Policy 31 – University Expenses

The policies found on the website of the Secretariat are compulsory rules for the University community. The authoritative copies of the policies are held by the Secretariat and bear the seal of the University. The online version accessible through the website of the Secretariat is available for information purposes only. In case of discrepancy between the online version and the authoritative copy held by the Secretariat, the authoritative copy shall prevail. Please contact the Secretariat for assistance if necessary.

Established: 15 October 1971


14 May 2021

Mandatory review date: TBD 2023
Supersedes: Guidelines for Eligible Hospitality Expenses
Class: G
Responsible/originating department: Secretariat
Executive contact: Vice President, Administration and Finance

Related policies, guidelines & procedures:

1. Guidelines for University Expenses

2. Policy 17 – Quotations and Tenders

3. Policy 21 – Alcohol Use and Education

4. Policy 28 – Moving Expenses

1. Introduction

Overview and applicability

A. This policy provides the principles and framework for University of Waterloo business expenses and applies to all individuals incurring business expenses on behalf of the University while carrying out University Business (as defined in the Guidelines) or in connection with funds administered by the University. Such individuals include Faculty, Staff, Students and Visitors.

B.The Guidelines for University Expenses (the “Guidelines”) are an integral part of the policy and provide additional information regarding procedures, expenses, rates, etc.

Guiding Principles

C. Overall Principles

i. All University business expenses must clearly support the University’s stated mission and vision in that they must contribute to the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching, and research as illustrated in the Guidelines. If the expense in itself does not clearly demonstrate how it contributes to the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching, and research, a detailed explanation must be attached with the expense, as outlined in the Guidelines. Such expenses must conform to federal and provincial law and the restrictions placed upon sponsored projects. 
As a registered charity in Canada, the University is also required to use funds in a manner consistent with its stated charitable objects. 

ii.Overall, the University and individuals claiming, reviewing or approving expenses have a responsibility to ensure that expenses incurred are reasonable, prudent, and an efficient use of University resources, as outlined in the Guidelines.

iii. The University will not pay for or reimburse a Claimant for personal expenses. The Guidelines provide a list of ineligible items. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

iv. University business expenses should generally be incurred directly by the University in a business-to-business transaction. Accordingly, the University will only reimburse employees (via a claim for reimbursement) for purchases of goods or travel where the supplier is not able to or it is not practical to have the supplier invoice the University directly.


D. University expenses fall into two broad categories: salary and non-salary expenses; however, only non-salary expenses are addressed within this policy. Generally, University expenses are requisitioned through Procurement & Contract Services (as governed by Policy 17 – Quotations and Tenders and in line with the Broader Public Sector Expense Directive) and are invoiced to the University. There are circumstances where
expenses related to University business may be incurred by individuals acting on behalf of the University, including travel or other business related costs. Due to the additional complexity related to reimbursements, further information is provided below and outlined in the Guidelines about specific types of expense reimbursements.

E. All University business expenses must be approved by the appropriate Financial Approver, as defined in the Guidelines, and in accordance with Procedure 1, Procedure 1A, and the University’s Financial Approval FrameworkApprovals and Responsibilities are described in further details in the Guidelines and Section 3.B Approver Responsibilities below.    

F. The University recognizes that business expenses, especially related to research, may be unique and require special consideration. This policy relies on the judgment of the Claimant/Requestor, their Supervisor, and/or the individual with financial authority approving the expense. Where the Claimant/Requestor complies with this policy and/or the Guidelines, approved expenses are reimbursable, however, where an expense is not clearly denoted in this policy, and/or the Guidelines, and uncertainty exists about the ability to reimburse for the item and/or about any tax implications, Claimants should consult in advance with their relevant Financial Administrator, as defined in the Guidelines, or Office of Research prior to incurring the expense.

G. The policy is not intended to render the Claimant/Requestor expense free. For example, if a Claimant opts for an expensive meal with costs exceeding the meal limits outlined by the policy, the reimbursement should be limited to the applicable meal limits. 

