This section provides information on the different types of student travel, how to book travel and other travel-related policies.
How to Plan Your Trip
Student groups who wish to participate in Columbia-supported travel must plan all travel arrangements with their adviser. Approval to travel depends on your ability to meet required timelines, the availability of funding, the method(s) of payment, the appropriateness of the travel and the accuracy of your student group's itinerary. Individual travelers must also meet specific criteria, as outlined by your adviser.
Undergraduate Student Life requires that all individuals who participate in travel that is organized in part or in full by student groups comply with specific procedures for Columbia-supported travel. These procedures vary based on the type of travel.
To travel, your group must prepare at least two months in advance of departure to discuss the requirements of domestic or international travel with your adviser. Once your trip is approved by your adviser (and your governing board for ABC groups), you may begin to take the appropriate steps as outlined below.
New York City Travel
For travel that takes place within the five boroughs of New York City (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island):
- Submit a financial transaction form (FTF) for any associated costs of the trip or event
- Learn about MetroCard requests for approved programs and events
For travel that takes place outside of the five boroughs of New York City but within the United States:
- Have your adviser reach out to Administration and Planning to have your trip added to the domestic travel form
- All travelers must fill out the domestic travel form prior to booking travel
- For travelers under the age of 18 at the time of departure, your parent or guardian must sign a travel agreement form, which you will upload with your travel form submission
- Work with your adviser to book travel through the appropriate method
For travel that takes place outside the United States:
- Have your adviser register the trip with the Undergraduate Travel Review Committee as a new program
- Work with your adviser to book travel through the appropriate method
How to Book Travel
Bus and Rail
To purchase tickets for travel for bus and rail travel (example: Mega Bus or Amtrak), your student group must make an appointment to use the travel card at least two weeks in advance of departure. Learn more about travel card appointments.
Columbia Bus and Van Charters
Your student group can request a bus or van charter through Columbia Transportation for your Columbia-supported travel event. Please note that Columbia Transportation will not provide an invoice and will instead charge your student account directly. Check your account balance to ensure that campus partners charged your account correctly.
Flights and Lodging
Your adviser will help you book hotels and flights through one our University-approved travel agencies. Typically, students prefer to use STA Travel Agency for ease of use and competitive pricing. Once you have been approved to travel, work with your adviser to book your flights and lodging.
Mobile App Tickets
If your student group needs to purchase rail tickets that require a mobile app, you will need to book an appointment with Administration and Planning at least four weeks in advance of the travel date. Administration and Planning may be able to setup an eligible member of your group for a cash advance or reimbursement.
Examples of transportation services that require an appointment with Administration and Planning include:
- Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)
- Metro-North Railroad
- Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
- New Jersey Transit
- Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
The use of rental vehicles by recognized student groups is granted on an exception basis. We strongly discourage students from driving for University business; however, in some instances, rental vehicles may be necessary to fully participate in events aligned with the mission of your group. Students should make every effort to use other modes of transportation (air, rail, bus, public transportation, taxi or car service) whenever possible.
If specific circumstances of your event warrant the use of a rental car, Hertz is the only approved rental car agency for student use, and Columbia staff may only apply Columbia's program code to ensure all Columbia protections are included.
Drivers who wish to drive on behalf of their group for an approved program or trip must:
- Be at least 20 years old
- Have a valid driver’s license held longer than one year
- Consent to a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) check completed by an external company
- The cost of the DMV check (generally $5–40 per driver per check) must come from the requesting unit’s budget; costs ranges based on the state of issuance, the need to obtain additional information and other factors
- Have an acceptable driving record
- Not operate any vehicle larger than a passenger vehicle (maximum occupancy is five people)
- Have an approved financial transaction form (FTF)
- Schedule a travel appointment with Administration and Planning at least two weeks prior to departure
Meals and Supplies
If you need to purchase meals and supplies on site during your travel, you may request a travel appointment six weeks prior to your departure to see if a member of your group is eligible for a travel advance or reimbursement. To make these purchases, you must demonstrate that the meals and/or supplies are required to fulfill the mission of your student group and the purpose of the Columbia-supported travel.
If your student group needs to register for a conference, please email your adviser. Your adviser can register you with their P-Card after you submit a financial transaction form (FTF) for the registration payment.
