Skip to content Skip to navigation

5.4.2 Travel Expenses

laboratory equipment
Last updated on:
08/30/2012
Formerly Known As Policy Number: 
36.7

This Guide Memo outlines policy on travel undertaken for University business.

Authority: 

Approved by the Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer.

Applicability: 

This policy applies to employees and non-employees traveling on authorized University business, and to all travel expenses reimbursed by the University or paid for on the University Travel Card, regardless of the source of funds.

While policy statements are applicable to the entire University, including the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), some of the specific procedures listed here do not apply at SLAC. SLAC travelers should contact the SLAC Travel Office for procedural information.

1. General Policy

a. Travel Expense Policy
The University's policy is to pay for necessary and reasonable travel expenses incurred for authorized University business by employees and approved non-employees. The intent of this policy is that such payments be fair and equitable to both the traveler and the University and consistent with federal regulations. Individuals traveling on business are responsible for complying with University travel policy as described in this Guide Memo, and should exercise the same care in incurring expenses as they would in personal travel. Expenses should be submitted in a timely manner. Absent exceptional circumstances, expenses submitted more than 60 days after completion of travel will be reported as additional income to the individual, in accordance with Internal Revenue Service guidance.

b. Approval Authority
Authority and responsibility for approving travel by employees and guests of the University rests with the person responsible for the account (PTA) to which the expense will be charged. Travel expenses are payable only when all required approvals, including approval from government agencies or other project sponsors, are obtained before incurring the expense. Expenses incurred during sabbatical leave are payable when the expenses are incurred for reasonable and necessary University business and have the advance written approval of the department Chair. Employees may not authorize travel or approve expense payments for themselves, or for a person to whom they report directly or indirectly.

c. Economical Transportation Required
To be fully paid by the University, the traveler must use the most economical mode of transportation available, consistent with the authorized purpose of the trip. This includes charging no more than the rate for the most direct and usually traveled route and measuring such costs as subsistence and lost work time in addition to actual transportation costs. More expensive transportation may be used if the traveler pays the incremental cost.

GUIDELINE: Automobile transportation is generally most appropriate for round trips up to 200 miles. Commercial air travel is generally the most economical and practical for longer trips. For ground transportation, rental or privately-owned vehicles and taxis should be used only if other means of transportation are unavailable, more costly, impractical, or if the time saved is advantageous to the conduct of the University's business.

d. Limitation on Group Travel
Travel by a group of employees in the same aircraft, automobile or other means of transportation is discouraged when an accident could seriously affect the functioning of a University activity. Maximum coverage under the University's travel insurance also limits the number of employees traveling together at five.

e. Charges to Sponsored Projects
When travel costs will be charged to a sponsored project, the terms of the applicable award take precedence. Some awards may require the sponsor to pre-approve each trip, or each trip to or from a destination outside of the United States.

f. School and Department Guidelines
At their discretion, schools, departments, laboratories and institutes may impose more restrictive guidelines for budgetary or control reasons. They may not be less restrictive than guidelines stated in this policy.

g. Preferred Travel Agency and Online Booking Tool
The University has "preferred" travel agencies and has negotiated contracts to provide services for Stanford employees and their families as well as students and guests of the University. The University will pay travelers for the service fee charged by its preferred agencies for Stanford business travel. The University will not pay travel costs that exceed the cost of substantially similar travel available through its preferred agencies or negotiated contracts. See the Gateway to Financial Activities website for more information.  

Back to top

2. University-Provided Travel Card

Purpose
The University has a travel card program to facilitate payment of travel-related expenses (i.e., airfare, lodging, car rental, travel meals, etc.) incurred in furtherance of University business. The program is available to regular faculty, staff and post-doctoral fellows. Individual and department cards are included in the program. See the Gateway to Financial Activities website for more information. 

Back to top

3. Commercial Air Travel

a. Lowest Available Airfare
All Stanford staff, faculty members, students and University visitors traveling on business are expected to travel at the lowest available airfare and to take advantage of Stanford's negotiated fares that are available through the University's "preferred" travel agencies. Federal regulations require that only the cost of the lowest available airfare may be charged directly or indirectly to government sponsored projects. Criteria used to determine the lowest available airfare are:

  • Leaves or arrives within a 1-hour window on each side of the traveler's desired departure or arrival time
  • Allows the traveler to choose airports
  • Is a nonstop flight if requested by the traveler
  • Does not include charter flights (see section 7.b)
  • Does not require staying over Saturday night unless requested by the traveler
  • Does not include circuitous routing when a stopover is required
  • The class is reasonably adequate for the medical needs of the traveler

b. Stanford Reimbursement
Stanford reimburses fares up to:

