holiday such as the Chinese New Year, the availability of the containers for an FCL shipment might have scarcity.

Amazon FBA

  • The carrier will make an appointment with the Amazon warehouse for truckload delivery. Cartons are usually palletized under Amazon’s requirements during deconsolidation and before the load is shipped to Amazon’s warehouse. 
  • Like LCL, the carrier will also make an appointment with Amazon’s warehouse for truckload delivery under an FCL shipment. Cartons are usually palletized with pallets acceptable to Amazon in the country of origin before the goods are loaded into a container. 

Pallets can either be added by the supplier or by the freight forwarder. It is much easier if the supplier can include pallets to avoid delays and possible additional fees incurred by bringing the goods into a warehouse for sorting and palletizing.

Local Charges

  • Shipments under LCL shipments are billed per CBM. Rates include the local charges for both outgoing and incoming ports. It is common to pay more on the local charges when you’re doing LCL compared to your previous FCL shipment.
  • The local charges for an FCL shipment are a fixed amount and are usually billed per container. These charges are generally lower than the costs incurred on LCL shipments. 

Customs Clearance and Customs Exam

  • There is no difference with how an LCL and FCL shipment clears customs. Although the challenging part for LCL is that if a single consignment gets flagged by customs from an examination, the whole container would need to undergo an examination. This can be as simple as an X-Ray exam or as thorough as the intensive CET (Contraband Enforcement Team) Exam. Either way, due to the increased number of consignees in a single container, the chance for an examination increases.
  • The cost for the custom examination, and any corresponding warehousing and port fees will be shared among all of the consignees using the container.
  • Customs do a random inspection of containers. That being said, the risk of a container being checked or inspected is always possible, even if you are consistently shipping the same product and using the same route. 
  • The cost for the customs examination, as well as any port or warehousing fees incurred during the exam, will all be shouldered by the buyer. That is why it is best always to consider the possibility of paying customs examination when you’re making a shipment. 

Which is cheaper LCL or FCL? 

Going through the differences between FCL and LCL might be overwhelming, and as a buyer, the usual question is which of the two methods is cheaper? There is no simple answer to this question, as there are several factors that need to be considered. The primary considerations are the volume of the shipment, the route, the timeline, and the cost. 

While LCL allows buyers to ship lower volume for their shipments, the freight, including the local charges is usually higher than FCL, when comparing the per CBM rate. Thus, it is helpful always to compare LCL pricing with FCL when the CBM is high enough. As a general rule, if the shipment is around 15 CBM, it is advisable to check with your freight forwarding company for the rates of both LCL and FCL and compare the freight cost, transit time, and the other possible charges that might incur during the logistics process. Knowing shipping basics, and having a trustworthy freight forwarder will be beneficial for any buyer when choosing the right method to ship their products. 

Need a Shipping Quote?

get a Best Rate Guarantee!