Travel Guide

This page provides Columbia GSAPP Faculty and Students with policies, resources, and relevant documents relating to University-affiliated travel.
1.0 Faculty
1.1. Budget/Approval Process

The faculty member will need to submit a finalized budget by line item for the cost of the trip to Carla Call by September 15 (Fall) and January 30 (Spring). The request must be submitted by the faculty member, not the student. Please note that the budget must be as accurate as possible. The budget cannot be amended once the travel stipend request is submitted to Student Financial Services. Please refer here for a sample travel budget request.

The travel stipend is an offset to airfare and hotel expenses for a duration of approximately 5 days for each student. After the budget is confirmed and approved, Carla Call will send two required forms for completion:

  1. The student stipend request form to be completed by the faculty member
  2. The student travel contact sheet to be completed by each student.

It is the responsibility of the faculty member to ensure that all students complete and submit the student travel contact sheet prior to travel. A coordinator should collect all the student travel contact sheets and submit them to Carla Call in a sealed envelope.

1.2. Stipend Disbursement
Upon receiving approval from the Finance Office, the faculty member will need to send the student stipend request form to Carla Call at least 3 weeks prior to the travel dates. Once the collected data has been verified, the Admissions Office will send a disbursement request to Student Financial Services (SFS) authorizing the award of the student travel stipend. Refer here for a sample student stipend request form.
1.3. Hotel/Air Accommodations
GSAPP will reimburse faculty for reasonable hotel and air accommodations at a rate consistent with the approved budget. Faculty may arrange for travel through the STA website. In addition, travel expenses must conform to University and GSAPP policies, federal and state law, and regulations on sponsored projects, if applicable. Refer to the GSAPP Travel and Business Expense Reimbursement Guidelines or the Columbia University Finance Gateway website for more information on hotel and air accommodations that qualify for reimbursement. Faculty may not cover group expenses such as ground transportation (car or bus rentals). Rental fees should be paid directly by the individual student and included in their per student budget, if appropriate. GSAPP does not reimburse for meals or food expenditures.
1.4. STA Approval Process

All airfare and hotel reservations booked through STA should be sent to Carla Call for review and approval. In the email, please include the following information:

  1. Name of traveler, date(s) of travel, destination(s), and overall business purpose of travel
  2. Confirmation that the details (name spelling as it appears on passport, date(s) and time(s), and destination(s), etc.) of the travel booking and itinerary are correct
  3. Attachments of the STA booking and itinerary.

The Finance Office requires 24 - 48 hours for the approval process. Refer here for a template of an STA Travel Request Email.

2.0 Students
2.1. Stipends
GSAPP provides travel stipends to qualifying students to defray the cost of studio travel. These travel funds will be awarded and disbursed in accordance with University policy. Faculty and students are advised to review the University stipend policy prior to making travel arrangements as tax and loan implications may apply. Travel stipends are disbursed by Student Financial Services (SFS). Since GSAPP does not dictate the timing of the disbursement, faculty and students are advised to plan carefully when making arrangements. Prior to traveling, students must submit the student travel contact sheet to a coordinator for submission to Janet Reyes.
2.2. Visas
Students are required to verify that they meet visa requirements for each destination country. The visa procurement process can take several weeks so please plan accordingly. For additional information on visa requirements, visit the host country’s Office of the Consulate General website. U.S. Citizens may refer to the U.S. State Department’s Visa service website.
2.3. Hotel/Air Accommodations
Per University policy, hotel/air accommodations are funded via stipends issued to the individual student. Faculty and students are advised to review the University stipend policy prior to making travel arrangements, as tax and loan implications may apply. The stipend policy can be viewed here.
2.4. Risk Management

The University maintains a contract with International SOS to provide worldwide medical and evacuation assistance in the event of an emergency (per ISOS’ evaluation) to eligible travelers on University-related activities or business. Please note that ISOS does not qualify as health insurance coverage. All registered students at Columbia University are required to maintain health insurance and determine how his/her health insurance plan applies to medical care abroad prior to departing the US.

Faculty and students are also required to register their travel itineraries with ISOS using the new travel registry system (MyTrips) once their travel plans are finalized or prior to leaving for their trip. Refer to the registration instructions below and submit a printout of your completed “trip report” to the Finance Office after registering with ISOS.

ISOS registration instructions

For more information regarding international travel, please view this Columbia website. Individuals can also download an identification card here.

If an emergency arises during the trip that GSAPP needs to be made aware of, please contact ISOS and Danielle Smoller:

Danielle Smoller, Associate Dean
Phone: 212-854-3450

3.0 Travel Forms
3.1. Sample Travel Budget Request
3.2. Sample Student Stipend Request Form
3.3. Student Travel Contact Sheet
3.4. Template Email for STA Travel Request
4.0 Appendix: Travel and Business Expense Reimbursement Guidelines

Columbia University reimburses faculty and assistants for necessary and reasonable business expenses incurred while traveling on behalf of the University or in support of approved and sponsored research activities. Expenses submitted for reimbursement must conform to University and GSAPP policies, federal and state law, as well as restrictions placed on sponsored projects. The University requires that travelers complete and submit an approved Travel and Business Expense Report documenting the business purpose of the trip and the types of expenses incurred.

