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How to buy a shipping container

How to Buy a Shipping Container: Your Complete Purchasing Guide

Buying a shipping container may seem like an easy task, but there are countless factors to consider to ensure you end up with the right fit for your needs. Whether you are buying a new or used shipping container for transportation purposes or exploring other shipping container uses like building a house or business, learning the process and common tips for how to buy a shipping container is crucial before you get started.

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Steps for How to Buy a Shipping Container
What to Look for When Buying a Shipping Container
The Cheapest Way to Buy Shipping Containers
Need help with how to buy a shipping container?

Steps for How to Buy a Shipping Container

Step 1: Decide if You Should Buy a New/One-Trip or Used Shipping Container

If you are looking to transport precious cargo or build a home, restaurant, etc. with shipping containers, your first thought may be to play it safe and buy a new container. But the decision whether to buy a used shipping container or a new one is a bit more nuanced than that and depends heavily on your needs.

Unsurprisingly, used containers are often in less-than-pristine condition; after all, they have likely been subjected to some level of wear and tear over their lifetimes. Unlike New/one trip containers that have had a one trip movement of cargo overseas from the manufacturer to the United States, the used containers have moved cargo overseas for 10-15 years.  Container Sales Group sells Used Water/Wind Tight containers that might have some rust, dings, dents and a professional welded patch that can still do the job as a New/One-Trip container at a much lower price. 

It’s not just the condition you’ll want to consider, though. You also need to think about lifespan and how long you will need to use this container. The lifespan of a shipping container is determined by environment, use, and the number of years spent at sea.  The lifetime of a NEW/One-Trip container is around 25 years and a Used container 10- 15 years if taken care of properly.  They do require a bit of upkeep and maintenance if you want them to last as long as possible.      

Step 2: Choosing the Right Type of Shipping Container to Buy

Start by determining the required size of your container depending on the size of cargo or space needed for container conversion. The two most common sizes for standard containers are 20ft and 40ft, and suppliers like Container Sales Group also offer 40ft. High Cube and 45ft. High Cube containers if you need extra vertical space. 

If you have particularly fragile or oversized cargo loads, you may want to explore options beyond the standard containers. Some of the most common specialized container types include…

  1. Open Top Containers replace a typical solid roof with a tarp. This still keeps freight protected and dry, but provides extra flexibility for top-loading and transporting oversized or abnormally shaped cargo such as timber. 
  2. Open Side Containers – also called “full access containers – allow quick and easy access to cargo through the larger opening. This makes them fantastic for long-term storage where you may not want to dig through every item to get to something in the back. They are also great for restaurant or bar conversions. 
  3. Double Door Containers feature doors that open on each short end of the container, providing extra flexibility for loading and unloading cargo. They also provide flexibility to partition the space to transport two different types of freight in one container.
  4. Flat Rack Containers have only two short sides and no top, offering ultimate versatility for transporting items of all shapes and sizes. These shipping containers also make it easier to load and unload cargo.
  5. Other Container Types: Finally, determine if you need any additional special conditions for your cargo, which could require a refrigerated container, dry cargo container, or insulated/thermal retainer. 

Container suppliers like Container Sales Group also offer custom storage containers to fit your specific needs. Call us today at (708) 734-4095 to learn more. 

Step 3: Set Your Budget

How much you’ll invest in a shipping container depends on several factors, including size, location, quantity, and quality of the container you choose. It’s best to know what price ranges are available for your specific container needs vs. coming up with an arbitrary number upfront.  However, the average price for a used shipping container is somewhere between $1,500 – $4,000 while new/one trip containers are usually more expensive and range from $3,000 – $7,000.  Make sure also to include transporting to your location.  Before committing to purchase, make sure there are no hidden fees or markups

Unsure about where to set your budget? Contact Container Sales Group for a quote based on your specific location and container needs. 

Step 4: Decide Where to Buy the Shipping Container

The need for shipping containers has skyrocketed in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and as they become increasingly popular for the construction of structures like homes and restaurants. Unsurprisingly, there are some who have tried to benefit from this increased need at the expense of consumers. To avoid this, try to opt for a reputable, proven shipping container supplier that has been in business for more than just a few years and look to see if they have recent customer reviews on Google.

Lastly, in order to get the best rate when buying a shipping container, you’ll want to know where the company you’re considering buying from gets their containers. The more middlemen are involved, the more your bottom line is impacted without much (or any) added value. Consider purchasing from a company like Container Sales Group, which buys shipping containers direct from the steamship lines to offer our customers the highest quality container at the most competitive prices.

