expense reimbursements explained

Expense Reimbursements Explained

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When traveling for work, you will likely have to deal with getting your expenses reimbursed. Companies do not normally just give you a check to go crazy with. You are normally expected to keep track of all of the money that you spend while traveling, and then the company will reimburse you. This can be a little intimidating, especially for your first work trip. What can you expect when you need to get expenses reimbursed? What can you actually expense?

Every company will do expenses differently, but this is what I have seen from experience. Your company should provide you more information before your first work trip; this post is to give you a heads up as to what you can expect. 

What expenses can be reimbursed?

During your business trip, there are many expenses that the company is going to cover for you. I expect that your company will cover your transportation, hotel, and your food. Your food would cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your transportation would include your flight, along with your rental car or Ubers. Anything that you do for fun that is not required by your company, such as going out for drinks or site-seeing, would have to come out of your own pocket.

Booking your flight, hotel and rental car

In most circumstances, on your first work trip your company is going to book your flight, hotel and rental car for you. If they do not book it for you, they most likely will give you a range of options to choose from. Unless told otherwise, you will not be flying first class, nor will you be renting a sports car. The options that are provided to you should be reasonably priced options for a smooth trip.

Reimbursing your trip to the airport

You will need to find a way to get to the airport from your home on the day of your work trip, and you should not have to pay for it. There are two main options:

  1. You drive yourself to the airport and pay per day to park your car, or
  2. You take a taxi or Uber.

Depending on your city, your company may have a preference for which option you use. Either way, you should expect to reimburse any costs that you incur, including parking costs or taxi fees. Save these receipts!

Handling food expenses

Some companies, and some clients, may handle your food expenses differently. Most likely you will either:

  1. Be expected to keep all receipts of your food and told to be reasonable, or
  2. Be given a daily stipend.

If you are given a daily stipend, it may be best to eat as cheaply as possible to save the leftover money. If you are told to just keep all of your receipts, this gets a little trickier. The amount you can spend per meal will change based on where you are traveling to – a meal in New York City will cost more than a meal in Amarillo, Texas. To be reasonable, I usually try to stay around $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $30 for dinner. If your hotel offers a free breakfast, you should not be reimbursing breakfast.

Buying first, reimbursing later

These days, less companies are giving out company credit cards. You most likely will be expected to buy your trip with your own money, and your expenses will be reimbursed later. I recommend that you get a credit card for work travel. This way, you have a record of what you purchased throughout your trip, and you also don’t have to use your own money. With the costs of hotels in many of these cities, there is a high chance you will be spending up to $1,000 a week on your business trips. You do not want to be using your rent money for work! Your company should reimburse your expenses before your credit card payment is due, so you should never have to touch any of your own money. This is excellent, because you can get a credit card where you earn points!

So I just keep all of my receipts, and the company will pay me back?

In theory, yes. You will most likely have to fill out some sort of expense reimbursement report, where you list out your purchase details. It is good practice to keep a copy of all receipts you receive while traveling for work, so that you can attach them if necessary. Once you submit your expense report, you then just wait patiently for your company to pay you back.

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