  • Coach class for domestic flights and international flights of less than eight hours total.
  • Business class for international flights of eight hours or more total. This includes connecting domestic legs, provided there are no layovers.

c. Accounting for Fares Over Lowest Available
If a traveler incurs charges in excess of the lowest available airfare (as defined in 3.a. above), the difference, up to the fare authorized for Stanford reimbursement (see 3.b.), must be charged to an unallowable expenditure type and a non-government sponsored account/activity. If documentation of the lowest available airfare is not available for a business class trip, the department charges one-third of the cost to an allowable expenditure type and the remaining two-thirds to an unallowable expenditure type and an unrestricted account/activity. For more information on allowability, see Guide Memo 3.1.4: Cost Policy.

d. Charges in Excess of Authorized Airfare
When a traveler prefers a higher class than that authorized, the traveler must pay the incremental difference.

e. Change Penalties
If a ticket has to be changed and a penalty is incurred, the traveler may claim payment from Stanford for the penalty. The penalty may be an allowable charge to a sponsored project. When trips must be cancelled, travelers are encouraged to rebook tickets for travel at a later date whenever possible. Travelers may wish to request payment for tickets to be used later by submitting an Advance in the iOU application. See Quick Steps: Request a Travel Advance in iOU.

f. Unused Airline Tickets
Travelers are encouraged to rebook unused tickets whenever possible (see 3.d.). If it is not possible to use the ticket through rebooking, then it may be payable with proper documentation. An unused ticket affidavit must be completed and submitted with the iOU expense report. Go here to obtain a copy. Unused tickets should be charged to an unrestricted account (PTA).

g. U.S. Government Sponsor
If air travel will be paid by a federally-sponsored project, flying on a U.S. airline is usually required (Fly America Act). In some cases, the sponsor's written prior approval may be required before each trip or each foreign trip. For more information on the Fly America Act, see Policy Notes: Fly America Act (U.S. Air Carrier Requirement).

Back to top

4. Meals and Lodging

a. Lodging Choice
University business travelers are expected to use lodging accommodations that are necessary and reasonable. The lowest standard room rates are generally available through:

  • Conference listings
  • Stanford's negotiated academic rates
  • "Preferred" travel agency corporate rates

b. Options
The traveler may use one of four methods for expenses incurred in connection with official University travel of more than one day. The method selected must be used for the entire trip.

  • Actual Expenses
    The traveler may be paid for the actual costs of reasonable and necessary meals, lodging, and gratuities. See Expense Guidance for Business Meals. Tips for meals must not exceed 20% of the cost of meals. Any tip charges in excess of that amount will not be paid. When there is no overnight travel, meals will only be paid when the meal has a defined University business purpose (see One-Day Travel, 4.c.). In any case, payments for alcohol and related taxes and tips may not be charged to a government sponsored account (PTA).
  • Actual Lodging Expenses Plus Per Diem for Meals
    The traveler may be paid for actual lodging cost plus the applicable meals per diem rate. This rate varies by geographic area. See domestic and foreign per diem rates
  • Per Diem Lodging Plus Actual Expenses for Meals
    The traveler may be paid for the applicable lodging per diem rate plus the actual meal costs. The per diem rate varies by geographic area. See domestic and foreign per diem rates. 
  • Per Diem for Lodging and Meals
    The traveler may be paid for lodging, meals and incidental expenses on the basis of per diem for both lodging and meals. See Travel Rates.

c. Local Travel
Local travel is defined as less than 50 miles one way from Stanford or the traveler's residence, whichever is greater. Barring exceptional business reasons, local travel does not qualify for an overnight stay or payment of personal meals. If a trip exceeds the local travel limit, but the traveler chooses not to stay overnight, personal meals will be eligible for payment. Per diem rates may not be used for local travel. A bona fide business meal is generally eligible for payment [see section 10.b.(6)].

d. Departmental Discretion
Departments may elect to pay per diem for fewer days than the actual stay and may decrease the amount of per diem to reflect actual expenses.

