Do I need an export licence?
Export Control survey
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Exporting controlled items without a licence is a criminal offence. Individuals may be fined or could face a prison sentence.
To decide if your research or teaching activity requires an export licence, consider these three steps:
- Are you exporting items;
- Are the items to be exported controlled; and
- Who is the recipient of the items?
1. Are you exporting items?
Research or teaching activity may be regarded as “exporting items” if it involves:
- Physical or electronic transfers or disclosures of goods, software, information or technology to any recipient (a natural or legal person) outside of the UK;
- The transfer or disclosure of items within the UK for use in a Weapons of Mass Destruction programme outside the UK (including teaching taking place in the UK);
- The transit of controlled items through the UK to other destinations;
- Trafficking and brokering, such as arranging the transfer of certain items, particularly military goods, between two other countries (this is less likely to affect universities).
Examples of exports
Note that to constitute an export or transfer it is only required that the recipient is overseas – nationality and affiliation with the College or other organisations are not relevant. The following examples all constitute exports (i.e. transfers or diclosures) and require a licence if they involve controlled items:
- Shipping a prototype to a research partner outside the UK;
- Taking a laptop with electronic files to an overseas conference;
- Accessing electronic files stored on a file sharing system while outside the UK;
- Teaching a remote class where any of the participants are located overseas;
- Discussing certain technologies with another colleague (including both honorary staff and substantive College employees) virtually or over the phone while they are not in the UK.
If you are transferring or exporting items, you must check whether these items are controlled. Proceed to the next step below.
2. Are the items being exported controlled?
Items requiring a licence to be exported are found on the UK Control Lists. This includes:
- Any items with potential military application; and
Dual-use items which could have civil or military applications, such as nuclear technology, chemicals and engineering products.
How can I identify if my research or teaching involves controlled items?
- Always start by searching for your items on the UK Control Lists using the ECO Goods Checker. Choosing the right search terms is essential: Use a variety of short and simple search terms rather than longer phrases. We highly recommend reading the ECO Goods Checker Example Searches.
- If in doubt, you may contact the Research Office or ask the ECJU to help you find your items on the UK Control Lists by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning 020 7215 4594.
Subjects most affected by Export Controls
Science and engineering disciplines are most commonly affected by Export Controls. If any of the items you want to export fall within one or more of these red flag areas, you will likely need to apply for a licence:
- Viruses and pathogens or related research;
- Vaccine technology, which might be used to inoculate troops using chemical or biological weapons;
- Civil technology which could be used or adapted as a component for military purposes;
- Technology which could support activities in facilities which house weapons technology or delivery programmes, e.g., hardened underground facilities and hermetically sealed buildings;
- Ancillaries and support equipment at some facilities, such as those which house uranium enrichment centrifuges or nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, can be of concern even if the technology is itself ubiquitous;
- Toxic chemicals that can cause serious injury or death;
- Fissile materials, radioactive materials or equipment for their detection or handling;
- Materials characterisation equipment;
- Materials production techniques;
- Carbon fibre with high tensile properties, high-nickel alloys, high-grade aluminium, vacuum systems, propellants etc.;
- Uranium enrichment for non-civil nuclear energy;
- High-grade radioactive material;
- Autonomous vehicles;
- Unmanned equipment (even if used only for atmospheric research);
- Optoelectronics (lasers);
- Ocean bottom survey equipment;
- Hydrophones or sonar equipment;
- Ground penetrating radar;
- Stealth technology;
- Electromagnetic absorption;
- Missiles and related technology;
- Unmanned aerial vehicles and associated technology.
US Export Controls
If you are collaborating with any party in the United States or if you are planning to use goods, technology or software that have been imported or transferred to you from the US, your project may be subject to US Export Controls. Please see the FAQs page for more information.
If you are exporting or transferring any controlled items, you must apply for an export licence. Even if the items you are exporting are not controlled, you might still need a licence depending on who the recipient is and where they are located. Proceed to the next step below.
3. Who is the recipient of the items?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you need to apply for a licence even if the item is not listed as a “controlled” item:
- Do you know, or have any reason to suspect, that the exported item may support the design, development, production, stockpiling or use of a weapon, espcially nuclear, chemical and biological weapons?
- Does the end-user country potentially have a WMD or missile programme?
- Are these goods that could be used in the development in any part of WMD infrastructure?
- Is the end user, importer, or any third parties to the transaction known to be of concern?
- Are you uncertain about the precise identity or circumstances of the end user?
- Are there WMD research and development programmes at universities in the state or region concerned?
- Are there civil nuclear reactors outside of IAEA controls in the country that the items are being exported to?
- Are you collaborating with a civil space programme which may also be involved in ballistic missile development?
Suspicious behaviour of partners
If your suspicions are raised by any of the following, take advice from the ECJU:
- Is the partner reluctant to offer information about the end-use of the items?
- Has the partner asked that the goods be transferred to a forwarding address in the UK?
- Has the partner made unusual requests regarding shipping, packaging or labelling?
- Is the partner new to you and is your knowledge about them incomplete?
- Is the partner located in an area under strict security control or in an area to which access is severely restricted, or which is unusual in view of the type of equipment being installed?
- Are there unusual requirements for excessive confidentiality about final destinations, or customers, or specifications of items?
- Is the partner or end user a military or government research body?
- Is the project requested unusual in any way, e.g. the quantity or performance capabilities of the goods significantly exceed, without satisfactory explanation, the amount or performance normally required for the stated end use?
Sanctions and embargoes
Take particular care when working with parties that are subject to UN or UK sanctions and embargoes. For a list of countries that are currently subject to such measures, see the Government’s website on trade sanctions, arms embargoes, and other trade restrictions. Also review the UK Sanctions List and OFSI's Consolidated List of financial sanctions to ensure that none of the organisations or individuals involved in your activities are subject to UK or international sanctions.
Sanctions measures include arms embargoes and other trade controls. Additional restrictions can apply when dealing with countries that are subject to sanctions, e.g., restrictions on the actions of individuals and entities, including their ability to travel or to use financial systems, and they can include additional restrictions on exports or trade activities. This means that certain items are controlled, even if they are not specified on the UK Control Lists.
College Relationship Review Policy (RRP)
If your proposed activities involve parties from any of the countries listed in Appendix A of the Relationship Review Policy (PDF), you have to obtain authorisation from the relevant Head of Department and the College Scrutiny Committee before commencing work.