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Freight from the USA
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Cubic meter in cargo transportation

In respect of international cargo transportation, a cubic meter is a relatively large shipping volume. For example, shipping from the USA overseas, a cargo of volume of one cubic meter is equal to international delivery of 12 standard U.S. medium shipping boxes sized 18"x18"x16" (3 cubic feet each).

This web page should help you understand the meaning of cubic meters in shipping from the USA cargo using LCL freight. It should also give you a better idea of the shipping volume you calculate in our online freight calculator.

What is the CUBIC METER?

These images should help you understand how much cargo you can fit inside the volume of just ONE cubic meter. You can see it in the short video on YouTube as well.

size of cubic meter by     fit shipping boxes in CBM

Technically, a cubic meter can be any combination of shipping unit sizes, provided that all three dimensions (in metric meters, including the decimals) multiplied between each other will result in 1.


Cubic meter in LCL freight shipping

LCL Sea freight service is the most economical way to deliver a relatively large cargo volume from the USA abroad. Another advantage of LCL is that in shipping cargo LCL, most of the time, the cargo's weight is not a pricing factor*.

*This statement is not valid if you carry extremely heavy cargo and the density of transporting goods exceeds a density limit in your particular shipment. If shipping is a regular commodity, then your cargo is unlikely to exceed the density limit.

In other words, unlike with parcel services or airfreight, when shipping freight LCL, freight rates are primarily based on the volume of cargo but not on the weight. LCL Sea freight price quotes in international transportation are based on ocean freight rates per cubic meter (or cubic feet) but not the weight of the load in kilos or pounds. As soon as cargo is delivered at an ocean freight carrier's freight terminal CFS), shippers should not worry about the weight of the cargo. Just disregard the weight.

If you pack your goods in standard U.S. shipping boxes for the international transportation LCL, then these pictures should give you an idea of how shipping boxes may fit into the volume of one cubic meter.

    shipping boxes in seafreight    cubic meter in international shippingshipping boxes fit in one cubic meter

Note that the overall volume of your shipping boxes does not have to be limited by one cubic meter. The international shipping of LCL freight is not limited by volume. The total volume in your international shipping will be derived as the sum of the volumes of all your shipping boxes (including fractions). For example:


international shipping of boxes in seafreight

International transporting of 20 loose shipping boxes sizes 18"x14"x12" is equal to the shipping volume of 1.42 cubic meters. (20x1.50'x1.67'x1' = 50.1 cubic feet = 1.42 cubic meters)


international shipping of boxes

International transporting of 6 shipping boxes sizes of 18"x18"x22" is equal to shipping volume of 0.7 cubic meter* (6x1.50'x1.50'x1.83' = 24.7 cubic feet = 0.7 cubic meters)

*IMPORTANT: International LCL freight rates always have minimum charges on entire shipments. In this example, if the rate is $125 per CBM / $125 minimum charge, then you always pay $125, even though the volume of your cargo is less than one cubic meter.

Typically (but not always), minimum charges in LCL freight rates are equal to the costs of shipping cargo of the volume of one cubic meter (or 35 cubic feet). I.e., if your overall shipping volume multiplied by the LCL Sea freight rate per CBM will be less than the minimum in the ocean freight rate, you will be charged that minimum regardless of the actual volume that you are shipping.

With LCL freight, you can ship from the USA overseas items of any size. You can ship boxes, crates, luggage, or any other cargo adequately packed for international transportation. The only limit is that all your shipping units should fit into a 40-foot multimodal sea freight container.


The w/m rules in respect of different modes of cargo transportation

W/m is the acronym for weight or measurement commonly used in international and U.S. domestic cargo transportation. It means weight or measurement, whichever is greater. W/m rule presents a cargo density limit. Rates in shipping regular cargo calculate the overall shipping volume, while heavy freight will be recalculated considering the cargo's weight. W/m calculations differ depending on the mode of transportation and the carrier.

International shippers should be aware of the chargeable weight and chargeable volume (w/m) standards used in different cargo transportation modes. In respect of international cargo transportation from the USA LCL, there are two modes of transportation: international LCL freight itself and U.S. domestic LTL ground transportation.