H. Departments are responsible for decisions regarding appropriate and reasonable expenses, except where expenses are specifically not permitted by this policy, the Guidelines, or by a third-party, as outlined in the Guidelines. These decisions are subject to approval by the department’s highest reporting authority (i.e., Executive Council member, such as a Faculty Dean, Associate Provost, or Vice-President). If there are questions or uncertainty about an expense being a University business expense, Claimant’s should consult with their relevant Financial Administrator, as defined in the Guidelines, in advance of incurring the expense.

I. Approved expenses may be paid directly by the University through a business-to-business transaction or incurred by a Claimant on behalf of the University. Expenses being incurred directly by a Claimant that do not qualify for a cash advance will be settled by reimbursement. Such expenses are still required to follow Policy 17 – Quotations and Tenders.

i. Charging University business expenses directly to the University

(a) As noted in Procedure 1 and Procedure 1A, the level of authority required to enter into contracts and agreements for expenses relating generally to the operation and development of the University and to bind the University to the terms thereof shall depend on the dollar amount of such contracts and agreements.

(b) Expense transactions should be on a business-to-business basis, as outlined in the Guidelines, with expenses charged or invoiced directly to the University.

(c) For small-dollar purchases, consideration should be given to using the University's Purchasing Card (P-Card) or purchasing on campus as an inter-departmental charge, as outlined in the Guidelines, to reduce over administration of the transaction.

(d) With respect to travel, the University contracts with certain service providers for services including airfare, accommodation and automobile rental. The University pays approved travel expenses directly where the Claimant engages a University contracted travel service provider. The University encourages Claimants to use the contracted travel service providers in order to reduce expenses being incurred personally and to take advantage of contract pricing the University has negotiated. The University will not make direct payments to a travel service provider unless the University has a contract with that service provider, except as described in Section 4.A Transportation Expenses below.

(e) The University provides Guidelines for travelling or incurring expenses on behalf of a group for University business.

ii. Cash Advances

(a) A Claimant is not expected to use personal funds to incur significant University expenses. The University will pay an approved cash advance for a reasonable amount where the expected travel, conference, or research participant expense is for University business. The University will not pay a cash advance where the expense does not relate to University business or where the entire expense will be recovered from a third-party.

(b) Requests for cash advances must provide sufficient processing time and be settled promptly as described in  Section 2.B. Timing for Requesting a Cash Advance.

iii. Remibursement of Expenses

(a) Business expenses incurred by an individual on behalf of the University may include travel and other business-related expenses. 

(b) The University will reimburse Claimants for certain eligible expenses permitted within the framework of this policy, and as outlined in the Guidelines, and are at the discretion of the Approver, as defined in the Guidelines, in accordance with Section 3 Approvals and Responsibilities.

(c) Expenses must be supported by an acceptable, legible invoice/receipt that evidences both the business activity and proof of payment, as outlined in the Guidelines.

(d) Reimbursable University business expenses may be incurred in a currency other than the University’s reimbursement currency. Information regarding exchange rates, payment currency and methods for cash advances, expense reimbursement claims and cash advance settlements, herein referred to as “claims,” are outlined in the Guidelines.

(e) The University does not reimburse expenses purchased with frequent flyer points, gift cards, vouchers, loyalty points or digital/cryptocurrency. The only acceptable methods of payment are debit card, credit card, electronic transfer of funds, cash or cheque, as outlined in the Guidelines.

J. The University specifies minimum payment amounts for claims, as outlined in the Guidelines.

K. Purchases made by or reimbursed by the University will remain the property of the University.

L. In general, the University does not prepay for goods or services, as outlined in the Guidelines

M. A Claimant should not incur expenses for wages, honoraria, or services (i.e., translation, editing, etc.) rendered by an individual (i.e., not an incorporated business). The University should pay the individual directly for services rendered to ensure compliance with the Canadian Income Tax Act. The Guidelines outline extenuating circumstances where the University will reimburse a Claimant for paying an individual for services rendered.

