International Moving From USA to Any Destination

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International Shipping Containers Explained

How much cargo will you be able to fit into your shipping container when you relocate? Which size shipping container will be the right one for your move?

What’s on this page?

01 | The Intermodal Shipping Container Explained
02 | Shipping Container for International Relocations
03 | Shipping Container Dimensions
04 | How Much Cargo Fits In a Shipping Container
05 | To Europe, Australia and the UK, You don’t Need To Choose

The Intermodal Shipping Container Explained

The intermodal shipping container is the unsung hero of modern technology. It enables the logistics that let us move your cargo from one side of the earth to the other efficiently at a reasonable cost. Today these containers are ubiquitous. You will see them wherever you go around the world. Near any port, you will see high stacks of them, ready to be loaded or unloaded and shipped anywhere within hours.

The container as we know it today was introduced in the 1950s and went on to transform the world. In the following years, ports were rebuilt to accommodate them, as were tributary and distributary industries.

In recent years, modern technology has allowed ship companies to build larger ships with smaller crews. To accommodate them, harbors have been deepened, and even the Panama Canal was widened, all because of (or thanks to!) these simple, yet ingenious, boxes of metal.

You’ve seen them on trucks, trains, and of course on ships. This is the meaning of the word intermodal, that the same container can be used on different modes of transportation and vessel types. Almost all dry goods shipped throughout the world are transported on shipping containers.

The same containers that will move your household from the USA to a new country, will also be used for sending goods, mail, and most of the world’s cargo. You will see probably also these containers used for many other uses on the land, which oftentimes causes some confusion.

Shipping Containers for International Relocations

There are many types of containers that have been developed along the lines of the ubiquitous container that are used for domestic and land shipping but are not used in International Movers . As you drive along the highways, you probably notice 8’ or 10’ containers that are often used in the USA for domestic shipping.

For international relocations, the only containers that are used are 20’, 40’, and 40’ high cube containers. Occasionally other containers are used for commercial cargo, but not for household goods.

There are also containers that are tunnels meaning that they have doors at either end. There are those who have who open to the length of the container, and those without a roof (used for things like coal). These are not in use in international shipments of household goods.

All of the containers that we use have a single set of doors that are closed with a seal by SDC International Shipping movers. The seal on the container will usually remain intact until your container is delivered to your destination.

[This seal may be broken if your container is manually inspected. There are also some countries that require that goods be transferred to moving vans for delivery, in these cases you more than likely won’t see the container at the destination.]

Any container that goes on a ship needs to be certified as being sea-worthy. This means that they have been checked that they can be properly sealed to protect the cargo from seawater and that the integrity of the container is maintained, meaning that it can support fully packed containers stacked on top of it.

Shipping Container Dimensions

There are three container sizes that SDC International Movers uses for sending your household goods and personal effects from the USA to your new home.

The 20’ Container

The 20’ container is 20 feet long. The doors of the container open to the entire width of the container, meaning that if it fits in the container, you will be able to get it through the door. The container looks like a square prism. The width of the container is two inches larger at 7’ 8” as opposed to the height of 7’ 6”. Doing the math of length x width x height of the internal dimensions gives you an exact measurement of 1,160 cubic feet.

Of course, you won’t be able to use all 1160 cubic feet. There is inevitably a large portion of the container is empty space between items that don’t fit perfectly together. Unless you’re sending standard shipping boxes and only standard shipping boxes, you’ll be lucky to squeeze in 950 cubic feet to one of these containers. Even then, don’t forget that the cartons themselves will take up some room.

Our professional movers are very experienced. They pack hundreds of containers each year and know how to take full advantage of the space available in your container. When SDC International Shipping’s movers both pack and load your container, expect to be able to fit in 1100 cubic feet of cargo.

How much is 1100 cubic feet of cargo? The contents of a typical 3 bedroom house can usually fit into a 20’ container. In addition to professionally packing and loading your things, our movers also disassemble many furniture pieces like dining room tables, bedroom sets and some other pieces of furniture. Critically, knock-down furniture does not withstand disassembly well and are not taken apart.

When these pieces are taken apart, they will occupy a much smaller amount of room in your container, allowing you to use the room for other things. This will also help avoid damage and breakage to your furniture at the same time, as the compact loading of the container will put extra pressure on the delicate joints holding your furniture together.

In case you were considering loading your own container, please keep in mind that when a moving container is delivered to your house for removal of your things, it is on the chassis of a truck and that the floor of the container is usually about 5 feet off the ground. Unless you are loading your cargo from a storage facility that has a loading dock equipped for containers, containers should only be loaded by professionals.

Many countries will allow for the import of your automobile or other licensed vehicles as a part of your household goods. Depending upon the exact location of both your point of origin and ultimate destination, many times it makes the most sense to ship the car in your shipping container. One of the most popular cars that we are asked to ship is the Toyota RAV4. This car is 73” wide and 69” high. It will fit into the container.

