California Per Diem Rates Explained

You’ve probably heard the term “per diem” thrown around in the context of business travel. It’s a common way to manage expenses, but what does it really mean?

If you’re traveling for work in California, understanding per diem rates can save you time and hassle. It ensures you get reimbursed fairly for your expenses without the need for endless receipts.

Let’s break down what per diem in California entails and how it works.

What is Per Diem in California?

Per diem is a daily allowance for expenses incurred while traveling for work. It covers meals, lodging, and incidental expenses, making it easier to manage and reimburse travel costs.

In California, per diem rates vary by location. High-cost areas like San Francisco will have higher rates compared to other regions. These rates are set to reflect the cost of living and typical expenses in each area.

Employers use these set rates to reimburse employees without requiring detailed receipts for every expense. This simplifies the process and ensures employees receive fair compensation for their travel-related costs.

Types of Per Diem Rates in California

Understanding the different types of per diem rates can help you plan your travel budget more effectively and avoid out-of-pocket expenses.

Lodging Per Diem Rates

Lodging per diem rates cover the cost of your hotel or other accommodations while traveling for work. These rates vary by location within California, reflecting the cost of living in different areas. For instance, lodging in high-cost areas like San Francisco will have higher per diem rates compared to smaller cities. The rates are set to ensure you can find suitable accommodations without out-of-pocket expenses. Always check the current rates for your specific destination to plan accordingly.

Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) Per Diem Rates

Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) per diem rates cover the cost of your meals and other small expenses incurred during your travel. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and incidental costs such as tips for service staff. The M&IE rates also vary by location within California. High-cost areas will have higher rates to accommodate the increased expense of dining out. These rates ensure you can cover your daily meal expenses without needing to keep track of every receipt.

TIP: Track work hours accurately with time clock tools to ensure proper per diem calculations.

Combined Per Diem Rates

Combined per diem rates include both lodging and M&IE rates. This comprehensive rate simplifies the reimbursement process by providing a single daily allowance that covers all your travel expenses. By using the combined rate, you can easily manage your budget for both accommodation and meals. This method is particularly useful for longer trips, as it provides a consistent daily allowance, making it easier to plan and manage your expenses. Always refer to the latest combined per diem rates for your specific travel location in California to ensure accurate budgeting.

TIP: Simplify payroll processing with Homebase Payroll to integrate per diem reimbursements seamlessly.

How Does Per Diem Work in California?

Navigating the ins and outs of per diem can be daunting, but understanding how it works can make your business trips smoother and less stressful.

Employers pay employees a per diem allowance when they travel for work. This daily allowance covers expenses like meals, lodging, and incidental costs. The goal is to simplify the reimbursement process and ensure employees don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for work-related travel expenses.

Per diem rates in California vary by location. High-cost areas such as San Francisco have higher rates compared to other regions. These rates reflect the cost of living and typical expenses in each area, ensuring fair compensation for employees regardless of where they travel within the state.

One of the main benefits of per diem is that employees are not required to provide receipts for their expenses. This reduces the administrative burden on both employees and employers, making the reimbursement process quicker and more efficient. Employees receive a set amount based on the per diem rates, which they can use to cover their daily expenses without the need to track every individual cost.

Per diem payments are not taxable as long as they stay within the General Services Administration (GSA) rates. This means that employees do not have to report these payments as income, and employers do not have to withhold taxes on them. This tax advantage makes per diem an attractive option for both parties, simplifying the financial aspects of business travel.

TIP: Stay compliant with California labor laws to avoid potential legal issues.

What are the IRS Rules for Per Diem?

Understanding the IRS rules for per diem is crucial to ensure that your travel reimbursements remain non-taxable and compliant.

The IRS sets per diem rates for various locations to standardize travel expense reimbursements. These rates cover lodging, meals, and incidental expenses, ensuring employees receive fair compensation for work-related travel without needing to submit receipts for each expense.

