Traveling at the University of Georgia's Expense

Some Advice for Graduate Students

Revised 2008 February 4
Michael A. Covington

Note that in addition to departmental funds, the VP for Research provides financial assistance for international travel by graduate students and faculty. You must apply in advance. Details here.

When the University of Georgia pays for your travel, here's the procedure:

IMPORTANT NOTE: This web page is not entirely up to date. Also, in the case of student travel, remember that the University may or may not be covering the entire cost of your trip. Check with your faculty sponsor to determine what to expect.

  • You submit a request for authority to travel.

    Online forms:
    UGa employee, out-of-state travel request
    UGa employee in-state travel request
    In-state hotel tax exemption (bring this form to the hotel with you)
    Non-employee travel request (follow the menus)

    You will need to estimate your expenses, so familiarize yourself with the information below about how expenses are tracked.

    Recent change: University employees must be explicit about the "means of handling classes or other business when absent." Designate a specific person who can be contacted. This need not be someone who can personally substitute for everything you do, but it should be someone who can account for how your work is getting done. Your supervisor is usually a good choice.

  • Air fares can be charged to the University if proper arrangements are made. Conference registration can be paid by P-card. You pay all your other expenses, keeping careful records.

    To get bargain air fares, use a travel agent who can charge directly to the University. State contract rates are often much lower than the airlines' other rates, even Internet-only discounts, and the reservations are fully changeable and refundable. I recommend Linda Nichols-Reese at All Aboard Travel, 706-354-6909 extension 2.

  • Upon returning to Athens, you submit an expense report and you are reimbursed for your expenses.

Travel expenses include:

  • Lodging (hotels, including taxes)
  • Transportation (including use of your own car — keep records of mileage)
  • Meals (amount actually spent on food, including snacks, or per diem rate; see below)
  • Taxes and tips associated with any of the above (except that the current regulations do not allow reimbursement for tips to hotel housekeeping staff)
  • Other expenses necessary for making the trip, such as airport parking, conference registration, visa and passport fees, tips to baggage handlers, work-related Internet access, etc.
  • Not laundry (unless you stay away from home more than 7 consecutive nights; in that case, laundry is covered)
  • Not alcoholic drinks
  • Not entertainment (theater tickets, etc.)

Reimbursement for travel is covered by strict state laws and regulations which you can view here.

Remember that these regulations aren't just for academics going to conventions. They apply to all state employees, some of whom drive around all the time doing agricultural or law enforcement work. Thus, parts of them will not fit you very well. In particular, we rarely visit small Georgia towns, but many state employees do so all the time.

The basic idea behind travel expenses is that you should neither gain nor lose money:

  • We are not giving you a "travel allowance" — we are paying you back for exact expenses that you have incurred (or, in some cases, for a portion of these expenses).

  • If someone else reimburses you for an expense, then we don't.

  • We never reimburse two people for a payment that was actually made by only one of them.

  • Businesses sometimes use travel allowances as a way to give people extra income or impress them with luxurious living. We don't. Regardless of its origin, money held by the University is treated as state government funds and is regulated by state law. "Padding" an expense account is theft from the state.

You will need receipts for everything except meals.

Cost limits and per diem rates: There are cost limits for travel by government employees. Quite often, when traveling internationally or to meetings in major cities, we exceed these limits and have to justify exceeding them. The most common justification is that you are staying in the hotel where a meeting is being held. Keep careful records and have your supervisor or department head write a letter to the Dean.

For details of the cost limits check here. Currently, the limits are based on the following official per diem rates:

Meals, in low-cost areas of Georgia: $28 per day (for partial days click here.
Meals, in Atlanta and some other places: $36 per day (for partial days click here and scroll down).
Meals, outside Georgia: The M&IE rate given here minus $3.
Meals, outside the US: The M&IE rate given here minus $3
(follow menus to the most recently announced rates).

Lodging, Georgia and rest of US: The lodging rate given here.
Lodging, outside the US: The lodging rate given here
(follow menus to the most recently announced rates).
Meals or lodging charges that exceed these rates by more than 25%, and meal charges in Georgia that exceed them at all, must be justified by a letter accompanying the expense report, signed by the appropriate dean or vice president.

Lodging: You are expected to limit costs and to ask for the government employee rate whenever available (unless of course you get an even lower rate some other way).

Traveling in Georgia, you are exempt from local hotel/motel taxes; bring this form with you.

If you share a room with someone who is not traveling for the state, such as your spouse, you are entitled to reimbursement at the single room rate (which is often the same as the double room rate). Get a hotel employee to note the single room rate on your receipt.

Meals: Although we don't require receipts for meals, we expect you to avoid excessive expenditure. If your meals cost more than the per diem rate, explanation will be necessary. This very commonly happens with AI Center personnel traveling to major cities; keep careful records, don't be extravagant, and write a letter detailing the reason for the high costs. This letter will be submitted to the Dean for approval.

Recent change: You are no longer required to keep exact records of the cost of each meal. Instead you can claim the per diem rate for meals.

In my opinion, it is usually better to record the exact cost of meals and claim it. Tips and service charges are included, and snacks can be lumped with the adjacent meal.

Your car: If you use your car for any part of the trip, keep records of exact odometer readings at the beginning and end of each journey.

Recent change: If your trip begins or ends at your home, then from your mileage you should subtract the distance you normally travel to the University. The intent is to reimburse you only for mileage you would not ordinarily drive.

Side-trips: If you make personal side-trips, the principle is that at every moment you are either traveling for the University, or not. You will have to determine which parts of your trip are official state travel. The University will reimburse only those parts. You will need receipts that distinguish cleanly between personal travel and official travel.

On the expense report form, you should report your travels on personal days, but not report any expenses for them. A personal side trip need not span a complete day.

Complex mixtures of personal and official travel should be planned in advance, in consultation with your supervisor.