Shipping Container Delivery and Offloading Costs

Plan & Budget

How Much Does It Cost To Transport A Shipping Container Blog Cover

One of the benefits of using shipping containers as a building medium is that a lot of the work of building a floor, walls, and roof is already done for you. However, because of that, containers are big and heavy!

After committing to purchasing shipping containers, the next big step is figuring out the logistics of the delivery and offload at your building site. Shipping container transport is usually not something most people have the equipment to do, so you’ll naturally need to pay someone to help you.

But don’t think that hiring someone to make the delivery will fix everything! Before they ever show up you’ll need to think through things like maneuver clearance, overhead obstructions including trees, insurance coverage, and company/equipment selection.

It can seem like an unnerving task but if you follow the steps in this article you will be getting your shipping container delivered in no time.

We’ll look at generally how much it costs to transport a shipping container and the key things you need to consider when arranging your delivery.

Distance-based Delivery Charges

The distance that the shipping container movers have to physically carry your container is a big determinant of price.

If you’ve purchased used shipping containers, then, chances are you purchased them locally. It’s likely that if you purchased brand new shipping containers, they will be coming from Asia. This has big implications for the delivery cost.

Locally Sourced Container Delivery Costs

We spoke with shipping container suppliers to get an idea of delivery costs. Typically, there is a fixed cost just to initiate the delivery, which will include distances up to a nominal distance of something like 50 miles.

They explained that to transport a 20-foot container would typically start at several hundred US Dollars and a 40-foot container would be a bit more.

Distances further than that would add an additional per-mile fee, generally around $2.00/mile, for the total distance that the container is being transported. 

The price may or may not include the charge for unloading the container, depending on what you need and the company’s policies.

transporting a container with a truck

International Container Shipping Costs

If you have purchased new containers, then chances are they are coming from Asia. This means you have two choices.

You can either ship your containers empty and pay the full delivery cost or you can allow your containers to be used to transport cargo and pay part of the delivery fee (these are known as one trip containers).

If you pay to ship them from Asia to the US, it is extremely expensive. It can cost thousands of dollars depending on the number of containers you are shipping and the distance.

The cheaper option is to allow a freight company to use your containers for a single shipment of goods (also known as one trip).

If you do this, then the freight company will pay to ship your container to your local port. You will need to arrange this with them and find out exactly when they are next delivering to your local port. If you live near a busy international port, they will likely be shipping there multiple times a month.

All you will need to do is pay for the delivery of your containers from your local port to your plot of land.

If you already have a container in your home country and want to ship it somewhere else internationally, the same general rules apply. The assumption would be that you’ve already done some of the conversion to a shipping container home while in your home country.

Therefore, you wouldn’t really be able to fill the container with cargo (unless it was your own), and you’d be forced to pay the full price that is unsubsidized by the carrier. The cost of shipping a container overseas like this will therefore be pretty high.

Size of Shipping Containers

Another factor that can significantly alter the cost of delivery is the size of the shipping container which you’ve ordered.

stacks of different sized shipping containers

We mentioned above that the difference between delivering a 20-container and a 40-foot container is nearly double. There is one more option in the US. There are 53-foot containers which are not as popular as 40-foot containers. They do provide over 100 square feet of additional floor space each, though.

These 53-foot containers are even more expensive to deliver because of their length. They don’t fit on regular rollback trucks and require a more specialized truck to transport them.

Note that usually, freight companies don’t charge more for transporting high cube containers since they are the same length as standard containers.

Where to Find Companies to Ship Your Containers

The only way to get an exact quote for shipping your container is to contact a freight company for a quote.

How do we find a freight company?

Whenever possible, buying the containers and arranging their delivery from a single supplier is preferred. If this isn’t possible and you are transporting shipping containers from a local port, a good place to find a freight company is uShip.

uShip is an online marketplace for shipping services. Here you can create a job advertisement and then people bid for your work.

If you purchased your containers abroad you will need to use an internal freight company such as Maersk Line to transport them. You can use World Freight Rates’ freight calculator tool to get a quote.

Can I Move The Containers Myself?

