International Travel

Note: For information on traveling with Mason laptops and other Mason equipment, please visit the Forms section of this website.

When traveling abroad, there are three basic questions that university personnel need to consider to determine if export controls apply to their travel:

1. Where are you going?

Travel to most countries, with the exception of sanctioned destinations, usually does not require an export license. Exceptions include:

In almost all cases, travel to Cuba requires a general or specific license from the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department has issued a general license that allows travel to Cuba for some research activities and/or for attendance at an international conference under certain conditions. You may carry a letter from Mason describing your activities and your professional association with the University. If your travel plans include transit to or through Cuba, contact for assistance in determining if your travel qualifies under a general license. Note: Mason laptops may now be taken, in limited cases, to Cuba, but this requires ORIA to file advance notice to the federal government on your behalf, and the authorization is not automatic. Contact ORIA for more information and prior approval.
If you are hand carrying (or shipping) Mason laptops or equipment to China, Russia, and Venezuela, ORIA is required to file advance notice to the federal government on your behalf. See the Forms section of our website for more information.
Travel to any comprehensively sanctioned country (i.e. Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or the Crimea, Donetsk (DNR), and Luhansk (LNR) regions of Ukraine) will involve significant restrictions, even if the underlying travel itself is permitted. For instance, providing consulting or teaching services may require an export license, even if the topic is non-technical. These sanctions are extremely complicated and require careful planning and analysis. Under Mason’s Export Control and Sanctions Policy, all trips to comprehensively sanctioned countries require prior written approval by ORIA. Mason equipment cannot be taken to these countries without a license, although in some cases, personally-owned equipment can be taken under a general license. Please contact us for details.
The Department of State also imposes military embargoes against a longer list of countries. Travel to any militarily embargoed country while working on an export-controlled project requires the prior written approval of ORIA pursuant to Mason’s Export Control and Sanctions Policy. If U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials suspect that a regulated item or defense article has been or will be exported without a license, they may examine files and software on laptop computers (as well as your baggage).

When traveling abroad it is always a good idea to contact the appropriate US Embassy or Consulate before you depart to let them know where you will be going. For additional information, please view a number of links available in the Federal Government Resources section.

2. What are you taking with you?

The Department of State Diplomatic Security Office offers useful advice on “All that you should leave behind”, as well as country-specific briefing materials on the Department of State’s international travel page. These materials provide more information about various countries’ import (customs) restrictions.

