Nothing adds unpredictable expenses to a budget quite like an international trip. Just when you think you’ve got the whole travel budget, expense routine, and domestic travel policy figured out, along comes a client who needs your representation in Japan or London, or somewhere way off the grid.
A busy company will always encounter surprises in its business travel needs, but most of these unpredictable expenses can be prepared for in advance. Here are the top five ways to predict these expenses and how to put in place a few policies and plans to avoid extra expenses.
- Every single traveler in your department should have a passport. The cost to expedite a passport is a ridiculous price to pay when you have a department of employees who travel anyway. Since one is required now for travel into Canada, a simple trip to Toronto could turn a bit more costly if you have to incur the extra fee. Also make sure a travel Visa is obtained prior to visiting countries that require them. In Indonesia, for example, they’re only too happy to charge many hundreds of dollars for a “temporary Visa,” purchasable in the airport after you arrive. That’s money saved if you get the Visa approved and issued before you leave.
- Inoculation requirements differ from country to country. Rather than sending travelers to clinics for different shots prior to traveling to a given country, just send all of your travelers to a local travel clinic for an inoculation bundle. They’ll get all the shots they need for travel to 98 percent of the world, plus a handy folded inoculation portfolio that fits neatly into their passport wallet. The portfolio is an internationally recognized list of shots received and the date they were administered.
- ATM Fees in foreign countries can be heavy. Some companies allow their travelers to expense such fees and some don’t. Travelers should be aware of the policy prior to leaving the country. Fees are also incurred at monetary exchange places abroad; some public ones charge as much as 10 percent. Do some research in advance and check with local banks and hotels to see if they charge to advance or exchange moneys to local currency. Traveler’s checks can be issued here from U.S. banks in the foreign currency of your choice. Visiting Europe with traveler’s checks in euros is safe and less costly than exchanging currency all the time. Depending on the travelers account, these are often issued by banks at little or no cost.
- Most credit cards charge a fee for “currency exchange.” Most people consider it a ridiculous charge, but it happens. Often, a fee of 2 percent or 3 percent of all of the charges made on the card in a foreign country will be incurred. It doesn’t seem like much, but if you spend a week in a London hotel, that fee can exceed $100 in no time at all. Be aware of this fee, check with your credit card company, and make your travelers aware of the fee. Be prepared to reimburse it, if necessary.
- Exchange rates fluctuate. That’s no surprise, but if you send three travelers to the same country at the same time, are you sure all three of them will use the same exchange rate when they do their expense reports? Hotels, restaurants, and banks all post the “exchange rate used” on their receipts or at their front desk. Travelers will be tempted to collect some documentation that shows the best rate for them, and they’ll use that rate at expense time. While it might be a bit over-the-top, some companies require their travelers to reference an official exchange rate for every single day they traveled when they do their expenses. Certainly it’s a good idea to require travelers, accountants, and auditors to all use rates from the same source.
- Surprise! Number 6 among the top five isn’t an error in counting; it’s a surprise bonus tip that’s representative of the surprise fees that some countries charge for what we in the United States consider “free privileges.” Many local rules and laws in other countries make U.S. citizens more thankful for the freedom they enjoy. Consider the Dominican Republic, for example: To leave that country by airplane, you’ll need to pay a cash-only “airport tax” if you want to enter the airport as well as a cash-only “Jet-way tax” if you want to board the plane. Those two fees cost nearly $100 several years ago.
Traveling to foreign countries to conduct business is difficult enough. Don’t let surprise expenses make an already stressful situation worse. Educating your travelers prior to their trips can save headaches, money, and stress all around.