Money and Banking
Travelers and programs operating abroad often need to pay for goods and services in the field but may experience unexpected complexities.
Below we outline international-specific advice for payment options while abroad, although we recommend contacting your unit's business manager if your needs are complex or require special permissions.
Paying for expenses on the ground is a critical element of any international travel or project. Cornell funds may be used for ordinary and reasonable business-related expenses. If spending research grants, know the details of which costs are allowed on project funds. If you have questions about funding specifics, contact your research or department administrator.
- University Policy 3.2, Travel Expenses
- University Policy 3.14, Business Expenses.
- University Policy 3.25, Procurement of Goods and Services; and the university's official Buying Manual
- Buying Manual, Human Research Participant Payments
Faculty and staff should review reimbursement guidelines before spending personal funds for business travel or other expenses. Policies 3.2 and 3.14 (above) provide travel and business expense reimbursement guidelines.
- Cash advances include site project or operating advances.
- Cornell provides advances of cash in limited circumstances. Advances are made to an individual employee who then becomes responsible for those funds. Consult Policy 3.21, Advances for complete details.
- Cash advances are made at the discretion of the unit's business office. You must always obtain and submit receipts for any expenses paid. Funding agencies may have specific requirements if paying with grant funds as well.
Cornell's Corporate Credit Cards
A Cornell procurement card (also known as a purchasing card or pcard) is a Visa card that may be used to purchase business-related goods, except travel-related expenses. For most in-country non-travel-related purchases, a pcard is an ideal method of payment. Certain transactions are prohibited on pcards because the goods or service requires additional review for reasons of tax, insurance, a contract, or other regulatory issues.
Travel and Meal Card
The Cornell travel and meal card (T&M card) pays travel-related expenses and group, business, and hosted meals. T&M cards may be used for travel-related expenses such as airfare; hotel costs; group, business, or hosted meals; registration fees; and incidental supply needs that may arise during travel, such as replacement of traveler's lost laptop power cord.
Payments Made by Local Partners
Cornell departments may have existing relationships with trusted partner organizations. These partners may be able to make local payments on Cornell's behalf through their previously established networks and then issue a combined invoice to Cornell. In these cases, follow Cornell's Buying Manual to ensure that billing terms are clearly articulated in a signed agreement before incurring any expenses and establish a purchase order through KFS. An International Consulting Agreement is the preferred agreement for procurement-related arrangements with international entities. (Note: Contact Office of Sponsored Programs if a "subcontract" is required.)
Traveling in Remote Locations
Using credit cards or accessing cash can be challenging in some locations where banking infrastructure and online connectivity are limited. For example, local ATMs may limit the sum of daily withdrawals or frequently run out of cash—or establishments may not take credit cards, especially for small purchases like taxis, meals, or coffee. Though it may seem easier to carry cash from the U.S. and exchange it for local currency once abroad, carrying large sums of cash is a personal safety risk and is highly discouraged. In cases where credit cards are not readily accepted and local ATMs are not reliable or accessible, Cornell has established a special Western Union Retail Payments option that provides cash disbursement to Western Union locations worldwide. Western Union payments take time to process, so advanced planning is needed.
Paying for Services Abroad
Before engaging/hiring short-term consultants, data collectors, and others for international assignments contact your unit's international independent contractor representative to begin a review process. A formal contract between Cornell and the vendor is usually required, and funds will be wired directly to the vendor's bank account. Setting up a vendor in Cornell's procurement system can take time. We strongly suggest beginning this process as soon as possible to avoid any payment delays. In extenuating circumstances, exceptions to policy are possible at the discretion of a department's business officer (or delegate). If direct payments (including cash payments) to a vendor or service provider are approved, travelers must collect a receipt from the payee.
Human Research Participants - Foreign-based studies
Please see Cornell's Buying Manual for information on paying Human Research Participants. The manual includes information about paying U.S. tax residents as well as foreign nationals.
Internal Grants to Students
Internal research and travel grants provided to students are considered university resources and subject to Cornell's procurement and related policies. In most cases, a service agreement between Cornell and the vendor will be necessary, and funds will be wired directly to the vendor's bank account. Setting up a vendor in Cornell's procurement system can take time. We strongly suggest beginning this process as soon as possible to avoid any payment delays.
In extenuating circumstances, exceptions to policy are possible at the discretion of a department's business officer (or delegate). If direct payments (including cash payments) to a vendor are approved, students must collect a receipt from the payee.
When students travel to remote areas to conduct research and need cash to make payments on the ground (this would likely be in countries where ATMs are not reliable or available and credit cards are not accepted), departments may arrange Western Union Retail Payments for advances and grants.
Foreign Bank Accounts
Occasionally units have significant or cyclical spending needs in a foreign country. Per Policy 3.23, Cornell bank accounts must be opened and managed by Cornell's Office of the Treasurer. Bank accounts intended to manage university funds may not be opened in the name of a faculty, staff, or alumni member. Establishing a foreign bank account can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Foreign bank accounts often require a foreign legal presence or entity, and local regulations may prohibit unspent funds from being sent back to the U.S. Email the treasurer's office for support. Working through a local partner, as outlined below, may be an alternative solution.
Payments made by local partners: In cases where there are logistical barriers in setting up a foreign bank account, working with a local partner may be a suitable option. Financial controls per Cornell policies must be agreed upon with the partner.