International LCL freight: Since cargo vessels' capacity is not limited by the weight of cargo but by the hold of ships,  freight rates for regular cargo, most of the time, are based on the overall cargo volume, but not the weight. Typically, if shipping cargo self-delivered at an ocean freight carrier freight terminal (CFS), you may disregard your shipping goods' weight. Freight rates from CFSs will calculate per cubic meter or cubic foot.

Just keep in mind that if you are transporting extremely heavy cargo, a cargo density limit takes place. It is called "w/m - weight or measurements, whichever is greater." It varies depending on cargo vessels' sizes, international ocean freight carriers, origins, destination regulations, etc. In respect of shipping freight from the U.S. by sea, the w/m may take place in shipping to the Caribbean and Mexico.

Regular commodities most likely will not exceed the density limit. In general, if shipping cargo from the USA overseas LCL, you should be aware of the "U.S. 45 lbs Rule: 45 lbs = one cubic foot". This means that if the density of cargo in an international LCL shipment exceeds 45 lbs per one cubic foot, then chargeable shipping volume (total shipping cost of such a shipment) will be calculated using this formula: Total weight of cargo in pounds divided by 45 lbs = chargeable volume in cubic feet.

A similar limit is in metric calculations: the "1 cubic meter = 1000 kilos rule" can be used as well. It is called a "metric ton." However, depending on a vessel, ocean freight carrier, etc., the w/m limit may vary: 1 cbm = 750 kilos; 1 cbm = 500 kilos, etc. If transporting from the USA extremely heavy cargo, then at the time of quoting and booking such a shipment, keep in mind w/m limit. In other words, if shipping from the USA is an extremely heavy cargo, then pay attention to the w/m limit.

U.S. domestic LTL ground transportation: In respect of shipping cargo from the USA LCL, this applies to inland cargo transportation within the USA from a cargo location to an ocean freight carrier's terminal (CFS). Particularly on cargo pickup or line-haulU.S. domestic transportation's shipping cost calculates by weight in kilos or lbs and should be separated in invoices from sea freight charges.

In shipping international freight from the USA LCL, typically, the U.S. domestic part of cargo transportation is supported by U.S. LTL carriers. LTL means Less than Truck Load. Please do not confuse it with LCL.

W/m in LTL (inland transportation within the USA) is more regulated than LCL freight. All LTL cargo is subject to actual or dimensional weight verification. Typically, in the USA, in LTL ground transportation, chargeable weight calculates using this formula:

Chargeable (Dimensional) Weight in Pounds = Actual Weight of the freight OR (Length x Width x Height in inches) divided by 194, whichever is greater.

In U.S. LTL cargo transportation, the cost, besides the dimensional weight, also depends on the freight class. Freight class depends on the type of transporting goods. You may find more about dimensional weight and freight class in respect of shipping goods from the U.S. overseas in this link.


Cubic meter in FCL freight (Full Container Load)

In respect of international cargo transportation using the FCL service, FCL (Full Container Load) freight rates are based on ocean freight containers' sizes but not on the weight or volume of shipping goods. International shippers should pay attention to cubic capacities and payloads of multimodal sea freight containers.

International shipping of seafreight containers

Here are cubic capacities and payloads for the most commonly used multimodal sea freight containers:

*Payload weight in international sea freight exceeds legal over-the-road limits in the United States of America and Canada. The recommended maximum payload for containers transported within the USA and Canada is 35,000 lbs per 20' and 42,000 lbs per 40' sea freight container.


Cubic meter in RO-RO (Roll-on/Roll-off)

International sea freight rates with carriers that provide RO-RO service are based on the volume in cubic meters or cubic feet and the type of shipped vehicles. The bigger a vehicle is, the higher the sea freight rate per cubic meter or cubic foot.

A total shipping cost in international shipping RO-RO calculates as the overall volume of the vehicle considering its overall volume in cubic meters or cubic feet multiplied by an ocean freight rate per cubic meter or cubic foot.

International shipping from the US

Exemptions can be ro-ro freight rates for shipping cars. For cars, it is a lump sum per vehicle, depending on the vehicle size. For example, the sea freight rate on cars of overall volume up to 600 cubic feet and up to 1.6 meters in height to ship from the U.S. to a particular country is $1,300 lump sum + BAF & CAF, etc. However, you may notice that the "lump sum" for the transportation of a car is actually related to a range in volumes in cubic meters or cubic feet as well.

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