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Import Export Institute

Do You Need an Export License?

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is responsible for implementing and enforcing the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which regulate the export and reexport of most commercial items. We often refer to the items that BIS regulates as “dual-use” – items that have both commercial and military or proliferation applications – but purely commercial items without an obvious military use are also subject to the EAR.


What exactly IS an export?

Any item that is sent from the United States to a foreign country is an deemed an export. Said “items” include commodities, software or technology, consumer items like clothing, building materials, circuit boards, automotive parts, blue prints, design plans, retail software packages and technical information.

How an item is transported outside of the United States does not matter in determining export license requirements. For example, an item can be sent by regular mail or hand-carried on an airplane. A set of schematics can be sent via facsimile to a foreign destination, software can be uploaded to or downloaded from an Internet site, or technology can be transmitted via e-mail or during a telephone conversation. Regardless of the method used for the transfer, the transaction is considered an export. An item is also considered an export even if it is leaving the United States temporarily, if it is leaving the United States but is not for sale (e.g., a gift), or if it is going to a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary in a foreign country. Even a foreign-origin item exported from the United States, transmitted or transshipped through the United States, or being returned from the United States to its foreign country of origin is considered an export. Finally, release of technology or source code subject to the EAR to a foreign national in the United States is “deemed” to be an export to the home country of the foreign national under the EAR.


In order to determine if you need a license, you must first address the following questions:

  • What are you exporting?
  • Where are you exporting?
  • Who will receive your item?
  • What will your item be used for?

A key in determining whether an export license is needed from the Department of Commerce is knowing whether the item you intend to export has a specific Export Control Classification Number (ECCN). The ECCN is an alpha-numeric code, e.g., 3A001, that describes the item and indicates licensing requirements.  The proper classification of your item is essential to determining any licensing requirements under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). You may classify the item on your own, check with the manufacturer, or submit a classification request to have BIS determine the ECCN for you.  When reviewing the CCL to determine if your item is specified by an ECCN, you will first need to determine in which of the ten broad categories of the Commerce Control List your item is included and then consider the applicable product group.


If you still need assistance, you can contact the Import Export Institute – we can help you in all your importing and exporting efforts. With import export training programs, international business consulting, we can assist your business with global efforts.