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Personal versus business costs: Getting the balance right

Article provided by Club Travel Corporate

Most, if not all, large South African corporations have a travel policy that determines how employees may spend the corporation’s funds while travelling on its behalf. In all probability, corporations will have contractual arrangements with a travel management company and/or travel suppliers. These arrangements are negotiated by the corporation’s internal travel departments, and are agreements with which travelling employees must comply; for example which airlines, hotels, and rental car organisations one can use. But what about personal versus business costs while travelling? Any seasoned corporate traveller knows that it’s essential to understand which costs are deemed to be business and which are deemed to be personal. Ideally, the difference should be black and white, with few, if any, grey areas. Communication, accountability and trust are key.

Many corporations will provide you, the travelling employee, with a company card. Others, especially SMMEs, will deposit an agreed amount into your personal account. This will cover expenses such as meals, entertainment, local transport, on-the-ground personal safety (if travelling in high risk areas), refreshments between meals, perhaps even laundry. For an indication of per diem rates in countries across the world, search for the World Health Organisation/United Nations per diem and stipend rates. You can also visit the SARS website to establish the maximum subsistence allowance for incremental costs per day, per country visited. Subsistence allowances which fall within the prescribed SARS limits are tax-free. Find out from your company what their travel policy is regarding these tax-free SARS subsistence allowances.

As the travelling representative of your company, it is your responsibility to retain all receipts for reconciliation. Particularly when entertaining, the name, company and designation of the client or clients must accompany the receipts. However, grey areas do exist, especially if you’re a relatively unseasoned business traveller. Say you’re running late between appointments somewhere in Africa and are forced to take a local taxi that does not issue receipts. Speak to your company beforehand about these unforeseen, unsubstantiated occurrences, or to seasoned colleagues who have experienced this kind of situation, and get their advice.

Be aware that extra bank charges may be incurred when using your personal card in a foreign country. With the unfavourable state of the Rand relative to many other currencies, these charges can be significant. Does your company pay these extra charges or are they for your account? Again, establish what the policy is before embarking on your business journey.

Travelling with enough local currency is prudent. Imagine entertaining an important client and when the bill arrives, your credit card is not accepted for some reason. The reality is that extra tax is incurred when purchasing foreign currency abroad, the result being that Forex costs are often excessive. Therefore plan very precisely all your costs and expenses, both those to be approved by your company as well as your personal expenses. Set up daily or weekly limits to ensure that, firstly, you do not run out of cash and, secondly, what percentage of Forex costs you can claim from your company.

Remember, eradicating the grey area between your personal versus business travel costs requires the correct balance between communication, accountability, and trust. Get this right and you will enjoy many great returns.

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