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Reimbursement Guidelines

Overview

Any Columbia University employee (faculty, student) or invited visitor can be reimbursed when a valid business or research related expense exists. All expenses must be necessary and reasonable in order to conduct University business and must provide a clear benefit to the Department/University.

Please use the information below to assist you in submitting a reimbursement claim. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact reimbursements@math.columbia.edu.

Page last updated: Nov 2, 2023


General Guidelines

Basic Policies

**Submitting receipts is not a guarantee that you will receive reimbursement. Expenses must comply with all Department and University policy or they will not be covered.**

  • Please review the official Columbia University travel and business expense policies prior to incurring an expense
    • Business expenses are “local”, i.e., in or near New York City
    • Travel expenses involve leaving the New York City area and include an overnight stay
    • The University’s Travel & Expense website contains additional information on travel policy and procedure
  • Submit requests in a timely manner, preferably within 10 days of the last expense
    • Receipts received by the department after 120 days of the last expense date may be considered taxable income and reported to the IRS
  • Provide a conference flyer, seminar announcement, invitation letter, or other document to confirm the business purpose, location, and dates
  • If you are unsure about what is allowable, please check with the department before you incur an expense. Refer to this “cheat sheet” for common allowable / unallowable expenses. Note this is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list
  • Incomplete submissions, poorly documented receipts, or expenses that violate policy will delay processing, be returned for more information, or will not be reimbursed

Receipts

  • All receipts must be itemized and show proof of payment (i.e., “CASH”, “VISA xxxx”, “PAID IN FULL”)
    • If a receipt does not include proof of payment, submit a credit card transaction or bank statement as supporting documentation
      • Please redact unrelated expenses if submitting a bank statement that shows unrelated transactions
  • Be aware of receipts that indicate “estimate” or “quote”. These are NOT acceptable for proof of payment
  • Receipts must be attached for each individual entry on an expense report. For clarity, provide individual files for each receipt

If no receipt is available

  • Receipts must be provided for all transportation and lodging. For other expenses, if no receipt is available, provide a clear statement to explain the circumstances. Faculty must complete the “Missing Receipt Affidavit” directly in Concur. For all visitors and students, the Missing Receipt Worksheet must be provided to the department for all expenses over $50.

Meals

  • Provide an itemized receipt, showing all items purchased
  • Ensure proof of payment is visible on the receipt (“CASH”, “VISA xxxx”, or similar)
  • Provide the names of all participants at the meal
  • Identify ALL alcohol purchased, or specify “no alcohol included” if the receipt is not itemized
    • Alcohol CANNOT be charged to a sponsored project
  • Meals are limited to three per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner); snacks and coffee/tea/refreshments will not be reimbursed
  • Limits (per person, excluding tax & tip): **
    • Breakfast – $25
    • Lunch – $35
    • Dinner – $60
  • Any meal expense exceeding the threshold will be automatically reduced to comply with these limits, with tax & tip pro-rated accordingly
  • Gratuity over 20% will not be reimbursed

**Student seminar expenses have different meal thresholds. Please see the Student section below.

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Travel and Lodging

International Travel for CU faculty and students MUST be registered in the ISOS system. Proof of registration must be provided or the travel will not be reimbursed.

All travel must comply with the University’s travel policies and restrictions. Please review current guidelines at https://globaltravel.columbia.edu/ before making travel arrangements. Travel that does not comply with current policy will not be reimbursed.

