What is a container number?

If you are not dealing with a fraudulent transaction, you should be able to identify corresponding container number/numbers on the bill of lading as an importer.

But what is a container number? What are the benefits of using a container number in international sea transportation? How to check a container number in order to make sure that the container number is valid and correct? 

On this article I will try to answer these questions. Let us start with the definition of the container number.



What is a container number?

Container number is a unique reference number assigned to a freight container so that the container can be traced and tracked by the government authorities, carriers, shippers and freight forwarders throughout its journey. 

A freight container can be used in international sea transportation over and over again. 

As a result correct usage of the container number is very important to prevent any delays, excessive custom investigations or even rejections at the port of discharge.


Determining the correct container number which belongs to a specific shipment is very important to the custom authorities and other governmental institutions. 

As a result a container number will be mentioned on several documents including commercial invoice, consular invoice, bill of lading, packing list, health certificate and other shipping documents. 

What are the benefits of using container numbers in international sea transportation?
  • Identification of the Container Owner: Container numbers allow the identification of the owner or principal operator. 
  • Easy Tracing and Tracking: Shippers, consignees, carriers, freight forwarders and any 3rd parties can trace and track containers with the help of standardized container numbers. 
  • Shortening the Inspection Periods: Container numbers increase the international circulation of goods by shortening the inspection periods for customs purposes. 
  • Flexible Control Operations: Usage of the container numbers allows the control of containers, manually or automatically by computerised and/or remote control systems at any stage of the transportation chain in intermodal sea transport.
How to check a container number in order to make sure that it is valid and correct?

It is possible to check the correctness of a container number online. In order to do that you should navigate to a special website which is created for this purpose. The name of the website is "The international identification code of containers". 

Let me explain you how to check a container number online.

Click the following link (http://www.bic-code.org/calculate-the-check-digit-online.html) and enter to the international identification code of containers' website.

controlling container numbers online

  • Step 1: Enter alpha carrier number in the first line which is titled with "YOUR CODE". Alpha carrier number is known as "Standard Carrier Alpha Code" and is a four letter identification code. 
  • Step 2: Enter 6 digit container number in the second line which is titled with "First Serial Number"
  • Step 3: Control the check digit calculated for you online by the website. If check digit matched the one written on the bill of lading you can make sure that container number is valid and in international sea transport circulation.
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