Whether you’re a private citizen, small business, or major company, you may need to use shipping containers at some point. Whether you’re trying to move your shipping container home across the country, just need to move your temporary storage container down the road, or want to use a POD to move your belongings to your new home, the delivery cost for moving containers can be quite substantial.
Plus, the shipping process can pose a logistical challenge that can quickly become a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But, even though there are many companies out there that offer containers as well as container delivery, you should know as much as possible about the process before you jump in to avoid the nightmare and make things as smooth as possible.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to answer all your questions.
How Much Does it Cost to Move a Shipping Container in 2021
Moving a Container Across Your Property
If you’re a homeowner and you have a shipping container, you might decide you want to move it from one spot to another at some point.
Can you move it yourself? Yes, you can, but it’s not easy. Containers aren’t lightweight. A 20-foot container can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds. Removing everything from the inside won’t lighten the load enough for you to move it across your property without the right equipment.
You’ll also avoid tearing up your yard if you hire someone to move it for you.
If you have a POD or a container from a similar company, you should give them a call and find out what they’d charge to move it for you. If your agreement with them doesn’t require you to have them move it, then they’ll likely prefer to move it themselves.
If you do want to move it yourself though, ideally you should use a high lift jack, a few (3-5) 6″ wide metal rollers, and a flatbed trailer with a winch on it. Then you can slowly roll it across your yard to your ideal location. This method should really only be tried with a 20′ container though. Check out this video to see how it’s done.
Of course, if you have a forklift, that’s an option, but we don’t assume most people will have access to one or know how to properly use one without damaging it or the container.
Moving a Shipping Container Across Your City
Companies like PODS try to make it as easy as possible for you to move anywhere. You give them as much info as possible, and they’ll give you a customized quote. From there, you can determine your budget and work accordingly.
If you have your own shipping container, you need a truck with the proper chassis to move it across your city, and unless you have such a truck, you’re better off hiring someone to move it for you.
However, it’ll be worth it to avoid all the problems associated with moving it yourself if you don’t have the right equipment and experience to do so, plus it’ll only take a few hours with someone experienced.
Moving a Shipping Container Across Your State or Country
You might be surprised to find that long-distance moves are much the same as shorter moves across town. The main difference is the company you’ll use to move your container to its new location.
Like moving across town, these moves cost about $1-4 dollars per mile, depending on the size of container. Your timetable is different, though. Where a cross-town move only takes a few hours, a cross-state or cross-country move can take a few days to a week, sometimes longer.
Let’s look at a couple of real world examples:
- Moving 2,115 miles with a 16ft POD container – In this first example (cost comparison below), it cost him $3,239 to move a 16ft container with his belongings over two thousand miles. This comes out to roughly $1.53 per mile. Plus, this price included a one month rental for the container.
- Moving 2,115 miles with a 7ft POD container – If you went with a 7ft POD container instead of a 16ft container, it would cost you $2800, which includes a one month container rental as well. This comes out to roughly $1.32 per mile.
- Moving 2,500 miles overseas from Long Beach, CA to Hilo, HI – Obviously, if you’re container needs to travel by sea, shipping costs go up substantially. In this example, a 20ft container was shipped port to port for just over $6,000
Moving a Shipping Container Overseas (International)
Shipping a container across the world requires more than one transportation method. Container ships transport thousands of containers at once, while cargo planes can’t carry containers.
Logistically speaking, moving a container worldwide is a far more complex undertaking because of these things. You’ll move your container to a shipping port via a truck or rail, or a combination of the two, where it will get loaded onto a container ship for overseas transport.
On the other end, it’ll come off the ship and get put onto a truck or train, depending on how the port is set up. You can expect to pay for trucking on both ends.
You should also keep in mind that you’ll have to pay customs duties and fees when you ship something across international borders. You might also have to work with a customs broker depending on you are shipping and what you plan to do with it once it reaches its destination.
To find out how much shipping a container across the world costs, you should contact international shippers to get quotes because this is such a complicated operation.
A reputable company should be able to give you estimates for transportation and inform you about the laws of the country to which you’re sending it.
