Foreign travel includes destinations outside the United States and the U.S. possessions and territories (American Samoa, Guam, Midway, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island).


Except where noted, the following guidelines apply to all foreign travel, regardless of the funding source or whether the traveler is an employee or non-employee. Contact the Ames National Laboratory directly with questions about its own requirements.

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Compliance with the Fly America Act

When federal grants and funding sources are used for international air tickets, travelers must be aware of and comply with the Fly America Act. Noncompliant charges are not permitted, even if the non-U.S. carrier is less expensive. Procedures for purchasing tickets through a contracted agency or a personal credit card are included on this page.

U.S. Flag Carrier Air Travel Requirement

If airfare is purchased with federal grant funds, travelers are required to use a U.S. Flag Carrier Service. Review the federal requirements (Section 301-3.6 Use of United States Flag Carriers), available online (www.govinfo.govPDF document).

Amendments to the Fly America Act

The Fly America Act was amended by Open Skies Agreements, which may permit the use of a non-U.S. flag carrier. Some Open Skies Agreements are nullified if there is a city-pair agreement in effect at the point of origin. With few city-pair agreements in effect for flights originating in Des Moines, it may be possible to use federal funds with a non-U.S. flag carrier.

Travelers must confirm that no city-pair agreement is in effect to use the city pairs site and justify the use of federal funds with a non-U.S. flag carrier.

Please note: 

  • A European Union carrier (for example, Aer Lingus, Air France, Lufthansa) can be used if a city-pair agreement is in effect.
  • Federally funded "in-country" travel -- for example, Berlin to Munich -- still must be on a U.S. flag air carrier if one is available.

Code Share Agreements

A code share agreement is when a U.S. flag carrier issues a ticket for a seat on a plane operated by a non-U.S. flag carrier.

  • Example: United Airlines may sell a ticket that includes some legs of a trip to Germany on a Lufthansa plane. To be compliant with federal funding, the ticket (or similar documentation, such as an itinerary) must show the U.S. flag air carrier's airline code next to the flight number for each leg of the trip. If the flight number had an airline code of UA for United Airlines, the ticket would be compliant, even if one or more legs of the trip were "Operated by Lufthansa." If the ticket had an airline code of LH for Lufthansa, the ticket would not be compliant, and could not be charged to federal funds.

Federal Travel Regulations

Review the federal travel regulations (Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter II, Part 200, Subpart E, 200.474), available online (website, PDF document).

Documenting Allowable Exceptions

When federal funds are being used and air service is not available on a U.S. flag carrier, exceptions must be documented with the Fly America Act Waiver Checklist. 

Whether the ticket was purchased through a contracted agency or charged to a personal credit card, the Fly America Act Waiver Checklist (if applicable) should be attached with other receipts for the reimbursement. This enables efficient auditing, reduces department storage requirements, and ensures the 10-year retention requirement is met.

When requesting reimbursement, all expenses must be converted from the foreign currencies to U.S. dollars. Please show the calculations on the individual receipts to speed the reimbursement process.

Travelers have at least four options when selecting a conversion rate.

  • Credit Card Rate: If the traveler charged expenses on a credit card, the credit card issuer will convert the amounts on the monthly statement. This is the most accurate rate, as it matches what the traveler actually was charged. Additional fees charged by the credit card issuer for foreign currency transactions also may be reimbursed, if itemized and explained.
  • On-site Exchange Rate: If the traveler converted dollars to a foreign currency while overseas, the traveler should have a receipt that showed the actual exchange rate received. This single rate may be used for the entire trip, even though actual exchange rates vary daily, assuming the rate was approximately the average for the trip.
  • Published Rate: If the traveler does not have either of the above rates to use, the traveler can use the published exchange rates in the Wall Street Journal, or any other nationally published rates. These rates are based on exchanges of one million dollars or more, and the two choices above probably are more representative of the rates travelers would experience.
  • On-line Rate: The traveler can also use an online currency converter, such as

Before the department approves and faxes the air ticket requisition to the contracted agency, travelers must submit:

  • The airline itinerary
  • A Fly America Act Waiver Checklist, signed by the travel agent, if a non-U.S. flag carrier is part of the airline itinerary

The Air Ticket Requisition sent to the contracted travel agency will print a message to travel agents reminding them when a ticket is being purchased with federal funds. However, the department is ultimately responsible for compliance with restrictions for federal funds, and must carefully review the carriers being used before the air ticket requisition is sent to the contracted agency.

Departmental personnel ordering tickets are responsible for attaching the airline itinerary and Fly America Act Waiver Checklist (if appropriate) to the travel reimbursement in the Employee Reimbursement System when expenses are submitted for reimbursement. Although the air ticket is not being reimbursed, the documentation enables auditing of the federal funds requirements.

If the traveler is being reimbursed for airfare, the traveler must attach documentation that includes the entire airline itinerary showing names, fare class, dates of travel, all legs of the trip, and the amount paid. As most air tickets are now electronic, the documentation usually is an e-mail confirmation. Boarding passes are not required to be attached.

If a non-U.S. flag carrier was used, the traveler must include a Fly America Act Waiver Checklist to support the exception. (It is not necessary in this case to get a signature from a travel agent.) The documentation must be attached to the travel reimbursement in the Employee Reimbursement System.

If an indirect route was used to accommodate a vacation, attach a quotation from the travel agent or online source stating the fare for the business portion of the trip. Travelers will be reimbursed for the lowest cost direct route, or the business portion of the trip, whichever is less.