Export Controls on Encrypted Data

Most laptops, smartphones, and tablets come with already-installed data encryption software. Because encryption products can be used for illegal purposes, including terrorist activity, the United States and many of the countries that you may visit may ban or regulate the import, export, and use of encryption products.

Taking your encrypted laptop or other mobile device to certain countries without proper authorization could violate U.S. export law or the import regulations of the country to which you are traveling. This could result in confiscation of your device and/or in fines or other penalties. 

See the International Travel & Export Controls page for a detailed explanation of export controls and guidelines for what you should know before taking your devices with you on international trips.

U.S. Regulations Cover What You Can Take Out of the Country

Traveling internationally with data encryption software, standard on many mobile devices, is governed by the federal International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR). In most cases, you can take devices with publicly available commercial mass-market encryption software out of the U.S. under the EAR license exception, "Temporary Exports-Tools of the Trade" (TMP).

To comply with a TMP license exception, the device must be used for professional purposes, returned to the U.S. within 12 months, and be kept under effective control of the exporter/traveler, such as being stored in a hotel safe when not in use. The exporter/traveler must take precautions against the unauthorized release of controlled technology.

The TMP license exception is not available to those traveling to embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria).

Foreign Regulations Cover What You Can Take Into Other Countries

Regulations and laws regarding what you can take into other countries vary from country to country and are subject to change. It is best to check the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security Encryption page for information about restrictions and more before you travel overseas.

Personal Use Exemption in Countries Participating in the Wassenaar Arrangement

Through the Wassenaar Arrangement, participating countries have negotiated an international export control agreement that contributes to regional and international security by promoting transparency in the transfers of conventional arms, dual-use items and technologies among the participating countries. One of its provisions allows a traveler to freely enter a participating country with an encrypted device under a "personal use exemption" as long as the traveler does not create, enhance, share, sell, or otherwise distribute the encryption technology while traveling through the participating country.

Some Countries Require a License or Permit

Some countries will allow you to travel with an encrypted laptop if you first obtain the appropriate license or permit. You must apply to a specified governmental agency in the country well in advance of your trip. Details vary from country to country and are subject to change.

Questions?

Questions about the application of export control encryption regulations to specific situations should be directed to Krista Campeau, U-M Export Controls Officer, at (734) 615-0672 or exportcontrols@umich.edu.