Beginners' guide to export controls

Do I need an export licence?


Whether or not you need an export licence for your goods will be determined by four factors, the:

  • nature of the goods due to be exported
  • destination concerned
  • ultimate end use of the goods
  • licensability of trade activities

Nature of goods

The following checklist outlines the broad categories of goods which are likely to be controlled:

  • most items that have been specially designed or modified for military use and their components
  • dual-use items - those that can be used for civil or military purposes - which meet certain specified technical standards and some of their components
  • associated technology and software
  • goods that might be used for torture
  • radioactive sources

The main reason why these types of goods are controlled is because, they are listed on one of the UK Strategic Export Control Lists

The Control Lists are a listing of items for which a licence is required from the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU). The Consolidated List is compiled from seven lists in various pieces of international legislation. The main elements of the Consolidated List are the UK Military List and the European Union (EU) Dual-Use List.

Depending on your goods, you will need to consult the relevant list and determine the relevant 'rating' or classification of your products, before applying for a licence.

You should remember that the ECO is concerned with goods of a 'strategic' nature such as military or civilian (dual-use) goods that can be used for military purposes. Export controls on other categories of goods are the responsibility of other departments.


If your items are on the UK Military List or are more sensitive items on the EU Dual-Use List (ie on Annex IV of the EU Dual-Use Regulation), then you will need a licence for all destinations - including EU countries.

If your goods are less sensitive items on the EU Dual-Use List (Annex I items), then you will only need a licence for export outside the EU.

Other items may well require a licence for destination countries that are subject to embargoes or sanctions.

End-use/'catch all'

If your goods are not listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, you may still need a licence under End-Use Controls. This applies if the goods are likely to be sent to an end-user where there are concerns about the possible use of the goods in a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme. For example, cryogenic equipment could be used in a nuclear weapons facility.

Components that are not designed for military use but which are going into military goods in an embargoed destination are also covered by the End-Use Controls.

Licensable trade activities

You may also need a licence if you are arranging or involved in the transfer of goods between two overseas countries. This is known as 'trafficking and brokering'.

    • Department for International Trade ECJU Helpline
      020 7215 4594