UK strategic export controls

UK's regulatory framework for export controls and the circumstances where you might need an export licence.

This guidance is for those who export or trade in goods, software or technology (including data, information and technical assistance) which might be subject to export controls. It explains what control lists are, as well as who they apply to and when, so that exporters can make sure they comply with the law.

It is a criminal offence to export controlled items without the correct licence. Penalties vary depending on the nature of the offence.

Control lists

The most common reason for the application of export controls is that an item is on a control list.

The UK maintains a single document that is the consolidation of the internationally agreed lists of sensitive items. The consolidated list of strategic military and dual-use items that require export authorisation also includes other items relating to specific defence, security, or foreign policy concerns of the UK.

The list includes 2 categories:

  • military - covering goods, software and technology that are specially designed or modified for military use
  • dual-use - covering items that are available to buy commercially and are typically ‘off the shelf’ but have enhanced capabilities that are useful in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or conventional weapons

Searching the consolidated control list

It is an exporter’s responsibility to check whether items require an export licence. If so, you need to apply well in advance of shipment to avoid any potential issues (such as customs problems at a port).

To find out if an item is listed you can:

Who export controls apply to

Export controls apply to any UK-based person exporting goods, software or technology, or undertaking brokering services.

There are certain exemptions for the academic community. These balance the UK’s international obligations with the need to minimise interference with legitimate academic freedoms.

Read about export controls applying to academic researchers for guidance on exemptions.

When export controls apply

You must apply for a licence from the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) if:

  • your items are on the consolidated control list
  • you have concerns, or you have been informed of concerns about the intended end-use or the end-user
  • your items are intended for destinations where there are current trade sanctions

End-use controls

The government has additional powers to require an export licence on items even if they are not on the consolidated control list. These are generally referred to as ‘catch-all’ or ‘end-use’ controls.

You need a licence to export goods, software or technology if:

  • you suspect that they are intended for military use or purposes related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
  • you are aware of government concerns
  • you have been informed of the need for an export licence after getting advice from ECJU
  • your goods have been seized at customs

Military end-use controls

This is when there is a risk that an item may be incorporated into military equipment, or used to produce military equipment in a destination that is subject to an arms embargo.

Got to guidance on end-use controls applying to military related items.

WMD and WMD technical assistance end-use controls

This is when there is a risk that an item may be intended or diverted for purposes connected with the development, production or use of WMD, or means of their delivery.

There are controls relating to the provision of technical assistance for any activities related to WMD. Technical assistance includes instructions, skills, training, working knowledge, consulting services and the transfer of technical data. It covers the supply, delivery, manufacture, maintenance and use of anything intended entirely or partly for WMD purposes.

The controls apply when a person is aware, or has been informed, that such an activity is intended.

Go to guidance on end-use controls applying to WMD-related items, including technical help.


Most restrictions on export destinations are agreed through organisations such as the UN Security Council and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The only national sanction in operation is in respect to the export of certain military items to Argentina.

See the full list of trade sanctions, arms embargoes and other trade restrictons.

Apply for an export licence

Apply for a licence using SPIRE, the online export licensing system.

Read guidance on applying for an export licence.

Legal basis for export controls

The government regulates the trade or transit of certain sensitive goods, software and technology through export controls. The system is administered by ECJU.

These controls are based on legislation and are part of the government’s commitments relating to non-proliferation and arms control.

The regulatory framework ensures that UK science and technology is not intentionally or unwittingly used for purposes of WMD by other states or non-state groups (terrorists).

Legislation making up the framework for export controls comprises the:

Other legislation of relevance includes:

UN sanctions and arms embargoes are implemented by Orders in Council under the United Nations Act 1946.

The legislation setting out strategic export controls, and in particular the lists of goods subject to control, changes frequently to reflect new national and international concerns.

You must comply with the legislation in place at the time you export.

Penalties and fines

Breaching export controls is a criminal offence. Penalties can vary depending on the nature of the offence.

They include:

  • revocation of licences
  • seizure of items
  • issuing of a compound penalty fine
  • imprisonment for up to 10 years

See how to voluntarily report any licensing irregularities to HMRC.

Contact ECJU

General queries about strategic export licensing

Export Control Joint Unit
Department for Business and Trade
Old Admiralty Building
Admiralty Place


Telephone 020 7215 4594

Published 19 December 2022