In my job before grad school, I could expense items as soon as I had a receipt and I knew exactly when the money would arrive (typically the following pay cycle). In grad school, it seems to be a mystery when I will receive reimbursement.

  • I bought tickets and airfare on day 1 of this scenario
  • I was not allowed to request reimbursement until 6 weeks later, after the conference
  • The conference ended, I requested reimbursement. 6 weeks later, still nothing!

So for the last 12 weeks, my account is down airfare and tickets, and for the last 6 weeks, I'm down the hotel, transportation, and meal costs. I've sent all the emails I can and have asked around -- the response I get is "The finance department does not give exact days of deposit."

Is this the norm in academic institutions? What is a reasonable reimbursement time for conference travel from a department?

  • 5
    At the institute where I did my PhD you could submit a request for an advance beforehand, based on a cost estimate. Also in some places the institute can order the airline tickets for you and then it does not have to come out of your pocket.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:21
  • I've waited 7 months in my current lab. I'm not very happy about this as I just spent 2 months in the field and paid for a hotel for that time, and I don't want that happening again! But this will be an outlier. Unless you are in France. Commented May 22, 2017 at 21:21

3 Answers 3


Just my two cents.

  • Departments pay after they receive the necessary invoice from the student. So, they cannot pay hotels before you return from the conference.

  • In my department, buying the air tickets is not enough. I also have to provide the boarding passes that I actually used the tickets. That means you can only get the air tickets money AFTER returning from the conference. This makes partly sense, because if you got sick and cancelled the trip they would not have given any money to you in advance, so you would not have to return them back.

  • In many conferences (for CS), you get the registration invoice at the desk and not when you pay online. Again, this invoice is needed for getting back the money you paid, since most institutions cannot provide funding without invoices.

  • Logistically you might make a reservation in 2014 and the trip is going to be in 2015. Institutions cannot pay money in 2014 for an invoice issued on 2015. This might also occur for smaller logistic periods (every 3 or 6 months) as well, depending on the country's tax laws.

Bottom line. You should start counting time AFTER coming back from the conference. Expecting to be paid in advance without providing the proper invoices is simply not possible. After that, it depends on each department's bureaucracy on how soon you will get the money. And believe me six weeks does not seem that far fetched too.

  • 3
    Some departments, however, do have a mechanism for "pre-reimbursement" for things like registration fees and airline tickets before the trip takes places. You typically then have to submit everything again afterwards, to prove that you went, etc.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 15:53
  • @jakebeal You are right. Some departments have a "pre-reimbursement" mechanism but a) the OP did not utilized it (if his department has such a mechanism) or b) it is sometimes very difficult to convince the "money-getekeepers" of the department that you actually deserve this pre-reimbursement.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 15:59
  • 1
    I know the boarding passes rule, but I have a feeling like this kind of thing is coming out of fashion. Partly because with the advent of e-tickets, the chance that you get an actual boarding pass at the airport (at least one that doesn't look like you had just typed it yourself in Notepad and printed it on the cheapest available paper) is decreasing, and also because with various means of transportation (that can easily be equally or more expensive as/than planes), there is no guarantee you get any proof of your journey at all (e.g. train tickets are only checked on some train rides). Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:10
  • 1
    @Davidmh: Unfortunately, even when a university has such procedures for its faculty and staff, students are not always eligible. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:24
  • 1
    @NateEldredge in mine, PhD students are staff, and even master students can use it when it is tightly related to the program.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 19:29

It is standard for departments to wait until after travel to process reimbursements. In fact, many require boarding passes or other proof that travel occurred that are impossible to provide before travel finishes. Some departments will reimburse before but this is (in my experience) the exception not he rule.

Reimbursements after the fact will vary based on the specific bureacratic rules for approval, the people doing the processing, and the backlog that the administrators are facing. I've had travel reimbursements processed in three days and in three months at the same institution.

Two general pieces of advice:

  1. Remember that administrators are humans who understand that carrying the costs for travel can be difficult — especially for graduate students who are more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck and carry these kinds of bills on their credit cards than faculty. I've made my situation clear to the folks doing the processing and had my reimbursements bumped to the head of the queue.

  2. In the future, keep in mind that administrative assistants can often purchase plane tickets, conference registrations, and hotels on university credit cards. If cashflow is tight, look into doing this ahead of time to keep this situation from occuring.

  • "require boarding passes or other proof that travel occurred" - of course, in plenty of cases, you simply have no proof that travel occurred even after the travel. Commented May 22, 2017 at 20:59

While - as others suggest - it is standard for departments to only reimburse after travel, it is also customary in many (? / most?) universities and research institutes to advance some of the expected expenses upon request. This can involve some bureaucratic procedure, or could be very simple and based merely on the pre-existing approval of travel, but in any case you may very well get most of you expect to pay before actually paying it, or at least before traveling.

This balances out, to some extent, the annoyance of being payed the exact amount after the fact; and also makes it less of an issue if the university is late in concluding the payment of the final correct amount.

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