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International Travel

Faculty and researchers often travel abroad as a positive part of their ongoing scholarly efforts. While many of these trips pose little legal risk, others may be more complicated. We have collected some guidance here for researchers who should be concerned about equipment or information that they bring abroad. This page is meant as an introduction; our staff is here to assist and guide in more detail.

When traveling abroad, any physical material or technical data in your possession is considered by US regulations to have been “exported” from the US to your final destination and any intermediate destinations. For this reason, it is important to understand whether there are any restrictions against exporting the material or data in your possession to your travel destination.

US Department of Treasury administers a number of sanctions programs which could impact travel, carrying of items, and provisions of services to certain locations. Currently, the most comprehensive sanctions program are for Iran, Syria, N. Korea, Cuba, and Sudan. If travel to any of these locations is contemplated, researchers should contact the Export Compliance Office as soon as possible to determine if their travel activities may be restricted by sanctions or if a license is required.

There are exemptions from export licensing available for travelers carrying both university-owned equipment ("TMP") and personal items ("BAG"). These exemptions are intended to cover commercially available computer equipment and other electronic devices used in business or general science applications. These exemptions DO NOT cover technology designed for a military application. Please contact the Export Compliance Office (ECO) if there are any questions about application and eligibility of the exemption.

The TMP and BAG exemption have limitations that travelers need to understand:

  • Travel to Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan is not eligible for these exemptions. Please contact the ECO as soon as possible when you become aware of a potential need to travel to any of these locations.
  • Length of trip is limited to 12 months; a license may be required for longer periods.
  • Items must remain under "effective control" of the traveller at all times which is defined as: "Retaining physical possession of items or keeping it secured in a place such as a hotel safe, a bonded warehouse, or a locked or guarded exhibition facility".
  • These exemptions do not cover any hardware controlled under the United States Munitions List (USML) and high-tech encryption products (generally over 64 bit).
  • Travelers cannot possess "controlled technical data" defined as "data required for the design, fabrication, operation, or maintenance of military or dual-use technology, and, not in the public domain or otherwise exempt from licensing requirements".

Note: This item is of critical importance for faculty engaged in outside consulting activities with technology and defense contractors due to their potential for having access to controlled technical data.

The ECO has prepared a Tools of the Trade: Traveler Certification Letter for international travelers carrying university-owned equipment to confirm and certify that they meet the requirements of the exemption. The letter serves as a document that can be carried with the traveler and shown to US or foreign customs agents in the event that they are questioned about the content of their belongings. While there is no way to guarantee that the letter will prevent searches and seizures, it may demonstrate that the traveler is familiar with the regulations and responsible for the equipment that they are exporting. Similar letters are commonly used in industry and other universities as a mitigating factor against the risks of international travel.

After completion of the letter, please forward a scan to the ECO at

This allows the ECO to handle the record retention requirement for using the exemption and will make it easier for the ECO to assist in the event that there are any issues with Customs occurring during the trip.

Other Travel Tips

Departmental Travel Letter: Department travel administrators are encouraged to send a note or letter to international travelers advising them of the export compliance guidelines as part of the travel approval process. The linked letter is provided as an example. Feel free to utilize this letter or adapt as needed to work with your travel processes (Thanks to Tria Farrar Brooks of BSOS for sharing the sample letter).

International Conferences: When participating in international conferences, if your area of research has any potential to have a military application, it is important to limit presentation material and side-bar discussions to information that has already been published. Any discussions involving applying a technology to a military item could be considered a “defense service” under ITAR and require authorization from US Department of State.

Travel Clean: If at all possible, it is recommended that departments maintain separate laptops for international travel that can be completely wiped clean prior to and upon return.

Access to Data: Do not store confidential, proprietary, or personally sensitive material on the hard drive of your travel computer.  Insecure wireless networks available in many countries allow easy access for hackers.  It is recommended that you delete any saved passwords stored on your browser.  Avoid insecure networks and use the VPN to access data on the UMD server.

Know the Risks: Department of State maintains a Current Travel Warnings list on their website which is kept current with the latest travel advisories.

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