Shipping Container Pricing

A common question we get is, “what does a shipping container cost?” Unfortunately that’s not a simple answer.  It depends where you are, how many you want, what quality you need, and when.

Market Factors

In general, shipping container base pricing fluctuates with the price of steel, the price of gasoline, and the international balance of trade.

Obviously containers are made of thousands of pounds of steel.  The more expensive the steel to produce them costs, the more expensive the end product.  Additionally, as steel goes up in value, the more an old container is worth as scrap.  The shipping lines won’t sell wholesalers a used container for less than they can get at for scrap a recycling facility.

Since containers are primarily used to transport cargo, the cost of moving them around depends on the price of fuel.  This applies not only to the ships carrying them internationally but also to the truck that delivers it to you.

If there is significantly more cargo coming into the US than leaving, there may be a surplus of containers the shipping lines need to get rid of. This pushes prices down.  An example of this might be retail stores importing extra inventory for holiday shopping season.  This happens in the summer.

Location, Location, Location

Some cities in the US import more goods than others.  For example, Columbus has a lot of retail stores’ distribution centers.  Goods are shipped there and distributed by truck and rail all over the country.  Another example is Long Beach, which is a major port for the shipping lines.  These cities will have more containers where someone already paid the freight to have their goods shipped there.  These containers are less expensive than if you have to pay a truck to pick it up at one of these cities and have it brought to you.


As containers are considered a commodity, the more you buy the better price you’re going to get.  If you buy a lot or buy often, you can set up a relationship with a wholesaler.

Quantity matters even on delivery of the container to your location.  Most trucks are set up to carry 40′ of shipping container.  This means if you buy two 20′ shipping containers you will pay the same price on delivery as if you only buy one 20′.


Most of the time, a new shipping container is more expensive than a used one.  You can also select the quality of used you need balanced against the price you want to pay.  Ask your supplier what grading system they use for appearance and ask for examples of what those containers look like.


Finally, know what type of container you need and what you are willing to use to get the price you want.  For example, some people want doors on both ends of the container.  These are known as “double doors”.  The shipping lines have to pay a fee to lock up each door before a container goes on the ship.  Obviously, they are not going to unnecessarily pay extra fees.  So this type is not used in the shipping industry and will not wind up in a used container surplus stack in Cleveland.  The wholesalers realize there is a demand for this type in the secondary US market.  So they buy new ones in China and work with the lines to import them.  Therefore, double doors are available in the US, but only in one trip quality, making them twice the price of a used single door.

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