International shipments of items, technology and software are subject to numerous import and export obligations. Failure to apply for an export authorization or to file correct export documentation and shipping documents can result in personal fines, confiscation, and/or incarceration and may also result in loss of the item/material being shipped. The Office of Trade Compliance (OTC) at the University of Pittsburgh is available to help you comply with the U.S. Federal export regulations. Please note that while the OTC provides assistance for evaluating and/or filing export authorizations and related documents, the OTC is not in charge of managing actual shipments, including Customs and shipping documentations. More specifically, the OTC can help the Pitt Community with the following:

  • Completing Restricted Party Screening (RPS) of your recipient (both individuals and entities);
  • Determining whether the export requires a license under the U.S. regulations;
  • Evaluating whether a license exception can be used;
  • Applying for a license with the relevant US Governmental agency;
  • Keeping appropriate records for audit purposes in case of an export authorized to proceed without a license;
  • Filing the additional documentations related to the export authorizations.

A. Export authorizations (license)

Basically, everything that leaves the U.S. is an export. This includes tangible items (laptops, cell phones, equipment, samples, paper documents, etc.) and intangible products (trainings, know-how, files, data, etc.). An export license is required when:

  • The item will be used in nuclear, missile, chemical/biological weapons activity;
  • The item will be exported to an embargoed or restricted country;
  • The item’s recipient appears on a restricted party list;
  • The item that will be shipped is on the Commerce Control List (CCL) or on the U.S. Munitions List (USML) and no license exception is available.

The OTC has created a “decision-tree” to help you determine if a license is required for your export. See the Pitt procedures described in the International Shipments – Step-by-step Export Controls review document prior to shipping any items out of the U.S.  PLEASE NOTE: All shipments must go through the University’s ProShip system . It is recommended that you complete the steps in the Procedure mentioned above, prior to proceeding to the ProShip system.  Contact Mailing Services for more information on the ProShip system.

The processing time for a license application and supporting documents depends on each situation. You should allow a minimum of 8 weeks to process your application if an actual export license is required. If your export is eligible to use No License Required (NLR) or a license exemption, the OTC can review your export and ensure that you have the appropriate paperwork for justifying the exemption’s use.

B. Export documentation

When shipping items outside the U.S., some export documents are mandatory. In most cases, a filing of the Electronic Export Information (EEI) via the Automated Export System (AES) is required for all shipments from the U.S. More specifically, you must complete the EEI form online when the shipment:

  • includes a defense article controlled under the ITAR; or,
  • includes a dual-use or commercial items: - enumerated in paragraph a. through x. of a “600 series”; or,
  • destined to a country in Country Group E1 (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria); or,
  • exported under a BIS license or license exception; or,
  • whose value classified under a single Schedule B Number (or Harmonized Tariff Schedule number) is over $2,500; or,
  • exported to China, Russia, or Venezuela.

This document is used for purposes of foreign trade statistics and export compliance. Data on the EEI records goes to the Census Bureau, the Department of Commerce-BIS or the Department of State-DDTC, and to Customs. All EEI information must be filed prior to export. The lead-time varies depending on the method of transportation of the export. Although certain carriers will automatically file EEI for you via their shipping software, it is your responsibility to make sure that this requirement has been completed.

Other export documentation may be required depending on the type of export.

C. Shipping documents

When exporting and importing, shipping documents can be numerous and may include an airway bill, a bill of lading, or a truck bill of lading; a commercial invoice; a certificate of origin; an insurance certificate; a packing list; or other documents required to clear customs. The OTC works in tandem with other Pitt departments to help evaluate shipping requirements. For example, the OTC can review and correct when necessary specific export controls language that appears in the commercial invoice and the bill of lading. Another way the OTC can assist is to help faculty and staff understand tax filing requirements. Before exporting any item to a foreign country, it is strongly advised that you become familiar with the tax requirements of the destination country. For shipments from the U.S. to most countries (including E.U, Canada, Mexico), the Value Added Tax (VAT) applies. The VAT is a tax on consumer spending for goods and services. In European countries, the VAT varies from 15 to 25%. To prevent the VAT from being collected on temporary exports, the University of Pittsburgh recommends use of the ATA Carnet, also known as the Merchandise Passport. This Carnet is an international customs document that expedites temporary exports into foreign countries and can be used only when the item is being returned to the U.S. It has the advantage to both exempt items from the VAT and to simplify reentry into the U.S. by serving as a U.S. Customs Registration.  The University's Customs Broker will assist with all Carnets.

This list of shipping documents is non-exhaustive as requirements vary widely based on specifics of the items being sent and the destination. For more information about shipments, consult the webpage of the Pitt Mail Services

D. Other requirements

Permits International shipments may also require other permits for entering or leaving the United States. All shipments entering the United States are processed by the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). An import permit may be required to deliver the package here in the U.S. even if the originating country does not require a permit.  Please see the University of Pittsburgh IMPORT webpage for additional assistance.

Some examples of U.S, Importing permit agencies:

  • U.S. DHHS/CDC Permits (42CFR, Part 71.54) 
  • The Etiologic Agent Import Permit Program (EAIPP) of the CDC requires an import permit for all etiologic agents, biological materials, and hosts and/or vectors entering the U.S. 
  • USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Permits 
  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) permits are required to import, domestically transfer or export a plant pest, plant, biological agents or other material. 
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Permits (50 CFR, Part 13) Fish & Wildlife Service Permits cover a wide range of import/export regulations including the trapping, buying, selling, and trading of live animals (non-agricultural), preserved animal trophies, animal hides, and animal tissues. 
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The Food and Drug Administration controls most food and other products that enter the U.S. Foods, drugs (human, animal and biological), cosmetics, medical devices and radiation emitting devices, etc. offered for entry into the United States require a permit or registration. 

Similiarly, an import permit may be required in the package's destination country. If the shipment requires an export license, The entity to whom you are shipping items may be able to provide you with information about any permits required in the country receiving the shipment.  


The following categories of items have restrictions when importing into the U.S.:

  • Biological specimens
  • Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them
  • Fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, soil
  • Items from embargoed countries

Some items are considered hazardous, and for shipping purposes, need to be packaged and labeled appropriately. These would include:

  • Biological products
  • Chemicals
  • Batteries and fuel cells
  • Radioactive items

For more information regarding export and import requirements, consult the University of Pittsburgh Environmental Health & Safety Department.

E. Records and liability

Export authorizations and export documents must be kept for 5 years from their date of expiration. This includes all export/shipping records regardless of the party who completes the forms on your behalf (carrier, customs broker or freight forwarder). Please be aware that if a forwarder is acting as your agent on your behalf, you will still be responsible for any violations that are committed.