Sanctions - What you need to know

What are sanctions?

Sanctions are measures not involving the use of armed force that are imposed in situations of international concern.

Australia implements two types of sanctions:

  • United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, which Australia must impose as a member of the UN.
  • Australian autonomous sanctions, which are imposed as a matter of Australian foreign policy.
In response to a situation of international concern, Australia and/or the UNSC may impose what is referred to as a sanctions ‘regime’. Each regime is usually described by reference to a country or group. Australia currently implements the sanctions
regimes shown below.

What are sanctions measures?

Each sanctions regime imposes sanctions measures, depending on the individual circumstances and objectives of the regime.

Sanctions measures can include:
  • Restrictions on trade in goods and services
  • Restrictions on engaging in commercial activities
  • Targeted financial sanctions (including asset freezes) on designated persons and entities
  • Travel bans on certain persons.
Restrictions on trade in goods and services generally prohibit the export and/or import of certain goods and the provision of certain services. These measures typically prohibit the provision of certain goods and/or services to the country (or region) subject to the sanctions measure. However, trade restrictions may also apply to specific individuals, groups or entities. For example, counter‐terrorism sanctions prohibit the export of goods or the provision of services to members of designated (named) terrorist groups, wherever they may be.

Restrictions on commercial activities are imposed by some sanctions regimes. The prohibited activities may include purchasing or selling shares in entities operating in certain industries or providing credit to certain entities.

Targeted financial sanctions prohibit:

  • directly or indirectly making an asset available to (or for the benefit of) a designated person or entity
  • an asset‐holder using or dealing with an asset that is owned or controlled by a designated person or entity. As these assets cannot be used or dealt with, they are referred to as ‘frozen’.
Unlike trade restrictions which usually apply to specific goods and services, targeted financial sanctions prohibit the supply of any asset whatsoever to designated persons or entities.

Travel bans prohibit the entry into or transit through Australia of designated persons.

The persons and entities on which targeted financial sanctions have been imposed are identified on the Consolidated List, which is available on DFAT’s website.

Who must comply with sanctions?

Australian sanctions laws apply to activities in Australia and to activities undertaken overseas by Australian citizens and Australian‐registered bodies corporate.

In some circumstances, it may be possible to obtain a permit from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to engage in an activity that would otherwise be prohibited by a sanctions measure. Information on planning an activity and submitting an application for a sanctions permit is available on the DFAT website.

It is a serious criminal offence to contravene a sanctions measure (or a condition of a sanctions permit). The penalties include up to ten years in prison and substantial fines.

What do I need to do?

It is your responsibility to ensure you do not contravene a sanctions law, including by obtaining your own legal advice.

We recommend you:
– if they restrict trade or commercial activities, familiarise yourself with the goods, services or sectors to which they apply
– if they include targeted financial sanctions, familiarise yourself with the kinds of people/entities which are designated
  • note that, although sanctions regimes are often identified by reference to a country (i.e. ‘Iran sanctions’), a regime will often include sanctions on persons or entities that are not nationals of or not based in that country
  • search the Consolidated List to ascertain if a person or entity connected with your proposed activity or operation is designated under sanctions
  • note that the sanctions laws of other countries and/or the European Union may also apply to the overseas activities of Australian citizens or Australian‐registered bodies corporate and
  • get legal advice if you may be affected by sanctions.

Where can I get more information?

More information on Australia’s sanctions can be found on DFAT’s website, including snapshots on each of Australia’s sanctions regimes.

Enquiries can be made to DFAT by emailing

DFAT maintains a mailing list for people interested in receiving updates on Australian sanctions laws. You can subscribe to this list via the DFAT website.

This article provides a summary only of relevant sanctions laws. It is not intended to be nor should it be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. It is your responsibility to ensure you do not contravene sanctions law, including by obtaining your own legal advice.

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Ed Serrano
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VEKTA Advanced Automation
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