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Institutions of higher education and their employees are required to comply with export control laws and other shipping regulations. Be aware that mail, shipments and luggage are being screened for controlled materials. Researchers at other universities have been charged with both civil and criminal violations of these laws, and have received prison sentences and fines. Don't let this happen to you. See a major case list.


Please remember, University activities involving

  • shipping equipment or any other item abroad
  • teaching or training foreign colleagues abroad how to use equipment
May need an export license.

EHS will help exporters safely and legally transport research materials to international destinations. We will make sure the international shipments meet all requirements for proper classification, labeling, packaging and documentation as well as arrange for any necessary licenses. For international shipping questions and needs, please contact Constance Birden at EHS. The vast majority of international shipments from the University will only require appropriate packaging and labeling, rather than a license. It is important, however, to contact EHS well in advance of travel or shipment because export controlled materials may require a license, which involves a government approval process that takes many weeks.

Each University researcher is responsible for his/her own individual compliance. Please visit the following EHS webpage to view the on-line export control training presentation and the on-line shipping training presentation:

Shipping Biological Materials Manual

Download the Shipping Biological Materials Manual. The manual will open in a new window.

Don't Be Tempted

Shipping regulated items out of the US without a license can result in significant individual fines of up to $250,000 and 10 years imprisonment. Don't be tempted to ship an item without taking the time to inquire if a license is needed. Call EHS for an item classification.

Mislabeling a package or misrepresenting what the item is classified as on the accompanying documentation is against the law. Violations if substantiated may result in the assessment of a civil penalty of up to $32,500 per violation, and deliberate violations may result in criminal prosecution of up to $500,000 and 5 years in prison.

Under invoicing or undervaluing an exported item on the documentation is illegal. The exporter must declare the true transaction value on the Shippers Export Declaration (SED). The freight forwarder (FedEx) will automatically report the artificially low commercial value on the SED. Reporting an incorrect export value on a SED is a violation of U.S. export regulation. Such violation subjects a U.S. exporter to monetary fines and other penalties.

The chances of being caught by U.S. Customs in the act of underinvoicing have increased dramatically. U.S. Customs has intensified its export enforcement efforts by implementing the Outbound Compliance Program which entered the Enforced Compliance Phase on July 1, 1997.

Many importing countries have established comparable value systems for imports. If the entered value on an import is less than the comparable value for that import:

  1. the entered goods may be confiscated by Customs in the importing country, which could cause payment problems, especially if the exporter is operating on an open account or collection basis; and/or
  2. exporters may be black listed by the importing country which could severely impact future shipments to the importing country.

Many importing countries have Customs laws which consider underinvoicing to be a violation of the country's import law. If the exporter comply with an importer's request for underinvoicing, that person may be considered a co-conspirator and could be subject to penalties and/imprisonment in the importing country, if the country can exercise jurisdiction over the exporter.

Sponsored Research

Although export control regulations apply to virtually all fields of science and engineering, sponsored or not, they do not control all research because of several exclusions or exemptions. A "fundamental research" exclusion applies to basic and applied research in science and engineering performed by universities so long as that research is carried out openly and without restrictions on publication or access to or dissemination of the research results. A "public domain" exclusion applies if the information is in the public domain i.e. if it is published and generally accessible to the public through unlimited and unrestricted distribution. A "teaching" exclusion authorizes the disclosure of educational information released by instruction in catalog courses or general scientific, mathematical, or engineering principles commonly taught in universities without a license.

Most of the research activities at UNC are excluded from export controls because the activities fall under fundamental research, public domain or other exemptions. However, any formal or contractual restrictions on the open sharing of research results eliminate a project's fundamental and public domain exemption. This memorandum from Tony Waldrop, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, explains UNC-Chapel Hill export control policy: Download the memorandum. Please visit Office of Sponsored Research Policy for an overview of export control concepts, definitions of relevant terms and principles, and guidelines for sponsored research. For an up-to-date listing of countries listed for Export Controls (EAR and ITAR) and Embargoes (OFAC): Export Control Countries. If you have questions about export controls and sponsored research, please contact Judy Culhane Faubert.

International Travel

Please remember the export control laws and regulations are lengthy and difficult to interpret and apply to more than just sponsored research and the shipping of items or equipment. The technologies that are controlled and the countries that are restricted change frequently. These laws apply to all active grants, agreements, contracts and subcontracts. Please contact Judy Culhane Faubert at with any questions about travel abroad.

Read more about International Travel and Export Control Compliance in this Adobe Acrobat document.

