Managing Expenses While Traveling

Faculty and Staff

While traveling, you will incur expenses. These will be either related to your personal travel or can be necessary expenses related to Columbia business in the host country.

Travel related expenses might include such items as meals, lodging, internet access, laundry expenses (on trips lasting over 5 days), baggage handling fees, currency conversion fees, business office expenses such as photocopying, and postage. Other business related expenses might be necessary while traveling that are not directly related to personal travel. These could include expenses related to short-term trips (i.e., conferences, lectures, group trips, etc.) or trips for the start-up of longer-term projects.

Refer to the Cash Management section of Managing Financial Needs for additional details on different options for paying for business related expenses, and review the Purchasing page for additional information on how to buy needed supplies while in a host country.

Programs should always consult the terms of any grants for restrictions, requirements, and price limitations on travel-related expenses.

Per Diems - is allowable for meals where local custom makes it difficult to obtain receipts. For more information, please see Expenses and Receipts above.

P-Card – While use of a University P-Card may not be viable in many locations, it is a potential option in places where credit card transactions are possible. The University’s P-Card is a Bank of American VISA product. For further information on the P-Card please consult the Procurement Services page on general information on the P-Card.

Travelers can manage personal travel-related expenses through a reimbursement process or a cash advance.

Refer to the Travel and Business Expense Information page of Procurement Services for additional details.

Expenses and Receipts

Keeping a Log of Expenses

While traveling on Columbia business, it might be helpful to keep a log of expenses so that the information that will be required to document them later (either for reconciling an advance or requesting reimbursement) is collected as the expenses are incurred. This will make it easier for the traveler to ensure that not only all receipts are collected, but that the business purpose for each is also registered.

Even though it will not be submitted until the traveler returns to the U.S., the Travel & Business Expense Reimbursement (TBER) Form can be a helpful tool to log expenses while traveling.

Using Per Diem

The use of a per diem should be rare. Per diems may only be used for instances of international travel to destinations where local custom or culture makes it difficult to obtain receipts. Travelers must request and receive prior approval to use per diems from their Dean, VP, Associate Dean or Senior Financial Officer. 

If a per diem is to be claimed, the traveler must select per diems for the duration of the trip (i.e. can not alternate between per diem and actual receipts). The per diem must be claimed in accordance with the government’s published per diem rates, which are available through the U.S. Department of State Foreign Per Diem Rates by Location page.

The amount claimed can not exceed the maximum that is established by the U.S. Department of State for a particular location but, University Departments can limit travelers to a lesser amount commesurate with availability of grant funds. Refer to your Department to determine if there are specific guidelines on use of Per Diems.

Other Receipts and Documentation

Refer to the Documentation page of Essential Element of the Managing Financial Needs section for additional details on collecting receipts and other items needed for documenting expenses.

Services in Host Country

While traveling, some services (ie, drivers, translator, etc.) may be needed ad hoc and it is important that travelers be mindful of University processes for engaging and paying for services from independent contractors. Travelers should be cautioned that If tax authorities in the host country determine that a person identified as an independent contractor should actually be treated as an employee of the University, Columbia could be exposed retroactively to numerous employer obligations.

Refer to the Engaging Individual Contractors page of Human Resource Matters for additional details.

Travel Within Host Country

If transportation within the host country requires air travel, travelers should be mindful that the same travel policy and procedures apply.

Refer to the Air Travel page of Travel and Business Expense Information for additional details.

Meetings or Lectures
In instances when faculty or staff travel internationally to conduct or coordinate meetings or lectures for which participants will need to be reimbursed, it is important that the traveler is aware of applicable University processes for covering these expenses:

Meeting venue costs, Participants' Lodging and Meals

Whenever possible, the payment of these expenses should be coordinated as far in advance as possible so that they can be made through direct payment from New York to a vendor in the host country. If the meeting is taking place in a hotel, this is most often done through a service agreement with a local hotel or conference center.

For additional details, review the Paying International Vendors from the U.S. page of the Cash Management section.

Expense Reimbursement

In instances when the lecture or meeting is considered professional training, participants in other coutries will often require reimbursement of travel costs in order to attend the meeting. Travel costs will not only include transportation (airfare, trains, buses, car taxis, and other transportation to/from airports or stations) but, could also include Per Diems. When not coordinated through a service agreement with a hotel or training center (see above), lodging and meal costs, together with incidentals, would be included in a Per Diem amount reimbursable to meeting participants. Departments should stipulate an amount based on local costs and prepare to have these Per Diems payments for participants at the meeting location. Be cautioned that for large events, payments of Per Diems could require availability of large amounts of cash, which would in turn require added sequirity for the safety of the traveler.

Foreign Nationals

When meeting participants are foreign nationals, U.S. law requires due diligence before payments are made. Please review the Legal and Regulatory Compliance section for additional information on compliance with applicable laws when making payments in the host country.

Currency Denominations

Programs are also cautioned that they will be require to have particular currency denominations for making these payments in country. For large meetings, it may not be easy to have cash in hand for payments that will meet the needs of individual participants, so this would require careful planning.

Refer to the Cash Management section for additional details on different options that are available for making payments in country.

For assitance in planning for international payments, please contact Global Support.


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