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Controlling the Flow of Goods, Data, Money, & Services

Domestic and international rules control the flow of goods, information, services, and money across borders—whether shipped or hand-carried. These export and import control rules exist for purposes of national security, public health, and environmental or agricultural protection. Projects involving the transport of technology, cash, scientific equipment, and biological samples are often subject to the most regulations and may require special permits. 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.

Note: Due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. government imposed severe financial sanctions on Russia and individuals and entities supporting the Russian government in Russia, Belarus, and certain regions of the Ukraine. Review the latest guidance to determine impacts to your research, collaborations, shipments, payments, travel, and other Harvard-related activities.

Four Export/Import Considerations

Transporting 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. You also may need a license to spend certain funds in a sanctioned country. 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.

Customs Duties & 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.

Sanctioned Countries & 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.

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.

Exporting from the U.S.

Whether you ship or hand-carry certain goods or information, you may need an export license to transfer them. A range of items and technology are covered by export control laws, from microorganisms and toxins to computers, lasers, and telecommunications. The destination may also determine which export controls apply.

U.S. export control regulations cover goods leaving the U.S., goods “re-exported” to a third country, and “deemed exports” of information or technology to foreign nationals within the U.S. The “deemed export” rule regulates sharing of export-controlled information or technology with foreign nationals within the U.S., even though nothing has crossed borders. Harvard is often eligible for an exclusion from this rule.

Review Harvard’s Export Controls Policies and Procedures for more information, and consult with your School or unit's designated export control advisor to determine if any regulations apply to your export.

If you’re transporting biological specimens of any type (e.g. plant, animal, insect, microorganism), you may need an export permit from the U.S. government and appropriate permits from the destination country. Failure to obtain these permits may result in customs delays or denial of entry.

Tip: When transporting goods from the U.S. that will return to the U.S., register with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before departure to avoid a customs duty upon return.

Foreign Exports/Importing to the U.S.

You may need to obtain a permit to collect items overseas and/or a license to export items. Foreign export controls most often affect Harvard when native technology, biological specimens (including plants), art works or cultural artifacts, and data relating to identifiable persons are brought or transmitted out of a foreign country.

When exporting from foreign countries, also consider import requirements and duties in the destination country (and any country transited through).

Items returning to the U.S. must go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Know which items must be declared, and keep receipts in case they’re requested by CBP. The CBP's and U.S. Department of Agriculture's joint "Don't pack a pest" website provides helpful guidance.

CBP also provides information on importing biological materials. Allow time to obtain the required permits to ensure the materials are able to leave their country of origin and enter the U.S. If you’re working with researchers or collaborators traveling to Cambridge or Boston, ensure they’ve obtained the appropriate permits in advance.

Contacts, Vendor, & Resources

Consult with us, your School's or unit’s designated export control administrator, Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S), and Harvard’s customs vendor, if applicable.

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