Everything You Should Know About LCL and FCL Maritime Transport

LCL and FCL Maritime Transport

Are you going to make a freight shipment and you are not sure if you should choose an FCL or an LCL? In this article, ExFrO tells you about the differences between FCL and LCL and what are the advantages of each of these modes of maritime transport.

What Are FCL And LCL in Maritime Transport?

The terms FCL and LCL refer to the two main shipping methods: FCL full container shipments and LCL shipments or maritime groupage.

An FCL or full container shipment, as the name suggests, is a shipment in which a shipper's merchandise travels inside a container without sharing space with other cargo. In an FCL, the entire container is at the disposal of the importer or exporter.

In contrast, an LCL, or maritime groupage, is a type of shipment in which the cargo travels inside a container along with the cargo of other shippers. That is why this modality is also known as a 'shared container'.

In logistics, the acronyms FCL and LCL are often used by their English names:

      FCL: Full Container Load

      LCL: Less than Container Load

To decide which is the best option for your shipment – ​​FCL or LCL there are four key aspects that, as a shipper, you should be clear about before booking: volume, security, cost, and urgency.

Differences between FCL and LCL

Shipment Volume

Shipment volume refers to the number of goods you are importing or exporting. It is usually the deciding factor in choosing between an FCL or an LCL.

FCL and LCL: FCL shipments are usually the cheapest when the load exceeds 10 standard pallets or 14 cubic meters.

On the other hand, LCL shipments are more suitable for smaller volume shipments, normally between 2 and 13 cubic meters. Although it can also be profitable to send an LCL shipment below 2 cubic meters in some situations.

Cargo Security

It could be said that all shippers need their cargo to travel safely. But not all shipments require the same level of security.

There are loads that are more sensitive to the changes and movements suffered by the goods during handling and maritime transit.

FCL and LCL: In an FCL, the cargo travels exclusively in a container, so it is usually a safer shipping method. The cargo suffers less risk of coming into contact with that of other shippers —as would happen in an LCL—, which could cause damage or contamination of the merchandise.

But it must also be taken into account that, in smaller volume shipments, the cargo can travel more safely and protected in an LCL than in an FCL. Traveling more compactly, there is not so much room for movement.

Shipping Cost

The cost of international transportation is one of the main factors in the decision to ship FCL or LCL. There are some guidelines you can follow, but there is a gray area where the difference in FCL and LCL costs blurs.

FCL and LCL: For low-volume cargo (between 2 and 13 m3), the cheapest option is usually LCL shipping. From 13 m3, the most competitive option is usually the FCL, even if the container is not completely filled.

But in some circumstances, it can pay more to ship FCL, even below 13m3. In these cases, it is better to consider both options and consult with your freight forwarder.

In addition to price, FCL and LCL shipments also differ in rate stability. In general, FCL rates suffer from high volatility. LCL rates, however, are much more stable.


Planning the shipment in advance is a good recommendation, but circumstances do not always allow it. Costs aside, another important factor in deciding between FCL and LCL is how urgently you need your shipment to reach its destination.

FCL and LCL: the FCL option is usually the most suitable for shipments with very tight times or that must arrive on a fixed date since LCL shipments usually work with longer closing dates.

In addition, in the event that there are transshipment ports, an LCL shipment is more at risk of delays due to handling. Please note that the goods must be unloaded and reloaded at each of the secondary ports.

One last thing you should consider: in periods of high congestion, such as the months of August and September or during the weeks leading up to Golden Week, it might be easier to book an LCL than an FCL.

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