How to buy a shipping container in 2022

The world of containers can be complex and challenging. For first-time buyers, this complexity is seven-fold. In an industry fragmented with thousands of middlemen offering variety, our step-by-step guide on how to buy a shipping container will help you familiarize yourself with the container industry before you start handing out your money.

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Size and Number of Containers

When you start shopping around for containers, the first thing you should consider is the size and number of containers to purchase. This is often determined by the purpose of the containers. If you only need to ship dry cargo, a common standard shipping container of 20 ft or 40 ft would be ideal.

On the other hand, if your shipment is voluminous, a high cube container or multiple standard containers can be a suitable choice.

how to buy a shipping container

If you need a semi-portable office space or a storage facility, you may have to purchase a smaller container size between 8 ft-12 ft. The downside to this is the high pricing.

Smaller containers cost more than standard containers of 20 ft or 40 ft because of the process involved in cutting them down to such small sizes.

The upside of buying multiple shipping containers is a discount. We recommend purchasing all your containers from the same supplier so you can negotiate a great discount. Volume discounts are sometimes disclosed by the seller as part of the total price. Other times, the buyer bears the burden of negotiating a discounted price.

Renting vs. Buying

Are you wondering whether to rent or buy a container?

Your decision is entirely dependent on your situation. If you need a container for a shorter duration, few containers, or a large number but only one-way, renting can be an ideal choice.

Renting a container is cost-effective in the short term since you do not have to spend on storage and maintenance costs. It is an exceptional choice for businesses with seasonal service demands. It also offers the flexibility of using the container only when necessary.

Also see – Complete Guide on Shipping Container Leasing Companies

Buying shipping containers is an ideal choice if you need containers for an indefinite amount of time, are a frequent container user, or when you need containers for long-term storage. Buying shipping containers comes with the additional cost of maintenance and transportation. Since buying containers is expensive, you need to ensure you can offset the cost of purchasing with the duration of using the container.

Condition of the Container

When buying a shipping container, the condition you choose depends on the container’s intended purpose. New and used containers are popularly used as medical centers, carports, cabins, workshops, home additions, guest houses, moving cargo, and storage.

We recommend a pre-purchase inspection to check out the container before spending your money. Stock photos have a reputation for hiding reality; over-reliance on them could be a recipe for disappointment when the actual container arrives at your doorstep.

Just as they come in different sizes, storage containers come in different conditions. There exists no universal grading system for shipping containers, hence a lot of confusion regarding the abbreviations that indicate container condition.

Most shipping companies use structure and aesthetics independently to grade containers. For instance, a container may be structurally fit for shipping but aesthetically compromised with rust and dents.

WWT (wind/watertight) containers

Sometimes referred to as Cargo Worthy 2, these containers are the most commonly available and cheapest to acquire. Though suitable for cargo transportation, WWT containers have extensive markings, scratches, and corrosion. They have undergone previous repairs and are mostly used for storage.

One Trip Containers

One-trip containers are usually as new as they come, save for a few dents from the transportation process. They are manufactured abroad, used to ship cargo, and sold once they arrive at their final destination. They are referred to as one-trip containers because they have only made one trip.

Fig 2. Containers on a trip across the ocean

CW (Cargo Worthy)

Like its name, a CW container is deemed suitable for cargo transportation. It has a valid Container Safety Convention (CSC) plate, a condition all containers worthy of international transportation must-have. Containers that fall under this category have interiors that are 50% mark free and exteriors that have dents.

As-is

These are damaged containers that are in some cases not even usable for storage. Significant damages can be observed on the roofs of walls, floors, and doors.

Fig. 3. As-is shipping container

Container Grading

Container categorization also follows a grading system. This system often includes letter abbreviations of F, A, B, and C. An F- grade container, also known as a food grade, is a new one. Such a container is suitable for food transportation.

An A-grade container can be new, refurbished, or used. Such containers have minimal surface rust and an almost mark-free interior. They can be used for shipment, storage, and offices. Although used, a grade B container is cargo-worthy.

A grade C container is often called a wind and water-tight container. These containers have gone through significant wear, tear, and repairs. They can be used for storage but require a special license to be used for transportation.

Container Material

The main component in a shipping container is Corten steel. This is a weather-resistant copper alloy steel that displays a high level of resistance to atmospheric weathering when compared to other unalloyed steel components.

This material possesses properties that make it weldable and rust-resistant. Container manufacturers use corten steel to eliminate the need for painting and limit rusting to the outer surface.

Fig 4. Steel shipping containers

The floor of a shipping container is mostly made of marine-grade plywood infused with insecticides to prevent bugs from becoming a part of the container’s voyage.

Type of Shipping Container

Containers may vary in dimension, materials, and structure. Some of the most popular containers include:

Dry Storage

These are the most commonly used shipping containers. They come in sizes of 10ft, 20ft, and 40 ft and are specifically used to ship dry materials.

Refrigerated

These are temperature-regulated containers that operate at low temperatures. They are often used to transport perishable cargo like fruits and vegetables over long distances.

High Cube

In contrast to the standard 8 ft 6 inches tall containers, high cube containers are 9 ft 6 inches tall. The 1 ft. height difference gives high cube containers additional storage space.

Fig 5. High-cube shipping containers

Flat Rack

These containers have collapsible sides that can be folded to form a flat rack that can ship a wide variety of goods.

Previous Container Use

One of the things you must take note of when buying a container is its previous use. Containers used to transport fruits and vegetables should be treated with pesticides before being used for any other purpose. Since such treatment can permeate the wooden floors, remediation may be necessary.

Other containers have been used to haul biohazards, nuclear wastes, and toxic chemicals. You may be getting a great deal. But is the container suitable for the purpose you intend?