Questions to ask when transporting containers overseas
- Quotes – get at least three quotes from three different companies (full and/or partial service)
- Names of Companies – make sure to get the names of all companies involved, and who will be receiving the container at the destination
- Insurance – company and shipment insurance. You want to make sure both are properly insured.
- Staff – find out if the staff is permanent or temporary. Temporary staff (1099 employees) usually don’t know each other, which makes for higher risk of damaging your stuff.
- Storage – find out if the destination company has storage on-site. If not, you’re going to have to pay a fee each day the container is left there, which can add up quickly.
- Method – what method are they going to use? Truck to container, direct to container, do they use a crane, do they have security, etc?
Charges for Importing Containers
What if you’re bringing a container from overseas to the U.S.? You still need to work with an international shipping company.
It’s not cheap to do so, but some of the cost of importing items depends on what you’re shipping and how much of it you have.
Even so, importing from Asia to the U.S. can cost more than $7,000. The worldwide shipping index changes daily, but it skyrocketed between summer 2020 and summer 2021. As of 2021, the worldwide shipping index was just over $6,000.
If you want to calculate the cost of your import for budgeting purposes, you can use this free tool to do so.
You also have to take into account things like customs duties, inspection fees, and quarantine fees. You can’t avoid customs duties, so figure those into your budget before doing anything else.
Also, although less than five percent of containers arriving in the U.S. actually receive an inspection, if anything gives U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reason to want to conduct an inspection, your shipping company will charge you extra for that cost.
CBP has a long list of criteria you must meet before you can import anything into the country, along with a laundry list of penalties if you’re not in compliance. In addition to inspecting your cargo, CBP looks for signatures, markings, and other things in your paperwork before allowing your shipment through.
This is why your best bet is to work with an international shipping company. They can save you a lot of time and money just in penalties and inconvenience with your imports, and they know who to contact at CBP to ensure everything is squared away.
Factors Affecting the Cost of Moving a Shipping Container
The cost of moving a shipping container depends on various things, but there are two that drive the bulk of the cost: Distance and size.
The prices of moving a container across your town, for instance, will be considerably lower than moving one across the country or internationally because there’s much less involved.
International shipping gets tricky not just because of transportation but also because of import/export laws, customs regulations, and more.
For size, a 40-foot container costs approximately twice as much to ship as a 20-foot container. In the U.S., you can use 56-foot containers, but those require special transportation accommodations, which drive the cost of your shipment up further.
Other factors that affect how much you’ll pay to move a shipping container include the company you’re using, whether you have to acquire permits or pay extra fees for your cargo, siting it at its destination, and more.
The Distance You Want to Move the Shipping Containers
Distance contributes the most to your shipping costs. Your shipping method does, too, but not as much as distance. Generally speaking, the most expensive shipping method is trucking, then air, then rail, then the sea.
Depending on how far you’re moving it, you might use a combination of trucks, rails, and container ships. Cargo planes can’t transport containers.
Trucks are the most expensive shipping method because shippers have fuel and maintenance costs to consider, plus trucks can’t carry much compared to anything else.
Remember, though, that shipping is all about logistics. Just because rail is overall less expensive than trucking doesn’t mean it will be cheaper for you. It depends on how far you want to ship your container, how many of them you plan to move, and how regularly you intend to move them.
Ground transportation can cost anywhere between one and four dollars per mile depending on all these factors as well as your chosen shipping company.
The Size of Your Shipment – Full vs Empty Containers
How big is the container you’re moving, and are you able to fill it?
Consider what your container is for. If you need to maximize shipping space, you’ll probably save money with a 40-foot container. If you can load things in as compact a manner as possible without damaging anything, you’ll do better with smaller containers.
Also, depending on where you’re shipping to or from, you might have to pay extra for what’s known as “less-than-container-load,” or LCL.
LCL shipments usually get put together into a single container because it costs the shipping company less. However, you pay more because of the extra logistics involved in combining shipments that way.
If you need a lot of container space but don’t want to pay the extra money for a 56-foot container, you can ask about high-cube containers. Many freight companies won’t charge you extra for those, and as long as your cargo is stackable, it’ll work immensely well for you.