N. Taxable benefit considerations of long-term travel, as outlined in the Guidelines, should be considered prior to travelling.

O. Certain expenses may be funded by a third-party, as outlined in the Guidelines.

i. All expenses must meet the current terms and conditions imposed by the entity that is providing funding for the expenses.

Where the third-party does not specify written terms and conditions, University policy prevails. 

iii. Where the third-party does specify terms and conditions, third-party terms and conditions prevail. The Claimant must submit evidence of the third-party current terms and conditions with each claim, as defined in the Guidelines.

P. Post Transaction Audits

i. Good record-keeping practices must be maintained. All University records are subject to subsequent audit including, but not limited to, internal audits, reviews and verifications conducted by the University and external audits conducted by government or third-parties. Findings from these audits, reviews and verifications may be reported to management.

ii. ​​​​​​A Claimant who has been reimbursed or whose expenses have been paid directly to a service provider in error for expenses that are later discovered to be not permitted under this policy or by the third-party, may be required to reimburse the University, regardless of when the expenses were incurred or reimbursed. 

2. Timing of Submissions and Payments

A. Timing for Submitting Claims

i. Approved claims must be submitted to Finance within 30 days of the receipt date, travel end date, or research study end date; or before the University’s fiscal year end (April 30), whichever is soonest, as outlined in the Guidelines. It is expected that upon termination of employment, employees will settle all outstanding cash advances and expense reimbursement claims.

ii. The University will not make payment for claims received by Finance more than 120 days after the receipt date, travel end date, or research study end date unless approval for the exception is obtained in accordance with the Guidelines.

iii. Claims submitted more than two years from receipt date, travel end date, or research study end date are not eligible for reimbursement.

B. Timing for Requesting a Cash Advance

i. Payment of a cash advance to the Claimant will not be issued less than ten (10) business days prior to the travel or expense start date. In the event that a cash advance is not approved, business expenses incurred by the Claimant may be claimed on a reimbursement basis. 

ii. A new cash advance will not be issued to any individual who has an outstanding and unsettled cash advance where the trip return date or receipt date is more than 60 days in the past.

C. Timing of Payments

i. Finance processes payments within the timelines outlined in the Guidelines.

3. Approvals and Responsibilities

A. Claimant Responsibilities

i. The Claimant is required to substantiate each University business expense as outlined in Section 1.I.iii.c Acceptable, Legible, Invoice/Receipts above. 

ii. The Claimant must submit the claim, as described in the Guidelines.

iii. The Claimant must submit a separate claim for each trip taken, except where a Claimant takes multiple short trips over a limited period of time, as described in the Guidelines.

iv. The Claimant cannot approve a claim payable to themself, whether directly or indirectly, as described in the Guidelines.

v.  It is the joint responsibility of the Claimant and the Claimant’s supervisor to ensure that travel destinations are considered safe for University business travel. Given that conditions may change, it is important to monitor travel advisories frequently prior to departure, as described in the Guidelines.

  • The University assumes no responsibility for injury (except as University of Waterloo travel accident insurance may apply), loss or damage incurred when a personal automobile is utilized for University business. For their own protection, an individual using a personal automobile should carry insurance in an amount to cover their legal responsibilities.
  • The University carries a travel accident insurance policy. Details of this coverage are on the Finance Resources Insurance website.

B. Approver Responsibilities

i. It is the joint responsibility of the Claimant and Approver to ensure that the claim is complete, accurate and approved before submitting it, as outlined in the Guidelines. The claim will be returned or payment delayed when one or more of the conditions of claiming and approval are not satisfied.

ii. The appropriate One-Over-One Approver is required to approve each claim, as outlined in the Guidelines. The One-Over-One Approver certifies that:

  • the claim is complete and accurate; and
  • expenses meet the conditions outlined in this Policy.

iii. Financial approval is required for each claim, as outlined in the Guidelines. The Financial Approver certifies that:

  • the claim is allocated to the appropriate University expense account(s) over which that Approver has authority.

iv. Approval must be obtained from a higher level of reporting authority and may not be delegated to a lower level of authority, as outlined in the Guidelines

v. No Approver can approve a claim where real or perceived conflict of interest exists between the Claimant and the Approver.

