I am currently at a conference in the US and I will be reimbursed by my adviser. I was wondering what is a reasonable per diem spending for meals?

Of course I could ask my adviser directly, but I feel bad doing so, because I am afraid my adviser will think that I am trying to spend the maximum amount possible.

I don't want to blow my adviser's budget, but I also don't feel that I need to save every last penny in terms of my meal spending. I would like to have maybe one nice meal a day ~$20 but otherwise eat cheaper meals < $10.

What types of spending guidelines would help me not to upset my adviser?

  • 10
    I'd like to point out that your adviser will probably not be offended by the question. If I told you that you had a $100 food allowance, the normal reaction is probably not to attempt to eat $100 worth of food because that's how much you're allotted.
    – Compass
    Nov 11, 2014 at 20:01
  • 1
    If you are at a conference in the U.S. in a major city, you will not be able to have much of a "nice" meal for 20 dollars. A typical per diem rate on www.gsa.gov is 50 to 60 dollars for meals each day. It will be higher in big cities (e.g. $71 in New York and Los Angeles) and lower in rural areas (e.g. $46 in Ithaca). Nov 11, 2014 at 21:04
  • As a bit of a guideline, my London-based university allows me £10 for breakfast, £7 for lunch, and £20 for dinner for any work related travel (be it conferences or meetings away from the university). That is set by the university, not my advisor, even though it comes out of my grant money. You really need to speak to your advisor about it though. I would just approach it like a general conversation about claiming back expenses.
    – emmalgale
    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


Ask your advisor. Your university is likely to have a maximum allowable per diem that is based on the city that the conference is in. It varies from university to university, but mine just pays the per diem for that city regardless of how much you actually spend. Many universities do it this way. It saves time and money processing expenses on a meal-by-meal and receipt-by-receipt basis. If your university does this, then it doesn't matter how much you spend on yourself.

Also, given that the per diem is likely capped in the $40-$50/day range anyway, you are unlikely to blow your advisor's travel budget on food even if you hit the max every day.

  • 7
    Typically, travel policies allow for a set rate of reimbursement ($x per day) without any need to submit receipts. The US federal government sets per diem rates for both hotels and meals and incidental expenses, and if your funding source is a federal grant you can't exceed these rates without special permission from your program officer and then receipts are needed to justify the expenditure. Similarly, most states have their own standard rates (which may just be the federal rates but are often lower.) Nov 11, 2014 at 18:20
  • 14
    +1 for Ask your advisor. You don't only need to know the amount you can spend, you need to know the exact travel rules you need to follow. (Do you need receipts? Can alcoholic drinks be reimbursed?) Failure to follow your school's rules can lead to you not being reimbursed! Nov 11, 2014 at 21:07
  • 1
    @OswaldVeblen: Indeed, this would be a good question to ask as part of a longer conversation about how travel expenses and reimbursements are handled. It's important to make sure you are completely clear on all the details and rules. Nov 11, 2014 at 21:47
  • 3
    "Ask your advisor" -- they'll possibly have no clue. Ask the person who actually deals with this stuff, e.g. the group secretary.
    – Raphael
    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:13
  • Advisers usually have no clue about it. Ask the group / department secretary or administrator instead, they will know much better.
    – Calimo
    Nov 12, 2014 at 13:53

Here's the guidelines according to SIAM:

There are two options for meal reimbursement. You must select an option and use it for the entire trip . The options are:

  1. Full Reimbursement - For full reimbursement, detailed receipts are required whether the meals are paid for in cash or credit card . Detailed receipts for meals showing the food and beverages ordered are required. If the meals are included on the hotel bill as room service, a detailed receipt is still required. Since SIAM receives funding from government agencies it is mandatory that we receive the detailed receipts so that unallowable costs can be segregated for government funding purposes. If a detailed receipt/receipts are not provided to support a meal item on the expense report , the meal(s) will be deducted from the expense report and not reimbursed .

  2. Per Diem - Costs vary according to the area of the country ; there are no fixed per- diem rates . The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA ) updates the per-diem by city periodically. If using per-diem, the rate for the conference city travelling to should be used. Current per-diem rates are available at:

If you use the per-diem rates, you can comfortably afford a nice meal every day, no matter which city you are travelling to in US.

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