Requirements for International Shipments of Regulated Research Materials

You may think it is easy to send a sample overseas: just put the vial in an express mail envelope and call the courier. It often works.

However, we would like you to know that shipping research materials legally is not that easy. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or International Air Traffic (IATA) regulations apply to most shipped research equipment, medical supplies, or any quantity of chemical, biological or radioactive material. Those regulations specify classification, packaging, labeling, marking and documentation, with different requirements for every shipment.

Many international shipments are even more difficult. As shown in the accompanying table, laws that regulate shipping and receiving research materials go beyond DOT and IATA. Those of you who ship chemicals internationally should know that a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Export Notification Form is required for chemicals listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Chemicals on the Reporting Rule Database. Those of you who receive human etiological agents and genetic elements must comply with import and transfer requirements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates shipments when importing and exporting plants, animals, animal products and biologics. When institutions and firms collaborate, they often sign a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) that further limit shipments of proprietary and other research materials.

The easy (but frustrating!) way to learn about these additional shipping requirements is when your express courier asks for additional documentation, such as a Commercial Invoice, or returns your shipment for repackaging or relabeling. Or Customs may halt your outgoing shipment at the border and ask that you provide a Shippers Export Declaration. Civil and criminal charges are a hard way to learn about these requirements.

For all of these laws, penalties for improper shipments are increasingly likely. Mail, shipments and luggage are being screened for these materials for the purposes of protecting air travel, public health and our nation's safety. Packages to or from research institutions receive additional scrutiny, as well as any package that appears to contain bottles or liquids.

There is a new emphasis on export control laws. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) enforces prohibited travel and asset transfers with countries subject to U.S. boycotts, trade sanctions and embargoes. The State Department regulates the export of inherently military technologies in accordance with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Export Administration Regulations (EAR) have a wider impact on research and development. EAR regulates the export of so-called "dual-use" technologies, listed in the lengthy and detailed Commerce Control List (CCL). Dual-use technologies and commodities have civil, commercial and peaceful purposes, but are listed on the CCL because of their strategic value or potential for military use or terrorism. Many CCL items are not hazardous, valuable or uncommon. On the contrary, the CCL contains many technologies and commodities commonly found in laboratories, some of which are listed here. Depending on the country of destination, controlled technologies and commodities regulated under ITAR and DOC require a license prior to shipment. Enforcement is increasing in this area as well.

You also need to know that you may be held responsible for the proper packaging, licensing and documentation of incoming international shipments, so you should inform international collaborators of these requirements. You should never transport samples or other regulated equipment or material in your pocket, carry-on or personal luggage on a commercial airline.

While sending vials and other regulated materials overseas without complying with these requirements may have worked in the past, it is an unwise gamble today. These laws can be confusing and complicated, but the time and effort to comply with them is simply a new necessity. And you don't want to learn that the hard way.

Examples of Regulated Activities

  • Shipments and mailings using the U.S. Post Office, UPS and express mail couriers, such as DHL or FedEx.
  • Receiving regulated materials by any method of transport.
  • Shipments to (exporting) or from (importing) a foreign country.
  • Transporting any amount of regulated material in a commercial aircraft, either on your person, in carry on luggage or checked luggage.

Examples of Regulated Materials and Technologies

The following are examples of regulated materials, commodities and technologies. For each example, the regulations specify the types and characteristic of materials and technologies that are regulated, and often note exceptions.


  • Aluminum alloys
  • Ammonium mitrate, including fertilizers
  • Animals
  • Beryllium metal
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Newly synthesized chemicals or materials
  • Diagnostic kits
  • Diagnostic material (defined as human or animal material including, but not limited to excreta, blood and its components, tissue and tissue fluids, and body parts transported for purposes such as research, diagnosis, investigational activities, disease treatment or prevention.)
  • Earthworms
  • ELISA assays
  • Etiological agents
  • Food testing kits
  • Insects
  • Ultra pure magnesium
  • Animal, human and zoonotic pathogens and their genetic elements
  • Phosgene
  • Plants
  • Samples
  • Soil
  • Specimens
  • Titanium alloys
  • Toxins
  • Vaccines


  • Centrifuges
  • Computer encryption software
  • High performance computing capability
  • Fermentors
  • GPS (Global Positioning System) technologies
  • Oscilloscopes
  • Equipment that incorporates any controlled technology

For a more detailed list, please click here.

Table of Laws and Requirements for Shipping, Receiving and Personal Travel with Regulated Research Materials and Supplies

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