International Travel Legal Frequently Asked Questions
- I’m going overseas to visit my family next semester and plan to take my laptop with me to work on an article. I’ve heard that taking a laptop abroad is “exporting” it. Is that correct?
Yes. Transporting any item across an international boundary is considered to be exporting the item.
- Do I need a license to "export" my laptop or other electronic device?
Not necessarily. Generally, a license is required for an export, but there are exceptions. “Tools of the Trade” may be exported without a license. Electronic devices and software that are used in a lawful enterprise or undertaking of the traveler are considered to be Tools of the Trade. The items must be the usual and reasonable kinds of Tools of the Trade and limited to reasonable quantities.
- While abroad, I work on my laptop in my hotel room. When I leave for dinner, I usually hide it under the bed. Is that ok?
No. The laptop must be in your effective control at all times while abroad. "Effective control" means that the item is in your physical possession or is secured in such an environment as a hotel safe, a bonded warehouse, or a locked or guarded exhibition facility.
- What about the software on my electronic device? Do I need to take special precautions to protect it from unauthorized access?
Yes. Software used as a Tool of the Trade must be protected against unauthorized access. Examples of adequate security precautions include:
- Use of secure connections, such as Virtual Private Network connections, when accessing IT networks for activities that involve the transmission of data and use of the software;
- Use of password systems on electronic devices that store the software; and
- Where possible, use of personal firewalls on electronic devices that store the software.
- Am I allowed to take abroad the encrypted data that are loaded on my laptop?
Encrypted data may be exported without a license. However, you may not export technology for the development, production or use of certain encryption commodities or software. Please direct any questions about restrictions on the export of encrypted items to the Export Control Office. Information on restrictions placed by foreign countries on the import of encrypted data (which may require content inspection or copying) is found in the International Travel Technical FAQ’s.
- I don't like lugging my laptop around airports. Can I ship it to my destination?
Yes. Your laptop may be shipped separately within one month before you leave the United States or at any time after departure. It may also accompany you while traveling to your foreign destination.
- How long can I keep my electronic device abroad?
Generally, you must return your laptop as soon as practicable, but no later than one year after leaving the United States.
- Can I take my laptop to any country as long as I abide by these restrictions?
No. Even a Tool of the Trade may not be taken to Sudan, Syria, Iran, or North Korea.
- Are there any restrictions on the type of data that I can take abroad on my laptop, thumb drive or other electronic device?
Yes, the transport of certain types of data across an international border is restricted and requires a license. Generally, you should bring only data that is publicly available or the results of "fundamental research" conducted in the United States. "Fundamental research" refers to basic and applied research in science and engineering at an institution of higher education where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community as opposed to proprietary research where there are limitations on publication. However, taking abroad military, space, defense, or nuclear-related items, including software and data, may require a license issued by the federal government. If you have any questions about travelling abroad with items that may require a license, please check with the Export Control Office before leaving on your trip.
- Should I be concerned about taking abroad other kinds of information?
Yes. You should think carefully about the risks of a security breach before leaving the country with any of the following: (1) an individual’s personal health information, (2) an individual’s education records, (3) information that is subject to a confidentiality agreement; (4) data or information that is subject to publication restrictions, and (5) data or information concerning the development, production or use of encryption technology.