Background The progress of electronic health technologies and biobanks holds enormous promise for efficient research. Evidence shows that studies based on sharing and secondary use of data/samples have the potential to significantly advance medical knowledge. However, sharing of such resources for international collaboration is hampered by the lack of clarity about ethical and legal requirements for transfer of data and samples across international borders. Main text Here, the International Clinical Trial Center Network (ICN) reports the legal and ethical requirements governing data and sample exchange (DSE) across four continents. The most recurring requirement is ethical approval, whereas only in specific conditions approval of national health authorities is required. Informed consent is not required in all sharing situations. However, waiver of informed consent is only allowed in certain countries/regions and under certain circumstances. The current legal and ethical landscape appears to be very complex and under constant evolution. Regulations differ between countries/regions and are often incomplete, leading to uncertainty. Conclusion With this work, ICN illuminates the unmet need for a single international collaborative framework to facilitate DSE. Harmonising requirements for global DSE will reduce inefficiency and waste in research. There are many challenges to realising this ambitious vision, including inconsistent terminology and definitions, and heterogeneous and dynamic legal constraints. Here, we identify areas of agreement and significant difference as a necessary first step towards facilitating international collaboration. We propose the establishment of a working group to continue the comparison across jurisdictions, create a standardised glossary and define a set of basic principles and fundamental requirements for DSE.