The university pays directly or reimburses individuals for expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct university business. Key considerations and associated processes are found in Business and Travel Expense Policies Fundamentals. The university outlines its core responsibility, guiding principles and IRS regulations with regard to Business and Travel Expense policy in Administrative Guide Memo 5.4.2.


A travel meal is defined as an ordinary and necessary meal that occurs while traveling on university business. The primary purpose for reimbursing a travel meal is to defray the cost of meal expenses when traveling outside of one’s local area, which is defined as more than 50 miles one way from home or Stanford, whichever is greater. Unlike a business meal, no additional justification is needed for a travel meal as long as the meal occurs within the business travel period, because it is covered by the business purpose of that trip. The cost of the travel meal must still be deemed reasonable under university policy, as such, the university has established maximums for travel meal reimbursement. 

Travel Companions

In general, the expenses of a spouse, family member or other person accompanying the business traveler are not reimbursable. Such expenses are only allowed if the accompanying person has a position with the university and is traveling to make a significant contribution in furtherance of university business. Exceptions to this policy are rare and must be approved in advance of travel by the Provost.

Travel Period

A travel period may begin one day ahead of a business event (for example, arriving on Sunday for a conference that begins on Monday). The business travel period may include weekends, holidays, and other necessary standby days if they fall between business travel days. If a traveler chooses to arrive early or to stay longer for non-business reasons, the university does not pay for expenses incurred during those additional days. Exceptions include when travel is at a lower total cost if the traveler stays over a weekend or holiday, with department approval, or when traveling more than eight time zones, The traveler must document the reason for this extra expense in order to support the non-business-day payment.

Travel Meals for 30 Days or Longer

Long term travel is defined as when a travel period is 30 days or longer. In these instances, the traveler is required to use the per diem reimbursement method, and the per diem rate is reduced to 55 percent for the trip. The assumption is that when staying 30 days or longer, a traveler can plan for or prepare less expensive meals.

The reduced rate will not be calculated by the Expense Requests System so the expense report preparer should calculate the reduced rates (0.55 x listed rate) and enter the adjusted amount in the Expense Requests System via the Adjusted Per Diem expense type in transaction lines.

To learn about lodging policies for travel periods of 30 days or longer, please visit the Lodging Policy page.

Group Travel Meals

A group travel meal is when a group of Stanford employees, affiliates or colleagues who are travelling together or attending the same conference share an ordinary and necessary meal. In this example, the meal must be classified as a travel meal, unless it meets the additional requirements of a business meal with a clearly documented business purpose. 

Group travel meals should adhere to the per person travel meal limits, which are significantly lower than business meal maximums. The meal would be expensed by one participant and the travel meal cost would be deducted from each of the attendees' expense report. The Deducting Provided Meals section on this page provides reasonable guidance for individual meals.

It is best practice to have the individual with the highest level of financial approval pay for the group meal and submit the reimbursement so that the expense request can be reviewed by an approver who was not a meal attendee.

In the Expense Requests System, include the names of employees that participated in the group travel meal. The attendee list can be entered by listing them directly in the transaction or by attaching the list as a supporting document. 

Roles and Responsibilities

It is the responsibility of the individual incurring the travel meal and those involved in the preparation and approval of the reimbursement request or financial transaction to exercise good stewardship of university funds and to adhere to university policies. The individual incurring the expense and the appropriate administrator must ensure that all costs are in compliance with university travel and business expense policies prior to purchasing. These roles and responsibilities are outlined in Reimbursements & Expense Requests.

The Stanford Travel Card (TCard) is the preferred payment method for travel meals. Alternatively, personal funds may be used and a request for reimbursement can be submitted after the trip. The same policies and guidelines must be followed regardless of payment or reimbursement method. Learn more about these methods on the Travel Process page.

