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International Travel with Mobile Devices

Any mobile device capable of storing information is subject to investigation. This includes not only laptops, but also tablets, cell phones, digital cameras, e-readers, USB drives, etc. All of these devices should be considered as potential targets for secondary screening, as well as targets for theft by criminals. The FBI reduced their “Time Away Warning” to 90 seconds from 2 minutes. At border control, customs offices, or other enforcement locations, if your device is selected for secondary inspection, you should assume it to be compromised. If you do not need to take the device with you, it is best to leave it at home.

Tips and Best Practices

  • Prepare your device before you leave: Reformat with fresh and fully updated operating system.
  • Know what is on the device, including personal files, contact information, and applications.
  • Turn off device and remove battery during private meetings.
  • Disable Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, print and file sharing. Turn off camera and microphone.
  • Avoid typing passwords; use password managers or paste from a secure file/USB drive.
  • If your computer is out of site for 90 seconds, consider it to be compromised.
  • Connect online only through secured and encrypted channels.
  • Export controls include instant messages, emails with attachments, and content of lectures.
  • Do not leave any device unattended, no matter where you are.
  • In most countries, have no expectation of privacy in hotels, vehicles, public spaces, or offices.
  • Be aware of phishing: you may be targeted by foreign criminals pretending to be someone you trust.
  • Change ALL passwords when you return.

Additional information can be found at: UC Office of the President: International Travel

Carrying University Property Over Borders

There are special rules for bringing electronic equipment, research, intellectual property, and encryption technology abroad. Please consult with Brian Warshawsky (UCOP) at 510-987-0413,, well in advance of your trip if you are planning to take University equipment, data, or technology outside of the United States. They deal with export control and can help advise you.

There is also a presentation on this topic available for review: