Export License

Does your shipment need a license to leave the US?

Depending on the shipment, who will receive it and in what country, and how they will use it, it may require a license from the Commerce Department (EAR: Export Administration Regulations), the State Department (ITAR: International Traffic in Arms Regulations), or the Treasury Department (OFAC: Office of Foreign Assets controls).

  • Determine the export classification
  • Determine whether an export license is required based on the classification
  • Identify the person and entity who will receive the item, and how they will use it
  • Determine whether the end user or end use will require an export license


If an item is ITAR-controlled and no exemptions apply, it will need an ITAR license to ship out of the country, unless an exemption applies (there are about 60 exemptions, distributed among at least four parts of the ITAR). The application for an ITAR license is a detailed summary of what the item is, who will be using it and for what, the identities of individuals and entities who will have custody on its way to the end user, its value, and other information. Once submitted, it can take 14-60 days to receive a license. 


If an item is EAR-controlled, it may need a license to ship out of the country based on its ECCN, destination country, the end user and the end use, unless an exception applies. The application for an EAR license is a detailed summary of what the item is, who will be using it and for what, the identities of individuals and entities who will have custody on its way to the end user, its value, and other information. Once submitted, it can take 14-60 days to receive a license.

  • When making an EAR shipment of low-tech items, and the ECCN, destination country, end user and end use have been determined, work with the forwarder/broker or use a package delivery service's online tool to determine whether a license is needed. If it is, consult the Export Control Officer to start the application process.
  • Otherwise, consult the Export Control Officer to determine whether a license is needed and start the application process if needed.

Potential Issues

International shipping can be mysterious to those of us who do it rarely or occasionally. Subject to export and import controls, duties, taxes and regulations of the 196 countries — each different from the others — even professionals run into problems. Fines, payment of unnecessary taxes, confiscation, or incarceration can all result.

It can be costly and time-consuming when it goes wrong. Here are some examples:

  • UMass Lowell was fined $100,000 for shipping an EAR99 atmospheric testing device to Pakistan. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, but the recipient was identified on the Commerce Department’s Entity List as ineligible to receive any items subject to the EAR.
  • MIT sent two shipments of experimental equipment to Italy on two carnets (which allow temporary import without duty or VAT). All the material was sent back to the US — but on one carnet. As far as Italian and US Customs are concerned, that means everything shipped on the *other* carnet is still in Italy, and MIT owes $29,924.31 in VAT.
  • A researcher in Europe sent white phosphorous to an MIT PI as a gift. In addition to being hazardous, it's also used to make methamphetymine and controlled by DEA. It sat in storage, running up storage fees at $200/day because we could neither receive it nor send it back.
  • MIT returned an instrument to its manufacturer in the Netherlands for repair. Since it wasn't set up as a temporary import, FedEx paid the import VAT (about $3,000) for us, and then sent MIT the bill. 


Everything that crosses the border is an export...

        ...even if it's temporary

        ...even if it wasn't sold

        ...even if it will be used for research

If you're shipping to a destinations outside the US, refer to the Export checklist. Remember — once an international shipment is on the way, it's difficult to fix it if there are problems. Delays, unexpected costs, or worse can result.

MIT is the shipper of record, responsible for shipping correctly and getting the paperwork right. FedEx, UPS, DHL, a freight forwarder may help or offer advice, and they record the shipment in the government's Automated Export System, but if there's a problem, it's MIT's problem, not theirs.

Most items, as well as some software and information, are subject to U.S. export controls. The impact of these controls on a particular shipment depends on the item, the country it's being shipped to, the entity or individual who will receive it, and the use to which it will be put.

There are additional U.S. restrictions on transactions — including but not limited to shipping — with certain countries, entities, and individuals.

Some items are hazardous, and need to be packaged and labeled appropriately:

  • Biologicals
  • Chemicals
  • Batteries and fuel cells
  • Radioactive materials

And bear in mind that every export from the U.S. is an import somewhere else — your shipment will need to go through Customs in the destination country. Some items may be prohibited or require prior authorization. Some items may incur duty or VAT costs.


If you expect to receive a shipment from outside the US: refer to the Import checklist

All incoming shipments are cleared by U.S. Customs, with varying (and unpredictable) levels of scrutiny.

Some items are restricted at the Customs stage:

  • Biological specimens
  • Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them
  • Fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, soil
  • Items from Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, and most of Sudan

Some items are restricted at the delivery stage. For instance, some items controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration can only be delivered appropriately registered with the DEA.

Import duty may be due, based on the item's tariff code and its value. The shipment can be delayed or incur unexpected costs if the paperwork is wrong or incomplete. It can be difficult to fix problems once the shipment is sitting in US Customs.

Need help?

Contact the MIT Export Control Compliance Team at exportcontrolhelp@mit.edu, or by phone at 617-253-2762 (Janet Johnston).