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These days you can trade abroad without having to travel abroad. But however great your Skype connection is, there’ll probably be times when you need to be there in person. To host an important event, for example, or meet a potential business partner. And this usually means hopping on a plane.

Can I claim my flights as a business expense?
The general rule for expenses applies to foreign travel too. If your flights are “wholly and exclusively” for business purposes, you can claim the cost as a business expense and use it to reduce your tax. Business purposes include attending a conference, running an event or even just meeting a supplier or client.

As with all expenses, make sure you’ve got documentation (e.g. tickets to an event, or minutes from a meeting) to show that you were travelling for business. If you have a limited company, pay for the flights via the company bank account.

Are my flights still a valid expense if I combine business with leisure?
Everyone needs some downtime, and there’s nothing to stop you seeing a few sights or catching a a few rays while you’re overseas for business. But before you pack the factor 50, some words of warning. If you delay your return flight so that you can enjoy a few days sunbathing or sightseeing, HMRC will deem the trip to be not exclusively for business, and won’t allow you to claim the return flight as a valid expense.

This can cause a problem if you’ve made a single payment covering both flights, so in cases like this it’s best to plan ahead and book the outbound and return flights separately.

Say you’re planning to fly to Turkey for a one-day business event. You decide that when the event is over you’ll charter a boat (this is on my bucket list) and spend two weeks retracing Odysseus’s voyage across the wine-dark Aegean, sailing to Tunisia, the Balearic islands and Ithaca before flying home. So long as you booked separate outbound and return flights, you can claim the outbound flight (which was for business) as an expense, but not the return.

Can I bring family members on a business trip?
If you buy tickets for your family along with your own, HMRC will almost certainly deem the purpose of the trip to be a holiday. This means you won’t be able to claim any of the flights as a business expense. An exception would be if you booked a ticket to a business event for you and a family member who was also an employee of your limited company.

Are there any rules on flight dates?
HMRC don’t give any precise guidance, so it’s best to discuss your specific circumstances with an accountant. However, if you fly out for an event (such as a conference or seminar) a day before the event and fly back the day after, this should make it clear to HMRC that both flights are for business. Longer gaps could be okay, but you’d need a good business reason.

Can I claim other expenses while abroad?
For taxis, accommodation and other expenses abroad, the rules are the same as if you were in the UK. So long as they’re “wholly and exclusively” for business purposes, they count as valid expenses. Just make sure you know how to ask for a receipt! Our cheat sheet below might help!

French: “Puis-je avoir un reçu s’il vous plaît?”
Spanish: “Puedo tener un recibo por favor?”
German: “Kann ich eine Quittung haben, bitte?”
Australian: “Struth mate, any chance of a docket?” (according to the Outback Dictionary)

Expenses can be a minefield, and we’d always recommend discussing your specific circumstances with an accountant. Feel free to send us a message in the chat window, or get in touch.

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