Where to Buy a Shipping Container

Container Addicts

Now that you know how to buy a shipping container, you are probably interested in where you can purchase one. There are many options for buying a shipping container.

However, not all options will give you what you want; this is why we recommend purchasing your containers from a reputable company like container addicts that offer a variety at an all-inclusive package, which includes delivery fee. All you have to do is fill a form requesting a quote from us. All your inquiries will be handled in the shortest time possible.

eBay

You can buy a container within the comfort of your home by looking up containers on sale at eBay. All you have to do is scroll through the sales offers and compare prices before making an order.

The upside to this is that you can get a price inclusive of delivery or even have the containers delivered for free, depending on your location.

Craigslist

Regardless of whether you want a new or used container, Craigslist will give you access to a wide variety within the comfort of your home. You need to be specific about the type, size, and condition you are seeking.

Just like eBay, obtaining a container from craigslist may come with a delivery-inclusive price or a free delivery.

Local Dealer

The upside of purchasing from a local dealer is that you can easily conduct a pre-purchase inspection to avoid unforeseeable disappointments. Since most local dealers have a reputation to keep, you are likely to get a fairly-priced container in good shape.

This doesn’t mean you should not try to find out as much as possible about your local dealer. Read through their reviews and customer testimonials to find out if they care about their customers.

How Much Does a Shipping Container Cost?

The price of a shipping container is dependent on various factors, including your location, the type of containers available, and even the price of raw steel. For instance, buying a shipping container is more expensive in China than in Germany as the former has an export exceeding its imports. 

The average price of a used shipping container falls between $1400-$5000. One-trip or new containers can be more expensive, often costing $3000-$5000. Though costly, new containers are recommended because they have the least issues.

You need to know your budget before you embark on buying a shipping container. Make sure to factor in things like renovations, paint, flooring, lights, insulation, electricity, and customization especially when you buy a used container or intend to turn it into an office or a residential unit.

What Kind of Permit Do You Need?

As you buy and use storage containers, you will need to familiarize yourself with the regulations, permits, and codes surrounding container building and ownership in your region. For instance, in most regions, you are not allowed to put up a container home just anywhere.

You need a shipping container permit to temporarily keep, use, or repair a container in less than two hectares of land. Permits are often issued for six months but can always be extended when zero complaints arise during this period.

Shipping Container Accessories

To become a perfect solution for you and your customer’s needs, you will have to modify and accessorize your shipping container. Some of the most essential accessories include:

Security and Lock Boxes

Whether you are using your container for storage, as an office, or a residential unit, you need to ensure it is free from break-ins and theft. You can achieve this by securing it using steel lockboxes, which cover the padlock area making it difficult to access.

Shelving

If you are seeking to improve the efficiency of your storage container, consider accessorizing it with some shelving racks. You can opt for a custom shelving system that doesn’t require holes to be drilled into your container.

Fig 6. Shipping Container fitted shelves
Fig 6. Shipping Container fitted shelves

Roll-up Doors

To improve accessibility you can get a professional to fit one or two roll-up doors on the container’s sides. Roll-up doors come in different sizes and can be customized to match your needs. Ensure to use a steel frame on your roll-up doors to protect your container’s structural integrity.

Fig 7. Shipping Container fitted with 3 by 6 roll-up doors
Fig 7. Shipping Container fitted with 3 by 6 roll-up doors

Warranties, Returns, and Seller Reputation

As discussed earlier, you are responsible for researching your seller and determining their trustworthiness. Not only that. Find out about the seller’s warranty duration and return policy to protect yourself from losing money in an unworthy container.

Most sellers have a warranty period that extends to two years. During this time, they can repair any naturally-occurring damages. It is safer to buy from a reputable seller like container addicts than from individual sellers who offer no warranties or return policies.

Delivery and Site Preparation

There’s a significant amount of work that needs to be accomplished before a shipping container arrives on site. An unprepared site can give way to several expensive problems such as hinge damage, roof damage, container sinking, misaligned lockboxes, and caught doors.

The first thing you should consider during site preparation is the availability of space. Does the site have enough space for the size of the container?

If your site is located away from infrastructure, you will need to consider its accessibility by the delivery truck and those looking for the container’s contents. For easy accessibility, watch out for overhead obstacles like phone cables or tree branches that can compromise a successful delivery process.

Next, you need to access the ground to check out whether it is level and moisture-absorbent. Level ground is ideal since it ensures the container doors can open without obstruction. The soil should be compacted and firm to support the container’s frame. If the site is slanted, you can add a layer of gravel to secure it.

While a container can sit on flat ground, you need to establish a footing to keep it safely above the ground. You can use a concrete foundation, concrete slabs, or wooden beams to achieve this. Concrete footings are recommended when the container will remain in the same place for a long time.

Fig 8. Shipping Container on a Concrete Foundation
Fig 8. Shipping Container on a Concrete Foundation

Last but not least, you need to have your container delivered on a rain-free day. Installing your container on wet soil can result in container sinks or misalignment, which could create room for other disasters.

Even for frequent container users, the world of shipping containers can be pretty overwhelming. This is why you need to to be decisive about the type, size and number of shipping containers you will need.

Even more important is where you decide to purchase or rent your shipping containers; not every seller will have your interest at heart.

Choosing a reputable seller like Container Addicts will save you the agony of spending money on an unworthy container or dealing with the logistical complexities of container delivery. A rule of thumb for buying a shipping container is to not just buy…buy wisely.

Ryan Stetson

Ryan Stetson

Currently own two 20' and 40' containers converted into an office/workshop. Having worked in the shipping industry for 6 years, my goal is to share my personal experiences as well as connect potential container buyers with suppliers around the US.