How to Buy a Shipping Container: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Buy a Shipping Container: A Comprehensive Guide

Shipping containers have revolutionized how we move goods worldwide, offering a durable, secure, and efficient means of transport. However, their use has transcended beyond just transportation, finding a place in architecture, storage solutions, and even creating innovative living spaces. If you’re considering buying a container for shipping, storage, or conversion purposes, navigating the purchase process can seem daunting. This guide aims to demystify the process, offering insights and tips to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding Shipping Containers

Before diving into the purchase process, it’s essential to understand the basics of shipping containers, including types, sizes, and conditions. Shipping containers typically come in two sizes: 20-foot and 40-foot lengths. They are made from high-strength steel, designed to withstand harsh marine environments, making them incredibly durable for various uses.

Types of Shipping Containers

  1. Dry Storage Containers: The most common type used for shipping dry goods.
  2. Refrigerated ISO Containers: Equipped with a refrigeration unit for transporting perishable goods.
  3. Open Top Containers: Without a solid roof, these are ideal for goods that need to be loaded from the top.
  4. Flat Rack Containers: With collapsible sides, these containers can accommodate oversized cargo.
  5. Tank Containers: Designed for transporting liquids.

Condition of Containers

  • New (One-Trip Containers): These have been used for one trip and are in excellent condition, ideal for modifications.
  • Used (Cargo Worthy): They are still in good condition for shipping; they might have some wear and tear.
  • As Is: These containers may have significant damage and are typically sold for scrap or repurposed for storage.

Planning Your Purchase

Assess Your Needs

The first step in buying a shipping container is to assess your specific needs. Consider the intended use of the container, the size required, your budget, and any modifications you plan to make. This assessment will guide you in choosing the right type and condition of the container.

Budget Considerations

Budget is a crucial factor in your decision. New containers are more expensive but come with the assurance of quality and longevity. Used containers can be a cost-effective option, but inspecting them for damage that could affect their suitability for your needs is important.

Zoning Laws and Regulations

Before purchasing, research local zoning laws and regulations regarding shipping container usage, especially if you plan to use it for construction or as a permanent structure on your property. Compliance with local regulations is essential to avoid legal issues.

Where to Buy Shipping Containers?

Local Dealers and Resellers

Purchasing from local dealers can offer the advantage of inspecting the containers in person before buying. They can also provide insights into local regulations and delivery options.

Online Platforms

Online platforms and marketplaces can offer various containers from various sellers. They provide the convenience of shopping from your home, with detailed descriptions and sometimes even photos of the container. However, the physical inability to inspect the container before purchase is a downside.


Auctions, both online and in-person, can be a source of good deals on shipping containers. However, it requires diligence in research and sometimes a bit of luck to find the right container at the right price.

Inspecting a Shipping Container

Inspect the container personally or hire a professional to do so when possible. Key areas to check include:

  • Overall Structure: Ensure the container is structurally sound, with no significant deformations.
  • Doors and Seals: Check that doors open and close properly and that seals are intact to prevent water ingress.
  • Floor: Look for any signs of damage or rot, especially in wooden-floored containers.
  • Rust and Corrosion: Minor surface rust might be acceptable, but significant corrosion can compromise the container’s integrity.

Delivery and Setup

Delivery is a significant consideration, as the cost can vary widely based on distance and the need for specialized equipment to offload and position the container. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the delivery process and costs involved.

Also, prepare the site where the container will be placed. This preparation might include laying a concrete pad, gravel, or blocks to ensure a level and stable foundation.

Modification and Customization

If you plan to modify the container, consider the extent of the modifications and the potential cost. Common modifications include adding windows, doors, insulation, and HVAC systems. Engaging professionals experienced in container modifications can ensure the work meets your needs and complies with regulations.

Final Thoughts

Buying a shipping container is a process that requires careful consideration and planning. By understanding the types of containers available, assessing your needs, and conducting thorough inspections, you can make an informed decision that meets your requirements and budget. Remember to consider delivery, setup, and any necessary modifications as part of your overall plan. With the right approach, a shipping container can provide a versatile and durable solution for your shipping, storage, or construction needs.

In conclusion, the journey to buying a shipping container is filled with numerous considerations, from the type and condition of the container to the logistics of delivery and setup. By following this comprehensive guide, you’re well-equipped to navigate the purchase process, ensuring you find the perfect container for your needs. Whether for transportation, storage, or an innovative construction project, shipping containers offer a world of possibilities to explore.

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