UK strategic export controls

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

This guidance is for those who export or transfer in goods, software or technology (including data, information and technical assistance) which might be subject to strategic 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.

Control lists

The UK maintains a list of all items that are subject to strategic export controls.  This is known as the consolidated list of strategic military and dual-use items that require export authorisation. The list includes items that are controlled because of international agreements or arrangements as well as further items relating to specific defence or security concerns of the UK.

The two main categories of goods are:

  • military goods, software and technology that are specially designed or modified for military use

  • dual-use items which are goods, software and technology that can be used for both civilian and military applications

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

Strategic export controls apply to anyone exporting or transferring goods, software or technology, or providing brokering services.

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 any of the following apply:

End-use controls

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

Military end-use controls

Military end-use controls may apply if there is a risk that the item is intended for military use in a destination that is subject to an arms embargo.

Go to guidance on end-use controls applying to military related items

WMD and WMD technical assistance end-use controls

WMD end-use controls may apply if there is a risk that an item may be intended or diverted for purposes connected with WMD or their means of delivery.

The controls relate to the provision of technical assistance. 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.


Sanctions are restrictive measures that can be put in place to fulfil a range of purposes. In the UK, these include complying with UN and other international obligations, supporting foreign policy and national security objectives, as well as maintaining international peace and security, and preventing terrorism.

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).

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

Export licences are required to export goods that are prohibited by sanctions legislation.

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

Strategic export controls of military and dual-use goods and technologies are established by:

The UK also controls the export of goods which could be used for capital punishment and goods which could be used for the purpose of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. See retained Regulation (EU) 2019/125 (in Northern Ireland Regulation (EU) 2019/125).

Penalties and fines

Breaching export controls is a criminal offence.

Penalties include:

  • revocation of licences
  • seizure of items
  • issuing of a compound penalty fine
  • criminal conviction leading to a fine and/or custodial sentence

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
Last updated 21 November 2023 + show all updates
  1. The guidance has been rewritten and published as a new version.

  2. First published.