Authors: Aaron Wolfson, Meg Utterback

New York Office, King & Wood Mallesons

On April 16, 2020 the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued consolidated guidance related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID-19 on OFAC-administered sanctions programs related to Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia. OFAC sanctions apply to U.S. persons[1] and transactions involving the U.S. financial system. In addition, certain sanctions programs authorize secondary sanctions that may apply to non-U.S. persons for conduct with no jurisdictional nexus to the United States.

Businesses and individuals interested in humanitarian-related assistance or trade should note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has issued a temporary rule prohibiting the export from the United States of five types of personal protective equipment without express FEMA approval. In addition, other U.S. Government agencies, such as the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in the Department of Commerce, may require separate authorization for exports.

In general, U.S. sanctions permit legitimate humanitarian-related trade and assistance, and the guidance provides a convenient overview of the most relevant exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for providing humanitarian assistance and trade under the programs listed above. The guidance serves as a repository with links to FAQs, specific regulations, and previous OFAC guidance for each sanctions program.[2]


U.S. sanctions on Iran contain broad exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations that permit the export of certain agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices from the United States or by U.S. persons or U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entities. The guidance provides an overview of the various General Licenses under the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) and how each might relate to COVID-19 humanitarian assistance.

Items such as medical gowns, medical eyeshields and goggles, surgical gloves, face shields, certain ventilators and respirators, and masks such as N95 masks qualify for export and reexport to Iran under General Licenses, without the need for further authorization from OFAC. For items that do require a Specific License, OFAC is prioritizing and expediting review of license requests for certain limited categories of items that are related to COVID-19 treatment, such as oxygen generators, full face mask respirators including powered air purifying respirators, certain diagnostic medical imaging equipment, and certain decontamination equipment.


U.S. persons are not prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the people of Venezuela, provided that the Government of Venezuela, other blocked persons, or proscribed activities are not involved. In addition, various General Licenses authorize transactions necessary to the exportation or re-exportation to Venezuela of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices, replacement parts and components for medical devices, or software updates for medical devices. This includes testing kits, respiratory devices, personal protective equipment, and medicine that can be used to combat and treat COVID-19.

General License 16C permits transactions incident and necessary to processing non-commercial, personal remittances involving certain blocked Venezuelan financial institutions or any non-blocked Venezuelan financial institution.

North Korea

OFAC regulations on North Korea provide General Licenses allowing non-governmental organizations to provide humanitarian-related services, which may include providing items to North Korean civilians such as testing kits, respiratory devices, personal protective equipment, and medicine used to fight COVID-19.

In addition, 31 C.F.R. § 510.511 allows non-commercial, personal remittances to or from North Korea up to a maximum of $5,000 per year.


Multiple General Licenses under the Syrian Sanctions Regulations (SySR) allow humanitarian assistance and trade, including provision of items like testing kits, respiratory devices, personal protective equipment, and medicine to Syrian civilians. U.S. persons are permitted to export, reexport, sell, or supply to Syria, including to the Government of Syria, of non-U.S.-origin food, medicine, and medical devices that would be designated as EAR-99 under the Export Administration Regulations if it were subject to those regulations. 31 C.F.R. § 542.525.

31 C.F.R. § 542.512 allows non-commercial, personal remittances to or from Syria, including through U.S. financial institutions (provided the funds transfer is not by, to, or through the Government of Syria or any person designated or blocked by OFAC).


The Cuba embargo prohibits most transactions between the United States, or persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and Cuba. However, OFAC provides several General Licenses to allow for humanitarian assistance to Cuban civilians.

Subject to certain conditions, section 515.533 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) authorizes all transactions ordinarily incident to the export from the United States, or the reexport from a third country, to Cuba of items licensed or otherwise authorized by BIS. BIS’s general policy of denial for exports and reexports to Cuba has exceptions for medicines and medical devices.

CACR § 515.570 also authorizes several types of remittances from persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to persons in Cuba.


As with Venezuela, U.S. persons are not prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the people or country of Russia, as long as the transactions do not involve the Crimea region of Ukraine (which is comprehensively blocked), blocked persons, or prohibited conduct.

General License 4, issued pursuant to Executive Order 13685, allows the export or reexport from the U.S. or by a U.S. person of certain agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical supplies to the Crimea region of Ukraine.

General License 6, also issued pursuant to E.O. 13685, allows U.S. persons to make non-commercial, personal remittances to or from the Crimea region of Ukraine (or for or on behalf of an individual who normally resides there), provided that the transfer is not by, to, or through a person whose property or interests in property is blocked pursuant to E.O.s 13660, 13661, 13662, or 13685.

For specific inquiries or assistance related to compliance with U.S. sanctions on any type of transaction, including the provision of humanitarian assistance or trade KWM has a team of experts ready to assist any questions you may have. Please contact Aaron Wolfson ( or Meg Utterback (


[1] U.S. persons include all U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens regardless of where they are located, all persons and entities within the United States, all U.S. incorporated entities and their foreign branches. For certain programs, foreign subsidiaries owned or controlled by U.S. companies also must comply. Certain programs also require foreign persons in possession of U.S.-origin goods to comply.

[2] The guidance is merely informational and does not have the force of law.