If you’re wondering how to move a shipping container yourself, the answer is most likely that you can’t. In addition to the commercial driver’s license and insurance you’d probably need, more importantly, you need all the right equipment. 

If you are buying your containers locally and have a commercial driver’s license, you could hire a rollback truck and transport the containers yourself. This would save you several hundred dollars. However, for most people, this isn’t practical.

When Do You Pay For Delivery?

If you are using an international freight company such as the Maersk Line, then you will need to pay in full before your containers are shipped.

If you are transporting your containers locally and are using a smaller freight company, you normally pay an order deposit and then pay the remaining balance once the containers have been delivered.

How Long Does Delivery Take?

Getting containers delivered from a local supplier is by far the quickest way to get your hands on shipping containers and start construction on your building. You will typically have to wait at least a week to arrange the delivery and then your containers are on site ready to convert.

Unfortunately, the international delivery of shipping containers is much longer and can take up to several months.

container ship in port offloading cargo boxes

It takes approximately 35 days for a container ship to go from China to New York. If you add to this, time to order and load your containers, then time to take your containers from the port in New York to your plot of land, you could be looking at 2 calendar months.

Should I Insure My Containers For The Trip?

Before you consider insuring your shipping containers, the first thing you need to consider is how much your containers are worth.

If you are constructing your building using a single, used, 20-foot container that you purchased for $1,000 it probably isn’t worth the additional fee to insure the container while it is being transported.

However, if you’ve just purchased several brand new 40-foot shipping containers which are being shipped from China for more than $5,000 each, then it’s definitely safer to insure them.

Most major freight companies will normally include insurance as part of their fee to transport the containers and the companies that don’t will provide the insurance as an optional upgrade.

With the strange container cargo insurance rules, it’s definitely worth insuring your containers if they are going to be traveling by sea.

Preparing the Base of Your Containers

It’s best to clean and insulate the underside of the containers before you place them because the bottoms are more accessible.  This can be accomplished by hoisting the container in the air with the crane or other offloading equipment you’re using to get the containers off the trucks.

Sandblast the underside of the container to clean it and spray at least 1” of closed-cell polyurethane foam to insulate it.

These steps can be undertaken after the containers have been sited, provided that you have a raised foundation such as concrete piers.  Nevertheless, it’s typically easier to do it beforehand.  The one downside to this is if you plan to have a lot of utilities running underneath the container (such as your water pipes and sewer drains). The insulation might get in the way of their placement.  So, be mindful of that to keep from having to scrape off insulation later! It’s not always possible to complete this step. It isn’t 100% required, but if you can, it’s worthwhile.

Siting and Offloading Your Shipping Containers

Siting your containers means placing them on and fastening them to your foundation while offloading is the process of getting them from the truck to the foundation.

By far the most common option is a tilt bed trailer which just slides the container off. If your foundation is ready, a skilled driver can back right up to the foundation and let the container slide off straight onto the foundation pad. If your foundation isn’t ready when your containers arrive, or isn’t easily accessible, you are going to need to look at some other options.

shipping container being delivered to project site

Courtesy of Larry Wade

If your site includes other buildings, creeks, trees, hills, etc. you’ll need to carefully think through how vehicles and equipment will enter, move around, and leave your site.  Especially when multiple containers are involved, it can be an intricate ‘dance’ to get everything arranged in the right way for successful offloading.

Regardless of which method you and your delivery company go with, you need to plan how the equipment will maneuver on the site long before it ever arrives. 

Let’s talk through some of the different ways shipping containers may be delivered to you, and discuss some things to be aware of for each of them.

Tilt Bed Slide Off

Tilt Bed Offloading

image courtesy of

The most common way of offloading a container is to slide it off the back of a truck or trailer.  The vehicle will have a hydraulically-actuated tilt bed, and after reaching the correct angle, friction will no longer hold the container in place and it will start to slide off the back until the corner of the container hits the ground.

A skilled driver will then slowly drive the truck forward, letting the front of the container slide further down the tilt bed until it is resting on the ground.

