Shipping is the most commonly used mode of transportation in international trade, because it is usually the cheapest mode of transportation for large-volume purchases.

But when using sea freight, you still need to know some tricks to make sea freight more affordable.

For example, when you have 15CBM cargo, which container should you book, choose FCL or LCL?

In fact, if you cannot reach a full container volume, FCL shipping may still make sense.

Maybe LCL shipment cost more than a 20 feet container for 14CBM goods, even if half the container is empty.


Read on and learn how to make the right choice between FCL and LCL.

What is the difference between LCL and FCL?

Cargo is transported in containers during sea transportation. FCL and LCL are two common transportation terms used for import and export of cargo in the international logistics industry.

  • LCL (Less than Container Load) refers to goods with multiple owners in a container. If your quantity of goods is small, the freight forwarder will help you LCL transportation.

This means that you must share a container with other importers. For LCL cargo, the unit of freight is calculated in cubic meters.

  • FCL (Full Container Load) refers to the condition that your cargo is enough to fill one or more containers. In this case, the owner of the goods in the container is a person. Freight is calculated based on the entire container.

Is FCL faster than LCL?

Both FCL and LCL are for shipping, so in terms of transportation time, FCL and LCL are the same.

However, LCL usually spends more time on the port due to work such as consolidation, sorting, packing (unpacking), and delivery. It will also be slower on paperwork, because multiple consignees are involved.

So you often need to wait longer when choosing LCL, but this is usually no more than 10 days.

Is LCL cheaper than FCL?

No. It cannot be said with certainty that LCL is cheaper than FCL or FCL is cheaper than LCL. Because these two methods apply to different situations.

Before explaining this question, you should first know what the size of the container is?

The container is mainly divided into the following 4 specifications:






Outside size(M)





Internal size(M)











  • 20ft container = 20′ container = 20’GP
  • 40ft container = 40′ container = 40’GP
  • 40ft high cube container = 40’HQ = 40’HC

The smallest container, 20GP, can hold up to 28CBM of cargo.

What can be confirmed is:

  • When your goods are less than 1CBM, sea transportation is not a good transportation plan. Air and express delivery will be more suitable for goods less than 1CBM.
  • When your goods are in 1-2CBM, do some research to see whether you choose sea or air transportation. It depends on your country and the freight forwarder you work with. Each freight has its own best route. It is possible that you can find an air freight solution that is cheaper than sea freight.
  • When your goods are 2-8CBM, LCL is definitely more cost-effective than FCL.
  • If it is 8cbm~15cbm, do some research to see if FCL and LCL are the most effective solutions. We have encountered a situation where FCL is cheaper than LCL, when our goods are 14CBM.
  • When your goods are more than 15CBM, FCL must be cheaper than LCL.

Before calculating the freight, what you must know is the volume and weight of the goods. So make sure to clarify the size information of the goods at the time of purchase.

The formula for calculating the volume of cargo:

Volume (cubic meters) = length * width * height (m) * number of boxes

The actual shipping size may be 1-3cm larger than the measured size. Please take it into consideration when estimating the shipping cost.

You can refer to How to reduce shipping costs from China to learn more skills.

Why does LCL charge higher than FCL?

Most of the time, when using LCL logistics, the freight forwarder’s charge per cubic meter is often 2 to 3 times that of FCL logistics.

Sometimes the prepaid price is cheap, but various destination fees are charged. The following list is for reference only.

  • PSC fee (Port Service Charge)
  • SCA fee (Service Charge due Agent)
  • D/O fee (Deliver Order)
  • THC fee (Terminal Handling Charge)
  • TSF fee (Terminal Security Fee)
  • IPF fee (Import Processing Fee)

For ship carriers, they only accept FCL bookings.

Freight forwarders must combine multiple LCLs into a complete container. This makes sense.

The workload of managing LCL transportation is actually higher. Although the FCL cargo can be unloaded and shipped directly to the buyer’s location, the LCL cargo must be unloaded at the port of destination.

In particular, the split process at ports in developed countries requires a lot of physical labor due to different types and shapes of goods.

In addition, LCL will cause the goods to have to be stored in the export port terminal warehouse and the destination port terminal warehouse for a longer time, which is also an additional cost.

This is why you have to pay more freight at a destination of 15 cubic meters LCL than a complete 20-foot container.

How to calculate the international ocean freight?

The shipping algorithm will vary according to the difference between FCL and LCL. And the freight rate changes in real time and is determined by the shipping company. Especially during the epidemic period, freight rates fluctuate more obviously.

Therefore, if you want to know port freight, you can directly consult our pricing experts. They can help you contact the transportation company and provide you with a real-time quote.

You can also ask your supplier to quote you based on a predetermined quantity (this is usually the case when importing from China).

The following table will give you an idea of CBM and container freight:





20” GP


US west($)






US mid($)






US east($)






This is a method for estimating product shipping costs for your reference. It also allows you to better estimate the profit of the product. So, how do you calculate the shipping cost?

This is a real example. You want to buy 2000 Bluetooth headsets from China, a total of 100 boxes, the box size is 48cm x 52cm x 44cm, you want to ship them to Boston (Eastern US).

The total CBM of 2000 PCS is:

100 x19cm x 0.48m x 0.52m x 0.44m =11CBM

Therefore, the total transportation cost is $260 * 11CBM = $2,860.

Then, the average transportation cost of a Bluetooth headset will be:

Total transportation cost / 2000 units = $2860/2000 = $1.43

When you do not specify the product, quantity and destination, you cannot be sure which shipping method is cheaper.

Knowing FCL and LCL can give you an idea of the circumstances under which you should pay attention to avoid paying extra fees.

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And you can leave a message below if you have any questions.

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