FCL vs. LCL Container Shipping | Sea and Ocean Freight

FCL vs. LCL shipment | 6 key differences for a well-founded decision

In the logistics world, both full container load (FCL) and less than container load (LCL) refer to shipping sea and ocean freight. The key difference between these two types of container shipping lies in cargo volume. With FCL, the entire shipment transported in a container belongs to one owner, whereas LCL shipments combine goods owned by different parties in one shared container. At Eurosender, we will guide you through LCL versus FCL pros and cons and will help you make the right choice for your business needs.


LCL vs. FCL container shipping pros and cons

LCL advantages

  • Ideal for cargo that does not fill the entire container
  • The shipper pays only for the space occupied by his load
  • Affordable solution for importing smaller volumes of goods
  • Flexible delivery options
  • In peak seasons (August-October), it might be easier to book LCL shipments compared to FCL services

LCL disadvantages

  • More expensive than FCL per cubic metre
  • More handling than with FCL, higher risks of damage (no guarantee that other goods travelling in the same container will not be corrosive, liquid, etc.)
  • The LCL shipment consolidation procedure is longer than that of the FCL
  • LCL shipping offers longer delivery times compared to FCL
  • Customs delays more likely than with FCL

FCL advantages

  • Goods arrive in less time than with LCL, faster customs clearance procedure
  • The price of a cubic metre within the container is lower than that offered to LCL shipments
  • Less handling than with LCL, fewer damage risks
  • Viable option for big retailers with an important amount of stock
  • Higher safety – no container sharing

FCL disadvantages

  • High cost: you need to pay for the whole container
  • Does not accommodate the needs of importers and exporters with lower shipping volume
  • Hard to book during peak season (August-October)
  • It is harder to unload an FCL shipment, additional fees may arise in relation to this process
  • Less convenient delivery options – the goods arrive in a container on the back of a truck


FCL vs. LCL shipment size and weight

Typical shipping container dimensions are 20 ft and 40 ft. LCL shipments are usually the best fit for cargo occupying less than 15 cubic metres, the minimum chargeable volume being of 1 cubic metre, while FCL is recommended for loads exceeding 15 cubic metres.

The approximate capacity of a 20’ container is 33 cubic metres, and that of a 40’ container ranges between 67 and 76 cubic metres. The maximum acceptable weight per cubic metre equals to 1 ton (1000 kg). Weight allowance might differ from one container to another.


Is LCL faster than FCL? | FCL vs. LCL shipping speed

FCL is usually a better option for urgent shipments vs. LCL, as the cargo takes less time to arrive. LCL freight implies more handling, consolidation, and longer customs clearance than FCL. This is due to additional steps necessary for LCL, such as loading, unloading, document processing, and sorting goods for each receiver. Therefore, LCL shipping is always slower compared to FCL sea & ocean freight.


Why is LCL more expensive than FCL? | LCL vs. FCL price

When comparing LCL vs. FCL charges, one needs to understand that prices depend on the distance, volume, season, container type, as well as consolidation, and other additional charges.

Even though shipping an entire container may seem expensive, when weighing up LCL vs. FCL freight options, the shipper must know that with LCL the price per unit (cubic metre) is much higher than with FCL, the cost of which is calculated based on flat-rate. On the other hand, LCL price is generally less subject to fluctuations than FCL price, as it mostly depends on the handling cost.


FCL vs. LCL shipment handling process

While FCL is usually booked for bulk items and large volume products, LCL is all about consolidating numerous parcels and pallets provided by different shippers.

LCL shipments need to be properly packed to be easily separated from other cargoes within the same container. Less than container load shipments undergo a complex pre-exports freight consolidation procedure involving different groupage operators. Once the cargo is consolidated, it may need additional offloading at an intermediate (transhipment) point before being trucked to the port of export. Upon arrival at the port of discharge, all LCL shipments will be deconsolidated.

