Containers dominate international trade and e-commerce, primarily transported by sea but also via land. For those in supply chain management and e-commerce, understanding the difference between Less than Container Load (LCL) and Full Container Load (FCL) is crucial. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about LCL and FCL.

What does LCL mean?

LCL stands for Less than Container Load or Less than full Container Load means your products share container space with items from other businesses.

This container picks up and drops off goods at multiple points throughout its journey. If you opt for LCL, your items are shipped with others, with several loading and unloading stops.

If you use the LCL method, your goods are shipped in a container together with other products, and there are various loading and unloading points.

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What does FCL mean?

FCL stands for Full Container Load. Contrary to its name, the container doesn't need to be packed to the brim. Instead, FCL signifies that the container, filled solely with your goods, is sealed at the start and remains so until its final destination. When using FCL, your items are in a sealed container from the point of dispatch to the delivery endpoint.

If you use the FCL method, your goods are transported in a container that is sealed at the point of shipment and is not opened and unloaded until it reaches its destination.


lcl oder fcl sealed container

Comparing LCL and FCL

There are distinctions between these cargo modes, both legally and in practical operation.

LCL Characteristics

FCL Characteristics

  • Contains items from multiple traders.
  • Isn't sealed post-loading.
  • Has multiple loading/unloading stops.
  • Requires customs clearance for each cargo segment.
  • The carrier is accountable for any damage or loss.
  • Typically takes longer due to various stages.
  • Pricing is based on weight or volume (whichever is greater).
  • Generally more affordable.
  • Contains items from a single business.
  • Sealed after loading.
  • Direct, door-to-door transport.
  • The exporter or importer handles customs.
  • The sender is responsible during loading, while the recipient is liable for any damage during unloading.
  • Simpler and typically faster.
  • Pricing is per container (unless maximum weight is surpassed).
  • Generally pricier.


Pros and Cons of LCL and FCL

Generally speaking, the FCL method is less complex than the LCL method. The loading, unloading, and customs clearance are simplified, which means that the transport times are usually significantly shorter with the Full Container Load. In addition, your goods are better protected, for example, during transport through problematic third countries.

However, this is usually offset by higher costs because the volume of a container is often not utilized completely.

The Less than Container Load method, on the other hand, is mainly suitable for traders who are looking for inexpensive transport, often of smaller quantities. In this case, the carrier assumes liability for damage and loss. More complicated customs clearance and repeated loading and unloading result in longer transport times.

In a nutshell, for merchants like you, various factors such as customs formalities, quantity, volume, and weight of your products, costs, and urgency, as well as transit areas are decisive.