International data transfers solicitors

On 25 May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. The GDPR ushered in a number of changes to data protection, including new requirements concerning the transfer of personal data outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

What are restricted international data transfers?

Broadly speaking, the GDPR restricts the transfer of data outside the EEA. The ICO states that a transfer is restricted if:

  • the GDPR applies to your processing of the personal data that you are transferring. In general, the GDPR applies if you are processing personal data in the EEA, and may apply in certain circumstances if you are outside the EEA and processing personal data about individuals in the EEA;
  • you are sending personal data, or making it accessible, to a receiver to which the GDPR does not apply. Usually this is because they are located in a country outside the EEA; and
  • the receiver is a separate organisation or individual. So, for example, a transfer from a UK based organisation to its employee working outside the EEA would not be classified as a restricted transfer.

It should however be noted that “transfer” does not mean the same as transit. If personal data is simply electronically routed through a non-EEA country but the transfer is actually from one EEA country to another, then it is not a restricted transfer. To give an example, a controller in France may transfer personal data to a controller in Ireland via a server in Australia. As there is no intention that the personal data will be accessed or manipulated while in Australia, the transfer is only to Ireland and is not classed as a restricted transfer.

Which countries are located within the EEA?

The EEA countries consist of the EU member states and the EFTA States. The EU member states are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The EEA states are Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EEA joint committee recently made a decision that the GDPR does apply to these countries therefore transfers to these countries are not restricted.

How can you make restricted international data transfers in compliance with the GDPR?

Adequacy decision

The first thing you should consider is whether the relevant country or international organisation is covered by an adequacy decision. The European Commission has the power to determine, on the basis of article 45 of the GDPR, whether a country outside the EU offers an adequate level of data protection. A transfer to an adequate country is the simplest way to transfer data outside the EEA; these transfers are permitted and legal under the GDPR.

Appropriate safeguards

In the absence of an adequacy decision by the Commission, personal data may only be transferred to a third country or an international organisation if the transfer is covered by appropriate safeguards. The appropriate safeguards include putting in place Binding Corporate Rules or standard contractual clauses approved by the EU.


In the absence of an adequacy decision, or of appropriate safeguards, restricted international data transfers may still take place if they fall within one of the exceptions set out in Article 49 of the GDPR. Some of the exceptions include:

  • Where the individual has given his or her explicit consent to the restricted transfer.
  • Where the transfer is necessary for the performance of a contract with the individual.
  • Where the transfer is necessary for important reasons of public interest.
  • Where the transfer is necessary for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.

Although useful, these exceptions should be used narrowly and only in exceptional cases. It should also be noted that the consent and contract exceptions cannot be relied upon by public authorities in the exercise of their public powers.

Our international data transfers solicitors will help you with any question. Please, contact Neil Williamson for advice.