United States export controls exist to protect the national security and foreign policy interests of this country. Export controls govern the shipment, transmission, or transfer of certain regulated items, information or software to foreign persons or entities. When export control regulations apply, for example when the “fundamental research” safe harbor is unavailable, the shipping or sharing of regulated (“controlled”) items, information or software may require approval from the US Government in the form of an export license. Most of the items, information or software that the University ships or shares with its colleagues and research partners is not of a nature that would be restricted for these purposes, nor are they destined for countries or individuals subject to US embargoes or sanctions. The University however is required to exercise due diligence, and this Decision Tree has been crafted for the purpose of complying with US trade law while preserving one of University’s cornerstone policies of academic freedom.


These pages will walk you through a series of “Yes” or “No” questions, leading to a determination of whether or not an export control license may be applicable to any particular situation. Remember that export controls apply whenever tangible items (equipment, components, materials etc.) are being sent or hand carried outside US borders, OR when controlled information or software code is being shared with “foreign persons or entities” in the US or transferred physically, visually or orally to foreign persons abroad.


Who is a “foreign person”? A foreign person is anyone who is not a “US person.” A US person is a citizen of the United States, a lawful permanent resident alien of the US (a “green card holder”), a refugee, protected political asylee or someone granted temporary residency under amnesty or Special Agricultural Worker provisions. “US Person” does not include individuals on a temporary visa (F, H1B and J1) status. The word “person” includes organizations and entities, such as universities. The general rule is that only US persons are eligible to receive controlled items, information or software without first obtaining an export license from the appropriate agency.


You may find it useful to note that export controls are frequently, but not exclusively, associated with items, information and software code within the following general areas, when export controls apply:

  • Chemical, Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Technology
  • Remote Sensing, Imaging and Reconnaissance
  • Navigation, Avionics and Flight Control
  • Robotics
  • Propulsion System and Unmanned Air Vehicle Subsystems
  • Telecommunications/Networking
  • Nuclear Technology
  • Sensors and Sensor Technology
  • Advanced Computer/Microelectronic Technology
  • Information Security/Encryption
  • Laser and Directed Energy Systems
  • Rocket Systems
  • Marine Technology


The questions in this Decision Tree use terminology derived from the regulations of the US Departments of State, Commerce and Treasury. These questions ask about sharing, shipping, transmitting or transferring any items, information or software to help you determine the applicability of export controls to your circumstance. Violations of export control regulations can lead to significant civil and criminal penalties for you the individual and the institution.



ITEMS refers to any tangible things, equipment or hardware


INFORMATION can include technical data such as models, formulae, engineering designs and specifications, or technical assistance such as training or instruction.


SOFTWARE refers to a collection of one or more computer programs or micro programs in either source code (programming statements) or object code (machine-readable instructions).


Click here to access the Export Control License Inquiry


“This material is adapted from the basic design and content of Stanford University’s Decision Tree. We appreciate Stanford in granting us the permission to adapt its content for the benefit of Northeastern University.”