There are basically two kinds of Expat Aid Workers: those who get per diem and can spend their travel money however they would like, and those who don’t. The unlucky bastards who don’t get per diem have to produce a receipt for every penny spent or there is no reimbursement and it comes out of pocket. These EAWs loves them some receipts.
You’ll immediately spot the no-per-diem folks at the end of the evening meal after a life-saving workshop. Even if they are in a group of 25, and each individual meal only costs the equivalent of US $5, they will all ask for separate bills and separate receipts. “I can’t claim it if I don’t have a receipt.”
These EAWs (or their drivers) will explain to the poor woman attending them that their receipt needs to have their organization’s full name (properly spelled or she’ll need to do it over), their tax ID number written on it, a stamp that says “PAID,” the amount in numbers and spelled out, a date, and a signature (at times this requires the manager of the restaurant to get involved). They might provide some additional receipt instructions, such as just listing the total amount and writing “general consumption” or “food” or “por consumo” so that alcohol intake will not be noted. Although all this receipt writing can mean you’ll sit for an additional 30 minutes post-meal, the non-per-diem EAW can’t leave the restaurant without the perfect receipt or it will be rejected by the finance department and he or she will be suspect of some sort of malarkey.
The almighty need for a receipt means many non-per-diem EAWs avoid street food on work time and spend 5 times the amount on a restaurant meal of the exact same ingredients and lower quality taste in order to get a receipt (unless there’s a savvy street vendor who’s invested in a book of receipts so that they can do business with the non per-diem EAW crew).
Receipts when exchanging money are also a must because, as all the experienced non-travelers in the finance department know, money should be exchanged at the airport, hotel or bank with proper documentation to avoid supporting the black market. It’s not the finance team’s fault that you arrived in Ouaga at 3 a.m. in the morning, the airport currency exchange was closed, the hotel is out of local currency, the bank takes 3 hours and doesn’t open until 10 a.m. and you are going on an extended field visit leaving at 5 a.m. the next morning… exchanging currency with informal vendors is just unacceptable and against the organization’s anti-corruption policy.
For non-per-diem EAWs, knowing that you have to do an expense report when you get home is almost (but not quite) enough to make you want to never travel again. The crumpled receipts in different languages, different currencies and different exchange rates must all be ordered, taped to a piece of A4, listed in an excel sheet or perhaps typed into an on-line expense report system that times out every 10 minutes, photocopied, coded, approved by a superior, and sent off to the Finance Department where that receipt worth US $0.62 and that other one valued at $1.98 will go through the kind of scrutiny EAWs only wish their lab tests for amoebas underwent.
The EAW might be knuckling down and getting that expense report done without complaining, but then he’ll see the boss waltz by the secretary’s desk and dump a wad of receipts on it so that she can sort through them and do his expense report for him. The EAW will implode in a mixture of righteous indignation (What an asshole! Can’t he do his own expense report!?) and serious pangs of envy (I wish I had a secretary to do my expense reports for me…).
Ah, receipts. Those little slips of paper that keep the EAW and his or her organization honest and accountable.