What Are Demurrage, Detention And Per Diem? International Shipping Delay Charges Explained


shipping delay charges blog image

International shipping is a complex subject that includes many variables. Proper handling paves the way for a reliable and cost-effective management of your ocean freight. That’s regardless of whether you ship one container now and then, several per month or more than ten per day.

Many businesses depend on viable international shipping to ensure the persistence of partnerships and clients and sustain profitability. Avoiding delays is critical to guarantee an uninterrupted operation. However, your international shipments could face shipping delay charges resulting from various clearance issues. Sufficient preparation and understanding the different resulting charges in advance is key. In this post, iContainers will give you an overview of the different shipping delay charges you can face for a delayed international shipment.

shipping delay charges cta image

Shipping Delay Charges: The Storage Misconception

When it comes to clearance delays, importers, as well as exporters seem to throw around three terms interchangeably: demurrage, detention, and per diem. From common usage, it may seem like they all mean storage when they, in fact, do not. If your international shipment stays beyond a certain amount of allowed free time at a site, you face storage charges. That includes ports, airline terminals, rail facilities or a bonded warehouse. The storage fee compensates the facility for the use of their space and equipment, i.e. a container taking up space or blocking processing. The amount of free days and the charge for storage will differ from one facility to another. This is often also based on the volume you or your freight forwarder is passing through the facility.

The Different Shipping Delay Charges Explained: Demurrage, Detention And Per Diem


Steamship lines and airlines will charge you demurrage, a fee to compensate for the use of their shipping containers (some airlines use containers for air freight). You are granted a limited number of free days, depending on the carrier and the location. After your free time runs out, you will be charged demurrage for each additional day. These charges tend to increase per day after exceeding a certain amount of days.

Demurrage fees are in place to discourage using the provided containers for storage and to compensate for container usage. Before you pick up your international shipment, you must pay all demurrage charges in full. The fee may differ greatly from carrier to carrier and from port to port.

Here’s an example: you have 7 days of free container usage. After that, a charge of $100 per day applies for 3 days. From 4 to 10 days, the fee rises to $250 and finally to $350 for any day exceeding ten days.


The detention charge usually applies to domestic trucking. The trucking or drayage company bills you for the so-called detention of their trucker or driver in cases. This happens when the loading or unloading of your shipment or containers takes too long. Detention fees are billed at an hourly rate. You can usually expect a free time or grace period of around one to two hours for loading or unloading a container. But this will depend on whether it is a domestic shipment or destined for import or export.

A trucking company will also charge detention if their drayman/trucker has to wait until the loading/unloading of a shipment. This will happen in cases of congestion at the facility – when a port of railroad dock is busy. Demurrage charges due to extreme congestion form, unfortunately, a frustrating part of international shipments. You have to pay these fees even though the congestion is beyond your control or that of your freight forwarder.

A second definition of detention can be a storage charge. A carrier may call it detention when you leave a container shipment beyond a certain amount of free time at the terminal. The common name for this case is Per Diem (see below).

Per Diem

A per diem charge (from the Latin, meaning per day) applies when you require the use of equipment beyond a set amount of free time. Steamship lines and airlines charge this fee, and equipment include ocean containers and unit load devices (ULD). You have some free days, depending on the equipment and the carrier, before per diem kicks in. With imports, the charge applies to cargo leaving the arrival terminal. With exports, it applies to shipments leaving the departing terminal. Per diem fees accumulate until you return the equipment to the terminal of the port, rail yard dock or airline.

These terms of shipping delay charges are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. That often results in confusion when receiving your bill for detention, demurrage and per diem charges. Always clarify in advance what shipping delay charges you face for which specific case of delay.


Enjoy this blog? Do spread the word!