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Shipping freight internationally can be a complex process, but it doesn’t have to be.
Especially if you’re shipping a less than container load (LCL).
An LCL shipment is when your goods don’t fill an entire container and therefore, are “loose” in the sense that they will be loaded into the container with other shippers’ goods.
According to Dascher, LCL has been growing in popularity with the Covid-19 pandemic only increasing the trend.
If you’re looking to jump on the bandwagon, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about less than container load (LCL) shipping – what it is, how it works, and why you might choose to use it.
By the end, you should have a good understanding of the ins and outs of LCL freight shipping and be able to make an informed decision about whether or not it’s right for your business.
What is Less Than Container Load (LCL) Shipping?
Less than container load (LCL) shipping is a type of freight shipping that allows you to ship goods that occupy less than a full container. As a result, LCL shipments are usually less expensive than air or ocean freight shipping, but they can take slightly longer to reach their destination.
When you book an LCL shipment, your goods will be consolidated with other LCL shipments bound for the same destination. Your goods will be loaded into a shared container with other shippers' goods. Once your goods arrive, they will be unloaded from the container and delivered to you.
What is a Loose Container Load?
A loose container load is a freight shipment where the goods being shipped are not packed into containers or pallets. Instead, loose cargo is typically loaded into a shipping vessel loose and then secured in place using straps, nets, or other methods.
This type of shipment is common for small shipments or shipments of irregularly shaped items that cannot be easily packed into containers. Loose cargo shipments can be less expensive than containerized shipments, but they are more susceptible to damage and loss.
Some tips for shipping loose cargo:
- Make sure your items are well-protected. Pack them securely with bubble wrap or another padding to prevent shifting and damage during transit.
- Label your boxes clearly and with detailed descriptions of the contents. This will help prevent mix-ups and lost items.
- Keep track of your shipment. Make sure you have a way to track your loose cargo shipment so you can monitor its progress and estimated delivery date.
LCL Shipping Costs
LCL shipping rates are based on the volume of the shipment, which is measured in cubic meters (CBM). The standard size of a container is 20 feet (6.1 meters), also known as 1 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units).
Therefore, the higher the shipment volume, the higher the LCL shipping rate which in turn affects the landed cost and profit marging.
LCL shipping rates also vary depending on:
- The origin and destination of the shipment — LCL shipping rates are generally higher for shipments originating from or destined for remote locations
- The time of year — LCL shipping rates are typically higher during peaks, such as summer and winter
- The weight — the heavier the shipment, the higher the LCL shipping rate
- The carrier — each shipping company has different LCL shipping rates
What Does an LCL Price Quote Include?
An LCL price quote includes the cost of shipping your goods from the port of origin to the port of destination and any applicable terminal handling charges. It also includes the cost of loading and unloading your goods from the container.
However, it's important to note that an LCL price quote does not include the cost of insurance. So if you're shipping valuable or high-risk items, you'll need to factor in the cost of insurance when considering an LCL shipping option.
How is LCL Freight Calculated?
To calculate the volume of your LCL shipment, you will need to know the dimensions of your cargo (length, width, and height) and the size of the container you intend to use. Once you have these measurements, you can calculate the volume using the formula:
LCL Freight Calculation --> Length x Width x Height = Cubic Meters (CBM)
For example, if your cargo is 2 meters long, 1 meter wide, and 0.5 meters high, the volume would be: 2 x 1 x 0.5 = 1 CBM.
The number of CBMs in your LCL shipment will determine your shipping price. The more CBMs, the higher the price.
How Long Does LCL Take?
LCL shipping transit times vary depending on the origin and destination of the shipment and the time of year. However, according to SeaRates, the average transit time for an LCL shipment is between six and 38 days.
To get an accurate estimate for your shipment, you should check with your freight forwarder or logistics provider. They’ll be able to provide you with a more accurate transit time estimate based on the current shipping conditions.
Less Than Container Load (LCL) vs. Full Container Load (FCL)
There are two main ways to ship freight internationally — less than container load (LCL) and full container load (FCL). As we’ve already established, LCL shipping is a type of international freight shipping where your goods are consolidated with the cargo of other shippers.
FCL shipping, on the other hand, is when you ship an entire container load of goods. You will have sole use of the container, and your goods will not be consolidated with other shipments. FCL shipping is generally more suitable for larger shipments since you're only paying for the cost of the container, not the space inside it.
On the other hand, LCL shipping is best suited for smaller loads that don't fill an entire container. Again, this is because you're paying for the space your shipment takes up inside the container, not the entire container itself. As a result, LCL shipping is more expensive per unit, but it's more flexible since you only pay for the space you use.
The Benefits and Disadvantages of LCL Shipping
Before deciding on LCL shipping, weigh the pros and cons to see if it is the best shipping method for your needs.
Benefits of LCL Shipping
- Less expensive than FCL shipping
- LCL shipping offers more flexibility in terms of routing and scheduling
- Allows for smaller loads to be shipped
- Available from most major ports around the world
Disadvantages of LCL Shipping
- Typically slower than FCL shipping
- Higher rates per unit than FCL shipping
- Increased risk of damage due to being handled more times throughout the shipping process
Which Documents Are Required for an LCL Shipment?
Paperwork for LCL shipping varies depending on the country of origin and destination but typically includes a:
- Commercial invoice
- Packing list
- Bill of lading
- Export/Import customs declaration
If you are shipping goods that require special documentation, such as a certificate of origin or phytosanitary certificate, you will need to include these as well. Ultimately, your LCL shipping company can help you determine the required documents for your specific shipment. You can read more about shipping documents in our helpful guide.
How to Track an LCL Shipment?
Once your shipment is on its way, you will want to track it to ensure that it arrives at its destination safely and on time. You can track your LCL shipment by using the Bill of Lading number. This number can be found on the shipping documents that were provided to you by your freight forwarder. You can also track your shipment online using the container number or booking number.
To track your shipment online, simply go to the website of the shipping company that is handling your shipment. Once you’re there, you can enter one of these numbers into the carrier's tracking system to track the status of your shipment.
Is LCL Shipping The Right Option for Your Business?
LCL shipping is a great option for small to medium businesses who want to save money on freight shipping without sacrificing quality or service. However, sometimes booking an full container load (FCL) might be the better option.
LCL shipping can be an affordable way to move your goods across the globe, and with the help of a qualified transportation company, you can ensure that your products arrive at their destination safely and on time.