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: The truck/trailer has to back up to where the back of the container will sit, so you’ll need a relatively flat surface for it to drive on. The slide-off method is best suited for placing containers on the ground or a slab foundation, not onto piles or a perimeter foundation.
  • Overhead Clearance: The trailer’s tilt bed will raise the front of the container 20 feet or more in the air, so you can’t have any overhead obstructions (trees, wires, etc.).
  • Front Clearance: If you have a 20-foot long truck and a 40-foot long trailer, the front of the truck will be 60 feet in front of the container before the container has completely slid off and is on the ground. Then the truck/trailer needs additional room to turn/maneuver and exit the site (This depends on your site configuration, but keep in mind that these large trucks can’t make sharp turns).  This means that one end of your container needs to have a long/flat/straight/unobstructed approach.
  • Vertical stacking: There is no way to stack containers that are delivered via tilt bed.  If your design includes any stacked containers, you’ll have to arrange for another piece of equipment to do the actual container stacking.

Side Loader/Lifter

Side Loader

Image courtesy of

Another option is a truck that has a side loading device.  This enables the truck to pull up beside your foundation area and offload the container directly off the side.

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: The truck/trailer needs to have a flat approach on one of the long sides of your container foundation area, and will also have to deploy hydraulic outriggers to keep from tipping over. These outriggers will extend from the side of the front and back of the vehicle, so make sure you have room for them.
  • Overhead Clearance: The side loader will typically pick the container up a bit before dropping it down on the ground, so you’ll need to watch out for overhead obstructions.
  • Vertical stacking: Many side loaders can stack containers, but only a maximum of two containers high. Due to their limited reach and the presence of the outriggers, stacking is typically limited to one container directly on another…no offset or perpendicular stacking.


Forklift moving a container

The average forklift you see in a warehouse isn’t able to pick up a container, but there are some larger models that can handle the weight.  In most cases, you’ll need a “rough terrain” model (like this one), as your building site will not accommodate a forklift made for smooth concrete floors.

As the forklift is a separate piece of equipment from the truck that carries the container, we also need to discuss the two ways of bringing a forklift to your building site:

  • Piggyback: Some forklifts are designed to attach to the back of a trailer using their forks (meaning the full length of the trailer is still available to hold the container). However, most models don’t support this.  Of those that do, we only know of forklifts with the capacity to lift a 20 ft container at most, as even the largest piggyback forklifts max out at around 8000 pounds of capacity.

Piggyback Forklift

  • Separately trucked: If the forklift can’t piggyback, it will have to show up on-site via a separate vehicle from the one carrying the container.

Forklift Transport via trailer

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: The truck/trailer can park pretty much anywhere on site, but you want to minimize the distance the forklift must travel from the truck to the container foundation. Keep in mind that while your site doesn’t need to be glass-smooth, any large ruts, hills, ravines, etc. will prevent a challenge for the forklift when loaded down with the container.
  • Overhead Clearance: A forklift can place a container with minimal overhead clearance, so trees and power lines are less of a concern with this option.
  • Weight: Only some of the largest model forklifts are able to carry a container, especially a 40ft one. If you outfit your containers offsite with walls, insulation, etc., you’re greatly adding to the weight.  In this case, you’ll want to speak with the delivery company to see if they have the capacity to handle a loaded container.  It may be helpful to keep a tally of the weight of everything you place in the container so you can discuss this with the company.
  • Vertical stacking: Depending on the forklift model, you should be able to stack one or two containers on top of the base container. Most stacking configurations are possible with forklifts, assuming you have a flat area on the ground to allow for it.

Hydraulic Lifting Jack

Lift Jack

Image courtesy of

Another interesting offloading method is the hydraulic lift jack, where the container (with the aid of removable hydraulic legs) picks itself up off a trailer, then lowers itself to the ground after the trailer drives away.  Note that this method does not allow for moving the container horizontally.  The container just goes straight down from where it sat on the trailer.