Travel Advance and Reimbursement Policy
When expenses for travel cannot be covered by other available payment methods, your group may qualify for a cash advance or reimbursement per the restrictions below.
Travel advances are a type of cash advance exclusively for Columbia-supported travel. The distinction between a standard cash advance and a travel cash advance is that all expenses must have a clear business purpose that directly relates to the mission of the trip.
To request a travel advance, your group must elect one a trip coordinator from your group to be responsible for the advance. This person must collect all receipts for expenses so that the advance can be reconciled upon the group’s return. Failure to keep receipts will cause the trip coordinator the become personally liable for the expenses. Groups cannot request more than one travel advance at a time or have more than one trip coordinator per trip. Upon approval, the travel advance will come in the form of a check or direct deposit directly to the trip coordinator. You must receive approval six weeks before your trip, so plan ahead.
The approval process depends on following factors:
- Eligibility to receive a cash advance (determined by Administration and Planning)
- Successful vendor setup for the trip coordinator
- Approval of your financial transaction form (FTF)
- Completed cash advance form with budgeted agenda that outlines how the advance will be used and the dollar amounts for each expense (e.g. $100 spent on food, $30 spent on taxis between sites)
- Travel appointment with Administration and Planning
- At least one executive board member must attend, along with the trip coordinator
- Confirm understanding of and agree to the cash advance policy
- Agree to terms and date of cash advance reconciliation
Common expenses covered by a travel advance include meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and transportation between sites via taxi or shuttle. Ineligible expenses include snacks, alcohol, entertainment, personal items and loss or theft of money/tickets. See a full list of ineligible expenses.
Per our reimbursement policy, students should not make out-of-pocket purchases for travel or travel-related expenses with the expectation of reimbursement.
Travel reimbursements may only occur under the following circumstances:
- Your student group needs to purchase tickets that can only reasonably be procured from a mobile app (e.g. New Jersey Transit, Metro-North Railroad)
- Your group needs to purchase meals and supplies that can only reasonably be purchased on site during travel
In both instances, to receive reimbursement, you must demonstrate that the purchase(s) were required to fulfill the mission of your student group and the Columbia-supported travel. Please reach out to your adviser for additional guidance on non-reimbursable expenses.
Travel appointments take place on Mondays, 2:00–4:00 p.m., and Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m.–noon, on a first-come, first-served basis. Appointments outside of the set travel appointment times will only be made at the discretion of Administration and Planning. Walk-ins cannot be accommodated.
To make an appointment, your adviser must confirm with Administration and Planning that each traveler has completed the domestic travel form. Once each traveler has completed the form, you may elect an individual, known as the trip coordinator, to attend the travel card appointment and book travel on your group's behalf. To book your appointment, please email USLadmin@columbia.edu with your availability.
Your travel coordinator must have the following items prepared for the travel appointments:
- Approved financial transaction form (FTF)
- Complete list of traveler names (exactly as they appear on passports and/or government-issued identification) and UNIs
- List of alternate travel itineraries (be sure to do your research!)
Travel appointments are in high demand. To best accommodate students, we require that you book an appointment within the appropriate timeline as specified below:
- Book rail and bus travel (e.g. Megabus, Bolt Bus, GoBus) via the travel card at least two weeks before departure
- Set up and approve an eligible member of your group for a travel advance or reimbursement for mobile app purchases at least four weeks before departure
- Set up and approve an eligible member of your group for a travel advance or reimbursement to purchase approved approved meals and supplies while abroad at least six weeks prior to departure
- Book approved rental cars at least two weeks prior to departure
Visitor Travel Expenses
If your group plans to invite a guest to campus that will participate in one of your events, you may wish to cover the cost of the guest's flight, hotel or car service. This type of compensation should be discussed with your group’s adviser in detail to determine what makes the most sense to offer, as only one type of payment can be processed. All other expenses related to travel are the responsibility of the guest.
Student groups who use their funds to help offset the travel costs of their guest must adhere to all travel booking procedures.
Note: Be sure to should review all hotel policies carefully for line items such as “deposit upon check-in,” a stipulation which would require the visitor to use their own credit card.