 Flights

  • Always purchase the lowest cost economy ticket, unless there is a documented condition why an upgrade is necessary
    • Upgrades to business or first class travel are considered “segregated”, and are not always reimbursable
    • If upgrades are necessary and allowable, at the time of booking obtain a quote for a round-trip economy flight, and submit with your purchased ticket
  • Ensure proof of payment is clearly visible
    • Note that some websites show “estimated fare” or “quote”; this is not a valid proof of payment
  • If using a federal grant (NSF, NSA, DoD, etc.) you must comply with Fly America / Open Skies Act, which generally requires use of a US based air carrier
    • In the event you are unable to use a US based carrier, please contact the department for guidance prior to purchasing your tickets
  • Arrive the day before your event begins, and depart the day after it ends. Extending travel beyond the minimum days for personal reasons requires additional documentation, or travel will not be reimbursed. Please consult the department before purchasing tickets involving extended stays
  • Clearly document changes in travel plans, or other unusual circumstances. Fees and expenses resulting from personal reasons (including medical issues) cannot be reimbursed

Ground Transportation

  • Local transportation should specify origin and destination (e.g., taxi from airport to hotel)
  • Car rentals should be made via the Concur Travel Online Booking Tool, if possible
    • When selecting Hertz, Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) and/or Liability insurance WILL NOT be reimbursed for domestic rentals. As CU’s preferred rental agency, insurance is automatically included in the rental rate/agreement. Insurance may be reimbursed from other vendors if Hertz is not available, or when renting internationally
    • Provide a copy of the rental agreement with proof of payment
  • For trips under 500 miles, use of personal vehicles may be claimed, and is reimbursed based on distance traveled. For travel exceeding 500 miles, a round trip comparison airfare is required. The lesser of the airfare comparison or mileage will be reimbursed. Gas, maintenance, or repairs are not eligible for reimbursement
    • Provide an online printed map showing the address of origin and destination, and total number of miles
    • List this expense as “Personal vehicle mileage” on your expense report
      • For travel occurring in 2023, the formula for mileage is: Total miles * 0.655 = $ amt
        • For example, you drive 100 miles round-trip to attend a conference. 100 miles * 0.655 = $65.50 (eligible for reimbursement)

Lodging

  • Obtain an itemized, zero balance folio upon checkout
  • Ensure proof of payment is clearly visible
  • Lodging thresholds:
    • Domestic – $350/night
    • International – $400/night
  • Only the nightly rate plus taxes and fees will be reimbursed. Expenses for room service, mini-bar, or other amenities will not be covered
  • The department will cap lodging that exceeds the threshold unless a compelling justification is provided to explain why a compliant rate could not be obtained
  • If using AirBnB during travel – provide a confirmation from a nearby hotel to confirm that the AirBnB expense is a more economical option. AirBnB expenses without a hotel comparison may be rejected by Accounts Payable.

Segregated vs Unsegregated Expenses

  • Most expenses are “Unsegregated”. Common “Segregated” expenses include:
    • First or business class travel upgrades (the cost above an economy flight. An economy quote for the same itinerary and travel dates MUST be submitted along with the purchased upgrade)
    • Expenses above the Lodging thresholds
    • Alcoholic beverages
  • Segregated does not necessarily mean unallowable. However, these items cannot be charged to federal grants and may require additional approvals

Foreign Currency

  • All expenses are reimbursed in US Dollars. Receipts in a foreign currency will be converted to USD, based on the daily conversion rate when the expense is incurred

Seminar Expenses

Seminar organizers should consult the department’s seminar spending guidelines for details on using departmental funds when planning seminar schedules and activities

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Instructions for Faculty

Prior to requesting a reimbursement, ensure that a Preparer Delegate is assigned to your Concur profile:

  1. Log in to Concur, click on “Profile”
  2. Click “Profile Settings”
  3. Click “Expense Delegates” in the left menu
  4. Select “Add”
  5. In the box that appears, enter Zubaida Pinky (zp2253), then click “Add”
  6. Select the following options: “Can Prepare”, “Can Submit Reports”, “Can View Receipts”
  7. Click “Save”
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 above, entering Deniz Macleod (dm3111) as an additional delegate

