Common Misconceptions, Mistakes, and Myths about Export Controls


  • “It’s commercial off-the-shelf, so it’s not controlled”.

Wrong! Almost all products and materials in the U.S. are subject to U.S. export controls, including laptops, cell phones, smart phones, GPS systems, telescopes, and drones. Some commercial off-the-shelf products, such as thermal imaging cameras, precision gyroscopes, and focal plane arrays are, in fact, highly export controlled. Level and type of control vary from product to product, depending on its export classification. Click here for more information and resources on export control classification and purchasing.

Bottom line: don’t assume it’s not export controlled just because you can easily purchase it from a number of vendors.


  • If I carry it with me in my carry-on luggage, I don’t have to worry about export controls.

Wrong! Anything that leaves the U.S. is being exported, regardless of how and who is transporting it. Many items may not need an export license to certain destinations, or can take advantage of a license exceptions. However, using an exception requires documentation. Check with the Export Control Officer before traveling.


  • “I have taken it abroad on many prior occasions with no problems, so I think I am OK.”

Wrong! Just because you have exported it before with no problems, does not mean that it is not export controlled. If you are exporting something that is controlled without an appropriate license or license exception documentation, you are violating federal regulations. This means that, even if you may have been lucky in the past, if caught, the many prior potentially unauthorized exports may make matters worse.


  • “I ship everything via an international shipper or freight forwarder. It’s their responsibility to classify and ensure it’s OK to ship the item.”

Wrong! The shipper or freight forwarder is responsible for transporting the product, not analyzing or classifying it. Even if the shipper is involved in the export transaction, the ultimate responsibility for determining the proper jurisdiction and classification of the shipped product, and for ensuring compliance with licensing requirements, is with the U.S. Principal Party in Interest (USPPI), which is you.


  • “I work at a university, so what I do is classified as “fundamental research” and export controls don’t apply.”

Wrong! Export controls don’t apply to Fundamental Research and its results, but do apply to the equipment, materials, and software used in that research.

It is important to note that not all research conducted at a university is automatically considered “fundamental research”. Fundamental Research is a specifically defined term under the federal regulations, and requires that there are no publication restriction or foreign access restrictions. Also, if a piece of hardware (e.g, prototype) is created during the fundamental research, then that piece of hardware is subject to export controls. If software is created, unless it is made publicly available, then it is subject to export controls.