FCL vs. LCL – Comparison  of Container Loads in Freight Transport

FCL vs. LCL – Comparison  of Container Loads in Freight Transport

14. October 2020
Container loads

There are essentially two main modes of container shipments – FCL (Full Container Load) and LCL (Less than Container Load). When booking a new container for the shipment of goods, the frequent recurring question arises as to which of the two cargo types is the better choice. In this article we will take a closer look at the terms FCL and LCL, compare the advantages, disadvantages and filter out when to choose which cargo delivery option. 

FCL – Full Container Load 

FCL (Full Container Load) refers to the shipment of a complete container load in freight container traffic. Mostly 20′ or 40′ standard containers are used for the shipment of goods. In case of an FCL load, the container is delivered fully loaded from door to door. Adding further cargo from other customers is not permitted. In general, FCL containers are delivered to the port already sealed and do not require any further customs clearance. 

LCL – Less than Container Load 

Since LCL (Less than Container Load) shipments are not large enough to fill a standard container, they are grouped with other cargo. Thus, instead of booking the whole container, only a part is rented. The remaining space can be made available for other goods. In this way, the transport company can combine several shipments in one container, so that the entire space can be used. Furthermore, partial shipments are consolidated in container freight stations and delivered to different recipients.

Advantages and disadvantages 

LCL transport is much more complex than FCL transport for several reasons. It requires more steps – and more time – but can still be a good alternative to FCL transport under certain conditions. 

Requirements for the transport 

Different products also imply different demands on transport that must be considered. Therefore, it should be checked carefully which deliveries can be combined into one load and which cannot. If there are dangerous goods that are subject to special regulations, FCL transport is mandatory. Additionally, by opting for LCL, there is a risk of products being damaged by other partial loads. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to rent an FCL container for sensitive goods, even if the space is not fully utilized. In general, an FCL shipment is safer by comparison since the sealing protects the goods against external influences. That is why they are also better protected against e.g. smuggling or drug trafficking.

Coordination of the transport processes

In contrast to FCL transport, the paperwork at intermediate stations in LCL transport requires considerably more effort. Several partial loads often mean various and more complex customs clearance conditions. The customs steps must be processed individually for all partial loads. Thus, as soon as a problem arises with a partial load, it affects the entire container and hence the delivery times.

Costs of transportation 

LCL transport is usually cheaper for lower load volumes and weights. Especially for companies with smaller shipping needs, LCL transport can be a good option to use. However, the price per cubic meter is usually higher for LCL cargo, so that from a certain size onwards it can be economical to choose FCL cargo as an alternative. 


The type of load that is ultimately preferred depends on various factors. Not only the weight and volume, but also the time factor, the type of products and the associated requirements are essential criteria that should be considered.

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