Things You Should Know about Moving Containers

Kurt Manwaring
Aug 11, 2022
Icon Time To Read7 min read

At a glance

If you’re terrified by the thought of driving a moving truck, moving containers might be an option worth considering. In terms of both expenses and labor, moving containers are a middle ground between doing everything yourself and hiring a moving company to do everything for you.

Moving containers are basically the moving truck, minus the actual truck. If you don’t want to spend a ton of cash on a full-service move or hate the idea of driving a moving truck, read on to find out if moving containers are a good fit for your move.

pro No driving involved
pro Less hassle than a DIY move
pro Lower costs than a full-service move
pro Storage options available
con Higher costs than a DIY move
con No help with loading and unloading
con Additional storage time based on availability
con Driveway or parking space required
4.9 out of 5 stars

Our top-rated mover

International Van Lines’ comprehensive list of moving services, worldwide availability, and unparalleled customer service make it one of the best options for any move.

International Van Lines phone number:

📞 855-930-4574

Sponsored Content

How do moving containers work?

Moving containers give you the option of hiring out help for a big part of the moving process (the driving part) without having to go all in on a full-service moving company.

It’s a bit like wrapping all your belongings in one huge Christmas present and having Santa deliver it to your new home. You can hire people to wrap and unwrap it for you (think Santa’s elves) or you can do it yourself and save a few bucks. And if you have a lot of stuff, you may have more than one “present.”

A moving container company will bring as many containers to your home as needed. You simply load your belongings into the moving container and then sit back while the company transports everything to your new address. When your container arrives, you unload your stuff, and the company returns to pick it up.

If timing is an issue, most container companies will store your moving container at a warehouse until you’re ready to unpack into your new home.

Still not sure if it’s your best option? That’s what we’re here for.

Is a container move right for you?

Moving containers aren’t for everyone. They’re like pineapple on pizza—some people won’t go near it and others can’t get enough. Here are some easy questions to help you determine if moving containers are your best option.

How much can you afford?

Final moving decisions almost always come down to money. You can think of moving container costs as a “Goldilocks” option—not too hot and not too cold.

Full-service moving is the most expensive option, and DIY moving (i.e., renting a truck) is the least expensive. Moving containers combine elements of both for a middle-of-the-road price.

If you do opt for a container move, keep in mind that the price to rent a container isn’t the only expense you’ll encounter. Make sure you factor extra costs into your budget for things like moving supplies, travel to your new home, and maybe even a few helping hands for loading and unloading.

Don’t worry, we’ll dive deeper into how much containers cost down below—but if you’re itching to know more, feel free to skip ahead.

Does driving stress you out?

The driving part of a DIY move can be stressful. If you’re navigating a large moving truck through traffic, you’re likely also dealing with other nagging thoughts:

  • Dealing with lines and customer service agents
  • Understanding what kind of moving insurance coverage to purchase
  • Wondering if you’ll be charged extra fees
  • Obsessing about whether dings or scratches will void your deposit
  • Remembering to fill up the gas tank at the end of the move
  • Finding a location to return your moving truck

If you stress out during a 25-minute commute to work, driving a U-Haul around probably isn’t your best option. Moving containers remove all the angst associated with renting, driving, and returning a moving truck.

Do you have a place to park your moving container?

Moving containers are dropped off at your home for you to load and unload. This makes it easy to carry boxes from your front door to the moving container, but it’s a problem if you don’t have a place to put one or more containers for a few days.

This can be especially difficult for those who share driveways, live in restrictive HOA communities, or reside in neighborhoods that don’t allow street parking.

Bottom line: If there’s nowhere to park your car, there’s (probably) nowhere for the moving container to be dropped off.

How do you feel about loading your own boxes?

The question is: Are you okay if that someone is you?

Moving containers don’t come with professional movers, so the task defaults to you. You can hire people to do the work for you, but those costs can add up quickly. If paying for pro packers and loaders for your container move eats into your cost savings, you may want to haul your stuff yourself or see if it’d it be easier (and cost nearly the same) to go with a full-service mover.

How much does a moving container cost?

Moving container costs range from several hundred dollars for a small local move to more than $3,000 for a big interstate move.

Several factors affect the final price, including the distance to your new home, the size of your moving container(s), and whether you elect for optional insurance coverage or storage. Here’s a quick rundown.

How far are you moving?

No mystery here. The farther you move, the more you pay. A 200-mile trip will set you back less than a 2,000-mile voyage.

How big is your container?

Containers come in different shapes and sizes. Whether you are clearing out a studio apartment or a five-bedroom home, the size of your container and how many containers you need affect the cost.

