Building Successful International Research Collaborations

Penn State is committed to open scholarly collaboration and promoting an environment that supports working together on both a domestic and international level to expand knowledge and solve challenging problems. This resource will help you get started with building international relationships while staying in compliance with federal regulations and corresponding Penn State policies.  

Informal Collaborations

Many faculty engage in informal collaborations, which are relationships and activities where there is no formal agreement, compensation, contract, or time commitment. In most circumstances, the following informal collaborations would not require a formal review by the Research Security Program (RSP):

  • Scholarly activities as defined by policy AC80.
  • Collaborative fundamental research for the sole purpose of co-authorship, for which there is no support (financial or in-kind) from an entity other than Penn State.

If you have questions regarding any of your informal collaborations, please reach out the RSP program at

Formal Collaborations: How Do I Get Started?

While most informal collaborations (as stated previously) do not require a formal review by the Research Security Program, the following circumstances will require involvement at some level by the RSP or other offices:

  • Signing a contract or agreement.
  • Transferring or receiving data or materials.
  • Signing anything related to Intellectual Property (IP).
  • Accepting an appointment or becoming an employee.
  • Running a lab.
  • Engaging in research for which there is financial or in-kind support, compensation, or a specified time commitment.

See the sections below for more information on these topics.

If the international collaboration is related to your research efforts at Penn State, it is recommended that you have a discussion with your Department Head, as many international activities may require prior approval under policy AC80 Outside Professional Activities and Conflict of Commitment. You can also reach out to Penn State’s Research Security Program (RSP) with questions at


You may be considering signing an agreement with a foreign entity in your personal capacity. Penn State highly recommends that you send any such agreements to the RSP and, potentially, your own legal counsel for review. (Remember that only people with designated signature authority are allowed to sign agreements on behalf of Penn State.) The RSP will review your agreement to ensure it does not conflict with Penn State policies for conflicts of commitment or conflict of interest. The RSP can also facilitate a discussion about intellectual property. 

University Contracts

Please be aware that only persons with designated signature authority are permitted to sign any agreements on behalf of the University. If your international collaboration will involve a contract or agreement between the international entity (institution, university, company, etc.) and Penn State, please review the International Collaborations and University Agreements webpage and reach out to appropriate University office.

If you are transferring or receiving data as part of your Penn State responsibilities, you may need a formal agreement.

If your collaboration could potentially involve inventions or the creation of new intellectual property (IP), be sure to contact the Office of Technology Management (OTM) prior to the start of the collaboration. This will ensure you are aware of all the options and impacts regarding the commercial potential of your research.

It is in your best interest to disclose all foreign relationships and activities. Being transparent helps you collaborate while staying in compliance with federal regulations and Penn State policies.

If you are traveling outside of the United States:

Record any Penn State University affiliated international travel prior to departure in the Travel Safety Network as outlined in the University’s International Travel Requirements Policy.

If you are hosting an International Visitor:

Review the Export Compliance Procedures regarding International Visitors, as you may need to request a review by the Export Control Office.

If you are hosting a Visiting Scholar:

Communicate Early and Often

Reach out to Penn State’s Research Security Program for guidance or with questions. RSP staff will help you collaborate successfully while staying in compliance with federal regulations and Penn State policy.

Be Aware of Foreign Talent Recruitment Programs

The U.S. Federal government has placed restrictions on researchers participating in Malign Foreign Talent Recruitment Programs. Review RSP’s webpage on Malign Foreign Talent Recruitment Programs for more information.

Traveling with Electronic Devices

Caution should be taken when traveling with laptops and other electronic data devices, as there is an increased risk that your devices may be compromised especially when traveling internationally. Government authorities may ask you to provide access to electronic devices when entering or exiting a country. It is a best practice to limit the number of devices and use a “clean” laptop with only what is needed for any presentations. Review the following websites for more information.