How Many Pallets Fit in a Shipping Container?

How Many Pallets Fit in a Shipping Container?


4 minute read | By Denholm Good Logistics

Last updated: January 17, 2024 | Published: May 22, 2017


When thinking about shipping goods internationally, one of the key considerations is planning how to pack your cargo into a shipping container to maximise efficiency. Packing goods on top of wooden pallets is typically the preferred option, as it makes your cargo easier to load and unload, and keeps it secure inside the container – in fact, some shippers won’t accept non-palletised loose cargo due to the increased risk of damage in transit.

Another reason to use pallets to pack your goods is to maximise the container storage space to make sure your cargo is shipped in the most cost and time effective way possible. However, as there are numerous different sizes of pallets available, you’ll need to work out which size will best minimise wasted space while still meeting your other requirements. Let’s take a look at the three most popular sized pallets recognised by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), for the most efficient shipping in 20ft and 40ft containers:


Footprint (W x L): 1200 x 1000mm (47.24 x 39.37in)
Number of pallets in a 20ft container: 10
Number of pallets in a 40ft container: 20-21

This pallet size is commonly used in Europe and Asia – the two biggest import and export markets in the world. Official EURO pallets are strictly sanctioned by the European Pallet Association (EPAL), even down to the type of wood and amount of nails used.

North American Standard/GMA

Footprint (W x L): 1016 x 1219mm (40 x 48in)
Number of pallets in a 20ft container: 10
Number of pallets in a 40ft container: 20

Very similar in area, but just a fraction larger, is the GMA pallet, which is the most popular pallet size in North America – typically used in the transportation of grocery items, as well as many other different types of goods, and approved by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.


Footprint (W x L): 800 x 1200mm (31.5 x 39.37in)
Number of pallets in a 20ft container: 11
Number of pallets in a 40ft container: 23-24

Another pallet widely used in Europe across many different industries. One of the main advantages of this size of pallet is that it can fit through a standard exterior door. Regarding wasted floor space on a 40ft ISO container, however, it’s the least efficiently sized of the six ISO-approved pallets, with 15.2% wastage.

The three remaining ISO-sanctioned pallet dimensions include:

1165 x 1165mm (44.88 x 44.88in) – Used in Australia

1067 x 1067mm (42 x 42in) – Used in North America, Europe and Asia

1100 x 1100mm (43.3 x 43.3in) – Used in Asia

Pallet Packing Tips

#1 Safe Stacking

It’s important that goods are stacked safely on pallets to minimise the risk of damage. Plastic straps and cling wrap are two favourite ways to keep boxes secure. You also need to ensure no items encroach over the edge of the pallet, which could prevent them from being closely loaded in the container. Don’t forget how you pack the goods within the cartons too, if they’re not well packed and have lots of fresh air inside, they could end up getting crushed as the pallets get stacked on top of each other.

#2 Watch the Weight

Consider any weight restrictions and whether you need to reduce the load on a pallet to accommodate this. If your cargo is going from ship to truck, road weight limits can further complicate things, especially as these restrictions vary from country to country. Using a reputable freight forwarding service can really reduce the logistical headaches involved in transporting goods.

#3 Loading Considerations

Maximising space shouldn’t be your only consideration when loading a shipping container. You’ll also need to think about the best pallet arrangement for protecting your goods from damage, along with allowing for safe and efficient loading and unloading.

Ask the Expert

If you’re using a freight forwarder, warehousing service or another agent to help with your shipping, then they should be able to advise you on your options regarding pallets and packing, to ensure a safe, stress-free and cost-efficient solution.

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