Option A

  • Initiate your own expense report through Concur
    • Email reimbursements@math.columbia.edu to request review of the report prior to submission
    • You must have a preparer delegate listed in Concur (see instructions above)
  • Include:
    • Conference flyer, seminar announcement, invitation letter, website link, etc.
    • Receipts and supporting documentation
      • Refer to the section on receipts above to ensure proper documentation is provided

Option B

  • Send a detailed list of expenses and receipts by email and a staff member will prepare the report on your behalf
    • You must have a preparer delegate listed in Concur (see instructions above)
    • After the report has been prepared, you will be notified by email to review and confirm submission

Tips:

  • Provide a clear, specific business purpose
    • Acceptable: “Travel to _____ to participate in the conference _______. July 1-5, 2017”
    • Not acceptable: “went to a conference” or “gave a talk”
  • Travel expenses cannot be processed until after a trip is complete, which may be several months after you purchase your flight/hotel. Please plan your finances accordingly!
  • Attach each expense as a separate pdf or image; avoid combining multiple receipts into a single file
    • Expenses in foreign currency will be converted to US Dollars in Concur.  Refer to the Foreign Currency section above.
  • Indicate the source of funding for your request in writing
    • Example: “Algebraic Geometry seminar account” or “NSF grant #xxxx”
  • Submit local business expenses as receipts are collected, as opposed to accumulating multiple receipts over the course of a semester
  • Seminar organizers should refer to the seminar spending guidelines when organizing their seminar
  • Please allow up to 6 weeks for processing before contacting the department for status or payment updates

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Instructions for Students

  • Prepare a list of expenses and submit to reimbursements@math.columbia.edu for processing
  • Include:
    • Conference flyer, seminar announcement, invitation letter, etc.
    • All receipts and supporting documentation
      • Refer to the section on receipts above to ensure proper documentation is included to avoid delays
    • Confirmation of funding source
      • IMPORTANT: Requests for department travel funds must be approved prior to initiating travel. Reimbursement requests will be automatically declined if advance written approval is not obtained or if expenses are submitted without a funding source identified.
  • In general, students should seek travel funding in the following order: event -> faculty advisor -> department
    • To request funds from the department: email reimbursements@math.columbia.edu with the following:
      • Statement regarding attempts to secure other funding, and any support available (for example, a conference will provide lodging; an advisor can provide $500 from grant funds, etc.)
      • Information regarding the event, such as dates and location
      • A cost estimate for travel and/or lodging

Tips:

  • Provide a clear, specific business purpose
    • Acceptable: “Travel to _____ to participate in the conference _______. July 1-5, 2017”
    • Not acceptable: “went to a conference” or “gave a talk”
  • Travel expenses cannot be processed until after a trip is complete, which may be several months after you purchase your flight/hotel. Please plan your finances accordingly!
  • List each expense you are submitting individually. You may do so in your email, or with an attachment such as a spreadsheet
  • Attach each expense as a separate pdf or image; avoid combining multiple receipts into a single file
  • As a general rule of thumb, alcohol purchases are not reimbursed for students. Prior approval from the department is required, and will only granted in exceedingly rare cases
  • Seminar expenses must follow the department’s seminar spending guidelines
  • Student seminar meal thresholds (per person, excluding tax & tip):
    • Breakfast – $15
    • Lunch – $25
    • Dinner – $35
  • Please allow up to 6 weeks for processing before contacting the department for status or payment updates

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Instructions for Visitors

Prior to incurring expenses, all non-U.S. citizens should confirm their eligibility for payment. If you are in a category such a “J-1 Researcher, Professor category not on Columbia’s sponsorship“, authorization from your home institution should be obtained prior to requesting reimbursement. Typically this is a letter from your sponsoring institution that acknowledges that the travel is related to your visa program and provides permission to receive travel reimbursement and/or honorarium. Some visa categories such as “O-1” or “TN” do not permit reimbursements.

