Working & Collaborating Internationally

Working & Collaborating with International Colleagues and Entities

There are many considerations to take into account prior to international collaboration: from export control and other federal regulations to who can you collaborate with and what types of research or projects may be restricted.

Export Control

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 Compliance Officer via email at or by phone at 814-867-2379.

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 participate in research

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

Any questions should be addressed to the Export Compliance Officer at or 814-867-2379.

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 individual carrying these devices abroad must keep it on his or her person at all times and make sure the devices are brought back with them. If there is a plan to leave GPS devices, laptops or mass market encryption products in a foreign country, please inform the Export Compliance Officer before 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.

If training will be provided to foreign persons (non-students) in the use of ITAR-controlled technology, please consult with the Export Compliance Officer 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 isn’t related in any way to any technologies on the Munitions List or the Commerce Control List, then there’s 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.


Restricted Countries, Persons & Entities

Several United States laws impact activities with certain countries, institutions and people. In addition to the export control regulations described elsewhere on this site, the U.S. government also maintains economic embargoes and imposes economic sanctions against some foreign governments, requires special reporting of activities with some governments and prohibits activities with certain persons and institutions. These laws and the entities involved can and do change quickly and frequently.

The University is able to assess whether a prospective relationship involves prohibited or restricted entities through an export specialist review.  An export specialist should be consulted before engaging in any of the following activities:

  • Interacting with a country, organization or entity under a sanction (Sanctions Programs)
  • Working with a foreign sponsor
  • Working with a foreign subcontractor or consultant
  • Traveling abroad to conduct research
  • Traveling abroad to conduct training
  • Shipping anything abroad
  • Working with foreign researchers not employed by or enrolled at Penn State

To contact an export specialist at Penn State, please contact the Office of Sponsored Programs at or 814-865-1371.


Anti-Boycott Laws

United States law prohibits any activity that might be deemed to support an unsanctioned boycott. This prohibition is most often raised in the context of Arab nations boycotting Israel.  Activities to be aware of in the context of establishing a relationship with a country or institution, as listed on the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security website, are as follows:

  • Agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.
  • Agreements to discriminate or actual discrimination against other persons based on race, religion, sex, national origin or nationality.
  • Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about business relationships with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies.
  • Agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about the race, religion, sex, or national origin of another person.
  • Implementing letters of credit containing prohibited boycott terms or conditions.

Further advice is available through the Office of Sponsored Programs at or 814-865-1371.


Payments & Gifts to Foreign Officials  

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits paying, offering or promising payments of money or anything of value to foreign officials for the purpose of obtaining or keeping business.

University leaders and administrators in many other countries are considered “foreign officials” in the FCPA context because of the close relationship between the country’s government and its academic institutions. Gifts of nominal value and reasonable hospitality expenses for international visitors are generally acceptable if they relate to the promotion of Penn State and Penn State’s services. The safest gifts are those that are tied directly to Penn State, such as commemorative or informational items.
Other U.S. institutions have interpreted the FCPA as prohibiting the hosting or entertainment of foreign officials away from home campuses. 

If you have a question about the propriety of any expenditure, gift-giving or entertainment of colleagues abroad, please seek advice. Many other countries have provisions similar to the FCPA, so accepting lavish hospitality abroad may also raise issues.  Even in countries and cultures where such hospitality is acceptable, a good rule of thumb is to decline entertainment, gifts and hospitality which you could not (for legal, ethical or other reasons) reciprocate.

This information is to provide a general background on the FCPA and is not intended as specific legal advice.  Please contact the Office of General Counsel with any questions about these requirements.

Research Collaboration   

Researcher Responsibility/Research & Ethical Standards Abroad

Every Penn State researcher has the responsibility to comply with Penn State research standards wherever and whenever Penn State-affiliated research is conducted.  This includes compliance with Penn State policies, sponsor’s terms and conditions, applicable U.S. regulations and treaty obligations as well as accepted ethical practices. This responsibility rests with the individual researcher, regardless of status within the university (faculty, staff, or student).