e. Per Diem Applications
Stanford follows U.S. Government General Services Administration travel rates. Current Per Diem rates can be located at the Gateway to Financial Activities
(1) Per Diem for Days of Departure and Return
Per diem for the first and last days of the trip are payable at 75% of the Meals and Incidental Expense rate applicable for the city visited. The location where lodgings are obtained for the first night determines the rate for the departure day. Per diem for the day returning home is at the basic rate applicable at Stanford.
(2) Multiple Stops
When a trip includes more than one University business stop and the cities involved have different per diem rates, the per diem rate for each calendar day (beginning at 12:01 a.m.) is determined by the location where the lodgings are obtained for that night.
(3) Deduction for Meals Included in Registration Fees
When a meal has been paid for as part of a registration fee or included in the hotel rate, a deduction must be made from the applicable per diem rate. The deductible amount varies based on the rate for the applicable city and may be found at the U.S. GSA website. Select the "Meals and Incidental Expense Breakdown" tab.
(4) Trips Over 30 Days
When estimated travel is for more than 30 consecutive days in one location, or when the circumstances of the travel are such that the traveler can reasonably be expected to incur expenses comparable to those arising from the use of establishments catering to the long-term visitor or from the use of noncommercial facilities (e.g., house-trailers or camping equipment), the traveler may choose to be paid either for the actual and reasonable cost of lodging and meals or a basic per diem allowance of 55% of the standard rate for the appropriate geographic area. The rate begins with the first day of travel.
(5) Extension of Travel
If, while on travel status, the traveler is granted an extension to the original estimated travel which then results in a total of more than 30 consecutive days in one location, the per diem allowance will be calculated at the regular rate from the first day up to and including the 30th day. After the 30th day the long-term rate is applicable if the per diem method is chosen.

f. Non-business Days
Weekends, holidays, and other necessary standby days may be counted as business days only if they fall between business travel days. If they are at the end of a traveler's business activity and the traveler remains at the business destination for non-business reasons, payment is not allowed for the additional days. The only exception is when travel is at a lower total cost if the traveler stays over a weekend or holiday, with department approval. The traveler must document the total cost savings in order to support the non-business day payment. This must be documented at the time of booking of the actual flight, comparing the actual flight to the cost of the airfare for business days only. A printout from Stanford's online booking tool, must be included with the iOU expense report. If post-travel dated airfare comparison is submitted as backup, Disbursements will calculate an on-line comparison at the time of processing, and will pay based on the lower of the two equivalent airfares.

g. Foreign Travel
Foreign travel expenses are payable by the same methods as domestic travel. To obtain per diem rates for travel outside the contiguous United States, see website link

h. Sabbatical Lodging
Sabbatical lodging expenses are paid only if the faculty member incurs two sets of living expenses simultaneously and there is a stated Stanford business purpose for the expenses incurred during the sabbatical. If the primary home is rented out, the faculty member may not be paid for lodging expenses at a location away from Stanford.

Back to top

5. Private Automobiles

a. Expenses Allowed
The University will pay a standard rate per mile (see Travel Rates) for official travel by private automobile based on the actual driving distance by the most direct route (not more than 105% of the mileage listed on the Google Maps.
(1) Standard Mileage Allowance
The standard mileage allowance is in lieu of all actual automobile expenses such as fuel and lubrication, towing charges, physical damage to the vehicle, repairs, replacements, tires, depreciation, insurance, etc.
(2) Automobile-related Expenses
In addition to the standard mileage allowance, necessary and reasonable charges for the following automobile-related expenses are allowed: tolls, ferries, parking, bridges, tunnels, and liability and physical damage insurance coverage for driving in foreign countries or Hawaii [see paragraph 6.e.(2)]. Traffic ticket and parking ticket expenses must be paid personally, not by the University.

b. Local Travel
(1) Common Destination Points
One-way distances from the University to the following common destination points are shown below.
San Francisco International Airport, 25 miles
San Francisco, 40 miles
Asilomar, 92 miles
Berkeley, 42 miles
San Jose Airport, 20 miles
Monterey/Pacific Grove, 90 miles
(2) Computation Starting Point
Mileage may be computed from the traveler's home when travel occurs during weekends, holidays, or outside normal business hours (usually 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Mileage must be computed from home whenever the trip does not involve a business stop at Stanford and the distance from home is less than the distance from Stanford.

c. Auto in Lieu of Airport Shuttle
Travelers should use the most economical means for travel to the airport, including parking costs. Shuttle services usually provide the most economical means.

d. Automobile in Lieu of Commercial Air
When use of a personal automobile has been authorized in accordance with Guide Memo 8.4.2: Vehicle Use, and the automobile is used in travel for which air is generally most appropriate, payment may not exceed actual miles the automobile is driven at the standard rate per mile, and may not exceed the allowable cost that would have been incurred had travel been by air. For calculating the equivalent airfare to replace more expensive mileage charges, the coach fare plus ground transportation costs are applicable. Equivalent airfare is coach class, seven-day advance purchase. A printout from Stanford's online booking tool, must be included with the iOU expense report. The printout should be dated seven days before the actual travel date to accurately document equivalent airfare. If post-travel dated airfare comparison is submitted as backup, Disbursements will calculate an online comparison at the time of processing, and will pay based on the lower of the two equivalent airfares. If two or more people travel together by automobile for a business purpose, the equivalent airfare calculation is the sum of airfare plus ground transportation costs for all of the travelers.

