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Export Controls and Electronic Devices in International Travel

Guidance for Yale faculty, students and staff on taking laptops, cell phones, global positioning systems (GPS), personal digital assistants (PDAs) and digital storage devices outside the United States

    November 7, 2008

Yale faculty, staff and students commonly bring their laptops, cell phones, GPS, PDAs, data storage devices and other electronic devices loaded with information and software (“Devices”) with them not only across campus, but also to other countries. Although taking Devices to international destinations seems routine, individuals doing so may be “exporting” the Device for purposes of the U.S. export control laws and regulations.  Such “exports” may require a license from the U.S. government.  Export control regulations may also govern a Yale traveler’s use of another person’s Device while traveling, and a Yale traveler permitting someone else to use his or her Device while outside the United States.

Most international travel with Devices will not require a license. Yale travelers should be familiar with the applicable export control regulations, however, and strive to comply, because violations can result in the imposition of criminal sanctions and heavy civil penalties. The Director of International Agreements and Export Control Licensing, in the Office of Research Administration, is available (in consultation with the Office of General Counsel) to assist Yale travelers in ascertaining compliance requirements. His contact information is provided below.

The licensing requirements can be summarized generally as follows:

Individuals traveling with a Device that is routinely available from commercial vendors will probably not need an export license as long as the Device is kept under their immediate control when outside the United States, and is brought back to the United States within one year of the initial departure.   

Travelers are likely to require an export license to bring a Device outside the United States if:

  • They are traveling to a country that has been embargoed by the U.S. Department of Treasury (i.e., as of October 2008, Cuba, Iran, N. Korea, Syria or Sudan);
  • The Device holds encryption software, either commercially available or research- generated;
  • The Device contains unpublished data or other information relating to items or materials on one of the technology control lists established by the U.S. government (An example of such information would be blueprints of laboratory equipment that could be used to create toxic materials.).  Note that the need for an export license would probably not apply to data and information which result from fundamental research: basic and applied research typically associated with academia;
  • The Device is designed for use or application with technologies associated with satellites, spacecraft or technologies with a military use, or the Device contains information or software designed for use or application with such technologies; or
  • The Device could be used in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Certain exclusions to the licensing requirements may be available for Devices taken outside the country for professional or research uses. (The applicability of an exclusion requires a careful determination in advance of departure, however.)  

In addition to becoming familiar with applicable export control requirements, Yale travelers should note that any international travel with a Device may result in the disclosure of personal information installed on the Device.  In some countries, custom officials may examine information contained in Devices or seize Devices. Instances of laptop seizures have been widely reported in the press. Travel in and out of the U.S. is no exception:  Homeland Security personnel may inspect information contained in a traveler’s Device, or seize the Device. Yale travelers should therefore consider carefully which Devices, bearing what information, they wish to bring with them on international trips.

This memo is designed to provide only general guidance on a complex issue.  If you think you might need a license or need to rely on an exclusion, or if you have any questions or need more detailed information about this topic, please contact:

Donald Deyo, Ph.D.
Director, International Agreements and Export Control Licensing
Phone: 203-785-3817
Fax: 203-785-4159


Last update: November 17, 2008 (MS)