More than seven million business trips were taken by UK employees in 2016, the equivalent of thousands of travellers jetting off each day for work-related activities. For many companies, business travel is simply a regular, necessary occurrence, but for smaller or newly-established businesses, that first trip abroad is a landmark event – here’s what you need to know to get it right.
Planning as far in advance as possible gives you the best chance of both maximising your itinerary and saving on travel costs – and of course comfortably preparing what it is you need to do to meet your trip’s objectives, such as creating a presentation or scoping out premises for business growth.
Creating a thorough itinerary, including dates, times and specific destinations helps to structure your trip, keeps those back home in the know about your movements and will highlight any gaps that could be filled usefully. For example, if you’ve an afternoon unaccounted for, could you set up a meeting with a potential client? Or visit a business connection nearby?
Travel during normal working hours is usually considered working time, but issues can sometimes arise if an employee needs to travel or be away from home outside these hours.
If employees are paid on an hourly basis, they should be paid or given time off in lieu if they are travelling on business outside their normal working hours. How much should be paid should be set out in their contract or in the company travel policy. If not, it’s usually agreed between the employer and employee, but it mustn’t fall below National Minimum Wage.
Business travel is generally accepted as a duty of employment when it comes to salaried employees, but employers have a duty of care to ensure they don’t work excessive hours or have to consistently undertake demanding travel obligations. Depending on your company policy, travelling staff may still be entitled to time off in lieu or overtime pay which again needs to be agreed by both employer and employee.
Businesses should make sure their employees have suitable travel insurance in place before a trip (more on that below), but they should also be aware of their rights as travellers, particularly when it comes to flights. After all, delays and cancellation are not just inconvenient for the business, but have an impact on employee wellbeing too.
European law (or specifically Regulation 261/2004) dictates that airlines must compensate passengers if their flight is cancelled or delayed, and also offer appropriate meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation (and associated transport costs) while you wait for a rearranged flight.
Financial compensation varies between €250 and €600, depending on the length of the delay and flight distance – claims must be made in writing directly to the airline in question.
Those travelling for business face the same potential unforeseen risks as those travelling for leisure. Political and cultural conflict can impact travel arrangements, while natural disasters are usually completely unexpected and can also wreak havoc on travel plans. Thankfully most business trips go off without a hitch, but it’s absolutely vital that employees are adequately covered when travelling for work, just in case. Employer’s Liability Insurance won’t usually cover business travel, and you’ll find the costs of rectifying a situation gone wrong can skyrocket extremely quickly. Make sure the policy includes gadget cover – a lot of business travel mishaps involve lost laptops or broken phones.
Expenses incurred abroad can be treated in much the same way as expenses incurred at home. That is, claims can only be made for business activities, and not for anything that results in personal benefit, or as HMRC puts it, “incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of your duties”.
Be sure to keep hold of your receipts, although if they get misplaced you can refer to HMRC’s comprehensive list of benchmark scales for accommodation and subsistence payments.
If your company permits Incidental Overnight Expenses (for incidental personal costs such as buying newspapers or paying for laundry) – and there’s no legal obligation to do so – the current rates are set at £5 for overnight travel within the UK and £10 per night for travel overseas.
Sorting out currency for business travel can seem complicated once you’ve factored in exchange rates. At the very least, avoid waiting until the last minute to change cash at the airport – this is by far the costliest way of doing things. Instead, consider a prepaid corporate travel card. FairFX’s Corporate Prepaid Mastercard® offers great exchange rates plus an integrated expense platform, which makes it easier to manage and keep track of spending abroad.
Packing for a business trip isn’t the same as packing for a week’s holiday in the sun. Firstly, a carry on-sized suitcase is vital for saving valuable time at the airport – no hanging around baggage halls, plus it’s less likely to get lost. Multiple plug adaptors are also important – one’s not enough when you’re travelling for business – and bring along backups of any presentations or files you may need, on separate memory sticks, packed in separate locations – just in case.
Take some time to research the country you’re visiting and be mindful of any customs or traditions that should be observed – it might make the difference to the outcome of your whole trip.
With these tips your first business trip is sure to be a success. If you need any more tips on how to manage currency or expenses when travelling, check out the rest of our business blog posts.
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