e. Trips of More Than One Day
The University will pay the mileage allowance, meals, lodging, and automobile-related expenses if travel by automobile is the most economical mode of transporta-tion available. Otherwise the University will pay the cost of the least expensive alternate method of travel. The University will calculate an en-route per diem based on an average driving distance of 400 miles a day by the most direct route, or actual number of days taken, whichever is less. Each passenger claiming payment for meals and lodging must prepare a separate iOU expense report.

f. Two or More People Traveling Together
Because payment for private automobile is to reimburse the owner for use of the car, mileage and related expenses are payable only to one of the two or more persons traveling together in the same vehicle.

g. Temporary Off-Campus Assignment
If the employee has a temporary assignment away from campus, reimbursement will be made for mileage between campus and the assignment location, or home and the assignment location, whichever is less.

h. Insurance and Accidents
See Guide Memo 8.4.2: Vehicle Use.

i. Commuting Expenses
The University will not pay employees for commuting expenses between home and campus. See section 13.d for remote worker policy.

Back to top

6. Rental Cars

a. Economical Alternatives
The University will pay the traveler for the cost of renting a compact or standard size car and for the automobile-related expenses, if use of the rental vehicle is the most economical mode of transportation. Before renting a car, the traveler should consider shuttle services and taxis, particularly for transportation between airport and lodging.

b. University Name on Rental Agreement
Car rental agreements for both employees and non-employees renting for University business should, for insurance reasons, whenever possible include "Stanford University" with the name of an individual. Use of the University-provided travel card serves this purpose for employees.

c. Driver and Location Limitations
For the traveler to be covered by the rental agency's basic insurance, the rental vehicle may not be driven by persons other than the renter, or leave the state in which it is rented, without the agency's permission.

d. Accident Notification
If a rented vehicle is involved in an accident, the Stanford Assistant Vice President of Risk Management should be notified promptly. See Guide Memo 8.4.2: Vehicle Use.

e. Additional Insurance Needed?
(1) Within the continental United States: NO: Since the University's insurance policy provides coverage in excess of the rental agencies' within the United States, travelers should not buy and will not be reimbursed for extra insurance from a car rental agency. Visitors to the University should be advised that additional insurance is unnecessary.
(2) Within Hawaii: YES: A traveler planning to drive a rental vehicle in Hawaii must purchase the rental agency's insurance. The University will pay the cost of such insurance.
(3) Outside United States: YES: A traveler planning to drive a rental vehicle in any foreign country must purchase the rental agency's insurance. The University will pay the cost of such insurance.

Back to top

7. Other Forms of Transportation

a. Piloting a Private Plane
The University officers listed below, or their designees, may authorize faculty and employees to pilot aircraft for travel on University business provided the documents listed in (1) through (4) are on file with Risk Management:

  • Deans of the seven schools
  • Vice Provost and Dean of Research
  • Vice Provost for Graduate Education
  • Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
  • Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
  • Director of the Hoover Institution
  • Vice President of the administrative area

(1) The following information annually: Plane identification by year, make and model; hours flown in the past 12 months; and pilot certification type. See Risk Management Department for an online form to complete.
(2) A signed Release from Liability Agreement
(3) A current Certificate of Insurance evidencing aircraft liability coverage with minimum liability limits of $5,000,000 combined single limit with no sub-limit for bodily injury liability and no sub-limit for passenger liability. The Certificate of Insurance must also contain the following:

  • The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University and its affiliates are named as additional insureds.
  • A Waiver of Subrogation from the aircraft insurer in favor of the University and indicating that coverage is primary.
  • A provision giving the University a minimum of 30 days written notice of cancellation or material change in coverage.

(4) Reimbursement will be based on the actual operating expense, rental fee for the aircraft, or the private aircraft mileage rate (see Travel Rates), up to a maximum amount not to exceed the commercial airfare that would be payable for the same trip. Equivalent airfare is coach class, seven-day advance purchase. A printout from Stanford's online booking tool, must be included with the iOU expense report. The printout should be dated seven days before the actual travel date to accurately document equivalent airfare. If post-travel dated airfare comparison is submitted as backup, Disbursements will calculate an on-line comparison at the time of processing, and will reimburse based on the lower of the two equivalent airfares.