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: The truck/trailer will need a smooth approach, and this is also where the container will sit. Having a level surface is paramount unless you have blocks for the container to sit on.
  • Overhead Clearance: The container only needs to be raised a few inches for the truck to drive out from under it, so overhead clearance is not a concern
  • Weight: Depending on the model, some jacks may have trouble will a fully loaded/converted container, so check with your supplier. An empty container is no problem.
  • Vertical stacking: As jacks don’t allow for horizontal movement of the containers after they are elevated, there is no way to use jacks for vertical container stacking.

Mechanical Lifting Jack

Image courtesy of

An option that’s very similar to the hydraulic lift jack is the mechanical lifting jack.  It effectively does the same thing, but instead of using electricity to power a hydraulic pump that actuates a hydraulic cylinder, the power comes from you!  Specifically, you manually actuate a chain hoist to lift and lower the container.

This makes the mechanical option simpler and cheaper than the hydraulic alternative, with the downside of being slower.  But if you’re not moving containers every single day, it might be an option to think about.

Things to consider

  • The same considerations for hydraulic lifting jacks apply here as well

Traditional Crane


Image courtesy of

A crane is what many people commonly associate with container offloading.  They offer a lot of flexibility but can be expensive to have on site, especially if you aren’t near a major city.  The crane itself is a vehicle, and an additional truck/trailer will be needed to separately transport the container.  For a build with one container, this may not be cost-effective, but with more containers, the impact is lessened.

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: A crane is the one option that can place a container onto the side of a hill or other very uneven terrain (assuming an adequate and level foundation is available to place the container one). The crane itself will need a flat area to setup and deploy its outriggers.
  • Overhead Clearance: A crane will have the most trouble with overhead obstructions of almost any option presented in this article. If your build has a lot of tree cover or other obstructions, you might want to consider other options.
  • Weight: Cranes come in a variety of capacities, but if adequately sized, they’ll have no trouble with a shipping container (full or empty). Note that crane capacity is a function of not only the weight it can hold but also the horizontal distance from the crane that this weight must be carried.  Depending on your design, this could impact the size of the crane needed for your building, so be sure to discuss this carefully with the crane operator before they come on site.
  • Vertical stacking: Cranes offer the greatest potential for stacking of all offloading options, and can handle all stacking configurations.

Truck-mounted crane


Truck-Mounted Crane

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A truck-mounted crane offers many of the benefits of a regular crane, but without having to transport the crane separately from the container.  The truck-mounted crane is smaller than a regular crane, so some capabilities will be reduced.  The majority of truck-mounted cranes can only transport 20ft containers on the truck due to overall length.  The benefits of truck-mounted cranes are reduced as more containers are used in your build, and a traditional crane or other offloading option may make more sense.

Things to consider

  • Ground Surface: The truck needs a flat spot to park and deploy its outriggers. As the crane is smaller, the parking area will need to be closer to the container site.
  • Overhead Clearance: The same issues with a traditional crane apply.
  • Weight: Some truck-mounted cranes can only handle 20-foot containers, while others can lift larger models. You’ll have to talk with the operator to determine if a full container is within the crane’s capacity.   As with traditional cranes, the capacity of the crane is a function of both the carried weight and the horizontal distance from the crane that the weight must be placed.
  • Vertical stacking: Truck mounted cranes can accommodate stacking, although, with their shorter booms, the configurations are more limited. You’ll need to speak with the operator as you jointly develop a lifting plan to see if your build configuration can be accommodated.


Once you’ve placed the shipping container on the foundation, you need to join the container to the foundation block.

Due to the weight of shipping containers, you could just place the containers on the foundation block and be done with it.  However, without secure attachment, the container could move in very high winds, floodwaters, impacts from a large vehicle, etc.

That’s why we recommend that you permanently or semi-permanently mount them.  Your options include:

  • Welding the containers to a steel plate which has been set into the foundation
  • Attaching the containers to a securely mounted set of corner twist-locks
  • Bolting the containers to a bracket or anchor bold embedded in the concrete
  • Etc.


There are quite a few ways to deliver your containers and place them on site, but they don’t all work equally well for every situation.  It’s important to have an understanding of the various options and their pros and cons in order to have a successful build.

Let us know below how you decided to transport your shipping containers.

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