It is the responsibility of the traveler requesting reimbursement to familiarize themselves with University and GSAPP travel policies, federal and state law, and regulations on sponsored projects (if applicable), to ensure compliance and prudent spending of University funds. Refer to the Columbia University Finance Gateway website for more information regarding these policies and guidelines.

4.2. Responsibilities of Traveler Requesting Reimbursement

U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents must submit a completed and signed W-9 to the Finance Office. A reimbursement cannot be authorized without verification that the traveler’s information in the Accounts Payable System is current and correct.

Foreign Nationals must submit a W-8BEN, a copy of the passport identification page, and a copy of Form I-94 (for international students) or the visa entry stamp. Certain visa types are not eligible for reimbursements. To confirm eligibility for payments by Columbia University, refer here.

A detailed business purpose or justification for each expense must be itemized to provide support for eligibility of reimbursement as opposed to taxable income.

Proper documentation must be obtained for each expense. Typically, supporting documentation will be in the form of a receipt that details the expense and reflects proof of payment.

The Travel and Business Expense Report (TBER) must be completed accurately and in accordance with University and GSAPP policies. Ensure that all applicable documentation (e.g., receipts, foreign currency conversion sheet) and forms are also included (e.g., travel cover sheet, food/alcohol form). It must be signed and dated by Janet Reyes. The traveler should retain a copy.

Requests for reimbursement must be submitted within 10 business days after return from the trip and NO LATER than 120 days after date of the expenditure. Forms can be found here.

4.3. Compliance

Federal Regulations and the IRS require that certain criteria are met when documenting and submitting expenses for reimbursement. These include the following:

  • Submitting reimbursement requests within a reasonable period of time
  • Detailing the specific business purpose of each expense
  • Providing tangible documentation and proof of payment (receipts)
4.4. Reimbursement Time Submission Limit

Travel expense reimbursements must be reported within a reasonable period of time. The University policy generally sets the submission deadline to be within 10 business days after returning from the trip and NO LATER than 120 days after the date of the expense.

In addition, travelers should be cognizant of the University’s June 30th fiscal year-end. All expenses incurred for that fiscal year should be reported to the Finance Office prior to year-end (June 30th) to ensure that the expense is appropriately captured for accounting and reporting purposes.

After 120 days or the end of the fiscal year (whichever comes first), late submissions for reimbursement require supplemental approval. Late reimbursements submitted after 120 days not only require an exception request form but are also considered taxable income to the traveler and will be reported on the annual W-2 form.

4.5. Business Purpose

Expenses incurred while traveling must have a valid business purpose that is deemed necessary and reasonable for conducting University business. All expenditures for which the traveler is requesting reimbursement require a detailed business purpose that includes the following information:

  • Who traveled or attended the event
  • What type of event or activity was attended or what purchase was made
  • When the event or activity took place
  • Where the activity took place
  • Why and how it aligns with Columbia University’s business

A business purpose must be specific and easily comprehended by a third-party reviewer. For example, an acceptable business purpose would be “Travel to Boston to Accounts Payable Network Conference to speak about…” On the contrary, “Boston Conference” would NOT be an acceptable business purpose; furthermore, documentation such as a conference agenda/schedule, event flyer, or registration form should be included.

4.6. Proof of Payment (Receipts)

The traveler is expected to demonstrate proof of payment by obtaining original receipts for all expenses submitted for reimbursement. An original receipt may take many forms (e.g., cash register receipt, copy of an order form, web receipt, or confirmation). A receipt must include the following information:

  • Date of purchase
  • Vendor name
  • Itemized list and unit price of purchased items
  • Total amount
  • For ground transportation receipts: destination and arrival points indicated on TBER
  • For the business-related use of a personal vehicle: written record (directions printout) demonstrating total mileage of trip. The traveler will be reimbursed at the approved highway mileage rate ($0.54) set by the Federal IRS (as of January 1, 2016). The mileage rate covers fuel, maintenance/repairs, insurance, transportation and operating costs.

Receipts should be taped (not stapled) to 8 ½ x 11 paper on one side only. As a note, do not use highlighters to mark receipts.

If payment was rendered via a credit/debit card, the receipt must demonstrate that the traveler is the account holder of the credit/debit card (e.g., traveler’s name or the last four digits of the credit/debit card). In this instance, a copy of the credit/debit card showing only the last four digits should be submitted with the receipt. If the receipt does not clearly show that the account holder made the purchase, then a copy of the traveler’s credit or debit card statement identifying the date, location, and amount of the expense, may be submitted along with a description of the expense. Please ensure that any sensitive, identifying, or unrelated information is blacked out prior to submission.

If the traveler is unable to obtain an original receipt or provide documentation of purchase, a Missing Receipt worksheet must be completed and submitted. Any request for reimbursement that is submitted with a Missing Receipt worksheet will require supplemental approval.

