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FCL and LCL are two of common terms used in shipping under Export and Import trade of international businesses.


What does FCL mean in shipping?

The short form FCL in shipping stands for the term „Full Container Load“. This means that a shipment occupies the entire space of a container without having to share it with other shippers. In an FCL cargo, the complete goods in the said container are owned by one shipper.

Shipping lines offer a variety of containers that differ in size and function: standard dry containers, refrigerated containers, tank containers, flat rack containers, collapsible flat rack containers. The average length of any of these containers is either 20-feet or 40-feet.


Benefits of FCL

Primarily, you have the possibility to instruct the shipper to load your container, or to load the cargo yourself. Once the container is loaded, it is sent to the port and loaded onto a cargo ship. The shipping companies have fixed departures from and to all major ports worldwide. When the container arrives at its destination, your goods are unloaded and delivered to the consignee. Full container transports often take place intermodally, using other modes of transport in the transport chain from the point of departure to the destination, such as trucks, trains and, if necessary, aircraft. The benefits of FCL cargo are reduced risk of damage or loss and a quicker transit time as the shipping lines guarantee complete control and overview of the entire shipment.


What does LCL mean?

The counter term is LCL„Less than Container Load“.  The term is used to describe the transportation of small ocean freight shipments which are not requiring the full capacity of a container. This is why an LCL-container is also called consolidated container.


Benefits of LCL

LCL (Less than Container Load) is a flexible and cost-effective option for transporting smaller, less time-critical shipments between the world’s major ports. This flexible shipping method is suitable for everything from a small parcel to a large shipment. The advantage is that you can get your goods on their way as soon as they are ready, instead of having to wait until your goods fill a complete container. Remember that in the case of LCL you cannot decide with which other type of cargo you share the container. In addition, there may be delays beyond your control due to the fact that the container is used by several parties.

Shipping companies often offer fixed departure times with guaranteed cargo space on the most important routes.


FCL vs. LCL – How to decide?

Two crucial factors for the choice between FCL and LCL are the weight and dimensions of the shipment. For example, if the shipment consists of only one or a few pallets, it may be cheaper to ship them in a consolidated container for cost reasons. But also the nature of your shipment (Do you have dangerous goods?), the urgency (How fast does the shipment have to arrive?) is important when choosing FCL or LCL.


FCL and LCL in other Modes of Transports

Thus FCL (Full Container Load) and LCL (Less than Container Load) are not only frequently used in shipping, but also in transport by truck, rail and air freight. If, for example, shipments are transported by truck, forwarders use the very similar terms FTL, which means „Full Truck Load“ or LTL – “Less than Truck Load”.



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SHIPSTA was founded by Christian Wilhelm (CEO), Stefan Maratzki (CTO) and Oliver Ritzmann (CCO) in 2015. The innovative software company is headquartered in Luxembourg and has a branch in the Digital Logistics Hub in Hamburg. SHIPSTA has become one of the market leaders for eProcurement solutions in Germany. The eProcurement platform optimizes freight tenders by digitalizing and automating them. SHIPSTA’s clients include global companies from sectors such as food, high tech, pharma and automotive.

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