The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing Shipping Containers

When you think of shipping containers, you might picture massive steel boxes stacked high on cargo ships. While that’s certainly accurate, shipping containers have found a multitude of uses beyond transporting goods across the ocean. From tiny homes to pop-up shops, these versatile containers have become a cornerstone of modern construction and design. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about purchasing shipping containers, whether it’s for shipping, storage, or creative projects.

Understanding Shipping Containers

What Are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers, also known as cargo containers or intermodal containers, are large standardized metal boxes used to transport goods via ships, trains, and trucks. They come in various sizes, with the most common being 20-foot and 40-foot containers. These containers are made from sturdy steel and designed to withstand the rigors of international shipping.

Types of Shipping Containers

  1. Dry Containers: These are the most common type, used for general cargo like electronics, clothing, and machinery. They are airtight and watertight.
  2. Refrigerated Containers: Also known as reefers, these containers have temperature control capabilities, making them suitable for transporting perishable goods.
  3. Open-Top Containers: These containers have removable tops for easy loading and unloading of oversized cargo.
  4. Flat Rack Containers: Designed for bulky or oversized items, these containers have collapsible sides for convenient storage when not in use.
  5. Tank Containers: These specialized containers are used for transporting liquids, such as chemicals or food products.

Reasons to Buy Shipping Containers

Shipping and Storage

The primary reason people buy shipping containers is for shipping and storage purposes. They are a cost-effective solution for transporting goods worldwide and providing secure storage on-site. Whether you’re a business owner looking to ship products or an individual in need of extra storage space, a shipping container can be the perfect solution.

Construction and Housing

Shipping containers have gained immense popularity in the construction industry. They serve as the foundation for affordable housing, offices, and even creative architectural projects. Their durability, strength, and modular design make them an attractive option for builders and designers alike.

Where to Buy Shipping Containers

Shipping Container Dealers

One of the most common ways to purchase shipping containers is through dealers or suppliers. These companies specialize in selling new and used containers, offering a variety of sizes and types. They often have multiple locations, making it convenient to find containers near you. Some well-known container dealers include CIMC, Maersk, and Triton Container.

Online Marketplaces

Another option is to explore online marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist, or specialized container marketplace websites. While this can provide a wider range of options, it’s crucial to thoroughly vet the seller and inspect the container’s condition before making a purchase.


You can also find shipping containers at auctions, both in-person and online. These auctions often include containers that have been retired from shipping service. While prices can be competitive, it’s essential to be well-informed about the container’s condition and any potential refurbishment costs.

Factors to Consider Before Buying

Container Condition

When purchasing a shipping container, the condition is paramount. Containers are typically categorized into three conditions:

  1. New: These containers are brand new and have never been used for shipping.
  2. One-Trip: One-trip containers have been used for a single shipping journey before being sold. They are in excellent condition.
  3. Used: Used containers vary in condition, so it’s essential to inspect them thoroughly for rust, dents, and structural integrity.

Container Size and Type

Consider what size and type of container best suit your needs. If you’re using it for shipping, make sure it meets international shipping standards. For storage or construction, choose a size and type that aligns with your project requirements.

Delivery and Placement

Think about how the container will be delivered to your location and where you plan to place it. Ensure you have enough space and a suitable foundation for the container.

Regulations and Permits

Check local regulations and permit requirements for placing a shipping container on your property, especially if you plan to use it for housing or commercial purposes. Some areas have zoning restrictions and building codes to consider.

Inspecting a Shipping Container

Exterior Inspection

  1. Rust: Look for any signs of rust, especially on the container’s corners and undercarriage. Surface rust is normal, but extensive rust can compromise structural integrity.
  2. Dents and Damage: Check for dents, cracks, or any visible damage. Minor dents may not be a concern, but significant damage should be assessed.
  3. Seals and Gaskets: Inspect the container’s seals and gaskets to ensure they are intact and watertight.

Interior Inspection

  1. Odor: Smell the interior for any unusual or strong odors, which may indicate previous cargo contamination.
  2. Floor Condition: Examine the floor for signs of damage or wear. Ensure it’s sturdy and in good condition.
  3. Ventilation: Check for proper ventilation, especially if you plan to use the container for housing or storage of specific items.

Container Modifications

One of the advantages of shipping containers is their adaptability. You can modify them to suit various purposes. Popular modifications include:

  1. Windows and Doors: Adding windows and doors can transform a container into a livable space or a pop-up shop.
  2. Insulation: Proper insulation is essential for climate-controlled applications or comfortable living spaces.
  3. Electrical and Plumbing: Install electrical wiring and plumbing for functional use.
  4. Paint and Exterior Design: Customize the exterior with paint or branding to match your project’s aesthetics.

Transport and Placement

Transporting a Container

Transporting a shipping container can be challenging due to their size and weight. You can hire a professional transport service or use a specialized truck and trailer if you have the necessary equipment and expertise.

Placement and Foundation

Ensure you have a suitable foundation in place before the container arrives. Common foundation options include concrete slabs, railroad ties, or gravel pads. Proper leveling is essential to prevent structural issues.

Maintenance and Care

To prolong the lifespan of your shipping container and ensure it remains functional, follow these maintenance tips:

  1. Regular Inspections: Periodically inspect the container for rust, leaks, and damage.
  2. Repainting: Apply rust-resistant paint to prevent corrosion.
  3. Weatherproofing: Seal any gaps or cracks to maintain a watertight interior.
  4. Security: Install locks and security measures to protect your container from theft or vandalism.

Cost of Purchasing Shipping Containers

The cost of a shipping container varies depending on factors such as size, condition, location, and modifications. As of 2021, here’s a rough price range:

  1. New Containers: $3,000 to $6,000 or more.
  2. One-Trip Containers: $2,000 to $5,000.
  3. Used Containers: $1,500 to $3,500.

Modifications can add to the overall cost, so be sure to factor that into your budget.


Purchasing shipping containers can be a practical and cost-effective solution for shipping, storage, or creative projects. By understanding the types, buying options, inspection process, and maintenance requirements, you can make an informed decision when acquiring a shipping container.

Whether you’re a business owner looking to streamline logistics or a DIY enthusiast embarking on a unique construction project, shipping containers offer a world of possibilities. Remember to plan carefully, inspect thoroughly, and embrace the versatility of these remarkable containers. With the right container and a bit of creativity, the sky’s the limit.