International Travel

U.S. export controls and sanctions programs affect any international trip — usually in minor ways, but potentially creating serious obstacles or resulting in unintended violations.

Restrictions on what you can take out of the US

You cannot take ITAR-controlled articles or technical data (documents, drawings, software) out of the country without a license from the State Department, even if you have no intent to transfer the items to a non-US person.

In most cases, you can take EAR-controlled items and executable software, including your laptop and PDA, using EAR license exceptions if necessary. US persons can also take EAR-controlled technology using the exceptions, but cannot transfer it to someone not otherwise authorized to receive it. A non-US person cannot take EAR-controlled technology out of the US, even if they received it as an acceptable deemed export.

Before you leave, you'll want to be confident that you're compliant with US export controls, and to be able to demonstrate this if necessary.

Destination countries have their own import and export controls which may affect your entry into the country, how you can use items while there and which could restrict your ability to take them out of the destination country. 

Restrictions on where you can go out of the US

Check the US Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control website to determine whether your destination is covered by sanctions programs, also referred to as embargoes.

Read the MIT International Travel Risk Policy.  If you decide to travel to an embargoed country, you must sign MIT’s travel form before departure, acknowledging the risk and personal responsibility for the decision to travel.  Please sign and file this form with: Your Department Head and The Office of Insurance at PRIOR to traveling

Travel to Cuba is restricted under the OFAC Cuba Sanctions. You may be able to travel to Cuba without specific OFAC authorization under a general license for the following reasons:

  • Conduct full-time, noncommercial, academic, professional research
  • Attend a professional meeting or conference organized by an international professional organization and the purposes of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism or to foster production of biotechnological products
  • Participate in a structured educational program lasting at least ten weeks as part of an MIT course for credit
  • Conduct noncommercial academic research specifically related to Cuba for the purpose of obtaining a graduate degree
  • Participate in a formal course of study lasting at least ten weeks at a Cuban academic institution, for credit toward your MIT degree
  • Teach in relation to an academic program at a Cuban academic institution for at least ten weeks (faculty only)

Contact the MIT Export Control Officer if you plan to travel to Cuba.

Restrictions on what you can do out of the US

Cuba, Iran, North Korea, (North Sudan) and Syria are subject to strict controls on the EAR’s Commerce Control List, and are also subject to OFAC sanctions programs[8].  If you will be working with nationals of these countries, you should be familiar with both.

Working with China entities and nationals can be complicated by US policy toward China, which includes both enthusiastic support for commercial transactions and strong aversion to support of the Chinese military. Some apparently benign China institutions are considered by the US government to be closely related to the military, resulting in restrictions on transactions with them.

OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List[9] and the Commerce Department’s Entity List[10] are the most relevant, but the government maintains a total of 35 lists with various restrictions. You can check most of these using the National Export Initiative’s consolidated list[11], or consult MIT’s Export Control Officer.

Detail and documentation for international travel

When you leave the country, everything you take is an export, including devices, software, and data, and will typically be subject to the EAR:

  • Personal items: clothes, articles of personal adornment, toiletries, medicine, their containers, etc.

    • The BAG (baggage) exception allows these items to be taken for personal use
    • Most items will be EAR99, not subject to list-based controls, but still subject to §746 Embargoes and Other Special Controls, that currently apply to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Russia and Syria.
  • Personal electronic devices: laptop, tablet, PDA, flash drive, and tangible research items
    • Most items will be subject to AT (antiterrorism) 1 controls, adding Sudan list-based controls to the above

      • Laptops, smartphones: 5A992 (HW/SW bundles), 4A994 (HW only) — Apple[12], Dell[13]
      • Mass market software (Windows, OS X, Office, Adobe products, Visual Studio): 5D992 — Apple[14], Microsoft [15]
      • These devices can be taken to restricted destinations, using the BAG exception for personal use if they're yours, or to countries other than Cuba, (N) Sudan or Syria using the TMP (temporary export, returning within a year) exception if they belong to your employer.
    • Note: some software (including open source, such as Apache) is classified as 5D002 encryption software, which may be controlled as EI (encryption item), and cannot use the BAG exception for Country Group E:1 Terrorist-supporting Countries (currently Cuba, Iran, North Korea, (North) Sudan, and Syria)
  • Information: documents, drawings, data, software, and software on laptops and smartphones
    • You cannot take ITAR-controlled technical data out of the US without a license.
    • A US national or permanent resident can take EAR-controlled technology, and can transfer them only to parties to whom the technology could be exported from the US without a license
    • Non-US persons cannot take EAR-controlled technology out of the US without a license. 
  • Tangible research items and materials
    • You cannot take ITAR-controlled items out of the US without a license.
    • An EAR-controlled item could require a license for the 6 or 7 countries listed above, or to all other countries, or somewhere in between, depending on its classification (ECCN).
      • These items can be taken to restricted destinations. using the BAG exception for personal use if they're yours, or to countries other than Cuba, (N) Sudan or Syria using the TMP (temporary export, returning within a year) exception if they belong to your employer.
      • It's good practice to be aware of the ECCN and whether your item would need a license for your destination (making use of the exception necessary).
      • Research items may appear more “interesting” and more likely to draw attention from customs or security officials than personal technology like a laptop. Even if developed through fundamental research, tangible items such as samples or prototypes are subject to export controls. Items in the scope of the ITAR will always need an export license.  Items in the scope of the EAR may need a license, but if they do qualify for the TMP exception (since they’re owned by MIT, the BAG exception doesn’t apply). 

Document your export compliance

Fill out this Electronic Devices Form online, then print it to self-certify your electronic device as complying with TMP or BAG. It will demonstrate to a customs officer that you are aware of and have thought through the regulations. Send a copy to the Export Control Officer[19].

Document US Origin and Ownership for US Customs

To avoid duty on your return to the US on items you already own, be able to provide documentation.

If you're taking a personal item of value, CBP Form 4457[20] documents that you took it worth you when you left, and is good as long as you own the item. It needs to be signed by a CBP official — since the CBP officials at the airport are likely to be busy, it may be best to have this form signed ahead of time at a CBP office. Note this this form is only good for US Customs, other countries will not recognize it as a temporary import document; you might have to pay duty or tax at the destination country..

The more complex CBP Form 4455[21] does the same for professional or commercial items.

Document your items and their value 

If you're taking something valuable, or something that looks very technical, or unusual, or resembles something that Customs officials might be interested in, or if you will need a document for Customs in the destination country, you may want to prepare a pro forma invoice[22], which will give you an internationally-recognized document that describes exactly what the item is, as well as its value, tariff code, and possibly export control classification.


It may seem that hand-carrying an item is more reliable, because you’ll accompany it. Consider shipping it in advance instead. The documentation expectations for shipped goods are clearer – get the paperwork right[23] and the item will probably make it. Even if the item does draw attention for detailed inspection, it won’t disrupt your travel. Note that if the item is shipped, it will only qualify for the TMP exception if it can be shipped to an MIT employee; otherwise, it must be able to ship without a license, or must have a license.

Device Inspection

US Customs officials are authorized to search or retain electronic devices, including digital cameras, cell phones, media players, and disk drives as well as the items listed above, even without probable cause, to look for violation of export control regulations as well as other laws and regulations. To prepare for this possibility:

  • Don’t carry data you don’t want others to see: medical records, data files from your research, financial information, photos, etc.
  • Don’t carry the only copy of data you can’t afford to lose.
  • Have a “Plan B” if there is data you will need when you reach your destination.
  • Consider taking a minimal device equipped with only ordinary, recognizable software and minimal data so any search can be fast and the consequence of a loss less disruptive

Need Help?

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