The Best Shipping Container Moving Companies
Who are some excellent container moving companies? When it comes to a shipping container delivery service, we’ve looked around to find some of the best companies to narrow down your search.
These companies all have excellent rates, fantastic customer service, multiple discounts, and are quality movers.
PODS is one of the most popular shipping container companies out there. Customers say they have excellent service and are knowledgeable about what’s involved in using and moving their containers. They provide local and long-distance shipping, door-to-door if possible.
This is a local moving company that offers a ton of discounts along with price-matching against PODS. Customers find that appealing about 1-800-Pack-Rat. They also like the company’s strong container construction because it ensures their cargo is well-protected.
Zippy Shell charges by container rather than distance or size, giving you more flexible options for delivery. People who have multiple containers to move prefer Zippy Shell because their delivery options allow you to stagger your deliveries so you’re not paying for everything at once.
They also use steel cage construction in their containers, which customers like because it ensures better protection for their shipments.
If you want fast quotes, U-Pack provides them instantly online, which gives you a degree of convenience over other companies.
People who use U-Pack also appreciate the fact that they can order more containers than they use without paying for all of them. You only pay for what you use, not what you order.
If you’re looking to transport shipping containers internationally, check out this list of the best international shippers. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can request a quote online or contact these companies individually.
Average Shipping Cost
The industry average for moving a shipping container domestically is roughly $3,000. The companies listed above charge the following averages:
- PODS: $820 to $5,850 depending on size and distance
- 1-800-Pack-Rat: $1,750 to $5,200 depending on size
- Zippy Shell: $1,700 to $5,750 depending on size and distance
- U-Pack: $700 to $900 lower than the industry average and 15 percent less than competitors
If you’re moving from one house to another, you can expect to pay the following average shipping rates:
- 1 Bedroom: $2,000
- 2 Bedrooms: $2,750
- 3 Bedrooms: $3,220
- 5 Bedrooms: $4,500
Other Transport Costs
You should consider some other expenses when you want to move a shipping container, including insurance costs and the cost of sitting it. Here’s a table that goes over some typical costs for long distance shipments:
Should you buy insurance? It depends. If you’re shipping many things, especially valuable things, in your container, then buying insurance may be worth it because things do go wrong.
However, if you’re moving an empty container, then insurance is probably an unnecessary expense.
Most shipping companies offer insurance and include it in your quote, but some will offer it a separate option. Overall, insurance is complicated when it comes to shipping, so talk to the companies you’re considering about their insurance.
Cost of Siting
The more equipment you need to move your container to your desired location, the more it’s going to cost. Siting costs a lot less if a truck can pick it up at one place and drop it off at another.
If you need additional equipment, such as forklifts or cranes, you’ll pay more to get it on site.
We have answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the cost of moving shipping containers.
How Much Does It Cost per Mile to Ship a 40-foot Container Across the U.S.?
Generally, moving containers across the U.S. costs one to four dollars per mile. Since 40-foot containers cost double what 20-foot containers cost, expect to pay closer to four dollars per mile.
Can You Move a Shipping Container with a Tractor?
Yes, but with a powerful tractor. Just any tractor won’t do. You’d do best with outfitting your container with special equipment, like skates, on the corner castings. Once a container is on the ground, you’ll have difficulty moving it without lifting or rolling it.
Can You Move a Shipping Container with a Forklift?
Yes, as long as you’re using a high-capacity forklift. Not every forklift is suitable or safe for moving a shipping container, and even high-capacity forklifts can’t move every container.
If you’re looking at moving a container with a forklift, make sure it’s rated to handle the size and weight of the containers you want to move.
Can You Drag a Shipping Container?
Yes, if you don’t mind damaging your property. A powerful tractor on tracks instead of wheels can drag a shipping container, but it will rip up the ground, so be sure you don’t care much about the ground.
Also, shipping containers are very heavy. A tracked vehicle will have far more traction than a wheeled vehicle. Your best bet to drag a container is with a tractor that uses tracks instead of wheels. Avoid using your personal vehicles, even if they’re rated to tow heavy things like trailers.