Ground transportation costs that were not actually incurred will not be considered. However, actual ground transportation expenses remain payable. Any additional flight expenses, such as tie down fees, will not be paid, as those costs are part of the airplane reimbursement rates and are included in the maximum equivalent airfare calculation. iOU expense reports for use of private aircraft must show the type of aircraft and number of hours flown. When more than one person is carried on University business on the same flight, reimbursement is payable only to the pilot.

b. Charter Planes

Stanford business trips using chartered aircraft services are to be purchased through the Purchasing and Contracts Department by submitting a requisition for products or services. Before using the chartered aircraft service, the agreement must be reviewed and approved by the Stanford Purchasing and Contracts Department.

c. Railroads, Non-local Buses, Commercial Vessels

The University will pay the cost of the lowest first-class accommodations available for the trip. Payment will not exceed the equivalent commercial airfare for the same trip. Equivalent airfare is coach class, seven-day advance purchase. A printout from Stanford's online booking tool, must be included with the iOU expense report. The printout should be dated seven days before the actual travel date to accurately document equivalent airfare. If post-travel dated airfare comparison is submitted as backup, Disbursements will calculate an on-line comparison at the time of processing, and will pay based on the lower of the two equivalent airfares.

(1) Rail or Bus: For each night that railroad or bus accommodation is used, an amount equal to the lodging allowance will be deducted from the per diem rate, if applicable.
(2) Ship: Payment of per diem will not be allowed for the period of travel aboard a ship where the cost of subsistence is included in the fare for passage and stateroom.

Back to top

8. Combinations of Travel with University Travel

a. Expenses Payable by Others
Travelers are encouraged to combine University travel with other business so that travel expenses can be shared with other organizations, and are responsible for seeking reimbursement for expenses payable by others. If a traveler is taking a trip payable jointly by the University and another entity, the University will pay for its share of the actual fare necessary for University business. Fares greater than coach fare (first class, business class, etc.) cannot be used as the basis for prorating air travel costs. When an outside organization pays for lodging or meals, the traveler may not claim per diem from Stanford. In no case may the amount paid for the trip from all sources exceed the total expenses incurred.

b. Non-business Expenses
The University does not pay travel expenses that are not required for official University travel.

c. Indirect Routes
If, for other than University business, the traveler takes an indirect route or interrupts a direct route, payment for air fare will be at either the actual charge or the charge that would have been incurred by traveling the direct route by the most economical means, whichever is less. The charge that would have been incurred for a direct route must be documented, at the time of booking the actual flight, with a printout from Stanford's online booking tool, and a copy of the printout included with the iOU expense report.

d. Rental Cars
(1) Payment: Any personal portion of the cost of a rental car must be subtracted from the total rental bill before requesting payment. The personal portion is calculated by prorating the cost of the rental over the number of days for personal use and number of days for business use.
(2) Insurance: If the traveler accepts extra insurance cost for a domestic, mainland car rental in order to be covered during the personal portion, the entire cost of the insurance coverage for the entire rental period will be a personal expense. However, if the rental occurs in a foreign country or Hawaii, the cost may be prorated.

Back to top

9. Travel Expenses of Spouse and Others

a. Non-business Expenses
In general, the expenses of a spouse, family member, or other person accompanying the business traveler are not payable. Such expenses are only payable if the accompanying person has a position with the University and is traveling to make a significant contribution in furtherance of University business.

b. Exceptions
It is expected that there will be no exceptions to this policy, which is designed to assure compliance with legal requirements. Any request for an exception in truly extraordinary circumstances must be approved, in advance of the travel, by the Provost.

c. Hotel Rates
When a double hotel room is occupied by the business traveler and others whose attendance does not constitute a business purpose, the University will pay the single room rate. The single vs. double room rate must be provided in the notes section in the iOU expense report or backup documentation. If the single room rate is not available or provided, the amount paid will be 85% of the double rate. In all cases, only reasonable and necessary accommodations will be paid (see section 4.a.).

Back to top

10. Miscellaneous Travel Expenses

a. Registration Fees
Registration fees may be expensed at the time of registration by requesting payment using an iOU request for an "Other Check" or seeking reimbursement for a personally paid registration. For conferences and events requiring travel, the University Travel Card can be charged. If registration is for a student, see section 11 for additional requirements.