The Travel and Business Expense Report must be submitted in US dollar currency only. For receipts with foreign currencies, travelers must choose the appropriate exchange rate using’s daily default “Interbank Rate” or the average rate of the trip. The converted amount in US dollars must be written on each receipt with the printout as supporting documentation.

4.7. Travel Arrangements
It is recommended that a traveler make arrangements for travel through either a University-designated travel agency or preferred vendor for discounted rates. A list of preferred travel agencies can be found here. Travelers are allowed to use a travel agency or vendor outside of the preferred list. However, the traveler must take responsibility for selecting arrangements that comply with University and GSAPP policy and spending guidelines.
4.7.1. Tax-Exempt Status
The travel industry, unfortunately, does not recognize tax exempt status and in this instance, the traveler will be fully reimbursed for taxes paid. If the supplier requests a tax-exemption certificate, it can be obtained from the Finance Office at 406 Avery Hall.
4.7.2. Air Travel
Economy/Coach Class airline tickets should be purchased aboard a regularly scheduled commercial carrier. Reimbursement will only be issued for the amount equivalent to coach airfare. Carrier selection should be influenced by price (lowest available airfare) and not by frequent flier status/affiliation or other personal considerations. Travel on a US air carrier is preferred, but not required. Reservations should be made at least 14 days prior to the scheduled departure date. GSAPP policy is to not reimburse for business or first class air travel.
4.7.3. Rail & Bus Travel

Rail and Bus tickets should be purchased at the lowest available commercial/economy rate. The University provides a negotiated rate through Amtrak.

Travelers should use Amtrak’s unreserved and reserved coach class of service. If traveling on Amtrak’s “Acela Express” train, a traveler should obtain a ticket in business class (lowest available fare). It is expected that tickets are purchased at the lowest available rate. Reimbursement will not exceed the cost of the lowest available fare.

4.7.4. Ground Transportation
While traveling, it may be necessary to use rental cars, taxis, or personal vehicles. In all cases, travelers should exercise reasonable judgment and either use a University preferred supplier (i.e., Hertz) or the most economical option available. Tolls and reasonable parking charges may be reimbursed, in addition to mileage. The University will not reimburse repairs, parking fines, or moving violations on personal vehicles and it does not assume any liability for damage or uninsured loss to personal vehicles while on University business.
4.7.5. Lodging
Travelers will be reimbursed for the cost of lodging accommodations and any applicable taxes and fees while traveling on approved University business. Room rates should not exceed $350 per night (excluding taxes) in the US or $400 per night (US dollars, excluding taxes) in international locations.
4.7.6. Meals
GSAPP policy is to not reimburse for individual meal expenses. Business meals among University personnel or administrative meetings are not to exceed $25 for breakfast, $35 for lunch, and $50 for dinner, per person. A completed food/alcohol form must be submitted with the itemized receipt and proof of payment.
4.7.7. Meetings and Conference Fees
Meetings or Conference fees will be reimbursed. The preferred method of payment is either through a P-card or direct billing to the University. However, in the event that the traveler pays the fee, he/she will be reimbursed.
4.7.8. Non-Reimbursable Expenses

The following list of miscellaneous and potential travel expenses are non-reimbursable. The University considers these expenses to be either personal, unnecessary, or avoidable during travel. As a result, there may be tax implications to the traveler if submitted for reimbursement. Please note that this list is not a finalized or exhaustive list of all non – reimbursable expenses. For additional guidance on whether specific charges can be reimbursed, please contact the Finance Office.

  • Airline or VIP club membership dues or one-day admission fees
  • Phone usage while on board a commercial airliner
  • Baby-sitting services
  • Barbers or hairdressers
  • Clothing or toiletry items
  • More than 3 personal calls each day, unless emergency circumstances are specified
  • Excess baggage costs related to personal property
  • Expenses related to vacation/personal days taken before, during, or after a business trip
  • Frequent flyer miles
  • Helicopter services for local travel or entertainment
  • Insurance of any kind
  • Laundry or cleaning expenses on trips with the duration of more than five (5) days or less, unless emergency circumstances are specified
  • Loss or theft of cash advance money or airline tickets
  • Loss or theft of personal funds or property
  • Lost baggage
  • Luggage or briefcases
  • Magazines, newspapers, personal reading materials
  • Medical expenses incurred while traveling
  • Mini-bar alcoholic refreshments
  • Movies
  • “No show” charges for hotel or car service
  • Personal entertainment
  • Pet care
  • Recreational expenses
  • Saunas, massages, spa visits
  • Shoe shines
  • Souvenirs or personal gifts
  • Snacks
4.8. Columbia University Preferred Travel Agencies

Columbia University Preferred Air Travel Agencies:

Columbia University Preferred Hotels in NYC:

Please refer to the 2016 Preferred Hotel Rates. The negotiated rates can only be obtained by contacting the hotel directly and requesting the University rate.

Columbia University Preferred Car Rental Agency: Hertz

Columbia University Preferred Rail Travel Agency: Amtrak

Methods of payment for preferred agencies can be processed via two routes. Some travel agencies bill the Finance Office directly. Otherwise, faculty and assistants can submit their travel expenses for reimbursement.

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