Exports & Imports

Exports & Imports

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Export & Import Controls

You might be surprised by the domestic and international rules controlling the flow of goods, information, services, and money across borders. Projects involving the transport of technology, cash, or scientific equipment or samples are often subject to the most regulations.

Although the rules may seem complicated, Harvard has the resources, vendors, and knowledge to ensure you’re in accordance with the laws and regulations for the item’s origin and destination.

You can start by:

  1. Understanding the routine and special circumstances of transferring goods and information, whether shipped or hand-carried.
  2. Determining your type of transfer and whether your shipment requires any special permits for imports, exports, or both.
  3. Consulting with us, your School or unit’s designated export control council member, your School or unit’s biosafety officer, and Harvard’s customs vendor, if applicable.

4 Key Export/Import Considerations

Export and import control rules exist for purposes of national security, public health, and environmental or agricultural protection. Be aware of the following conditions before shipping or traveling with your items.

Customs duties and restrictions: The U.S. and foreign countries may require payment of customs duties and may restrict the entry of certain items (e.g. those thought to be a “threat,” whether they are invasive plants or insects, cheap goods threatening local jobs, or political opinions). See the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website to review a summary of customs rules for common items carried by tourists and other travelers. For information on more unusual items, like scientific equipment or specimens, contact us.

Temporary imports: Carnets—also known as merchandise passports—simplify the temporary transfer of certain tangible goods between the U.S. and 80 countries and territories. They also eliminate the payment of duties and value-added taxes (VAT). A carnet is intended to be used when you plan to temporarily import an item for a specific purpose that would normally be subject to customs or import tax into a foreign country. Examples of goods include professional equipment, commercial samples, and items for exhibitions and fairs. Refer to the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) website for a list of member countries, covered goods, and fees.

Currency: When transporting large amounts of cash or equivalents (such as travelers’ checks), you may be required to declare the funds and may even face restrictions or taxes. Countries have varying thresholds for the amounts you can import and export. Contact the country’s embassy in the U.S. for specific requirements. Carrying large sums of money also presents security concerns. We advise that you limit the cash on your person and always comply with a criminal’s request to surrender cash and valuables.

Regardless of the amount of funds you carry, you may need a license to spend certain funds in a sanctioned country.

Sanctioned countries and individuals: The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) enforces wide-ranging sanctions or embargoes on countries, individuals, and organizations. In general, Harvard cannot directly or indirectly provide funding or services to individuals, organizations, or countries on the list, although in some cases, Harvard may be able to obtain a license to conduct certain activities.

Types of Transfers

Review the guidelines below based on the origin and destination(s) of your goods.


  • Exporting or importing goods: Harvard Strategic Procurement has an agreement with E. Sidney Stockwell, Co., Inc., a customs broker who can expedite deliveries into and out of the U.S. and most countries. The broker can also assist in obtaining a carnet.
  • Shipments that may be subject to export controls: Your School or unit's designated export control advisor
  • Shipments that include animal, plant, insect, or cell specimens: GSS
  • General inquiries: GSS