Sending a car needs to be arranged ahead of time, as many legal hurdles need to be passed, including the clearing of the car’s title for export. We will also have to send a special lift to get the car into the container.

The length of the car is 182” and we need to leave a few spare inches, meaning that it will take up about two-thirds of the container. However, don’t despair, if you want to send your car, and to locations like Europe it is a really good idea for you to send them, you can use the 40’ container.

The 40’ Container

The 40’ Container is the same height and width as the 20’ container, but as its name implies, it is twice as long. This means that instead of 1160 cubic feet, nominally it will be able to accommodate just over 2300 cubic feet of cargo space. This should be able to accommodate most households, including large ones. The 40’ container provides enough cargo space for most family moves. Even for most regular households, there should be enough room in your container to accommodate both your household goods and an automobile.

Please note that while the most popular pickup trucks like the Ford F-150 will just fit into a container, we will have to check the regulations at your destination country. Some countries will consider them commercial goods and not a part of your household goods, even if that is the way you are personally using them.

Many times our clients want to send along many things available only in the USA or that are difficult to find or very expensive in other countries. Some of these things include outdoor grills and fire pits, sports equipment, extra bicycles, playground equipment, etc. If are moving somewhere with a yard, the chances are that you will want to take many of these things with you. You might also have equipment for a hobby of yours like scuba gear, skiing equipment, kayaks, or canoes. When you send a 40’ container, you have a lot of room in which to put these things.

In general, the total cost of a 40’ is only about 1.5 times the cost of a 20’ container. So if you are unsure if you will be able to fit all of your things into a 20’ container, you might want to treat your family to the 40’ container and you won’t have to make hard decisions about what to send to your new home and what not to send. The 40’ container is spacious and when properly packed, it can hold a lot of cargo.

If for some reason you need even more cargo space than the 40’ container, there is an even larger container: the 40’ high cube.

The 40’ HC Container

The 40’ high cube container is the same size as the regular 40’ container, only instead of being 7’ 6” tall, it is 8’ 6” tall. Adding 13.3% to the container’s capacity, it can hold nearly 2,700 cubic feet of cargo space. Most clients will not require this much space. The rare occasion when it is necessary are the cases where people send a large household and a vehicle.

There are also some countries that will allow for the import of more than one vehicle type. If your family is sending, for instance, both a motorcycle and an automobile, along with your household goods and personal effects, you might need a 40’ HC container.

Please note that typical customs regulations do not allow you to ship unlimited quantities of things tax free. Some are tempted to utilize the extra space in a 40’ high cube container to bring many things for family and friends living in their destination country. We can’t discourage this enough.

When you send your things according to the customs rules and regulations of the country, most times your container gets delivered to your destination quickly without incident. However if you have unusual amounts of things, it is likely to trigger a costly manual inspection of your container. It makes perfect sense for you to bring a few boxes of those great American towels in your container.

It will not make sense for you to bring 12 boxes of new towels for you to give as gifts to cousins and friends. This is a trap that past clients have fallen into when they had excess cargo space available to them.

How Much Cargo Fits In a Shipping Container

So which size container will be the best for your family? We have offered some guidelines here that will help give you some preliminary guidance:


Container Type Suitable for
20’ container suitable for most families, can accommodate the contents of a typical 3 bedroom house when packed carefully by professionals
40’ container suitable for a larger household, or an entire household along with an automobile
40’ HC container suitable for very large households, or a large household with a car


The typical cost of a 40’ container is about 50% more than that of a 20’ container. The high cube containers cost a little more than that.

If you have a lot of confusion over which container size best suits you, ask your SDC International Shipping relocation specialist to set up an on-site survey of your house. Sometimes we will also be able to advise you about which items might be better left behind in any case. Sometimes you might think that you want to send a piece of furniture, but it isn’t always a good idea to bring things that don’t necessarily weather the storms of the seas very well.

For most destinations, it usually makes sense to send a 20’ container if you are intending to send 500 cubic feet or more. We can facilitate door-to-door shipments to almost anywhere in the world starting at 100 cubic feet. However, the cost per cubic foot of cargo is much greater.

For most of the world, the cost of sending a full container load is about equal to sending 500 cubic feet of a less than full container load, as those are shipped using consolidation services that will combine your shipment along with those of others to the same port. This is a very efficient way of sending smaller shipments.

To Europe, Australia and the UK, You don’t Need To Choose

If you are moving to Europe, Australia, or the UK, you won’t have to make the decision of which container size best suits you. To these locations SDC International Shipping offers groupage consolidations. Because we have such a high volume of cargo to these destinations, we are able to send our own containers at volume discounts that we can pass along to our clients.

You don’t have to decide between sending 1000 cubic and 2000 cubic feet, send 1350 or whatever meets your needs. We continuously fill the largest containers available and send them to these destinations where we deconsolidate them.

For these locations, it makes the most sense to use SDC International Shipping’s groupage consolidation for any sized shipment.

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International Moving From USA to Any Destination

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