When research takes place in a country outside of the U.S., the researcher also must understand the research environment of that country and address any issues raised by differences in customs, culture or law.  In some cases, with guidance in advance from the Office of Research Protections, some exceptions to usual requirements may be called for.

Researchers are encouraged to visit the Office for Research Protections website or to contact the office at or (814) 865-1775 for assistance and guidance.

International Research Involving Human Participants

Researchers working with human participants abroad should consider specific additional guidance to insure that cultural and language differences and other issues have been adequately addressed.  

Specific guidance on international research involving human subjects is available as:

IRB Guideline II – International Research Involving Human Participants.

Endangered Species and Wildlife

Bringing wildlife in from other countries or sending wildlife to other countries may be limited by law or require special permits. U.S. Law, foreign country laws and international treaties govern such diverse materials as: seeds, cut flowers, birds, feathers, nests, non-synthetically derived DNA, tusks, animal hides, field samples and venomous or injurious animals.

Individual researchers have responsibility for obtaining all required (i.e., both in the U.S. and in the host country) permits for exporting and importing. This responsibility rests with the individual researcher, regardless of status within the university (faculty, staff, or student).  If a researcher does not have the proper permits at customs, materials may be impounded. 


Researchers are encouraged to visit the Office for Research Protections website or to contact the office at or (814) 865-1775 for assistance and guidance.

Cultural Property

The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Convention), and corresponding U.S. laws, restrict the import to the U.S. of certain categories of “archeological or ethnological material.” Each country determines what is restricted under the Convention and also may have its own additional laws limiting cultural exports.

Individual researchers are responsible for obtaining all required export certificates. This responsibility rests with the individual researcher, regardless of status within the university (faculty, staff, or student). 


Researchers are encouraged to visit the Office for Research Protections website or to contact the office at or (814) 865-1775 for assistance and guidance.

Intellectual Property

Before entering into a situation where intellectual property could be created, it is advisable to clarify the issue of intellectual property in advance.

All international agreements that contemplate international research collaboration which could result in new intellectual property should contain an IP clause.

Visiting scholars/scientists and others who may be in a position to make, conceive or reduce to practice inventions or otherwise develop technology under sponsored research, are required to complete and sign the University Intellectual Property Agreement  (see Policy RA-11).

Researchers are encouraged to contact the Office of Technology Management at or (814) 865-6277 if there are questions. 

International Clinical Trials

Most Penn State clinical research originates in the Hershey College of Medicine (COM) or Hershey Medical Center (HMC) and is required to be approved by the Clinical Trials Office, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Human Subjects Protection Office  (HSPO)and the Research Quality Assurance Office.  Among other things, these offices ensure that Penn State clinical research abroad conforms to international guidelines for technical compliance, to U.S. export control regulations regarding controlled technologies, to IRB requirements and to good clinical practice guidelines. In addition, the Office of Research Affairs would be involved in negotiating any research agreement between the COM and a foreign institution. The HSPO is available to respond to questions at hspo@hmc.psu.eduor (717) 531- 5687.

Penn State researchers not associated with the COM or HMC who have clinical research questions should refer to the Office for Research Protections website or contact the office at or (814) 865-1775.

Medical Activities Abroad

Faculty or students planning medical activities abroad should be aware of several resources, policies and procedures, linked below, and should contact the Global Health Center.

Pre-departure Procedure for Medical Faculty

  • Contact the country’s Ministry of Health or Embassy/Consulate to determine what paperwork is required in order to practice care and/or bring equipment/supplies.
  • Contact Penn State Hershey’s Risk Management office to determine eligibility for medical malpractice while abroad.
  • Review “Medical Missions/Humanitarian Endeavors Policy” A-71 HAM. This policy defines Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center/College of Medicine’s policy on staff and faculty participation in medical missions and humanitarian endeavors.