b. Miscellaneous Expenses
Miscellaneous expenses essential to the purpose of the authorized travel must be submitted for payment on the same iOU expense report as other travel expenses.
(1) Meeting Expenses
Registration (if not prepaid), costs of presentations, published proceedings, rental of meeting rooms and other actual expenses in connection with professional meetings, conferences, and seminars will be paid.
(2) Telephone, Fax and Computer Connections
Actual costs of necessary and reasonable business telephone calls, faxes and computer connections are allowable. Single telephone calls that cost $75 and above must be itemized by business purpose and name of person called, even if the call is to a Stanford number.
(3) Checked Baggage
Stanford reimburses fees associated with checked baggage. Baggage requirements should be reasonable and necessary to support the business need. A justification should be included in the expense report business purpose when more than two pieces of baggage are checked.
(4) Foreign Travel Costs
Actual costs of acquiring passports, visas, tourist cards, necessary photographs, birth certificates, required inoculations, immunizations, health cards, and fees for the conversion of funds to foreign currencies will be paid.
(5) Insurance
Insurance costs such as life insurance, flight insurance, personal automobile insurance, rental car insurance (except for foreign countries or Hawaii as noted in paragraph 6.e.(2) and (3)), and baggage insurance will not be paid by the University. (See Guide Memos 2.3.1: Survivor Benefit Plans, and 8.4.2: Vehicle Use.)
(6) Expenses on Behalf of Others
Ordinary and necessary business expenses incurred on behalf of others, including but not limited to food, beverages, refreshments and social or recreational activities will be paid. Expenses for personal entertainment are not payable.

  • Business Purpose Required
    To be considered nontaxable, the Internal Revenue Service requires that the business purpose and the names of persons entertained be shown on the iOU expense report. Individual names are not required if a group is involved and it can be identified as a single body.
  • Unallowable Expenditure Type
    Business entertainment and alcohol must be charged to the appropriate expenditure type for unallowable expenses.
  • Per Diem and Entertaining or Business Meals
    When a traveler who is paid at the full per diem rate furnishes a meal to others, either as entertainment or during a business discussion, the traveler must prorate the cost of the meal and seek additional payment only for the guest(s) meals. See Expense Guidance for Business Meals, If multiple multiple business or entertainment meals occur during a trip, or such a meal occurs during a trip of four days or less, the use of per diem for meals is not appropriate. Payment for actual meal expenses with appropriate receipts should be requested for the entire trip. Entertainment/fund raising meals may not be paid when they occur during a trip charged to a government grant or contract unless the actual meal expense option is chosen for the entire trip. In this way, the correct amount can be charged to an unrestricted account (PTA) and unallowable expenditure type.

  • Personal Expenses
    Expenses that are not directly related to and required for official University travel but that are incurred for the personal use or convenience of the traveler will not be paid. Except for unusual circumstances, laundry costs will not be paid unless a trip exceeds six days.

Back to top

11. Student Travel and Tax Issues

Any student reimbursement, graduate or undergraduate, which does not meet the criteria for University travel (see Section a. below), including required documentation, will be tax reportable and should be submitted and paid through Graduate Financial Services (GFS) for graduate students and through the Financial Aid Office for undergraduates.

a.   Undergraduate and Graduate Students
Students may be reimbursed for business travel whether or not they are employees, or for degree-related educational travel such as to attend a conference or visit a field site or laboratory facility. In most cases, such reimbursements are not tax-reportable to the Internal Revenue Service as income to the student, provided documentation is available showing that the travel:

  • Directly supports a faculty member’s project or research program, or
  • Is related to presenting at a conference (a photocopy of the conference program indicating the traveler is a speaker/presenter is required), or
  • Is an integral part of the student’s degree work (Faculty Certification required), or
  • Is directly related to the student’s employment at the University, or
  • Is official University business.

Any reimbursement to a post-doctoral student that does not meet the criteria for university travel (see Section b. below), including required documentation, will be tax reportable and should be submitted and paid through Graduate Financial Services (GFS) as a fellowship payment.

b.  Post-Doctoral Students
(1)   Attending
a conference, field site, or off-campus laboratory
Documentation: Along with appropriate receipts, the department should send to Travel & Reimbursement a signed statement from a faculty member certifying that the travel directly supports the faculty research or academic program, or attendance is to officially represent Stanford.
(2)   Speaking/Presenting a paper, poster, or serving on a panel
Documentation: Along with appropriate receipts, the department should send to Travel & Reimbursement a photocopy of the conference program indicating the traveler is a speaker/ presenter. No certification is necessary.

Back to top

12. Foreign Visitor Travel

a.   Documentation Required
Payments to foreign visitors, or on behalf of foreign visitors (direct payments to hotels, etc.), may be made only if the visitor enters the United States on an appropriate visa (see Guide Memo 2.4.1: Visas for and Employment of Foreign Nationals. In addition to the documentation required for all travel payments, requests for payment to nonresident aliens must include a signed Form LA-6 (Declaration of Tax Status), photocopies of the traveler's passport, visa, I-94 card, and, for J-visas, a copy of Form DS-2019 (Certificate Of Eligibility For Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).

