Using the locater is as easy as using Google Maps. Search by port name, code, or city and immediately be taken to the airport or seaport on the map. Clicking on the port will display specific information like port code, region, latitude/longitude position, and other key points.
Looking to identify more ports in a specific area? Zoom in on a region or search for a specific city, state, or country to find their local airports (the airplane icon) and seaports (anchor icon). If you’ve already chosen air freight or ocean freight, you can narrow the search by unchecking ‘Airports’ or ‘Seaports’ on the top right of the map. If you’re only interested in seeing major global ports, simply tick the ‘Major ports only’ box.
Any location used in international trade and transport, including seaports, airports, and other inland destinations, is assigned with a code. This structure is used by most major shipping companies and freight forwarders, and is seen throughout the manufacturing industry and trade-related activities. These codes pop up on bills of lading, invoices, and contracts to make sure that all parties in the supply chain are on the same page.
Much like with Harmonized Schedule codes, the UN plays a critical role in standardization. In 1981, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), in collaboration with other major trade and transport organizations, initiated a framework to facilitate global trade. This evolved into what’s today known as UN/LOCODE – the United Nations Code for Trade and Transport Locations. The database is still maintained by the UNECE, and currently includes over 103,030 locations in 249 countries.
Every international airport and seaport code consists of five characters:
Port / Airport Identifier: These characters represent a location within the designated country. The above example identifies “Shenyang.” In countries such as the United States, where the number of possible three letter combinations has been exceeded, numerical digits are used.
Most airports around the world are designated with a code by IATA (International Air Transport Association), an organization that standardizes air passenger travel and air cargo shipment across global airlines. Nearly every aspect of international flight operations, including airline name, currency, aircraft type, cargo standards, Hazmat regulations, regional delineations, and even meal choice, is standardized with an IATA code.
Check your baggage claim ticket. Their three-letter airport codes, also known as location identifiers or airport identifiers, are used in airline timetables, passenger reservations, ticketing, and baggage-handling systems at the largest airports in the world. IATA airport codes are usually derived from the name of the airport, or the city in which the airport is located.
When possible, the IATA airport abbreviation for a specific location is used as the last three characters of the UN/LOCODE. For simplicity, airports are more commonly referred by their 3-letter IATA code, while seaports are assigned the full 5-character code.
Knowing where the largest ports in the world are located enables more time – and cost -efficient shipping. For example, depending on your location and the type and size of cargo you’re shipping, you might need access to railroads and highways, customs facilities, or cargo-handling equipment that a smaller regional port doesn’t offer. Additionally, freight has been trending towards larger vessels, as the ability to hold more cargo usually means lower prices to carry that cargo. Such carriers require larger ports, and in fact often bypass smaller ports because of congestion and delays in container handling.
However, while bigger ports are necessary for certain shipping needs, there are multiple advantages to small and medium sized ports, as well:
Smaller ports usually have close connections with their local city, which can mean easier access and other logistical advantages.
Several smaller ports have adapted to some of the market challenges mentioned above by focusing on niche areas or goods, offering a competitive edge.
The busiest ports in the world are usually ranked by cargo tonnage and volume of container shipment. However, while some local ports may rank low globally, they can in fact have significant scale and capacity when compared regionally.
While the term ‘seaport’ encompasses most facilities handling ocean-voyage vessels, there are several types that are worth understanding. An inland port is located on a lake, river, or canal with access to the ocean, allowing ships to unload cargo closer to an inland destination. A dry port is an inland facility directly connected to a seaport by road or rail. A warm-water port is one where the water doesn’t freeze in wintertime, making them available all year round.
Seaports can be broken down into two primary functions: cruise ports, for commercial passengers, and cargo ports. Cargo ports can then be further categorized as bulk or break bulk ports, which handle goods that need to be loaded in bulk or individually, and container ports, which handle any goods that need to be shipped in a container. Most cargo ports can handle all types of cargo, but it’s worth ensuring that you’re not dealing with a port that has specific regulations about what they can bring in.
Airports are also positioned to handle cargo operations. There are often specific infrastructures designated for cargo airlines to transfer parcels, and most international airports have cargo terminal facilities that store cargo before it is loaded/ picked up. Cargo terminals are divided into areas for export, import, interline, and transhipment to further facilitate air freight.
That will depend on whether you’re using air freight or ocean freight. There are pros and cons to each. While air freight is faster and more reliable than ocean freight, it’s also more expensive, and offers significantly less capacity for goods than cargo ships. Sea lanes can face pirate threats and airplanes might confront engine failure, though the chance of either occurring is exceedingly rare. Ocean freight must contend with changing climate conditions, but CO2 emissions are much higher in air freight.
Ultimately, deciding which one suits your shipping needs more will depend on personal requirements. What is your budget? How many goods are you shipping? How quickly does your shipment need to arrive?
Port location might also play a part in your decision, as the accessibility of the departure and destination ports will impact your freight costs. If there’s no nearby airport but there is a local harbor that handles cargo, you might reconsider your shipping route.