Media reports about Apple stores refusing to sell iPhones and iPads to Iranian Americans and Iranian visa holders have been causing quite a stir. In defending its actions, the Apple stores have pointed to U.S. sanctions against Iran, which prohibit these items from being exported to Iran. These stores are clearly overzealously enforcing the sanctions, which do not prohibit the sale of products to Iranian Americans or Iranian visa-holders in the United States. And in singling out Persian-speakers for interrogation about how they intend to use Apple products, these Apple employees are clearly engaging in racial profiling.
However, it also appears to be the case that many Iranian Americans do not understand the implications of how U.S. sanctions on Iran affect them. Perhaps it is because illegally imported iPhones are readily available in Iran, but many do not realize that sending an iPhone to Iran is illegal, even as a gift. Likewise, it would be illegal for an Iranian student moving back to Iran to return with the iPhone, since U.S. sanctions prohibit exporting such technology to Iran.
In fact, U.S. sanctions on Iran are so exhaustive that it is illegal to travel to Iran with a laptop or satellite phone without getting a license from the U.S. Treasury first.
Below is an excerpt from the Asia Law Caucus’s report, The Impact of U.S. Sanctions Against Iran on You, which outlines what individuals need to know before engaging in any transactions involving Iran in any way, including just sending your friends gifts or traveling. For more information, view the full report [pdf], which is also available in Persian [PDF].
What are “Iran Sanctions”?
Iran Sanctions significantly restrict activities involving Iran, such as receiving goods from Iran or bringing them when traveling (imports), taking or shipping goods to Iran (exports), receiving or sending funds to friends and family, owning or selling property in Iran, and receiving inheritances.
Do I have to comply with the Iran Sanctions?
You have to comply with the Iran Sanctions if:
• You are physically in the United States (regardless of your immigration status).
• You are a United States citizen, regardless of whether you live in the U.S. or abroad.
• You are a United States permanent resident (green card holder), regardless of whether you live in the U.S. or abroad.
• Your company is organized under U.S. laws, including any foreign branches.
What happens if I don’t comply with the Iran Sanctions?
Failure to comply with the Iran Sanctions can result in severe criminal and civil consequences:
• Criminal penalties may include a fine of up to 1 million dollars, imprisonment up to 20 years, or both;
• Civil penalties may be the greater of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of the transaction.
How do the Iran Sanctions affect the export of goods and services to Iran from the United States?
You are generally prohibited from the following transactions:
• Exporting goods, technology, and services to Iran;
• Exporting goods, technology, and services to “Government of Iran;”
• Exporting goods, technology, or services from the United States to a third country (e.g., UAE), if you know or have reason to know that such items are intended for shipment or exportation (directly or indirectly) to Iran.
• Exporting goods, technology, or services from the United States to a third country (e.g., Germany), if you know or have reason to know that such items are intended for production, for comingling with, or incorporation into goods, technology, or services which will then be exported (directly or indirectly) to Iran.
These export prohibitions include direct exports (U.S. to Iran), exports through a third country (U.S. to third country to Iran), and exportations for transshipment (U.S. to Iran to third country).38 Also note that the prohibition against technology exports generally extends to software.
Are there any exceptions to the export prohibitions?
The following is a summary of the narrow exceptions to the Iran Sanctions export prohibitions. You only need to qualify for one exception, not all of them.
• Gifts Exception: You are permitted to take or ship gifts from the United States to Iran as long as all of the following conditions are met:
• The total value of the gifts are not more than $100;
• The items are of a type and in quantities normally given as gifts between individuals; and
• The items are not controlled for chemical and biological weapons, missile technology, national security or nuclear proliferation.
We advise that you do not attempt to avoid the law by sending multiple packages, each with a total value of less than $100. Such behavior is risky because it may be interpreted and rise to the level of attempting to evade the Iran Sanctions.
• Accompanied baggage and Personal Use Exception: When leaving the United States for Iran, you are permitted to export your accompanied baggage as long as it is not intended for any other person and not for sale. You may also take with you personal items incident to travel (e.g., your clothes, toiletries, personal medicine).
• Household Goods Exception: If you are departing from the United States to relocate to Iran, you are also permitted to export from the United States to Iran your household and personal effects, as long as you meet all the following conditions:
• The articles were actually used in the United States by you or family members accompanying you;
• The articles are not intended for any other person or for sale; and
• The articles are not otherwise prohibited from exportation.
• Information Exception: Same as the “Information Exception” for imports. See page 8 of this publication.
• Humanitarian Donation Exception: Donations of articles to relieve human suffering, such as food, clothing, and medicine are permitted. However, if you plan to heavily rely on this exception to send food, clothing or medicine to Iran, we advise you to obtain a specific license from OFAC. You should also note that even though this exception allows you to pay for shipment of donation of articles to relieve human suffering, it does not allow you to send monetary donations to Iranian-based charities. Do not send any money to Iranian charities unless you have first obtained a specific license from OFAC.
• Licensed Agricultural and Medical Commodities Exception (LICENSE NEEDED): You are permitted to export medicine, medical devices, and agricultural commodities, to Iran, only if you have obtained a specific license from OFAC. For example, you cannot send blood pressure monitors or dental products to Iran without a specific license. Specifically, you need to apply to OFAC for a one-year license.