How to Purchase Shipping Containers

Navigating the world of shipping container purchases can be challenging, especially for those new to the market.

Knowing the specific container type needed is just the beginning. The real complexity lies in finding and securing one.

Prices are often not readily available online, making it necessary to put in extra effort to find them.

The industry is filled with various sellers, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The abundance of dealers, distributors, and resellers adds to the complexity, creating a need for a guided approach to locate the right container for your project.

Selecting the Right Containers To Buy

A person carefully inspects and compares different shipping containers, noting their size, condition, and price. They hold a checklist and a pen, ticking off the best options

When choosing a shipping container, consider both size and condition to find the right fit for your needs.

Containers come in various sizes, with common options including 20ft, 40ft, and 45ft lengths. Each size varies in height: standard height (8’6″) and high-cube height (9’6″).

The choice between these sizes will influence the container’s usability, especially if you’re converting it for housing or storage.

Conditions of containers range from new to various grades of used.

New or “one-trip” containers are ideal for uniformity and structural integrity, ensuring fewer issues with flooring or roofing. Used containers, classified into grades such as “cargo-worthy” or “wind and watertight,” may have minor cosmetic damage but are still functional.

Always inspect used containers for rust or structural damage.

Prices fluctuate based on several factors, including location and market demand. Expect to pay between $600 and $1,800 for standard containers, depending on size and condition. Remember, rare sizes like 10ft or 53ft can be pricier.

Choose wisely by reviewing options and inspecting conditions to ensure the container fits your project needs. For more detailed dimensions and conditions, visit the guides on types and dimensions of shipping containers and grades and conditions.

Where to Purchase a Shipping Container

Finding Containers to Buy Online

Buying shipping containers online can save time and offer a broader selection. Whether looking for new or used containers, the internet provides numerous options.

U.S. Online Purchases

In the U.S., trying to buy containers as close to the logistical chain as possible, ideally near ports, can often lead to better deals.

Major shipping lines may not sell directly to consumers, but larger dealers connected to these lines might offer a wide variety of choices. Fewer intermediaries can mean lower costs.

Searching Online: Use search phrases like “shipping container Miami” with your own city name to locate nearby dealers. Adding terms like “buy shipping container” or “shipping container dealer” can also help.

For those in rural areas, searching the nearest large city might yield more results. Including specific container descriptions like ‘used’, ‘40 foot’, or ‘cargo-worthy’ can refine the search.

Craigslist and Similar Sites: Checking Craigslist can connect buyers with local dealers or individuals selling containers.

It can be useful to explore different sub-categories or just use the ‘For Sale‘ section to maximize results. Searching multiple nearby cities can increase the chances of a suitable find. Websites like Search Tempest can help search multiple Craigslist locations at once.

If buying from individuals or non-dealers, visiting the container to inspect its condition and arranging logistics for pickup are essential.

International Online Purchases

Outside the U.S., finding containers involves similar strategies though the focus is often on international ports and regional sites.

Seaports and Land Ports: Almost every country has ports that deal with shipping containers. Tools like the Sea Rate website provide contact details and information about ports globally.

Reaching out to ports to find companies selling excess containers can be effective. Land ports, though not as prevalent as seaports, can also provide options, especially in land-locked areas.

Global Online Marketplaces: Websites like Alibaba can connect buyers with manufacturers in countries like China, where most new containers are made.

Coordinating international purchases involves handling transportation and customs, which might require assistance from a local dealer.

Local Classifieds and Alternatives: Platforms like Gumtree in Commonwealth countries or other local classified sites can also be useful for finding containers. The process mirrors searching on Craigslist with similar precautions and steps.

Locating Containers Offline

Though online purchases are convenient, offline methods can also yield results, sometimes unexpectedly.

Local Observations: Many businesses and private properties have unused or forgotten containers. Observant buyers might spot these and negotiate a purchase, providing owners with extra money and freeing up their space.

Personal Connections: Networking within the shipping, transportation, and logistics industries can reveal sources of containers. Referrals from individuals in these fields might lead to dealers or businesses with surplus units looking to sell.

Payment Options for Your Shipping Container

Self-Funded Purchase


Handing over cash to the seller can make the purchase simple and quick. This method works best with local container dealers.

