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Going to conferences induces some costs on a researcher's personal budget. In all places I know, expenses directly related to travel and accommodation are usually covered (travel, hotels, food), but there are also some indirect expenses that aren't typically covered.

I'll only give one example, that is directly applicable to me: when I'm away I have to get a baby sitter for the kids (for the days where my wife can't pick them up, say). However, I'm sure there must be other examples.

Are there institutions that cover these “hidden” (or indirect) expenses? What rules do they follow? It must be difficult to know where to put the limit… (“hey, I'm going on a conference in Sweden in December, which means I have to buy myself a new coat! can I get it reimbursed?”)

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  • As far as I know, there is no such thing as "general" rules which things can (or cannot) be refunded. In my institute, there are unwritten differences even among different groups. And not to be overly pushy... I think this question fits more a polling question, see meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/336/… :). Jan 21, 2013 at 22:03
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    Let me add another conspicuous example: tips in the US. You can't avoid tipping, and often they don't show up on receipts. Jan 21, 2013 at 23:19
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    I'd be very surprised by any answer other than "They follow whatever rules their accountants have decided to impose on themselves."
    – JeffE
    Jan 22, 2013 at 3:02

5 Answers 5

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The usual solution is very simple: you will get a daily allowance ("per diem"), which is a lump sum of money that covers all small costs related to travelling.


A concrete example: a researcher at a Finnish university, travelling to a conference in Germany. You will get a daily allowance of 61 euros per day, tax free. This should cover food and all other small expenses related to travelling.

Direct costs related to travelling (conference fees, hotel, transportation, etc.) are covered based on the receipts. However, lunch & dinner is not covered, as they are included in the daily allowance. Corner cases have special rules (e.g., what if lunch & dinner is included in the conference fee).

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  • I have more experience in industry than in academia. Per Diem is the usual answer in industry.
    – Nobody
    Jan 22, 2013 at 3:01
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    At my university, I have two options: (1) Don't submit receipts, and receive the standard per diem. (2) Do submit receipts, and receive the minimum of the receipts and the standard per diem.
    – JeffE
    Jan 22, 2013 at 3:05
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    Several of my past universities have had the complement of @JeffE 's situation: submit receipts and receive the maximum of receipts and standard per diem. Jan 22, 2013 at 7:37
  • @JeffE (3) come back from Japan and submit receipts in kanji up to a total of whatever you're allowed to get without regard for what purchases they represent (booze, cool Japanese elctronics you can't get in the states, ...) because the fool university bureacracy insists on reciepts even though the grant adgency specifies per diem. Jan 22, 2013 at 18:22
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    A "per diem" is - AFAIK - not supposed to cover anything and everything, just some kinds of expenses. Babysitting your children is not one of those.
    – einpoklum
    May 22, 2017 at 21:44
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Usually, if an "indirect cost" will be reimbursed by the university, it must be a cost that would normally be allowed if it weren't occurred on travel.

So, for instance, something that would be considered an "equipment" purchase—such as a battery for a laptop to replace one that dies—might be allowed, but babysitting costs might not.

However, most institutions do have a "travel manual" or regulations that cover what costs are permitted for travelers to have reimbursed. If you have any questions about the policy, you should consult your institution's travel office for guidance. (These regulations often change, usually in response to someone else going overboard and exploiting loopholes in the regulation, which are then tightened for everybody.)

My instinct, however, tells me that such policies are probably quite rare for any institution that accepts government financing for its operations. Usually, those funds have significant restrictions on what sorts of expenses can be associated with travel, and thus it's easier to adjust the institution's policies in accordance with that. For institutions that are privately financed, it's a lot easier to institute policies that are more liberal. But you'd probably have to go to an extremely "progressive" institution (maybe a Google?) to find one that will reimburse you for these sorts of costs.

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    Oh, I am perfectly aware of my institution's policies: only very specific (and listed) costs are reimbursed, for the rest I get zilch. I am specifically asking if there are academic institutions out there that have employee-friendly policies regarding expenses created by the travel. (Maybe hidden costs is not the right term for it, though… I'm thinking about stuff that would not happen unless one traveled.)
    – F'x
    Jan 21, 2013 at 21:33
  • Upon checking “hidden cost”, it appears it have a more specific meaning than I thought… so, I'm editing my post to remove this term. Sorry about that! I meant to inquire about indirect expenses linked to travels.
    – F'x
    Jan 21, 2013 at 21:35
  • Given your answer here, would you mind having a look at this question of mine?
    – einpoklum
    May 22, 2017 at 21:45
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Sometimes conferences actually organize child care services or provide support of child care that you pay yourself. See examples: https://www.hr.cornell.edu/life/support/conference_care.pdf and http://www.aps.org/programs/women/workshops/childcare.cfm The last one says:

Examples of Allowed Expenses

  • Daycare expenses at the March Meeting
  • Extra daycare expenses incurred at home because the primary caregiver was attending the March Meeting (e.g., cost of a sitter)
  • Expenses incurred in bringing a babysitter (or grandparent) to the March Meeting

Other than that I don't think many employers explicitly reimburse those costs. People tend to consider that they are part of the "package" that you accept when you start a career in research (I am not saying it is a good thing).

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Disclaimer one. I'm from a big Japanese University with lots and lost of Money.

Here, like Juka suggests, travelers get paid a daily expense, for example, I went to Australia last year, and I got paid the exact sum for the airplane and a daily allowance that is supposed to cover meals and lodging. The thing is, unless you eat like a king and sleep in a 5 star hotel, you'll usually end up with extra money. (around 200 USD-300 USD more).

I ask my adviser and he told me that this was normal, and postdocs and profs get even more money, because they consider they have families.

I think is a good practice, but then again, if your University does not have a huge endowment, it may get tricky.

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    Just curious — why do they suppose having a family means needing more travel money? Do they suppose the family joins in the travel, or do they suppose the family needs to make additional costs because one family member is not there (e.g. extra childcare costs)?
    – gerrit
    Jan 22, 2013 at 13:57
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    Here in Japan they like to be very inclusive, and the logic goes, if you are a single parent, you may need to pay child care, but then it would be unfair to those who are not single parents, so they pay them both. Is like the child allowance the government gives, everyone receives 200 USD per child a month, regardless whether you need it or not. Jan 22, 2013 at 14:23
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Are there institutions that cover these “hidden” (or indirect) expenses?

Yes, but not necessarily all such expenses, and specifically I don't know about babysitting costs.

To give some concrete examples, I have had the following expenses covered:

  • Personal insurance having to do with my travel
  • Laundry during travel (although that was from a commercial research outfit so might not apply)
  • Membership in a professional society which enables reduced registration fee for a conference
  • A tube for carrying posters (as opposed to an actual poster which is a direct expense)

What rules do they follow?

Individual institutions have their own rules, and if these are not in writing - people in charge of budgets have some set of rules in their heads which you would need to query...

It must be difficult to know where to put the limit… (“hey, I'm going on a conference in Sweden in December, which means I have to buy myself a new coat! can I get it reimbursed?”)

Actually, I just asked a related question. I would actually think that if you live, say, around the equator and need to be at a conference in Sweden you should indeed be reimbursed for the cost of coat - either partially or fully. After all, you're unlikely to need that kind of coat in your daily life and perhaps not even when you travel.

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