For Foreign Investigators and Institutions—Know Eligibility Requirements

Funding News Edition: November 03, 2021
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Mosquito dissection under microscope

Historically, the success of foreign investigators new to NIAID’s funding process has been enhanced by advice and assistance they receive from their U.S. colleagues.

Credit: NIAID

NIH is a domestic U.S. research and research training agency but is unique in that foreign investigators from all countries are usually eligible to submit unsolicited investigator-initiated research applications. All applications to NIH undergo vigorous peer review, which is highly competitive, particularly for foreign applicants. For this reason, NIH usually advises that foreign investigators either have previous experience with NIH funding or partner with experienced successful collaborators.

Among the institutes at NIH, NIAID is a leader in funding grants with foreign involvement, in large part because many of the infectious diseases and chronic disorders in our research portfolio primarily occur outside the United States and have a global public health impact. Given our international reach, investigators at foreign institutions often ask about funding opportunities and eligibility requirements. The information below should help answer such questions.

Find an Opportunity

If you are new to the NIH funding process, start by reading Types of Funding Opportunities, which explains the difference between investigator-initiated and targeted research and gives advice for determining whether a particular opportunity fits your research.

Once you’ve chosen your approach, you’ll want to keep the following resources handy:

Verify Your Eligibility

Every funding opportunity announcement (FOA) includes Section III. Eligibility Information. We encourage you to check this section since it specifically states whether foreign institutions are eligible to apply to the FOA as the primary grantee.

Many FOAs allow foreign applications (e.g., Systems Biology for Infectious Diseases (U19, Clinical Trial Not Allowed), but some do not (e.g., Development of Microbiome-Related Approaches for Diagnosis/Mitigation/Treatment of Radiation Injuries (U01, Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Some FOAs allow foreign applications, but are limited to low- or middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank.

Be aware that some FOAs allow neither foreign grantees nor foreign components (as defined below).

Within Section III. Eligibility Information, also check the subsection Eligible Individuals (Program Director/Principal Investigator) to ensure that you are personally eligible. Typically, anyone with the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to carry out the proposed research is eligible, although some targeted opportunities list additional requirements.

Keep in mind that although we sometimes refer to principal investigators (PIs) as grantees, your organization submits the grant application and is responsible for assuring the research complies with all NIH requirements. Therefore, your institution is technically the recipient of funding and the award’s grantee. As such, when considering your eligibility for funding, it is your institution that matters most.

Foreign Components

As illustrated in one of the examples cited above, although some FOAs do not allow foreign applications, most do allow foreign components. Foreign components are portions of the proposed research that engage investigators associated with foreign institutions, working in a foreign country in partnership with a U.S. grantee. Foreign investigators can also be considered a foreign component when significantly supporting a grant award if they are not working at the prime grantee institution. See NIH’s complete definition at Foreign Component.

In practice, much of the NIH-funded research that takes place outside the United States is completed through collaborations funded through subawards as components of grants to U.S. and other grantee institutions.

In the event you are interested in a particular FOA that allows foreign components but not applications directly from foreign investigators/institutions, you could collaborate with an investigator at a U.S. institution. Refer to NIH’s Matchmaker tool to find other investigators interested in your area of research.

The chart below shows the mechanisms for which an investigator at a foreign institution can and cannot apply as the primary grantee.

Foreign Institution Eligibility for Select FOAs Supported by NIAID

Foreign Institutions Are Eligible Foreign Institutions Are Not Eligible

Parent Research Project Grants (R01R03R21)

Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trial Planning (R34) and Implementation (R01U01) Grants

Some National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowships (F31F32)—Note: The individual PI must be a U.S. citizen or noncitizen national or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Administrative Supplements (given the parent grant allows foreign grantees)

Global Infectious Disease Research Administration Development Award for Low- and Middle-Income Country Institutions (G11, Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program

Global Infectious Disease Research Training Program (D43, Clinical Trial Optional)

International Research in Infectious Diseases (R01, Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

NIAID Investigator-Initiated Program Project Applications (P01)

Small Business Technology Transfer (R41, R42) and Small Business Innovation Research (R43, R44) Grants

NRSA Individual Predoctoral M.D./Ph.D. or Other Dual-Doctoral Degree Fellowship (F30)

Career Development Awards (K awards)—Note: Foreign PIs at U.S. institutions are eligible for K99/R00 awards.

Training Grants (T32T35)

Research Enhancement Award Program (R15)

NIH Support for Conferences and Scientific Meetings (R13)

Describe Scientific Advantages of Foreign Research

It’s important to remember that applications from foreign institutions are strengthened when they include either expertise, study opportunities, or resources that are not easily available in the United States—for example, access to a unique study population or scientists with unusual skills or achievements. To enhance the application, applicants should explain why the proposed research is best accomplished outside the United States or in partnership with scientists in the United States. For additional information, see our Foreign and International Grants and Components SOP.

Reviewers will likely assess whether comparable work is being done in the United States and, if it is, the comparative merit of the application may be factored into peer review. Applications found to be highly meritorious through peer review are then referred to NIAID's Advisory Council, which gives special consideration to the merits of funding the proposed research at a foreign institution.

Going Forward

Once an investigator at a non-U.S. institution has identified a funding opportunity or an investigator-initiated idea for which he or she wishes to seek NIH funding, he or she should verify eligibility and follow advice given to all potential applicants: start application preparation early, read the FOA thoroughly so that every element is addressed in the application, adhere to the applicable page limits and other administrative requirements, and get in touch with the NIAID scientific/research contact listed in the FOA.

Find additional guidance and resources at NIAID International Applications.

Historically, the success of foreign investigators new to NIAID’s funding process has been enhanced by advice and assistance they receive from their U.S. colleagues. Such interaction also has helped foster scientific collaboration through the use of foreign components and subawards. As previously noted, Development of Microbiome-Related Approaches for Diagnosis/Mitigation/Treatment of Radiation Injuries (U01, Clinical Trial Not Allowed) is an example of a FOA that does not allow foreign institutions to apply directly but does allow a U.S. organization to include a foreign component as part of a research proposal.

What Your Institution Needs To Do

If your institution hasn’t applied for NIH funding before, it will need to register first at, obtain a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number,* register with the System for Award Management (SAM), and then at eRA Commons. Read—Organization Registration to learn more about these required administrative steps. NIH recommends starting the organization registration process at least six weeks before the application deadline.

Note that for research at a foreign institution involving animal or human subjects, an animal assurance or federalwide assurance number, respectively, is required before the research can begin.

*Federal electronic systems will transition from DUNS numbers to Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) numbers. UEI entry fields will replace DUNS on grant application forms submitted for due dates on or after January 25, 2022.

If You Need Assistance

Finally, if you are pursuing or managing an international award and need assistance, know who at NIAID can help:

  • For general questions about NIAID policies related to international awards, contact the Office of Research Training and Special Programs at or 1-301-594-5945.
  • For questions about a specific funding opportunity, contact the program officer listed as the scientific/research contact in the FOA.
  • For questions related to grant implementation and fund disbursal after an application is approved for funding, contact the grants management specialist identified in the Notice of Award.

Contact Us

Email us at for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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