Be cautious when dealing with large amounts of cash, and consider the personal security risks. Most sellers won’t agree to full cash-on-delivery, but a partial COD after a deposit is possible.

Checks and Bank Transfers

Electronic bank transfers and checks are convenient for online purchases as they can be done remotely. However, similar to cash, they offer limited recourse if issues arise.

Before using these methods, ensure you trust the seller and have verified their reputation.

Financed Purchase

Credit Card

Using a credit card is one of the simplest financing options available.

Most people already have one, which means there’s no need for an approval process.

Although credit cards can have high interest rates, introductory rates of 0% could be beneficial if the balance is paid off before the rate changes.

Credit cards also offer some protection against disputes with sellers through terms like “purchase protection” and “extended warranty.” Paying off the balance by the end of the month avoids interest charges and functions as a short-term loan.

Seller Financing

Many sellers now offer financing options, either directly or through third-party companies.

This can provide an easy route to purchase, though it’s important to understand the interest rates, fees, and terms involved. While convenient, these financing options typically offer less buyer protection than credit cards.

Bank Financing

Bank loans can be a favorable option due to the well-known and stable value of shipping containers.

Banks might offer both secured loans, using the container as collateral, and unsecured loans based on the buyer’s financial health.

Terms and conditions can vary greatly between banks, so researching both local and national banks is advisable to find the best financing package for your needs.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Container Dealer or Seller

Trustworthiness and Track Record

When selecting the right dealer for your shipping container needs, evaluating their trustworthiness is crucial.

Sellers with a good reputation often belong to industry groups like the Container Dealer’s Association or the Intermodal Association of North America. These memberships, while not always stringent, indicate some level of industry recognition.

Customer reviews can also paint a picture of a seller’s reputation. Websites like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Google Reviews provide insights from past buyers.

While negative reviews are often more common, a few bad comments don’t always signify a bad company. Seeking opinions from people who have purchased containers in your locality can offer trustworthy insights.

Another important note is to verify your purchase.

Once you agree on a specific container, record its BIC code and CSC plate information. Make sure these details match upon delivery to ensure you’re receiving the container you selected.

Guarantees and Return Policies

Warranties can vary depending on the container’s condition. New containers often come with guarantees, but the reliability of these warranties depends on the dealer’s credibility.

It is crucial to understand the terms of the warranty and what it covers.

Making a warranty claim or returning a container involves understanding the return process and associated fees.

Knowing who bears the shipping costs, if any restocking fees apply, and how returns are coordinated can save you from unexpected charges.

Clarifying these points before completing your purchase is smart to avoid headaches later.

Bulk Purchase Savings

Buying multiple containers from the same seller can lead to discounts.

Sellers may offer volume discounts, either openly or through negotiation. Understanding how volume pricing works can help you save money.

Companies have metrics like Average Customer Value (ACV) and Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). While you don’t need to know these exact figures, recognizing that bulk purchases can save sellers on their CAC can help you negotiate better prices.

Savings on bulk purchases might not be huge, but every bit counts.

Extra Services Offered

Value-added services distinguish one seller from another.

Some dealers offer more than just the container, providing services like custom painting, lockbox installations, and even major modifications such as adding windows or insulation.

Considering if these additional services are worth paying for is essential.

Evaluate if you want the seller to perform these tasks, hire a contractor later, or handle them yourself. Different sellers have varying capabilities for offering these value-added services, impacting your decision-making process.

Shipping and Handling

Delivery and offloading are significant aspects of purchasing a shipping container.

Larger dealers may have the equipment needed for delivery in-house, which can reduce costs and speed up the process.

If the seller uses third-party subcontractors, clarify who holds responsibility during transit and offloading.

Understanding this can prevent disputes if anything goes wrong.

Timeliness is another factor – know how long it will take for all your containers to be delivered, especially if the seller has limited delivery resources.


Navigating the world of shipping container purchases can be more complex than it seems at first glance. Buyers can make informed decisions with knowledge and a clear strategy.

It’s essential to consider factors including location, quality, and price. Upon delivery, make sure the container’s BIC code and CSC plate information match your purchase. This attention to detail will help buyers avoid issues later on, especially when designing and building a container home.

Engage with others by sharing your experiences, whether positive or negative, to contribute to a richer understanding of the shipping container purchasing process.