3 Ways to Classify Your Products for Export Controls

David Noah | August 1, 2018 | Export Compliance
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3 Ways To Classify Your Products For Export Controls | Shipping SolutionsWhile the majority of goods exported from the United States don’t require an export license, those that do require some extra work. This can be confusing to exporters who are going through the process of obtaining an export license for the first time.

The first step in ensuring export compliance is determining who has jurisdiction over your goods. While most items are controlled by the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), your items may not be, especially if they have a direct military application. In that case, they may fall under the jurisdiction of the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).

While this post outlines the steps for classifying your goods under the EAR, check out Kathryn Toomey's article that discusses the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

In order to determine if your export requires authorization from the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), which is part of the Commerce Department, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the ECCN of the item?
  • Where is it going?
  • Who is the end user?
  • What is the end use?

Today, I want to discuss the first step in this process: how to determine the correct classification of your item, also known as determining the Export Control Classification Number (ECCN).

There are three ways to classify your products for export controls: you can self-classify your products, submit a SNAP-R request for a Commodity Classification (CCATs) ruling, or rely on the product vendor.

Check out our comprehensive resource for all exporters— Export Procedures and Documentation: An In-Depth Guide.

1. Self-classify your products.

Self-classification is exactly what it sounds like: you are solely responsible for determining your product’s classification. To do this requires a technical understanding of your item and familiarity with the structure and format of the Commerce Control List (CCL).

  • The CCL is divided into 10 categories, each represented by the first digit of the ECCN.
  • Each of the 10 categories is divided into five product groups, represented by the second digit of the ECCN.
  • Once the appropriate category and product group are identified, match the particular characteristics and functions of your item to one of the specific ECCNs that follow.

You can also use the Commerce Control List Index to navigate the CCL.

  • Begin by searching for your item on the CCL Index.
  • When you find a potential ECCN, read through the ECCN entry on the CCL before determining if your item fits into the parameters of that ECCN.
  • If the ECCN contains a list under the Items heading, broken down into subparagraph(s), read through these subparagraph(s) to determine that your item meets the technical specifications listed in the ECCN category.
  • You may need to review more than one ECCN description before you find the correct ECCN entry.

You should also read Part 738 of the EAR for specific instructions on how to use the CCL. The BIS’s Introduction to Commerce Department Export Controls can walk you step-by-step through the classification process.

To simplify this process, you can use Shipping Solutions’ Product Classification Wizard. It allows you to search for the correct ECCN number for your product by entering either the first part of the ECCN number or a text description of your product.

2. Request an official classification from BIS.

Your second option is to submit a commodity classification request through the Simplified Network Application Process - Redesign (SNAP-R) online. You will need a Company Identification Number (CIN) before accessing the online SNAP-R system and submitting your request. For help applying for and answering questions about a CIN, visit the BIS’s SNAP-R FAQs page.

3. Rely on the product vendor.

The third way to classify your products for export controls is to go to the source. You can contact the manufacturer, producer or developer of the item you are exporting to see if they have classified their product and can provide you with the ECCN.

If they have exported the item in the past, it is likely they have the ECCN. However, it’s your responsibility to review the ECCN and make sure it’s up-to-date and correct. Make sure you’re in agreement with the vendor, because it will ultimately be your responsibility, not theirs.

If you still can’t find your item...

If you’ve reviewed the CCL and are convinced your item doesn’t fit into the parameters of any ECCN, you may have an item that is designated as EAR99. (That is, of course, if it is also not controlled by another agency.)

If so, your item may be exported using the license exception NLR (no license is required) if all of the following criteria is met:

To find out more about these types of export restrictions, check out the BIS’s Commerce Control List Classification website.

Classifying your product for export controls is just the first important step toward determining if your export requires authorization. By making sure your product is classified correctly, you’ll be protecting the U.S. from threats abroad and protecting yourself from severe fines, penalties, and even jail time.


This article was first published in July 2015 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.

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