FCL has fewer intermediary points on their way to destination if no additional container examination is required. Once the freight is loaded, the container is sealed and trucked to the port of export. In some cases, additional container examination can be required. The doors of the container will not open until it arrives at the destination port. Therefore, they arrive faster.


LCL vs. FCL for fragile freight

FCL is a safer sea and ocean freight shipping option for delicate cargo, as one shipper has complete control over the container contents. With LCL, the container is shared by several shippers and multiple cargo types, including those that could be potentially damaging for the fragile load. Due to more handling and loading/unloading necessary for shipping LCL freight, this logistics solution is a better fit for non-delicate cargo types.


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FCL vs. LCL container shipping | How to choose?

When comparing LCL vs. FCL freight container shipping, always take into consideration the key factors relevant for your business, such as FCL vs. LCL shipping time, costs, the number of pallets, their weight, as well as load fragility.

The advice below will help you make the right decision:

  • It is generally recommended to consider FCL when you have more than 15-16 pallets or 15 cubic metres to ship.
  • FCL will be a safer option for delicate cargo versus LCL shipments.
  • FCL offers a lower delivery time, which is better for time-sensitive shipments.
  • LCL is a better option for small retailers who have less cargo.
  • LCL is the right choice for non-urgent cargo that will not fill up the entire container. You only pay for the space occupied by your shipment.


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FAQ about LCL vs. FCL freight container shipping

What is the difference in packaging requirements for FCL and LCL shipments?
LCL shipments need to be palletised and properly labelled. It is recommended to pack individual items in boxes before putting them on a pallet. The requirement to palletise your goods for an FCL shipment may depend on the destination warehouse. Thus, it is always necessary to check this information before preparing your load.
FCL vs. LCL container shipping: how do seasonal factors affect these services?
In peak season, booking FCL freight services is not always easy, especially during high-congestion periods on the Chinese market (August-October). LCL services can be easily booked throughout the year. Seasonal price fluctuations impact both FCL and LCL services. Besides the seasonal spikes, the cost of FCL vs. LCL shipments may also vary depending on the current import-export situation.
What are the Amazon FBA requirements towards FCL vs. LCL shipments?
When shipping inventory to Amazon, it is highly recommended to palletise your LCL and FCL shipments to avoid damage and simplify the handling process. Amazon fulfilment centres may reject unproperly packed shipments, no matter how big they are.
FCL vs. LCL shipping charges: what additional costs may be involved?
When booking FCL, the shipment will be subject to THC (terminal handling charge). This fee is payable to the carrier before the shipment is unloaded at the destination terminal.
With LCL, multiple fees come into play:
  • Document transfer charge
  • Various types of consolidation fees (security, trucking to intermediate freight stations, forklift, loading/unloading)
  • Terminal handling charge (THC)
  • Customs exam costs (for consolidated containers).
Both FCL and LCL may be subject to local charges, which, in the case of LCL are calculated per cubic metre, while with FCL, they represent a fixed amount per container.
FCL vs. LCL container shipping: is the customs clearance procedure any different for freight?
In practice, the customs examination methods for LCL and FCL freight are the same. The only difference is that when one element of the LCL shipment is being inspected, the whole container will undergo additional examination. Overall, FCL shipments are less subject to random examinations than LCL loads which are constantly checked.
All the costs resulting from the customs examination are borne by the buyer.
What are the most common incoterms in FCL and LCL freight shipping?
When cargo deliveries are conducted through LCL and FCL, the most recurrent incoterms defining the responsibility of the seller and the buyer are the following:
  • ExWorks (EXW) – door-to-door shipment. The buyer assumes all duties and responsibilities.
  • FCA (Free Carrier) – the seller delivers the goods at a named place and is responsible for export customs clearance.
  • FOB (Free On Board) – the supplier is responsible for all local charges and transportation to the port. Once the goods are aboard, the responsibility shifts to the importer.
If you wish to learn more about various types of Incoterms, check our dedicated article.