August 29, 2022

What are FCL, LCL and Air Shipments? Alternatives to a whole-home move

If you are moving overseas, you may have heard your mover talk about FCL, LCL or air shipments.  What do they mean, and – more importantly – what do they mean for your move?

FCL, LCL and air shipments are three options for overseas shipping that depend on the size of your shipment and how quickly you need to receive it. 

Understanding these shipping options can be helpful – especially if you are looking for an alternative to a whole-home move. Let’s take a look at these common shipping methods…

Full Container Load (FCL)

A Full Container Load (FCL) is a type of shipment in which one shipper has exclusive use of a single shipping container. 

If your goods are shipped FCL, you won’t share any portion of your container with another shipper. The container will either be 20’ or 40’ long based on the volume of your move. 

Less than Container Load (LCL)

A Less than Container Load (LCL) is a shipment in which multiple shippers share the use of a single shipping container. 

Don’t worry! If your household goods are shipped LCL, they will not be intermingled with other people’s belongings in the container. They will be crated and sealed in one or more lift vans prior to being loaded onto the container. 

Both FCL and LCL are methods of shipping goods by sea. 

Air Shipments

Very small shipments or items that you need quickly can be moved via air shipment. Similar to a LCL shipment, your items will be loaded into a lift van or truck at your home, and then prepared for air transport. Air shipping is much faster than sea shipping – and priced accordingly. 


Which type of shipping is right for me…FCL, LCL or air shipment?

First step – Decide what you really need to take with you 

Since moving shipment costs are based on volume, consider leaving some items behind – especially items that are cheaper to buy than to move. 

You may think that your moving company wants you to move as much as possible, but that is not the case. We want you to be happy with every aspect of your move, and that includes the price. During your move survey, your Move Specialist can help you identify items that can be left behind, saving you money. 

Top tip! If you have moved unopened boxes multiple times, it might be time to break the cycle. Take a look at the contents of these boxes, and decide if you can donate, shred or discard the contents. Moving unnecessary items can be hard on your wallet, the environment, and possibly your peace of mind…

Your move shipment may include:

    • A full-scale move of the entire contents of your home
    • Mini-moves of essential items 
    • Furniture or antiques
    • Collections or hobbies
    • Autos, motorcycles or bicycles


Second step – Your move specialist will recommend a shipping method based on the volume of your move

Due to the cost, air shipments are reserved for items that you need to receive urgently. Most often your Move Specialist will recommend a sea shipment by either FCL or LCL. 

Your Move Specialist will start by determining the cost and availability of an empty 20’ or 40’ container (FCL) or partially-booked container (LCL). FCL shipments have a fixed shipping cost, while LCL shipments are based on the volume of the container that you need. 

Which is faster…FCL or LCL?

LCL shipments are usually 1-2 weeks slower than FCL because your shipment will need to wait for space on a container headed to and from the same port. 

In some cases an LCL shipment may be faster – for example when a previously-booked LCL has available space and a quick departure, or when an empty container isn’t available due to supply chain issues. 

How do I know the volume of my move?

The volume of your shipment will be calculated in cubic meters. Since that can be difficult to visualise, here are some easy ways to think about it:

width x length x height = cubic volume

A standard moving box is around 40cm wide x 50cm long x 50cm high 

0.4m x 0.5m x 0.5m = 0.10 cubic meter

10 moving boxes = 1 cubic meter

  =  0.10 cubic meter

  =  1 cubic meter 


Still confused about shipping volumes? 

Here are a few common items you may want to ship and their typical volume:


fcl lcl sofa dimensions


Fcl lcl armchair dimensions



Your Move Specialist will recommend the right shipping method for your move

Understanding different shipping methods and volume calculations is one thing. Putting it all together into a successful move is another. 

Your Move Specialist will work with you through each step of the process. From helping you decide what to bring (Teddy is a definite yes…) to selecting the best shipping method, our move specialists have the expertise to make your move as simple and cost-effective as possible. 

Our moving solutions fit your needs – including shipping the contents of your home overseas, small shipments of just a few key items, and everything in between. 

Contact a Sterling Lexicon Move Specialist today to learn more about our custom move solutions.

Learn more about our Moving Services


Shipping Methods Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ] 

What is the difference between FCL, LCL and an air shipment?

Full Container Loads (FCL) are sea shipments of an entire 20’ or 40’ container by one shipper.

Less than Container Loads (LCL) are sea shipments where multiple shippers share the use of a single container. 

Air shipments are crated and sent by air cargo.

What is a lift van?

Lift vans are large plywood crates designed to safely seal and hold items during storage or shipping. A typical lift van is 4’ wide by 7’ long by 7’ tall. LCL shipments are loaded into the container in individual lift vans. 

What are the dimensions of a shipping container (length x width x height)?

The exterior dimensions of a  40’ container are 12.19m x 2.56m x 2.44m 
The interior dimensions of a 40’ container are 12.03m x 2.39m x 2.34m 
The loadable volume of a 40’ container is approximately 64 cbm 

The exterior dimensions of a 20’ container are 6m x 2.56m x 2.44m 
The interior dimensions of a 20’ container are 5.9m x 2.39m x 2.28m
The loadable volume of a 20’ container is approximately 32 cbm

How much can you fit in a 20’ container?

A 1-2 bedroom apartment will usually fit in a 20’ container

How much can you fit in a 40’ container?

A larger 2-3 bedroom home will require a 40’ container

How do I calculate what size shipping container I need?

While it is helpful to understand how the household-goods volume is calculated, you won’t have to calculate your move volume or select a shipping method by yourself.

Your move specialist has the expertise to assess your move and find you the most cost-effective and quickest shipping method available.

Learn more about our custom moving solutions!

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