When taking items abroad (e.g. documents (including electronic), scientific equipment, computers, cell phones, and GPS units), you need to verify that the items are not export-controlled based on your travel destination(s). For most commercially obtained items, an export license is NOT required unless you are traveling to or through a comprehensively sanctioned country or region (i.e. Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or the Crimea, Donetsk (DNR), and Luhansk (LNR) regions of Ukraine). But if your travels include a comprehensively sanctioned country or region, an export license will likely be required – even for everyday items such as cell phones and laptop computers. In accordance with Mason’s Export Control and Sanctions Policy, no Mason laptops may be taken or sent to a comprehensively sanctioned country or region without prior written approval from ORIA. Contact for help in determining your export license requirements. Travelers are often surprised to discover that Federal law requires travelers to maintain “effective control” over professional “tools of the trade” (such as laptop computers and cell phones) and to return them to the United States within a year, even if the destination country is not subject to U.S. sanctions. Fortunately, this law also provides a “license exception” permitting temporary exports of such items as long as the traveler satisfies certain conditions. These include:
  1. maintaining effective control over the item while overseas, (the item must stay in the traveler’s personal possession or in a secure place, such as a hotel safe),
  2. returning the item to the U.S. (or destroying it) within a year of its export,
  3. not taking it to embargoed destinations, and (iv) keeping records that memorialize your use of this license exception.
If you need to travel internationally to countries or regions that are not subject to comprehensive sanctions, and wish to take your Mason laptop with you, you have two options available to you under Mason policy and federal law. Please navigate our website to the section entitled "Mason Laptop Forms" for more information. Frequent travelers may also wish to consider registering any items/lab equipment that you will be taking with you with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Registration allows you to prove that you had the items before you left the United States and all CBP registered items will be allowed to return to the US duty-free. For additional information, see Department of Homeland Security Certificate of Registration – Form 4455 or Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad – Form 4457. Both are linked in the Federal Government Resources section of the website. For some international destinations and for some frequent travelers, you may be able to obtain an ATA Carnet to facilitate the temporary import of items. Currently there are 70 countries participating in the ATA Carnet program. Using an ATA Carnet eliminates having to pay value-added taxes (VAT), duties, and/or the need to post import security bonds, but there are fees associated with obtaining a Carnet. Mason also has engaged a “Customs Broker” to assist with complicated export and import activities. Please contact for information on how to engage our Customs Broker.
Most publicly-available encryption software is eligible for export from the US under a license exception. But non-commercial encryption code can almost never be legally exported without a license. You must contact for assistance in obtaining US government export authorization before taking any item or software incorporating University-developed, non-commercial encryption source code out of the United States. Please budget at least 6 weeks to obtain such authorization from the US government, and understand that Mason cannot guarantee that such authorization will be granted. In addition, some countries restrict the import of encryption items/software. This is a local law issue that can be difficult to resolve. Because it requires an understanding of the laws of the foreign country, Mason can provide only basic guidance on this subject. Contact for help.
When traveling abroad, you are free to take and openly share or discuss any data or information resulting from Fundamental Research or that qualifies under the Educational or Public Information Exclusions. However, you cannot take or share data or information that is in any way export-controlled (e.g. related to export-controlled technologies or resulting from a project not protected under the Fundamental Research Exclusion). All controlled or restricted data or information must be completely removed from laptops, phones, PDAs, or other portable storage devices (e.g. flash drives) before you leave the United States.
You should also be aware that traveling with electronic devices (whether your own, personal devices, or Mason’s devices) can result in unplanned disclosure of private information. Certain countries have a practice of accessing files when travelers enter the country. You should be extremely careful to protect any sensitive information that may be stored on your devices. For certain countries, this could include material that is deemed culturally inappropriate. Homeland Security personnel could decide to inspect your electronic devices on return to the U.S., in which case everything on the device(s) is subject to inspection. In the United States, inspectors are permitted to take possession of these items for varying periods of time, and in some cases, are permitted to retain them permanently. Inspectors in other countries may do so as well. Carefully consider deleting personal or other sensitive information from your electronic devices before traveling if you would not wish it to be viewed without your permission. Consult ORIA for assistance with these issues.

3. What will you be doing and with whom will you interact?

It is important to ensure that you do not accidentally export controlled information to a foreign country or partake in any type of transaction, assistance, or benefit to a sanctioned or blocked entity. The following are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your travel activities:

When presenting data or information in an international setting (including in the United States where the audience may include foreign nationals), you need to ensure that you limit your presentation to only information or data that is published, or is publicly available, or that qualifies as Fundamental Research. Be careful not to include or discuss any proprietary, unpublishable, or export-controlled data or information as that may constitute an unauthorized export. If you would like to teach a class or make a presentation in a comprehensively sanctioned country (i.e. Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or the Crimea, Donetsk (DNR), and Luhansk (LNR) regions of Ukraine), then you may require a license. Please contact ORIA for more information.
As noted above, you are free to openly discuss any published or publicly available information or information generated as the result of Fundamental Research, as long as the recipient is not a sanctioned or specially designated entity. Information may also be provided to sanctioned entities or entities in sanctioned countries (including individuals) if it meets a higher standard known as Informational Materials. Of utmost importance is that this information must already be in existence at the time it is shared (i.e. it cannot be a work in progress). If you plan to share any information with sanctioned entities or entities in sanctioned countries, then seek approval. While the results and information resulting from Fundamental Research are not subject to export controls and can be shared without a license, it is important to remember that any items, technology, or software generated under that Fundamental Research would be subject to export controls and may require an export license. Contact for more information about screening for sanctioned or specially designated parties and acquiring licenses.
Any university research activity done outside the United States may not qualify for the Fundamental Research Exclusion and is therefore unprotected from export controls until the work is published or otherwise made publicly available. Before disclosing or sharing information and data resulting from international fieldwork, it is important to ensure that the information is not export-controlled.
OFAC regulations prohibit the university from transacting with or providing material or financial assistance to any blocked or sanctioned individual or entity. To ensure compliance with OFAC regulations, any university activity that involves payment to a non-US person, business, or organization (e.g., international subcontracts, purchase of items from international vendors, or payments to research participants) must be verified against all appropriate sanctioned party and entity lists. Contact for help with evaluating any international financial transaction.