Travel Information

Per Diem or Actual Expenses?

Iowa State University allows the per diem method for foreign travel, but not for domestic travel. The funding department can choose to reimburse either actual expenses or a per diem rate. As per diem rates often are in excess of actual expenses, funding departments should be aware the per diem rates are not an entitlement to the traveler.

The traveler is allowed to use the actual rate for lodging and a per diem rate for meals and incidental expenses, or vice versa. However, the traveler must remain consistent within that expense category for the duration of the trip. For example, the traveler is not allowed to claim actual lodging one day and per diem lodging the next in order to arrive at a higher reimbursement total. In practice, most foreign travelers are reimbursed the actual rate for lodging and the per diem rate for meals and incidental expenses.

Lodging receipts are required, even when using the per diem method. Meal receipts are not required for the per diem method. However, meal receipts are required for reimbursement of actual expenses for all group meals and for individual meals of $75.00 or more.

Determination of appropriateness is the responsibility of the administering unit. The Accounting Office will not question the per diem unless documentation clearly conflicts with the charges on the Employee Reimbursement. For example, if departure tax in Thailand is dated 6/1/17, Accounting will disallow Bangkok per diem for 6/2/17. Departments have the right to reduce any claims that they feel are excessive.

U. S. State Department Per Diem Tables

Iowa State University uses the U.S. Department of State's website as a guideline for limits on lodging and meals for foreign travel. The rates are set by city within a country and are subject to change monthly. Use the rates for the month traveled rather than the rates for the month the reimbursement is completed.

Each city has separate rates for lodging and meals and incidental expenses. Any city not listed for per diem under a country takes the "Other" rate published for that country. An unlisted suburb of a listed city takes the "Other" rate, not that of the location of which it is a suburb.

If the current rate is not available at the time the reimbursement is entered, the traveler should use the most current rate available. Rates generally are not available in advance of the travel dates.

Lodging Per Diems

If a traveler requires paid lodging, s/he may claim the full lodging per diem for that city. A receipt is required to document the need for paid lodging. The actual cost to the traveler does not need to be calculated.

Exception: Federal regulations for the U. S. Agency for International Development and the U. S. Information Agency awards restrict reimbursement for lodging to the lesser of actual or per diem.

If the traveler does not require paid lodging, no lodging per diem is allowed.

If the lodging per diem is inadequate to cover the cost of the lodging, actual cost may be used up to 300% of the per diem if appropriately explained. A lodging receipt that shows the actual itemized cost of the room (as opposed to a credit card receipt that just shows the grand total cost) is required. The conversion rate must either be noted on the lodging receipt, or a copy of the bank receipt for conversion must be attached.

Lodging cost, whether per diem or actual, should appear in the "Lodging" field of the Employee Reimbursement screen. Note the city for which per diem is claimed. All reimbursements must be submitted in U. S. dollars.

The cost of a sleeping car on a train will be reimbursed at actual cost. This cost is normally a part of the total cost of the fare and should be claimed in the "Miscellaneous Expenses - Other" field of the Employee Reimbursement screen.

If two or more individuals share a room, they must pro-rate the per diem amount claimed. They are not each entitled to a full day's per diem, since only one room was paid for.

Meals & Incidental Expenses Per Diems

The meal per diem must be prorated for meals not purchased. The following is a guideline for adjustment of the per diem:

If a traveler is at a locale 12 hours or more – Claim one day's per diem
If a traveler is at a locale more than 4 but less than 12 hours –
      Claim half day per diem
If a traveler is at a locale less than 4 hours – Claim no per diem

These are only guidelines. It is assumed that the per diem will only be prorated in half day increments. Therefore, if extraordinary circumstances exist, note them on the Employee Reimbursement screen and claim a half day of per diem or a whole day of per diem, whichever is more indicative of the meals purchased. For example, if a traveler arrives at 9:00 p.m., no per diem would be claimed per the general guidelines. However, if dinner was purchased, up to half of the per diem could be claimed.

If multiple locales are visited in a single day, the traveler should claim a per diem in a ratio that best approximates the time spent and meals consumed in each locale. The maximum charge for a single day is two half days or one full day. As in the lodging example, note the city for which per diem is claimed, and put the per diem charge in the "Foreign Per Diem" field of the Employee Reimbursement screen.

Meal costs enroute should be claimed in a similar manner. Adjustment to the amount claimed should be made for meals consumed on the airplane at no cost to the traveler. (Note: The $6.00 per day in- flight per diem has been eliminated.)

If meals are covered by a registration fee, the per diem rate claimed that day should be reduced. Refer to Appendix B of the Federal Travel Regulations to determine the amount by which the covered meal should reduce the per diem. Please explain the reason for the adjustment when entering expenses.

A traveler who incurs no lodging expense may still claim a meal per diem as described above. Meals for family and friends may not be included.

One person cannot claim a meal per diem on behalf of another person.

When using the per diem method for meals and incidental expenses for foreign travel, a traveler cannot make a separate claim for fees and tips given to porters, baggage carriers, hotel staff, and staff on ships or laundry and dry cleaning. This is because the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of State consider those charges to be part of the "incidental expenses" portion of "meals and incidental expenses."

This page was last updated on March 6, 2017.