Electronic Devices and Mobile Phones Abroad

The use of mobile phones and electronic devices is ubiquitous in today’s society. It would be nearly impossible for most students, staff, or faculty to travel without them. However, there are certain requirements and recommendations, instituted both by the University and the United States Government, which must be followed. Below is a detailed breakdown of the requirements for travelers who take technology with them abroad.

Penn State Requirements

Program leaders are required to have an international mobile phone in case of emergency. The phone must be kept charged and turned on at all times. Program leaders must provide the number of the phone either prior to the start of the program, or upon arrival to the destination country, to the appropriate Penn State office, as listed below:

  1. Education Abroad Office: If the program is a credit-bearing group travel program, the program leader must include an international mobile number on the online embedded programs form (found on the Embedded Education Abroad website). If you have questions, please contact Connie Bauer, Embedded Programs Coordinator, at csb21@psu.edu.
  2. Risk Management Office: If the student travel is not for credit, the trip leader must provide an international mobile number to Risk Management. The number is requested on the International Group Risk Management Checklist. If you have questions, please contact the Risk Management Office at (814) 865-6307.

United States Export Control Requirements

Prior to traveling abroad, researchers and investigators should be aware of the U.S. export control licensing requirements, which apply to materials and tangible technologies, as well as presentations, conversations and training information. As a U.S. Institution, Penn State is required to comply with the laws and regulations issued by the U.S. government related to the export of both goods and services. The U.S. government controls the export of certain technologies, software and hardware for reasons of national security, foreign policy and for competitive trade reasons. Export control laws regulate the transfer of items, technology, software and services. They apply to all activities with foreign persons and foreign countries, not just research projects or activities which involve the transfer of technology or information to a foreign destination. Every Penn State researcher is expected to be aware of the export control issues related to her/his work and to use the available resources to ensure compliance. For questions or advice, please contact the Export Control Compliance Officer in the Office of Sponsored Programs at export@psu.edu or (814) 865-1371.

Export controls may restrict:

  • The ability to collaborate with researchers in foreign countries
  • The ability to send equipment, spare or replacement parts, technology or software to foreign countries
  • The ability of University personnel to provide services (including training in the use of equipment) to foreign nationals
  • The ability of foreign nationals (students, researchers or collaborators) to particpate in research

Researchers should also be aware of the following technology-related export control issues:

  • Hardware, software, and proprietary data taken with you abroad could constitute an export.
  • Technology should be checked against the Munitions List as well as the Commerce Control List (Part 774)

Any questions should be addressed to the Export Control Compliance Officer in the Office of Sponsored Programs at export@psu.edu or 814-865-1371.

Most laptops and GPS devices (excluding software or technology that contains source code for 64-bit encryption software or mass market encryption products), and cell phones, are considered tools of the trade and are frequently carried abroad, but the investigator carrying these devices abroad must keep it on his or her person at all times and make sure the devices are brought back with you. If you plan to leave GPS devices, laptops or mass market encryption products in a foreign country, please inform the Export Compliance Officer before you travel in case a license is needed. For more information regarding tools of the trade, please refer to the online Penn State Export Compliance Manual, pages 47 - 53.

If training will be provided to foreign persons (non-students) in the use of ITAR-controlled technology, please consult with the Export Compliance Officer in OSP because such training could be considered a defense service.

Presentations at international conferences are generally acceptable. It is important to note, however, that sidebar conversations with conference attendees should be limited to information already in the public domain. If the research being discussed in sidebar conversations is not related in any way to any technologies on the Munitions List or the Commerce Control List, then there is no risk of an export of technical data taking place via a sidebar conversation, regardless of where that conversation takes place. But if your research is related to a listed technology, then you can NOT talk to foreign colleagues about your work unless the conversation is licensed or otherwise exempt. Should you have any questions, please consult the Export Compliance Officer in OSP.

Penn State policies on Export Compliance can be found on the Office of Sponsored Programs website.

Resources and Recommendations

If you are taking a personal mobile phone, be sure to determine if it will work overseas by consulting with your service provider. Some providers require you activate an "international plan" or obtain a loaner phone. Data and roaming charges can be quite high internationally and rates per minute for calls, depending on your location, can be very expensive. There are usually very affordable pay-as-you-go options available upon arrival in your destination country. These can be convenient and reliable options as you will have a local number, on a local/national network.

The following is a list of helpful resources regarding the use of electronic devices and mobile phones abroad: