Difference Between LCL & FCL

Updated November 21, 2016

Full container load, or FCL, and less than container load, or LCL, are terms used to refer to overseas shipping of cargo. The abbreviations also may be used to refer to transportation of cargo by train, by substituting the word "car" for "container." FCL and LCL are different in both definition and practice.

Full Container Load (FCL)

A full container load is one that has reached the maximum allowed weight of product inside the container. In practice, FCL loads may not always mean a full container. An FCL always describes a load expressly for one shipper; the shipper may reserve one FCL but not completely fill the container. In this instance, the shipper merely wants the use of the entire container for its specific needs.

Uses of FCL

When contacting a freight company for shipment of your products, ask whether you should use FCL or LCL. You can use FCL to fill a container 20 or 40 feet in length. If you have a large load that would leave little room for another customer's load, FCL will likely be advised. With FCL, you rent the whole container; after delivery, it must be returned to its point of origin.

Less Than Container Load (LCL)

Less than container load is a shipment that will not fill a container. With an LCL shipment, you pay for your load to be shipped in a container with one or more loads from other customers of the freight transport provider. If you know that you cannot fill even a 20-foot container, LCL is the most sensible option in terms of cost and convenience.

Uses of LCL

When using LCL shipping services, you need not worry about returning the container after delivery. Because you are sharing the container, it is the concern of the shipping container service company, which is likely to have return trips booked for that LCL container. Shippers using LCL need be concerned only about the load being shipped and nothing else.

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