Applying for an Export License

How to get your goods to foreign buyers with minimum hassle

Selling abroad could be a great way to open up new revenue streams for your business, but the government could have something to say about your particular widget. If you are exporting anything controversial (especially weapons, technology or chemicals) you can bet Uncle Sam is interested. Yet you can sell abroad, even complex products like medical devices and computer software, if you make sure first to obtain the proper export license.

First things first

The majority of U.S. exports do not need a license, thankfully. But understanding exactly what is regulated is a matter of classifying your product and where it will end up.
Department of Commerce export controls site, including a breakdown on licensing.

Ready to go?

You can apply for a license right online. The government's Simplified Network Application Process, known as SNAP, gets you under way.
SNAP. Okay, it's not quite like buying a book at Close enough for government work.

Understand the law and how it applies to your export plan

The government's printing office keeps export regulations online in a comprehensive but not overwhelming database.
Export Administration Regulations include the Commerce Control List and Country Chart, which specifically explains what goods fall under the law and which countries are out of bounds, and Part 732, which lays out your responsibilities under the law. The Bureau of Industry and Security also maintains a list of which federal agencies regulate what exports, with contact telephones.

Take a class

If you clicked through on the regulations link above, you might easily understand why the U.S. government also offers cheap ($100 to $295) seminars on exporting specific types of goods. They range from the introductory to developing an entire compliance program for your company and take place around the country.
course descriptions, costs and locations, as well as a current workshop schedule at the Bureau of Industry and Security.
  • Don't despair. While the regs are quite detailed, most relate to a small number of export products and a handful of countries the United States deems problematic.
  • While licenses tend to apply to technology and military items, make no assumptions. You will need to be sure you can stamp "NLR" for No License Required on your export documents, and that means you'll have to check.
  • Record-keeping is a big part of doing exports right, five years worth and that applies even to items in transit.