Transporting shipping containers across long distances on land and sea was always a challenge in itself.

The containerization process brought light to the industry, intermodal containers being loaded, unloaded, stacked fast, and transported efficiently, even though they were being moved across vast distances.

Today we’re going to speak about the unit measures that somehow came naturally with the development of international trading: introducing TEU(twenty-foot equivalent unit) and its counterpart, FEU, two unusual units of measure that revolutionized the cargo industry.

In a nutshell, a TEU, also known as the twenty-foot equivalent unit, is a type of measurement unit that’s based on the footprint of a standard 20ft(6.1 m) dry cargo container, and which describes the capacity of cargo ships and terminals.

Oftentimes, you will find shipping containers being transported with:

  • Ships
  • Trains
  • Industrial trucks

Because of that, the existence of a standardized unit measure in the industry was needed.

Let’s take a closer look at the TEU, its counterparts, and how they now define the transportation industry.

What is a TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent unit)?

A TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) is an unconventional measurement unit that derives from the square surface of a 20ft(6.1 m) dry cargo container. In other words, a 20ft shipping container is equivalent to 1 TEU.

However, a twenty-foot unit is actually different from its counterpart, the FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit).

The TEU is considered to be an exact unit of cargo as it is so properly named. This means that it defines the footprint of a 20-foot-long container which is considered to be the standard of cargo shipping.

TEU and FEU unit measures came naturally, as a result of containerization – which was the process of standardizing shipping containers, a process started by Malcom McLean, called “the father of containerization” – thus the second name attributed to them of intermodal containers.

A standardized container can be easily transferred onto a ship, train, or large truck and vice versa to other modes of transportation thanks to its design.

Cranes are oftentimes used to hoist the shipping container onto a preferred mode of transportation. The intermodal container is also defined by its length which can range anywhere from 4 feet and 3 inches to 9 feet and 6 inches.

However, the most common height for this type of shipping container is oftentimes 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 m).

These containers can hold food, gold, general supplies, and more. And of course, they are sturdy enough to be stacked on top of each other in order to save real estate in a storage area.

What is an FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit)?

There’s a second cargo box measurement unit that is supposed to take what the TEU can offer and double it.

An FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit) is designed to carry much more than the 1 TEU boxes and can still be transported safely and reliable on the various modes of transport that we had mentioned before.

The fun part comes when containers are being stacked up. For example, it’s possible to stack a 40ft(2TEU or 1FEU) intermodal container on top of 2 20ft ones.

Thankfully, there are many benefits to using 40ft+ containers. because they can be pulled by a semi-trailer truck with relative ease and fit the perimeter of their bed. It is advantageous to use this combination as it meets roadside regulations whenever it comes to transportation.

While most countries have regulations due to road size, condition, and external disruptors, Europe and specifically North America will simply allow the use of the trailer to transport containers by road of up to 48ft length.

Why The Need of a Standardized (although unconventional) Unit Measure?

Transporting goods is a serious business. The livelihood of entire countries depends on their ability to trade goods with one another. The TEU and the FEU had to become the norm in order for us to have the world that we have today. Before this, standard shipping containers came in all kinds of sizes.

There was no uniform measurement that was used in order to ship items around the world. Unfortunately, this caused a variety of problems. Some of these problems included:

  • Safety hazards
  • Unpreventable theft
  • Difficulties transporting
  • These containers were not able to be safely stored and could cause hazards in shipyards and store yards around the world. Having a uniform size makes stacking FEU’s and TEU’s much easier.

The importance of having a standardized unit measurement is that it helps contractors, shippers, and other individuals around the world determine how to store and properly transport goods.

It also helps shipmen determine how much space they will have on their ships whenever they take a load. It is the single most important reference that defines a cargo ship.

HMM Algeciras is the world’s largest containership, with a capacity of 23,964 TEU

As a fun fact, the TEU/FEU standardized intermodal containers can come in all different colors to indicate the shippers about what type of cargo is being held on the inside and what company the shipping container belongs to.

Equivalence to Other Unit Measures

Finding out the equivalence of a TEU can be a challenge when comparing it to other units of measurement. Unfortunately, a TEU itself cannot be exactly converted into other types of measurement units.

However, in good news, an FEU is considered to be 2 TEU’s put together. This gives a standard amount of predictable measurement but it’s not reliable enough to consider on most transports.

Where an exact TEU cannot be defined in units of measurements, most companies instead weigh a shipping container by its mass. This helps them determine whether or not a load will be too heavy for their transportation of choice and they can plan accordingly.

Fortunately, the future may bring about changes that can change the way that we define the units of measurements that comprise a TEU or FEU.


TEU’s and FEU’s are shipping tools that people oftentimes take for granted. They help us carefully and securely transport goods around the world that help keep the economies of the world going strong.

Without the standard, we would have difficulties transporting goods and we wouldn’t have the economy that we have today. 

We hope this information has been enlightening and informative on the subject of TEU’s and FEU’s and their importance in the shipping industry.

Nick Davis

Technology blogs contributor, I love everything that's high-tech and super solid. While traveling, hiking and surfing, I make sure to put my gear to the toughest tests. Join me in my quest of discovering gadgets with superpowers!

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