I have a friend that works for an overseas manufacturer. He sells programming equipment to companies that have products with multiple Programmable Controllers embedded. I raised the subject of "export Control" requiring a special export license, and he stated that he required none to re-ship to Mexico. I used to work for Tektronix and recall a lot of paperwork to obtain the proper permits. Where is the line between simple logic ICs and more sophisticated components?

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a lot of misinformation and hearsay about these issues, let's try to keep answers focused on what the law actually says and back up these answers with links and quotes to the sources. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that this question is too localized, it's specific to US export law \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joby: That still leaves a lot of people that could benefit from the information. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 0:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Export restrictions is a problem an electrical engineer might have, but it's not an electrical engineering problem - one that can be solved with the correct application electronic design. Therefore it's off topic for this site. Further, export law is complicated enough, and this question broad enough, that even if it were on topic it couldn't be correctly and succinctly answered in a reasonably sized question. You could fill a book with the answer to "Regarding electronic devices and components, where is the line between needing an export license and not needing one?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 1:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JobyTaffey - I, along with Olin, disagree that "Only relating to the US" or "Only relating the EU" are too localized, but it is hard to draw the line between "Only relating to this province of Nepal" and superpowers like the EU or the US. That's an important consideration, and ought to be made at the meta question: Should we allow legal questions, specifically questions about export restrictions in the US? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 1:42

2 Answers 2


Not an exact duolicate, but see my answer here which relates to ITAR.

Modified extract from the above:

ITAR is the area that probably does or doesn't relate here. ITAR stands for "International Traffic in Arms Regulations"

As well as items which are "obviously" munitions, various items in the US are classified as munitions. This includes eg SOME components that MAY PERHAPS be able to be included in a weapons system, strong encryption systems (such as PGP), and various other wholly inobvious and apparently innocuous. You can probably end up using up all 3 of your strikes exporting a toilet seat with hinges and lid if they happen to be ITAR classified. "Off the cuff" I'd say you were "reasonably likely" not to have ITAR issues here, but read on ...

I'd suggest that asking an exporter about specific parts or families of parts would be wise. Some exporters (such as Digikey) ask quite searching ITAR type questions about every export order and others (such as Mouser) do it on a case by case basis as required.

ITAR links below BUT I understand that it is a potential minefield (no pun intended) and having an expert aka a seasoned exporter of the goods of interest tell you what applies in the real world "may help".

You can choose to do it "the hard way" - ITAR regulations here

Or this useful 225 page annotated ITAR version


If you build a good enough guidance system (will it allow an other wise inept pipe rocket to accurately travel from G_z_ to J__us__e_ ?), extremely good shielding system (can it help find Red Octobers),overload protection system (EMP killer), suitably precise measuring system (insert black technology task here) , advanced low loss extra high speed bearing system (such as MAY be useful in a 100,000 RPM gas diffusion centrifuge) then it MAY be ITAR classified.
And, so may any component used therein if it seems a good idea to somebody somewhere. So much so that I am told by people who really should know (one builds small satellites in England, the others build rockets in the US) that eg European satellite makers make every possible effort that no US sourced components of any sort are used in their [products.

Many hours of interesting reading available via the links above.
The annotated version helps heaps.
Early on it notes:

  • The commercial export of conventional arms is governed principally by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which authorizes the President to control the export of arms, ammunition, implements of war and related technical data. The President has delegated that authority to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary has promulgated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), under which a license or other approval is required for exports of defense articles, related technical data and defense services. Pursuant to the AECA and the ITAR it is unlawful for persons (including U.S. companies and governmental entities) to export or temporarily import any defense articles or related technical data or to furnish any defense services without first obtaining the required license or other approval from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, unless an exemption to the ITAR applies.

In addition to the ITAR export restrictions that Russell talks about in his answer, there is a second set of regulations managed by the US Department of Commerce. Whether you need a license under these regulations depend not just on what you are exporting, but where you are exporting to. There is a general overview of these regulations at the Dept of Commerce website.

For example, you need a license to export just about anything to a country like Cuba, Syria, or Iran; but you can export nearly anything to the UK or Canada with no license required. Countries are divided into groups The numerous categories of goods are listed in the Commerce Control List, each with an associated "reason for control" such as "National Security" or "Nuclear Nonproliferation", some with subcategories.

For example, one of the categories on the list is "4A003 'Digital computers', 'electronic assemblies', and related equipment therefor, as follows and specially designed components therefor." The "as follows" is further clarified by a long list of types of computers that are included ("'Digital computers' having an 'Adjusted Peak Performance' ('APP') exceeding 1.5 weighted TeraFLOPS (WT)") and excluded ("4A003.c does not control 'electronic assemblies' specially designed for a product or family of products whose maximum configuration does not exceed the limit of 4A003.b") from the restriction. Of course these are all described in legalese similar to what you find in a patent, rather than the technical description an engineer is more likely to be familiar with.

The Commerce Control List is cross-referenced to a "Commerce Country Chart" that lists all the countries we recognize and whether goods from each "reason for control" are restricted from export to that country.

And if you think you're done after you've waded through the Commerce Control List to find a category that seems vaguely reminiscent of your product, then determined the reason its controlled, and cross-referenced to the country you're sending it to, you'd be wrong. You still have to check your export against the "Entity List", the "Treasury Department Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List", the "The Unverified List", and the "Denied Persons List" to be sure the person, company, or organization you're sending your goods to is not specifically restricted from receiving US exports.

So, to answer your question, "Where is the line between simple logic ICs and more sophisticated components?", it's spelled out in excruciating detail in the regulation, but it's a line drawn by a distracted legislature and a zealous bureaucracy (or maybe a spastic, hyper-caffeinated ferret); not a clear and straight boundary between high-tech and mature-tech products.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If a hyper-caffeinated ferret ran for office, I'd vote for it. It might do a better job than some of the incumbents, at the least, it could do no worse. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 6:11

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