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November 11, 2022

Full Container Load (FCL) vs Less Than Container Load (LCL)

When shipping cargo overseas, you may be faced with the decision of whether to ship full container load (FCL) or less than container load (LCL).

You may be wondering which would be more beneficial for your company.

While both methods have their advantages, the answer ultimately depends on a number of factors, including the amount of goods you need to ship, your budget, and your timeline.

Keep reading to find out the key differences between FCL and LCL, along with their pros and cons, so that you can make the best choice for your business.

The Main Difference Between Full Container Load (FCL) vs Less Than Container Load (LCL)

A Full Container Load (FCL) is a type of shipping method used when an entire container is filled with freight from a single shipper.

On the other hand, less than container load (LCL) shipping refers to the shipment of goods that don't occupy an entire container, but rather a portion of one.

the difference between full container load (FCL) vs less than container load (LCL)

FCL vs LCL: Pros and Cons

Deciding which one to use for your business comes down to more than just shipment volume and cost, so let's break down the pros and cons of each option.

Shipment Volume

With an FCL arrangement, your shipment occupies the entire container. The standard shipping container sizes are 20 or 40 feet long — or 33 and 67.5 cubic meters.

On the other hand, with LCL shipping, your shipment is only partially filling the available space in the container. This means that you'll be sharing the container space with other customers, which can be beneficial if you have smaller or lighter loads. However, it also means that you're being charged per cubic meter.

In general, consider using FCL for high-volume shipments that fill up at least half of a container (more than 15 cubic meters) and LCL for lower-volume shipments (under 15 cubic meters).

Shipment Weight

Every container size has a maximum weight that it can accommodate.

Therefore, when shipping FCL, if you exceed the weight limit for your container size, you'll need to redistribute the excess cargo to another container.

In contrast, LCL shipments are usually weighed at the port and charged based on either the cubic meters they occupy or their weight, whichever is higher.

Therefore, it's essential to take the weight of your shipment into consideration when deciding between FCL and LCL shipping.

Shipping Costs

FCL typically has higher upfront costs than LCL because you're renting an entire container. However, once you factor in indirect logistics costs like warehousing, you may find that FCL can actually be more affordable than LCL.

FCL is generally less expensive on a per-unit basis — especially if your shipment is on the heavier side.

FCL vs LCL shipping costs

It is impossible to ascertain which mode of shipment, FCL or LCL, is more affordable without specific details. In general, it's best to consult with a shipping expert to help you determine the most affordable method for your business and cargo needs.

Transit Times

When it comes to transit times, FCL is usually faster than LCL because your goods don’t have to be loaded and unloaded from different containers.

With LCL, your goods might have to be transferred from one container to another before finally being loaded onto the vessel for transport. Additionally, if another shipment from the container is held for inspection, your shipment may experience delays.

Booking Speed

Ever since the pandemic hit, the lead time for booking a shipment has exponentially increased. For instance, the delivery time for shipping containers from China to Europe nearly doubled between January 2020 and January 2022.

Due to major disruptions in maritime supply chains and high demand for FCL shipments, booking a full container load may be more complex and time-consuming than booking an LCL shipment.

Security

Even though shipping accounted for less than 1% of cargo theft in 2020, you may still want to avoid LCL if your shipment is high-value or contains sensitive information.

FCL shipments are generally considered to be more secure than LCL shipments, as they are handled less frequently.

With LCL, your shipment may need to be transferred multiple times before it is loaded onto the vessel for transport. This puts your cargo at greater risk of damage or theft.

On top of that, if you're shipping special cargo, it's recommended to use FCL shipping to ensure that your goods are handled with care.

Tracking

Container tracking options may vary depending on the type of shipping you choose.

For instance, while many LCL carriers provide electronic manifests and tracking information, FCL carriers usually offer more extensive tracking capabilities. Since the full container is transported under one consignee, FCL tends to be more straightforward than LCL.

With Cargoflip, you can track both your LCL and FCL shipments in real time and achieve maximum visibility throughout the entire process.

Customs Clearance

While there's no difference between full container load and less than container load in terms of customs clearance, if another shipment from an LCL container gets flagged, your shipment may experience delays.

Because full container load shipments are handled less frequently, they are generally considered to be more secure and easier to clear through customs.

FCL vs LCL: Which One is Right for Your Shipment?

When deciding between full container load (FCL) and less than container load (LCL) shipping, there are several factors to consider. FCL shipments generally have higher upfront costs, but offer faster transit times, more security, and better tracking capabilities.

On the other hand, LCL shipments tend to be less expensive on a per-unit basis and can be easier to book. However, they come with additional risks, such as delays due to other shipments being held for inspection or transferred multiple times before loading onto a vessel.

Ultimately, the best shipping option for your business will depend on factors like the type of cargo you're shipping, your budget, and your shipping needs.