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Understanding TEU and FEU|The Building Blocks of Global Trade

Unlock the essentials of container shipping with our guide on TEU and FEU, the standard units defining global trade efficiency.
What is TEU and FEU?

Table of Contents

Introduction

TEU and FEU shipping container dimensions 

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2023 ended with a global trade value of around $31 trillion. Most of this trade takes place through the marine route. 

The traded items are mostly in large metal boxes known as containers. Containerization isn’t exactly a novel concept. 

The first successful event of container shipping took place in 1956, when Malcolm McLean, an American trucking entrepreneur, transported 58 metal containers of goods from Newark to Houston. Today, containers have become the standard for trade, and many of the world’s largest ports handle millions of them every year.

In fact, The New Yorker reports that a ”quarter of a billion” containers move around the world annually. These containers come in different sizes, but the most common are TEU and FEU.

Let’s take a look at what is TEU/FEU and what these dimensions specify.

What is TEU?

TEU stands for Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit. It is a unit of measurement used to express the cargo capacity of containers and container ships. 

A TEU refers to the capacity of a standard 20-foot container, which is approximately 6.1 meters long, 

The internal dimensions of a TEU container are as such: 

  • Length: 20 feet (6.1 meters)
  • Width: 8 feet (2.44 meters) 
  • Height: 8 feet and six inches (2.59 meters) 

A single TEU container holds 9 to 11 pallets. The variation in number depends on the type of pallets, standard or EUR-pallets (31.5 in × 47.2 in × 5.7 in). 

In shipping, a pallet is a portable platform made of wood or metal that is used to hold goods for transportation. The average dimensions of a pallet are 48″x40.” 

Standard pallets tend to be appropriate for TEU containers. 

When unloaded, a TEU’s weight is 2,300kg or 2.5 tons. In theory, you can load up to 25,400kg or 28 tons inside one TEU container. 

However, the actual weight limit is dependent on certain factors, such as: 

  • Shipping line’s limitations 
  • Type of item carried 
  • The size of the container ship
  • Ocean conditions and other safety considerations 
TEU and FEU size

What is FEU?

FEU stands for Forty-Foot Equivalent Unit. It is the size of a standard 40-foot container. 

The internal dimensions of an FEU container are:  

  • Length: 40 feet (12.2 meters) 
  • Width: 8 feet (2.44 meters) 
  • Height: 8 feet and six inches (2.59 meters) 

A FEU container can hold twice as many pallets as a TEU, which is approximately 22 to 24 pallets. 

Just like TEUs, the maximum weight capacity of a FEU depends on various factors. However, the general rule is that an FEU can carry around 26.73 tons of weight. 

Maximum Load Weight of an FEU 

A standard FEU has a capacity of 58 to 59 cbm. That means a FEU container can hold approximately 50% more cargo than a TEU. 

Two TEUs make up one FEU. However, FEU isn’t the largest container size used in shipping. There are also: 

  • 45 High Cube (2.25 TEU)
  • 48 High Cube (2.4 TEU)
  • 53 High Cube (2.65 TEU) 

These container sizes are used for oversized or bulk cargo. 

What is the difference between TEU and FFE?

Features TEU FEU
Abbreviation Twenty-foot equivalent unit Forty-foot Equivalent Unit
Internal Dimensions 20ft long, 8ft wide, & 8ft 6 inches tall 40ft long, 8ft wide, & 8ft 6 inches tall
Carrying Capacity 9-11 pallets 22-24 pallets
Door Height 7ft and 5.5 inches 7ft and 5.5 inches
Maximum Capacity 28cbm 58cbm

TEU and FEU differ in size and capacity. TEU is 20 feet long, while FEU is 40 feet long. The maximum weight an empty container can carry also differs. 

To understand weight capacities to TEU and FEU, it’s important to know about different types of weights in shipping. 

  • Tare Weight: It is the weight of an empty container, including its packaging and accessories. 
  • Payload Weight: It is the total weight of the cargo and any packing materials. 
  • Max Gross Weight: It refers to the container’s total maximum weight. That includes the weight of the container itself along with its maximum payload. 

For TEU, the total payload weight is 28,310kgs (28.31 tons), while that for an FEU container is 26,730kgs (26.73 tons). The mass gross weight for both TEU and FEU is 30,480kgs (30.48 tons). 

Both container sizes also differ in the number of pallets that can fit inside. While a TEU can accommodate around 9 to 11 pallets, an FEU can hold approximately 22 to 24 pallets. 

This makes it more cost-effective and efficient to transport larger quantities of goods in one shipment using FEUs instead of multiple TEUs. 

Although both TEU and FEU differ in terms of internal capacities and dimensions, their door heights remain the same. Both container sizes have a standard door height of 7 feet and 5.5 inches. 

The similarity in door height allows for compatibility during the loading and unloading of goods using standard equipment such as forklifts. 

Conclusion

In a nutshell, both TEU and FEU are standard sizes of containers used in shipping. The major difference between the two is their size, with TEUs being half the length of FEUs. 

The difference in size translates to different weight capacities and pallet limits, making FEUs more suitable for larger shipments. It’s important to understand the differences between these two sizes when planning for shipping and logistics. 

The choice between TEU and FEU depends on the type and quantity of goods. Your budgetary constraints and the mode of transportation also come into consideration.

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