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Sea Freight: FCL and LCL, What do They Mean?

Written by
Benedict Leong
Published on
October 23, 2020
Updated on
June 26, 2023

Full container load (FCL) and Less-than-container load (LCL) refer to the two modes of transportation for sea freight shipping. LCL is also known as groupage. The trucking equivalents of these are Full Truckload (FTL) and Less-than-truckload (LTL).

Choosing between FCL and LCL sea freight arrangements will change the way your sea freight shipments will be handled, charged, and even containerised. To see which one works better for you, read on.

Shipping Rates:

FCL and LCL shipments are charged differently, so there isn’t a clear cut answer between which one is definitely cheaper than the other.

FCL shipments require you to pay a flat fee to rent the whole container to transport your goods, while LCL shipments are charged based on the larger of either volumetric weight or gross weight of your shipments. Volumetric weight is measured in terms of CBM.

Containers themselves most commonly come in Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) or Forty-Foot Equivalent Units (FEUs) which can also affect the comparative cost effectiveness of either LCL or FCL. A TEU’s is 20 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet wide. A FEU’s volume is usually between 40 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet wide. FEU’s also come in high cube variants, which are taller.

At a weight break-even point, FCL will be more cost-effective than LCL in terms of cost per cubic metre (CBM). As a rule of thumb, FCL is a better arrangement than LCL when your shipment has filled about half of a container. This is around 10 cbm for a twenty-foot-equivalent (TEU) container.

LCL orders can be cheaper than FCL if you don’t need a full container for your shipments or cannot hit the break-even volume above. This can save you costs you may otherwise spend on empty space in the container.

Even if things are not as clear cut between LCL and FCL, you can always work with an experienced international freight forwarder like Janio on which arrangement works for your current shipment. To make that process smoother, it also helps to provide the following information in your initial communications for sea freight:

  • Incoterm
  • Commodity
  • HS Code (if any)
  • Origin Port
  • Destination Port
  • Quantity
  • Gross and Volumetric weight
  • Dimensions
  • Cargo Readiness Date
  • Are you shipping dangerous goods (DGR)?
  • Commercial invoice and packing list
  • Pick up address
  • Delivery Address
Air, Land or Sea, our flexible shipping solutions keep your deliveries going forward

Schedule Flexibility:

LCL shipments require more handling due to the need to consolidate multiple shippers’ shipments into a single container heading to the same destination. This need for consolidation could also slow down loading times by 1 or 2 days and also makes sailing dates for LCL less flexible than FCL.

The need for consolidation and stricter sailing timings also means your pick ups or drop-offs need to meet your shipping partner’s schedules. As for FCL, the container will be shipped to your premises for you to load, allowing for a more flexible schedule.

Handling, Customs and Speed:

LCL shipments go through more handling than FCL shipments and are more likely to be slower as a result.

Since LCL shipments need to first be consolidated into a container at your shipping partner’s warehouse, get unpacked after clearing customs at the seaport then be assigned to a last-mile truck before finally arriving at the destination address, this extra handling could increase the chances of items getting damaged or misplaced. However, you can check with your shipping partner on how they cover potential losses during transit.

On the other hand, FCL shipments can be packed and sealed at the container at the origin address then opened only once it arrives at the destination. This ensures that all of your items are in place during transit and you have control over the packing and sealing of your items.

FCL shipments tend to clear customs faster than LCL shipments as the FCL containers only need to deal with the documentation and clearance for one shipper. LCL’s multiple shippers require more time for customs to clear before your order can move to the next leg of the journey.

In short, FCL shipments tend to be faster than LCL as it goes through less handling and clears customs faster as there isn’t a need to separate the shipments of multiple shippers.

Choosing between LCL and FCL

While there isn’t a hard and fast rule when choosing between LCL and FCL, knowing what you cannot compromise on can help narrow down the choice between the two.

LCL may be a better choice if:

  • Your volumes do not meet the break-even point for getting an FCL shipment
  • Costs are the main deciding factor over speed

FCL may be better if:

  • Volumes are large enough to be more cost effective than LCL
  • Speed and safety are more important than costs if your shipment is below the break-even volume where FCL is cheaper than LCL

To make absolutely sure of your decision, you can also reach out to us for us via the banner below for us to help you make the optimal choice for your shipment.

International logistics, particularly in Southeast Asia’s with its fragmented geography and varying customs rules between countries doesn’t have to be complicated. Janio’s Southeast Asian customs expertise and wide network of partners means we have the right combination of logistics solutions whether you need an end to end shipment, or a modular solution involving any combination of first mile, line-haul, customs brokerage, and last-mile solutions.

To find out more about our services or to request a quote, click on the banner below to reach out to us!

Air, Land or Sea, our flexible shipping solutions keep your deliveries going forward