Export Control: International Travel


Certain types of international travel, research, and other activities may involve export control regulations depending on the travel destination and the items, software, and/or technical data that are taken. When you travel abroad, everything you take is an export, including high-tech equipment, confidential, unpublished, or proprietary information or data. Traveling with certain types of high-tech equipment including but not limited to advanced GPS units, scientific equipment, or with controlled, proprietary or unpublished data in any format may require an export license depending on your travel destination.

Federal export and sanctions regulations also prohibit the unlicensed export of specific commodities, software, technology and payments to or from certain countries, entities and individuals for reasons of national security, foreign policy or protection of trade. These economic and trade sanctions administered against specific countries, individuals, and entities by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the U.S. Department of the Treasury may involve University activities. The most comprehensive sanctions involve Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and Ukraine (Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk Regions).

University employees are required to comply with United States export and sanctions regulations when traveling abroad with commodities, software, and technology. University employees should not engage in international travel, research, or collaborations until a determination of whether the activities are exempt from export control licensing or a license is obtained.

Prior to traveling you should verify that your technology or information falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • Research that qualifies as fundamental research
  • Published information
  • Publicly available software
  • Educational information

You should contact the Export Control Office prior to traveling with any commodities, software, or technology that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Controlled Unclassified, or Export Controlled or information under any other restriction including third-party proprietary information received under a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)
  • Limited Distribution, Proprietary, Confidential, or Sensitive
  • Specifically designed for military, intelligence, space, encryption software, or nuclear related applications
  • Data or information received under a Non-Disclosure Agreement
  • Data or information that results from a project with contractual constraints on the dissemination of the research results
  • Computer software received with restrictions on export to or on access by non-U.S. persons

Contact the Export Control Office as soon as possible for the most recent guidance to avoid penalties and delays to your research.

Additional Resources

Protecting Research Data and Materials While Abroad

Research data are the property of The Regents of the University of California regardless of the medium or ownership where the research data is collected or stored. This includes research data that is collected or stored on personal devices.

Access to and use and retention of research data and tangible research materials are not only critical to substantiate results, but also to provide a foundation for the advancement of scholarship. Because new research may build upon data collected before the importance of such data could have been envisioned, it remains critical that research data and tangible research materials are properly curated, collected, recorded, securely retained, managed, and appropriately accessible.

Taking copies of research data may be restricted if such research data are: subject to confidentiality or other legal restrictions (including but not limited to data and materials protected by privacy [e.g., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or human subjects protections laws and regulations]); or necessary for patent protection.

Travelers should pay attention to securing their laptop information and also consider protecting their inventions before they publish or present them at conferences. If a patent application is not filed on an invention before a public disclosure, patent rights might be forfeited by law. The optimal time to disclose is after the invention has been conceived and initial data are available, but before it has been publicly divulged. In most foreign countries, such a disclosure prior to filing a patent application will forfeit the ability of the university to obtain patent rights and, therefore, foreign patent applications will not be filed.

While traveling abroad, staying digitally connected often means that you will connect your devices to public networks in hotels, airports, train stations, and conference halls, which employ minimal security measures. The best way to safeguard your data or device is to not bring them on the trip. If you don’t need to access data stored on your computer, leave your computer in a secure location at home and bring along a loaner computer instead. Consult your technical support staff to see if there’s an option to borrow a loaner computer for your trip.

If you’re traveling for UC business, research, or as an international student or scholar, work with your IT department to make sure you’re taking a clean machine or an appropriate loaner device, and that you have the tools you need to connect to the internet securely.

Although encryption is recommended to protect sensitive information in case your device is lost, stolen, inspected or confiscated, some countries restrict the use/importation of encryption software. The U.S. may also restrict its export. If you are not able to use encryption software at your destination, it is strongly recommended to leave your data and device at home, and bringing a loaner device instead. Contact your IT department for guidance.

Export Licensing Exemptions for Physical Exports

Traveling with a Laptop or Other Tool of the Trade

In recent years, there has been increased government concern regarding University research activities and national security. It is important that the UC Berkeley community demonstrates awareness of foreign travel risks when traveling abroad on behalf of the institution.

Travelers are responsible for knowing how export controls apply when taking equipment, devices, software or technical data outside the U.S. In most situations, licensing is not required to take UC Berkeley owned items abroad under the TMP “tool of trade” license exception (15 CFR 740.9 (TMP)). However items such as laptops must remain under the traveler’s effective control during the trip. Additionally, information and data taken on laptops, PDAs or storage devices must qualify as public domain. Other items such as research samples and devices, systems or software originally designed for military or space applications (such as a camera with a focal plane array or a high end GPS), technology associated with strong encryption and controlled biological agents will not qualify for this exemption.

If U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials suspect that a regulated item or defense article has been or will be exported without a license, they may, examine files and software on laptop computers as well as baggage. In addition, inspectors in other countries may detain and copy hard drives. Prior to leaving the U.S. international travelers are encouraged back up their hard-drives, remove all non-essential data from their devices.

To qualify for the “tool of trade” exception, the export must:

  • Be for less than one year.
  • Be a piece of equipment that people in the traveler’s discipline would generally recognize as a “tool of trade.”
  • Be under the traveler’s effective control. This means that the item must be kept in the traveler’s physical possession at all times, or secured in a hotel safe, a bonded warehouse, or a locked conference facility.
  • The travel cannot include a sanctioned country (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, or Syria, or Ukraine [Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk Regions]).

Travelers should NOT take ANY of the following without first obtaining specific advice:

  • Data or information received under an obligation of confidentiality.
  • Devices, equipment or computer software received with restrictions on export to or on access by foreign nationals.
  • Devices, systems or software specifically designed or modified for military or space applications (even if these items are used in an academic research setting).

The Fundamental Research Exclusion applies only to the dissemination of research data and information, not to the transmissions of material goods.

Traveling with Non-University Equipment

License Exception for Baggage (15 CFR 740.14 (BAG)) allows travelers to carry personally owned items, including laptops, PDAs, and cell phones as personal baggage. The items and software must be for their personal use.

Device Inspection

U.S. Customs officials have the authority to search and seize any electronic devices (e.g., cellphones, laptops, digital cameras) without probable cause. Therefore, it is advisable that you:

  1. Only carry information and data that you would be comfortable that others could see.
  2. Do not carry the only copy of irreplaceable data.
  3. Consider taking a clean laptop that is equipped with only minimum software and data.

For more information on protecting your data and device see UC Berkeley Information Security and Policy Security Tips for International Travel for data security safeguards for before, during and after your trip.


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