b.  Advances
Foreign visitors who will be present here for longer than two weeks may request an advance for the amount of the air ticket. Required documentation must be included (copy of airlines invoice/itinerary showing proof of payment, and documentation listed in 12.a). If the expense will be subject to withholding taxes, deductions will be made from the advance payment unless appropriate tax exemption forms are included (IRS Form 8233 or W8-BEN).

c.   Accounting
Note that if a trip either originates or terminates in a foreign country, the entire cost of the trip is coded to a foreign travel expenditure type. This includes any costs for meals and lodging in the United States when the trip originated outside the United States.

d.  Further Information
For more information on travel arrangements for foreign visitors, see:

Back to top

13. Special Travel

a.   Interview Travel
Travel expenses in connection with employment interviews are authorized when necessary to acquire key personnel for employment at the University. Travel expenses are allowed to the extent authorized in a formal written invitation to the prospective employee, as long as they do not exceed the limits and are consistent with the policies and procedures in this Guide Memo. Travel expenses of spouses accompanying prospective employees are also allowed to the extent authorized in the invitation. Requirements and limitations in specific sponsored project awards apply.

b.  Postdoctoral Employment Expenses
Postdoctoral employment interviews and recruitment are business expenses. Postdoctoral employee moving expenses can be considered business expenses if the postdoc’s position is a regular 100% FTE payroll position of 39 weeks or longer.

c.   Moving and Reassignment Expenses
See Guide Memo 2.1.20: Relocation of Faculty and Staff.

d.  Remote Workers
Stanford may hire employees who work remotely. These employees do not work in a regular Stanford office, but work from their homes or other location as their principal place of business. If the employee works remotely 100% of the time, occasional trips to campus for department meetings, special projects, peak-time work, etc. may be paid by the department at the manager’s discretion. Such payments are generally not considered to be commuting expenses and therefore are not taxable income to the employee. Each situation of 100% remote work may be very different and the manager and the employee should reach an agreement about the work plan, access protocols and need for on-site visits and any payment that may be appropriate.

Please see Flexible Work Options for more information and guidance.

Back to top

14. Records and Payment Procedures

a.  Receipts
Dated original receipts or invoices for expenses of $75 or more must be provided to the originator for electronic submission to Travel & Reimbursement as backup to a properly completed iOU expense report. In accordance with IRS rules, the backup must support the cost and business character of the transaction, and, for a reimbursement, must show evidence of payment. Credit card statements are proof of payment, but are not considered to be itemized receipts, and are generally not enough documentation standing alone. If proof of payment by check is required, a copy of the cancelled check or bank statement is sufficient.

The electronic image attached to the iOU expense report is considered the document of record, and the originator should destroy the original paper receipts once T&R has completed processing and the expense report has been paid.

  • Meals: The cardholder’s copy of the charge form obtained at the time the charge is made will be accepted as documentation for meals. Payments for alcohol and related taxes and tips may not be charged to a government sponsored account (PTA) and must be charged to an unallow-able expenditure type. If the supporting documentation for a meal is not itemized, then the cardholder must note either “No Alcohol” or state the cost of any alcohol that was included in the purchase.
  • Transportation Tickets: Passenger copies of air, rail, boat, helicopter, and non-local bus tickets. For electronic tickets, provide a detailed invoice/itinerary (which may also be identified by the air carrier as a receipt), as long as it shows all times of departure, flight numbers, class of service, fare basis, ticket number or confirmation number, and cost of ticket, along with proof of payment (i.e., card being charged). Documentation that does not include this information is not acceptable as a receipt.
  • Car Rentals: Original car rental agreements or invoices showing proof of payment.
  • Lodging: Itemized lodging bill, unless a per diem allowance is claimed for the trip. Express checkout itemized receipts are acceptable. The express checkout must show credit card being charged. When the method of per diem for meals is chosen, there will be no payment of meals charged to the lodging bill.
  • Other Expenses: Expenses under $75 may be paid without a receipt. However, the amounts claimed must be accurate. Sponsored projects may have certain more restrictive receipt documentation requirements. The originating department is responsible for complying with these restrictions.

b.  Foreign Exchange Rate
The $U.S. equivalent should be included on receipts for purchases in foreign currencies. A University-approved currency converter is available on the OANDA website. If a copy of the traveler’s credit card statement is included with receipts, payment will be for the amount shown for the item on the statement.

c.   Missing Original Receipts
The traveler must seek a duplicate of a missing original receipt from the billing agency. When submitting an iOU expense report, include the duplicate receipt showing proof of payment and a completed Lost Receipt Certification electronically, or a memorandum or statement, signed by the person incurring the expense and the person approving the expense, stating that:

  • No original receipt is available
  • The expense was on behalf of the University
  • The item and amount of the expense are accurate
  • No other reimbursement of expense has been, or will be, sought or accepted from any source