Step 5: Container Inspection

Containers must be inspected before purchase to ensure that they are not damaged. If you plan on using your container for work purposes, it will need to meet certain safety standards. Containers should also include the proper documentation and markings if they are going to be used internationally for ocean export and carried by ship. 

New/One Trip containers are made of Cor-Ten steel and may come with security lock box to prevent the your master lock from being cut and forklift pockets for easy moving.  Since they have had a one trip movement of product from the manufacture to the United States the container may have minor cosmetic dings & dents.

Used shipping containers have also been made of Cor-ten steel but after spending years moving cargo overseas in a harsh marine environment they will have exterior dings, dents, rust and/or professional repairs.  The condition does not jeopardize the structural integrity.

Based on their conditions, shipping containers are classified into the following categories: 

  1. “AS IS” – Used containers are units that are retired cargo containers sold with possible holes, floor damage, or other fixable repairs. These containers have heavy signs of usage and deterioration. “As Is” storage containers make a good option for customers looking for a discounted container that they can repair themselves or build with. 
  2. Wind & Water Tight (WWT): These weatherproof units are typically 10-20 years of age and are retired from the steamship lines lease fleet.  The exterior condition of the containers can have some rust, dings, dents & professional welded patches or repairs due to some damage that was sustained in shipping products overseas. These containers cannot be used for ocean export because their CSC plate is expired but are great for ground-level, portable storage, or building purposes.
  3. Cargo Worthy (CW): This is a CSC (Container Safety Convention) criterion under which a used shipping container is deemed suitable for the transport of cargo overseas all over the world.  These units are typically 10-15 years of age, made from strong Cor-Ten Steel, wind/watertight, and structurally sound for international cargo transport.  Aesthetically, Cargo Worthy containers all have some exterior rust, dings, dents & welded patches. The floors are made from solid marine-grade laminated plywood with steel horizontal bars running underneath the flooring every 4-6” running the length of the container. The quality of these containers is ideal for ocean export, ground-level storage, or building purposes at a lower price point than New/One-Trip Containers.
  4. IICL (International Container Lessor):  IICL has created a standard of inspection that ensures that a Shipping Container (aka ISO Container) is in adequate condition to be leased for cargo transportation. IICL often guarantees a high standard of quality (regarding the condition of the container) but also ensures that the container will also be dependable and last for many years. On average IICL units are newer, structurally sound, and have a better cosmetic appearance than other used containers. Excellent for ocean export, ground-level portable storage, or building.
  5. One-Trip / New: These units are manufactured overseas and have made a one-way move with cargo over to the United States. These containers have not spent a lot of time on a vessel or being handled at the port and make an excellent choice for ocean export, ground-level portable storage or building.

There’s a lot to consider when evaluating the condition of a container, but reputable suppliers will inspect the containers before putting them up for sale and help guide you along the way. At Container Sales Group, all of our shipping containers are inspected to be in the condition they are purchased- New/One-Trip, IICL, Cargo Worthy or Water/Wind Tight condition.

Step 6: Find Out if You Need A Permit

Shipping containers are portable and can be used as permanent or temporary storage option in place of a shed, garage, or workshop. Many years ago, most areas did not require a permit for metal shipping containers, but some areas are now requiring one even if it is for storage. Before you purchase an international shipping container, it is important to know if your local municipality or village requires a permit. 

To obtain a permit, you will have to reach out to your local government contact and apply for official permission.  Usually, this requires paying a fee and agreeing that you will abide by the rules guiding its issuance. The requirements for permits differ from city to city, county to county, and state to state.  Once you obtain permission, you will then need to consider a couple of factors with delivery.

Step 7: Prepare Your Space for Container Delivery


The space needed for delivery will depend on who you are purchasing the container from. Container Sales Group, for example, uses a tilt body (roll-off truck), meaning the container slides off the back of the truck as it pulls forward. We can also deliver longer distances with a flatbed truck, requiring customers to lift off containers at the time of arrival.

It is important to consider how much distance you will need to have at your property to confirm if you have enough room for delivery.  Measuring ahead of time will help you decide on container size as well as ensure you have a smooth delivery.