When personal funds are used, there are different reimbursement options available depending on who is traveling and the funding source:

  • Stanford travelers may select between per diem or actual reimbursement up to the daily maximum. The method selected must be used for the entire trip. If the funding source of the trip is a sponsored award, Stanford travelers must use the per diem option.
  • University affiliates may choose per diem or actual reimbursement up to the daily maximum. Hospital staff should indicate their affiliation in the business purpose as they do not have a SUnet ID.
  • Non-Stanford travelers and visitors are required by the IRS accountable plan rules to be reimbursed for actual travel expenditures up to the daily maximum, regardless of the funding source. In these situations, a visitor must submit receipts to receive reimbursement.

Stanford uses per diem rates recommended by the U.S. government to take advantage of governmental cost studies and to ensure general equity with grant and contract requirements. The use of the per diem method is required when the travel expenses will be charged to a sponsored award.

  • Domestic per diem rates are maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). To view the current per diem rates for a city (or county if the city is not listed), access the GSA’s Domestic Per Diem Rates.
  • Foreign per diem rates are maintained by the U.S. Department of State. To view the current per diem rates for an international location, access the Foreign Per Diem Rates by Location.

When using the per diem method, documentation is required to demonstrate proof of travel, such as boarding passes and conference or hotel receipts to substantiate trip dates. Individual meal documentation or receipts are not required in the Expense Requests System, although individual schools, units or departments may require all receipts. 

When creating an expense report in the Expense Requests System, per diem rates are automatically calculated and applied based on the city visited. When the trip includes more than one university business stop and the cities involved have different per diem rates, the per diem rate for each calendar day (beginning at 12:01 a.m.) is determined by the location where the lodgings are obtained for that night. If the city in which the travel occurred does not have a specified per diem rate, enter the county in which the city is located to apply that rate.  

The Expense Requests System automatically calculates the correct amount for the first and last day of travel, at 75 percent of the meals rate for the first day based on government-listed rate for the city traveled to, and 75 percent of the meals rate for the last day, based on the government listed rate for the last city visited.

The daily maximum method allows Stanford travelers who are traveling on non-sponsored funds to be reimbursed for their actual expenses up to $75 a day for domestic trips, and $125 for international trips. Stanford travelers are not required to attach receipts in the Expense Requests System unless there is an individual expense of $75 or more, although schools and units may require all receipts to be attached at their local discretion.

Non-Stanford travelers (visitors) must always be reimbursed for actual expenses up to the daily maximum regardless of funding source, as they are not eligible for per diem reimbursement. In these instances, all receipts are required in the Expense Requests System.  

Policy Details:

  • The maximums below include the actual cost per person for food, tax, tip and alcohol. 
  • Tips should not exceed 20 percent unless there is a mandatory charge for a large group.
  • Individual schools and units may choose to set lower limits and may require all receipts to be submitted.
  Per Diem 
(Required for sponsored awards)
Daily Maximum Per Person 
(Required for visitors)
Domestic GSA rate (varies by location) Actuals up to $75
International Dept. of State rate (varies by location) Actuals up to $125
Policy Details
Receipts No receipts required in the Expense Requests System. Individual schools and units may require receipts. Stanford travelers are only required to attach receipts in the Expense Requests System for individual expenses over $75. Schools and units may require all receipts.
Alcohol Cannot be charged to sponsored awards. Meals with alcohol do not require itemization of food, alcohol, tax and tip. Enter the full cost of the meal on a single line and allocate that entire amount to an unallowable expenditure type.
Exceptions No exceptions No exceptions

When a meal is provided as part of a conference, included in a hotel rate, transportation fare, or is part of an event or meeting where another party pays for the cost, a deduction must be made from the applicable reimbursement method. This includes when a business meal occurs while traveling.

Deducting from Per Diem Method

When reporting travel meal per diem expenses in the Expense Requests System, checkboxes are available to deduct a provided meal. The system will automatically deduct the portion of the applicable per diem rate. The deductible amount varies based on the rate for the applicable city and may be found at the GSA website. 

Deducting from Daily Maximum Method

When reporting expenses with the travel meals daily maximum option, it's reasonable to use the following amounts to deduct the provided meal from the daily maximum.

  Deduct from Daily Maximum
  Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Domestic Trip
($75 daily maximum)
$15 $25 $35
Foreign Trip
($125 daily maximum)
$25 $35 $65



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