C. Finance Responsibilities

i. Finance is responsible for processing payment within the time specified in Section 2.C Timing of Payments.  

ii. Finance is responsible for performing sample audits and post-transaction audit/reviews of University business expense transactions, as outlined in Section 1.P Post Transaction Audits.

4. University Business Expenses

The largest component of University business expenses reimbursed to Claimants generally relate to travel. Travel expenses normally comprise one or more of: transportation, accommodation and meals which are outlined in more detail below. Approved travel and other business-related expenses are eligible under the conditions described in this policy and the Guidelines.

The University reimburses a Claimant only for the business portion of a trip when personal travel is combined with business travel. Reimbursement is at the most economical rate. The expectation is that the business portion may include arrival no more than two days before an event held outside North America, or one day before an event held within North America, and departure should be no later than one day after the event.

A. Transportation Expenses

Approved transportation expenses that are reasonable and appropriate for the type of activity, and clearly relate to University business are eligible.

i. Airfare

a) Approved airfare should be booked through a University contracted travel service provider  which will be paid directly by the University and charged to a University account. The Guidelines outline the process to use this service.

b) Airfare booked through a non-contracted travel service provider is not encouraged and must be incurred as a personal expense and subsequently reimbursed, as outlined in the Guidelines.

c) Airfare is authorized at base level economy class (Coach/Standard/Flex or equivalent) at the lowest logical fare/rate, as outlined in the Guidelines.  Travel other than by base level economy class may be authorized only in limited circumstances, as outlined in the Guidelines.

d) The University recommends that Claimants purchase trip cancellation insurance.  Where trip cancellation insurance is a component of a bundled insurance package (where the travel insurance includes flight cancellation, baggage and trip interruption insurance), the bundled insurance package is an eligible expense. 

ii. Automobile

a) Use of a Claimant’s Personal Automobile

  1. The University reimburses for business travel by a Claimant’s personal automobile under normal circumstances within a maximum kilometre radius from the University and limits the amount of reimbursement beyond the maximum. The Guidelines specify the maximum kilometre radius and requirements.
  2. If a personal automobile is used on approved University business, the owner must ensure that personal automobile insurance is adequate.
    Third-party liability is required with minimum coverage, as outlined in the Guidelines.
  3. An individual who travels frequently on behalf of the University by automobile should notify their automobile insurer regarding such travel.
  4. The University does not reimburse or pay for travel to and from the University’s campuses from the Claimant’s residence, as outlined in the Guidelines
  5. The kilometre rate for use of Claimant’s personal automobile will be established by the University and published in the Guidelines. Map distances will prevail.
  6. An individual cannot claim the kilometre rate for an automobile unless it is owned personally by themself or an immediate family member (i.e., spouse or partner) within the same household, as outlined in the Guidelines. For the protection of all parties, the University does not permit the borrowing of an automobile; instead an automobile should be rented through a University contracted travel service provider.
  7. The Guidelines provide a list of expenses related to a Claimant’s personal automobile that are ineligible. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

b) Use of a University-Owned Automobile

  1. The University owns automobiles for specific business uses. All University owned automobiles are maintained by Plant Operations to ensure standards are met. Exceptions are outlined in  the Guidelines.
  2. A claim for expenses related to a University owned automobile is reimbursable, where permitted in the Guidelines.

c) Use of a Rented Automobile

  1. The University contracts with a service provider for the purpose of renting automobiles for business travel.  Approved automobile rentals should be booked at the lowest logical fare/rate through a University contracted travel service provider which will be charged directly to the University, eliminating any need for incurring the expense personally, as outlined in the Guidelines.
  2. Automobile rentals booked outside the University’s service provider are not recommended and must be incurred as a personal expense and subsequently reimbursed, as outlined in the Guidelines.

iii. Travel by Other Public Transportation

a) Transportation by bus, train or other rail at the lowest logical fare/rate is an eligible expense, as outlined in the Guidelines

b) Transportation by taxi, limousine, or airport shuttle service is an eligible expense, as outlined in the Guidelines.

c) Reasonable transportation charges are eligible, as outlined in the Guidelines.  Claimants and Approvers can determine reasonable costs by comparing other economical forms of transportation, as outlined in the Guidelines.