Here is a general rule of thumb:

  • 20ft containers need 50ft straight-line space
  • 40ft containers need 150ft of straight-line space
  • 16ft Height Clearance, and 12ft Width- No wires or trees

Prepping the Ground

Finally, determining where you are going to put the container is very important not only to the delivery space as mentioned above but for the long-term maintenance of your container.  Your ground must be solid, level, and have a well-drained surface or asphalt, gravel, or even a concrete pad. Keep in mind that the ground needs to be level, especially for a 40ft container for the doors to open and close properly. You might consider placing railroad ties or wood blocks under each of the 4 corner posts of the container for additional support.  This is done by 2 people at the time the container is sliding off the back of the truck at time of delivery.

What to Look for When Buying a Shipping Container

1. Paint And Markings

Most New/One-Trip shipping containers have a solid color.  On the other hand, the used containers are usually painted with colors that reflect the shipping line’s branding. Some containers may also bear the shipping line’s logo and name.  Based on how long the shipping container has been in service, moving cargo overseas, may affect the quality of the paint.

2. Condition Of The Container

As you might expect, a New/One Trip shipping container will have only been moved once (from the factory overseas to the United States) and is unlikely to be damaged. New/One-Trip shipping containers have been built to the highest standards. The rigors of shipping might cause a few signs of wear, but for the most part, these one trip containers are in great condition.

When you purchase used containers, on the other hand, you’ll need to pay more attention to the condition to ensure it meets your anticipated needs.  Used containers have been in service, moving cargo, for 10-15 years and will have different levels of exterior blemishes.  You will need to see sample pictures to the condition are you purchasing to make sure that the used condition will work for your needs. If budget is preventing you from purchasing a New/One Trip container, you can always consider painting a used container which will not only make the container look nicer but extend the lifetime of the unit.

3. Security And Transportation

A shipping container lock box is one of the simplest ways to secure your shipping container.   A lock box is a device that is installed on the doors of the container and provides a secure house which makes the external pad lock inaccessible from all sides so it can’t be removed with bolt cutters.  Today, most New/One-Trip shipping containers are built with external lock boxes on the double doors which is a nice feature.  However, if you have a used container without a box, you can easily have a lock box welded on at any time for additional protection. 

Most shipping containers are very portable especially when they have forklift pockets, which are invaluable to contractors or yard workers who need to move these conex boxes around.  While 20ft New/One-Trip and Used shipping containers often come with forklift pockets, not all 40ft containers have them.  Depending the on manufacturer, you may be able to find a New or Used 40ft container with forklift pockets due to the weight and size of these units so it is best to use a crane to move them. 

Finally, shipping containers are delivered locally with a tilt body (roll off) truck and for long distance with a flatbed truck (which require a heavy piece of equipment to offload the container to the ground). 

Lockboxes On Many Brand-New Shipping Containers For Sale
Lockboxes On Brand-New Shipping Containers

4. Reputation of the Company

When purchasing a shipping container, it is important not only to look at the quality of the container itself but the quality and reputation of the company you are buying from.

Be sure the company inspects and guarantees the container in the condition that you are purchasing.  You can find this out by doing research on the company to get an idea of recent reviews from customers to see if the quality and service match your expectations .  Companies like Container Sales Group buy containers directly from the steamship lines and tend to offer much more competitive pricing to customers. We also have been selling shipping containers since 1998 across the United States and our customer reviews can give you an idea of what to expect from our company throughout the container purchasing experience.  

The Cheapest Way to Buy Shipping Containers

Tight budget? Looking to get the best possible deal on a shipping container? Follow these tips to learn how to buy shipping containers as cost-effectively as possible: 

  1. Buy used: This doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the condition of your container; in fact, that’s just about the last thing you should do, particularly if you plan to use your container to carry precious cargo. However, cargo containers are strong and built to last, so if you can get a used container in good condition, you’ll likely save a good chunk of change without sacrificing on quality. 
  2. Work with a company that buys direct: Companies like Container Sales Group buy shipping containers direct from the steamship lines to offer our customers the highest quality container at the most competitive prices.
  3. Save on delivery costs: Companies like Container Sales Group buy shipping containers direct from the steamship lines to offer our customers the highest quality container at the most competitive prices.

Need help with how to buy a shipping container? 

Container Sales Group has been in business of new & used shipping container sales since 1998. We offer quality containers around the United States at the most competitive prices while also offering industry-leading customer support. Contact us for a quote or call today at (708) 704-4095.

Work with the best in the shipping container business.

Container Sales Group buys containers directly from the steamship lines to offer our customers the highest quality containers at the most competitive prices. We’re a women-owned business, established in 1998, and have locations throughout the US.

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