20'Ft - TEU

Standardised unit of measure

What is the TEU (« Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit”) ?


TEU ("Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit") is defined as the approximate unit of measure of a container. This unit of measure is based on the dimensions of a standard container – height 8.5 feet (2.591m), width 8 feet (2.438m) and length 20 feet (6.096m) which represents an approximate volume of 38.5 cubic meters.

The TEU is a unit which is used to calculate the volume of containers loaded onto a ship or stored at a terminal. The TEU also serves to calculate the loading capacity of a container ship. Container ship operators also use the TEU to formulate their transport capacity. Port traffic is also given in TEU.

6 points to understand TEU


  • The TEU was invented in order to facilitate the calculation of volume of ships equipped with slots for containers of 40 feet. These slots can stock 2 containers of 20 feet.
  • The TEU is used to count the containers, whatever their dimensions.
  • A standard container counts as 1 TEU.
  • High Cube containers (height 9 feet and 6 inches) and Half Height (height 4 feet and 3 inches) count as 1 TEU.
  • A 40-foot long container corresponds to 2 TEUs.
  • Containers of 45, 48 and 53 feet in length correspond to 2.25 (or 2), 2.4 and 2.65 TEUs, respectively.

Examples and practical applications


Dimensions and advantages of the container

The American National Standards Institute fixed the container lengths at 10, 20, 30 or 40 feet and width at 8 feet. The International Standardization Organization (ISO) then set new standards, notably the ISO 1496-1 and ISO 668.

The container offers several advantages:

  • It avoids breaking bulk
  • It is protected: the container is locked and protects goods against damage.
  • It can be heated, refrigerated, ventilated and its atmosphere controlled according to the needs of the goods
  • It can be transshipped speedily.
  • It is intermodal (the container can also be transported by freight train)
  • It offers possibilities for traceability
  • It offers stacking capabilities up to 8 containers (stacking) thanks to the use of a forklift.


The CMA CGM’s (shipping company) “Antoine de Saint-Exupery” has a capacity of 20,954 TEU. For example, it can load 5,000 containers of 40 feet and 10,954 containers of 20 feet. At the departure port, the containers are loaded onto the container ship with the aid of mobile cranes, gantries or boom lifts.

TEU in figures


In 2017, world traffic of containers represented nearly 753 million TEUs.

The biggest container ship operator in the world is the Danish company Maersk with a capacity of nearly 3.3 million TEU in 2017. It is followed by the Italian, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) which has a capacity of nearly 3 million TEU.  The French company CMA CGM is in third place with a capacity of 2.1 million TEU.

Container ships are getting larger and larger and their capacity keeps increasing. The largest container ships have over 21,000 TEU. The largest in the world is the OOCL “Hong Kong” belonging to the Hong Kong company, Orient Overseas Container Line with 21,413 TEU.

The port of Shanghai had over 40 million TEU traffic in 2017 which is the largest port in the world in terms of traffic.

Regulatory basis


ISO Standard 668 :2013 – Classification, dimensions and maximal gross mass of containers of series 1.

ISO Standard 1161 :2016 – corner fittings and intermediary fittings, specifications for containers of series 1.

ISO Standard 1496-1:2013 – specifications and tests – part 1: Containers for general usage for diverse goods.