B. Accommodation Expenses

Approved accommodation expenses that are reasonable and appropriate for the type of activity, and clearly relate to University business are eligible University business expenses.

i. Approved accommodation expenses should be booked through a University contracted travel service provider . 

ii. Accommodations booked through a non-contracted travel service provider are not encouraged and must be incurred as a personal expense and subsequently reimbursed.

iii. Commercial accommodations including hotel, motel, and other lodging expenses are limited to reasonable amounts and normally do not exceed the single accommodation rate in a standard room booked at the lowest logical rate, as outlined in the Guidelines.

iv. Accommodation in a non-commercial setting (i.e., accommodation with friends or family) may be eligible. In order to acknowledge the host’s hospitality, a request for reimbursement for a thank-you gift is eligible for a maximum duration and rate, as outlined in the Guidelines. 

v. Requirements for arranging long-term accommodation are outlined in the Guidelines.

C. Conference Expenses

Approved conference expenses that are reasonable and appropriate for the type of activity, and clearly relate to University business are eligible University business expenses, as outlined in the Guidelines.  The following are the recommended methods for paying conference registration fees:

i. The University pays the conference registration fees directly to the conference provider, as outlined in the Guidelines.

ii. The Claimant pays the conference registration fees using a University P-Card, as outlined in the Guidelines.

iii. The Claimant pays the conference registration fee personally, as outlined in the Guidelines, and either:

a) requests a cash advance if the conference registration is paid a significant amount of time before the conference, or 

b) submits a claim after attending the conference

D. Business Meal Expenses

Approved business meal expenses, as defined in the Guidelines, that are reasonable and appropriate for the type of activity, and clearly relate to University business are eligible.

i. Business meal expenses are eligible when provided to those working or traveling on University business, as outlined in the Guidelines. These expenses are limited to attendees who provide a value-added contribution to the business purpose.

ii. Meal expenses will be reimbursed at a specified rate for meals (i.e., Per Diem or Actual Receipted Business Meal rates). There may be limited and exceptional circumstances where a meal expense is higher than the per diem rate. Please refer to the Guidelines for details.

iii. Certain food or beverages, such as alcoholic beverages, are ineligible unless permitted in the Guidelines,  Section 5. Hospitality Expenses, or is eligible per third-party terms and conditions and is eligible in moderation only.

iv. Cannabis or cannabis derivatives are never permitted for meals, entertainment, internal events or hospitality.

5. Hospitality Expenses

Approved Hospitality expenses that are reasonable and appropriate for the type of activity and clearly relate to University business are eligible.

A. Hospitality is defined as the provision of food, beverage, social/recreational activities, accommodation, transportation, or other event-related expenses and amenities paid from University funds while hosting guests of the University (those not working in an employment capacity) in support of scholarship, teaching, or research activities of the University.  Further information about eligibility of and requirements related to hospitality events are outlined in the Guidelines

B. Hospitality may be extended, as outlined in the Guidelines, and in an economical and consistent manner when:

i. It can facilitate University business; and

ii. It is considered necessary as a matter of courtesy or protocol.

C. Reasonable hospitality expenses are permitted and will be paid or reimbursed, as outlined in the Guidelines.

D. All University events involving the service of alcohol will also conform to the University's Policy 21 - Alcohol Use and Education. Alcoholic beverages are to be purchased and served by a licensed establishment, as outlined in the Guidelines.

i. Purchases by an individual directly from suppliers of alcoholic beverages, such as The Beer Store or Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), are ineligible.

E. Hospitality expenses funded by a third-party must meet the terms and conditions imposed by that entity as outlined above in Section 1.O Expenses Funded by Third-Parties.