If you’re a pack rat, expect to pay more. If you’re a Marie Kondo minimalist, you’ll likely pay less.

Do you need storage?

You don’t have to arrive at your new place at the same time as your stuff. 

If you need a place to stash your stuff for a few weeks, you don’t have to rent a separate storage unit. Most moving container companies build a bit of storage time into their prices, whether that’s on-site at your home or at a secure central warehouse. If you need more time, it’s available for an additional fee.

Do you want insurance?

If you’re shipping a bunch of blankets, you may not be worried about damage while your containers are in transit. But if your moving containers are filled with rare antiques, you’ll be much more frustrated (and shell out a whole lot more money) if something goes wrong.

Basic coverage is usually part of the moving container package, but you can also purchase extra protection. We’ve put together a guide to moving insurance to help you decide how much coverage you really need.

What size container do you need?

Use the number of rooms in your home to determine the approximate size of container you need. A small container will hold belongings from one to two rooms, while a large container can manage three to four rooms.

Moving containers fit into three general sizes: small, medium, and large. We consider the flexible sizing one of moving containers’ greatest strengths, but be aware not every company offers every size. Exact dimensions also vary a bit, so make sure to check with your moving container company for precise measurements.

To give you an idea of what can fit, imagine a brand-new basketball still inside of the box. You can fit about 980 boxed basketballs into a small container and more than twice that amount into a large moving container.

Compare moving container sizes

Container size
# of rooms
# of basketballs


8 ft. x 7 ft. x 8 ft.




12 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft.




16 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft.



*All measurements are approximate.

If you’re still wondering how big (or small) your moving container should be, check out our guide for choosing the best container size.

How should you pack a moving container?

Packing a moving container is a fairly simple process. The general idea is to fit as much as you can into the least amount of space while making it easy to unload when the time comes and not breaking anything in transit.

We recommend a simple three-step process:

1. Pack before your container arrives

Have all of your boxes and furniture ready to load by the time the moving container arrives. This allows you to spend all of your allotted loading time carefully packing your container versus scrambling to find space for your stuff. Haphazard packing can lead to broken belongings and a lot of confusion when it’s time to unload.

FYI: we recommend packing in similar-sized boxes (for easier stacking) and reinforcing the tops and bottoms with tape to avoid busted boxes.

Helpful labeling hint

It’s helpful to label boxes with important information using a black marker. For example, go with “Fragile—Dishes” for your plates and bowls. This not only alerts you to breakable boxes when you’re loading, it also helps you organize faster when you unload the container at your new address.

2. Use your Tetris skills

A little bit of planning allows you to maximize the space in your container. Begin at the floor toward the back of the moving container and work your way forward and to the ceiling. Use boxes to section off parts of your container or hold unwieldy items in place.

Put the heavier boxes on the bottom and fill in gaps at the top with small, lightweight boxes and odd-shaped belongings. Try to pack everything in tight so it doesn’t shift during transport. A smart approach to the loading process could save you from needing to use an additional moving container.

Still unsure of how to load a moving container? Our teammate Adam put 1-800-PACK-RAT to the test for his move from Park City, Utah, to San Clemente, California. Check out the packing and loading tips he got from the driver who delivered his container.

Play Video

3. Take your time loading

We all want to get the moving process over as quickly as possible, but rushing could cost you time, money, and heartache in the end.

Go too fast and you could break your great-grandmother’s china or do such a poor packing job that you need to rent an additional moving container.

When it comes to packing and loading, slow and steady wins the race. Most moving container companies give you at least a few days to fill your container before they return to pick it up for shipping.

For even more container packing tips, hop on over to our piece on how to pack a moving container.

Which moving container company should you choose?

The right moving container company for you depends on the details of your move, your budget, and which companies are available in your area.

Here are a few factors that can help you narrow down your options:

  • Move distance
  • Loading time
  • Cost
  • Storage options
  • Company locations’s top moving container companies

Moving company
Best for
Best for long-distance moves
Best bet for most moves
Best for storage
Best for nationwide availability
Best for tighter budgets

If you want to know more about our favorite moving container companies, head on over to our Best Moving and Storage Container Companies list.

Recommended resources

If you like what you’re hearing and want to dive into the nitty-gritty of the different moving container companies, check out these reviews:

People also asked . . .

Still have some questions? Here are some articles that cover other important parts of the moving process.

Kurt Manwaring
Written by
Kurt Manwaring
Kurt Manwaring brings nearly a decade’s worth of research experience as a business consultant to the team. He specializes in taking complicated issues (like moving) and presenting them in a way that everyone can understand. His writing has been featured in hundreds of publications, including USA Today, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He brings a BS in sociology and an MPA (masters of public administration) to the Move team. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at