This statement may be included in the notes section of the iOU expense report if the required signatures by traveler and approver are online. In those rare cases when all attempts have failed to yield an acceptable receipt, a suitable explanation also must be included by the traveler’s supervisor with their online approval.

d.  iOU Expense Report
The University requires preparation of an iOU expense report to account for any travel expenses that are to be charged to a University account (PTA). The properly completed and approved iOU expense report must be submitted in a timely manner after returning from a trip. Absent exceptional circumstances, expenses submitted more than 60 days after completion of travel will be reported as additional income to the individual, in accordance with Internal Revenue Service guidance. If all expenses cannot be submitted on one iOU expense report, subsequent reports must reference the initial iOU expense report.

(1)   Purpose: The iOU expense report must include a statement of the purpose of the travel that shows the direct relationship of the travel to an official University function. The purpose for any stopover en route must also be included. If conference expenses are charged to a sponsored project, the conference must directly support the purpose of the sponsored project. A copy of the conference agenda or program should be included electronically with the submitted backup documentation.

(2)   Dates: All days from day of departure to the return date must be included on the iOU expense report. Days for personal use must be shown as such.

(3)   Expenses: Costs of transportation, meals, lodging, and miscellaneous expenses must be listed by date and location on the iOU expense report.

(4)   Approvals: The iOU expense report must be approved online by the appropriate person authorized to approve expenses for the account(s) (PTAs) charged. No one may approve expenses for himself/herself or for an individual to whom he or she reports either directly or indirectly. Additionally, the person who incurred the expenses is encouraged to electronically approve the iOU expense report whenever possible to confirm that the expense report complies with University policy (see Reimbursement of Expenses, section 1.a). Regardless of electronic approval confirmation, by initiating an iOU expense report, the individual incurring a charge is attesting that the expenses relate to University business and comply with the policies stated in Guide Memo 5.4.3: Reimbursement of Expenses.

 (5)  Improperly Completed Forms: The traveler is responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the iOU expense report and electronically submitted backup receipts. If the report is not completed properly, it will be returned online. Travel & Reimbursement needs to receive all required backup documents before an expense report can be processed.

e.   Special Explanations Required
Written explanations for the following must be submitted with the iOU expense report:

(1)   Reimbursement from Other Sources: The traveler must report, including all pertinent details, if expenses for any part of the trip were or will be reimbursed by any source other than the University. Source name, address, and amount must be included on the iOU expense report, even though Stanford will pay only the portion attributable to Stanford.

(2)   Expenses not Expressly Allowed: Expenses that are not expressly allowed in this Guide Memo must be fully explained in order to support an exception request.

(3)   Unusual Travel Arrangements: If the cost of business class or first-class rates, private or rental air transportation, or travel by private automobile is claimed, an explanation with the request is required. Approval of payment is contingent upon meeting the guidelines, pre-approval requirements and limitations established in this Guide Memo.

(4)   Expenses for Others: If reported expenses include entertainment, meals, lodging, or transportation provided for others, the requirements of paragraph 10.b.(6) must be met and the request referenced to other iOU expense reports associated with the trip.

(5)   Prior Approval: Whenever travel policy states that prior written approval is necessary, a copy of such must be submitted electronically with the iOU expense report. The same is true for any approved deviation from this Guide Memo.

(6)   Unusual Charges: An explanation should be given for any unusually large amount that would normally be viewed as excessive, or any other unusual charges.

f.   Travel Expenses as Income

(1)   Moving Costs: The University is required to report as additional income to the individual certain payments for moving allowances and travel costs associated with initial employment or termination. See Guide Memo 2.1.20: Relocation of Faculty and Staff.

(2)   Unsubstantiated Cost: In accordance with the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service, the University will report, as additional income, the payment of any expense not substantiated by an appropriate itemized receipt or adequate explanation.

(3)   Non-timely Submission: Absent exceptional circumstances, expenses submitted more than 60 days after completion of travel will be reported as additional income to the individual, in accordance with Internal Revenue Service guidance.

g.     Reimbursement
Payment for reimbursements may be made via the following delivery options:

  • Payroll direct deposit
  • Check
  • Wire
  • Foreign draft

A fee will be charged to cover the extra cost of preparing and handling “Rush” payments.For more information on payment types and processing payment times see Resources & Job Aids: Payment and Handling Methods and Processing Times

Back to top

15. Sources of Help

a. University
Questions regarding travel policy and procedures may be directed to the Buying and Paying Support Center.

b. SLAC
SLAC travelers who have questions should contact the SLAC Travel Manager.

c. Online Information

Back to top