Visitors will need an active profile in the PaymentWorks platform. After confirming payment eligibility, contact the department at reimbursements@math.columbia.edu and a staff member will generate an invitation to connect with PaymentWorks. Provide the necessary information, including address, tax forms, and preferred payment method (ACH, wire, etc.). If you have an existing account in PaymentWorks, review the account to ensure information is current and connected with Columbia.

The PaymentWorks account process is managed outside the department, and may take several weeks to several months to complete. If information is missing or incomplete the request will be returned with instructions to resubmit. Please respond to messages from PaymentWorks and/or Columbia’s Vendor Management office promptly. After a PaymentWorks profile is ready, submit the following:

For reference: Checklist for Visitors

What expenses can I request?

In general, the department will cover the following expenses for visitors:

  • Roundtrip economy transportation, such as airfare, bus, train, taxi, or other ground travel
  • Up to 3 nights lodging (generally to be arranged in advance and paid directly by the department)

Special events, such as workshops/conferences or longer term research/collaboration visits may alter what the department is able to reimburse. Visits funded by faculty grants may also have special requirements or exclusions. Consult with your host or email reimbursements@math.columbia.edu to determine if any special circumstances apply.

How do I submit a reimbursement claim?

  • Provide the non-employee expense worksheet, supporting documentation, and receipts (see above)
    • List each expense you are submitting, one item per line
      • Expenses in foreign currency will be automatically converted to US Dollars.  Refer to the Foreign Currency section above.
      • Date of Expense is the date you purchased an item (NOT the date of travel, but the date the ticket was purchased; this may be several months before your trip)
  • Compile all forms and documents and send a complete submission as a single email to reimbursements@math.columbia.edu
    • Please avoid forwarding expenses via multiple emails
    • Refer to the section on receipts above to ensure proper documentation is available prior to submission
  • DO NOT send bank account information or tax forms to the department! If you wish to receive a direct deposit or wire transfer, please enter this information in your PaymentWorks account. Wire transfer requests (electronic transfer to an overseas, non-US bank account) are verified manually by Central Finance. We are currently observing significant processing delays of 3 to 5 months for wire account setup. Please plan accordingly.

Why must I submit tax forms for a reimbursement? Is my expense considered taxable?

  • If you are only receiving travel reimbursement (transportation, lodging, meals) for itemized receipts, this is not considered income and is not taxed. However, Columbia still requires a tax form on file to comply with IRS regulations.
    • Note: Do not submit the statement for non-resident alien payments if you are only receiving travel reimbursement

What if I am receiving an honorarium?

  • In special circumstances, the department may offer to provide visitors with an honorarium. If you are an international visitor, you must first confirm that you are eligible to receive an honorarium based on your current visa status. If you are eligible and agree to accept an offer, submit the required Statement for Non-Resident Alien Payments.
    • Honoraria are generally considered taxable income. If you are claiming a exemption through a tax treaty, you must provide this information when setting up your PaymentWorks profile. It is your responsibility to determine tax treaty eligibility, the department is unable to provide advice on individual tax treaties or situations
      • In most cases where a tax treaty is not claimed, federal regulations require that Columbia withhold 30% from the honorarium at time of payment

Other helpful tips

  • Submit your request only when all required information and receipts are available
  • Travel expenses cannot be processed until after a trip is complete, which may be several months after you purchase your flight/hotel. Please plan your finances accordingly!
  • Submit all receipts and documents in a single email message
  • The default payment method will send a check to the address listed on your PaymentWorks profile. If you prefer an electronic transfer (direct deposit/wire transfer), you must provide this information via your PaymentWorks profile
  • Please allow 6-8 weeks for processing, beginning after the PaymentWorks profile has been approved, before contacting the department for status or payment updates

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Help

Need help with your submission? Questions about a policy or form? Please contact the department for assistance at reimbursements@math.columbia.edu.

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Forms & Documents

Please review the above guidelines to ensure proper use of the documents below.

Faculty Submissions

Student Submissions

Visitor Submissions

Miscellaneous

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