Employers can choose to use the IRS per diem rates or establish their own. Using IRS rates simplifies compliance and ensures that per diem payments remain non-taxable. If employers set their own rates, they must ensure these rates do not exceed the IRS limits to keep the payments tax-free.

Per diem payments are not taxable if they fall within the IRS-established rates. This means employees do not have to report these payments as income, and employers do not need to withhold taxes on them. This tax benefit makes per diem an attractive option for both employers and employees, streamlining the reimbursement process.

Detailed recordkeeping is required for tax purposes. Even though employees do not need to provide receipts for each expense, employers must maintain accurate records of the per diem payments. This includes documenting the dates of travel, locations, and the applicable per diem rates used. Proper documentation ensures compliance with IRS regulations and helps avoid potential tax issues.

TIP: Use Homebase Timesheets for accurate recordkeeping and compliance.

What is the Per Diem Rate for 2024 in California?

Knowing the current per diem rates for 2024 can help you budget effectively and avoid any financial surprises during your business trips.

Per diem rates for 2024 in California vary significantly depending on the city and county. These rates are designed to reflect the cost of living in different areas, ensuring fair compensation for employees traveling for work.

High-cost areas like San Francisco have higher per diem rates due to the elevated cost of lodging and meals. For example, the daily rate in San Francisco is considerably higher than in smaller, less expensive regions. This adjustment ensures that employees can cover their expenses without out-of-pocket costs.

The General Services Administration (GSA) typically updates these rates annually. The updates take into account changes in the cost of living and other economic factors. Employers should always check the current rates for 2024 to ensure they are reimbursing employees accurately. This information is readily available on the GSA website, providing a reliable resource for up-to-date per diem rates.

Employers need to stay informed about these rates to manage travel expenses effectively. Accurate per diem rates help in budgeting and ensure compliance with reimbursement policies. Checking the latest rates for each specific location in California is a straightforward process that can prevent discrepancies and ensure fair compensation for employees.

TIP: For more information on managing payroll, refer to this California payroll guide.

How to Calculate Per Diem in California

Calculating per diem correctly ensures that you are reimbursed fairly for your travel expenses without any hassle.

Determine Applicable Per Diem Rate

First, you need to find the General Services Administration (GSA) rates for the specific location in California where you or your employees will be traveling. The GSA updates these rates annually to reflect the cost of living in different areas. You can easily find the current rates on the GSA website. Make sure to select the correct city or county to get accurate rates for lodging, meals, and incidental expenses.

TIP: Use Homebase’s hiring tools to ensure new employees understand per diem policies.

Calculate Number of Days

Next, count the number of days the employee will be traveling for work. This includes the full days spent at the destination as well as any partial days. For instance, if an employee leaves on a Monday and returns on a Friday, you would count five days. Be precise in your count to ensure accurate reimbursement.

TIP: Use team communication tools to keep employees informed about travel schedules and per diem rates.

Multiply Rate by Number of Days

Finally, multiply the daily per diem rate by the total number of days to get the total per diem amount. For example, if the daily rate for lodging is $150 and the rate for meals and incidental expenses is $60, and the employee is traveling for five days, you would calculate it as follows:

  • Lodging: $150 x 5 days = $750
  • Meals and Incidental Expenses: $60 x 5 days = $300

Add these amounts together to get the total per diem: $750 + $300 = $1,050. This is the amount you will reimburse the employee for their travel expenses. This method ensures that employees receive fair compensation for their travel-related costs without the need for detailed receipts.

5 Tips for Managing Per Diem in California

Managing per diem effectively can save both time and money, ensuring a smoother travel experience for everyone involved.

Set Clear Company Policies

Establishing clear policies for per diem helps avoid confusion and ensures consistency. Define what expenses the per diem covers, such as lodging, meals, and incidental costs. Specify the rates for different locations within California and outline any exceptions. Make sure employees understand the rules for claiming per diem, including the process for reporting travel days and the documentation required. Clear policies provide a framework that employees can follow, reducing the risk of errors and disputes.

TIP: Use HR compliance tools to ensure your policies are up-to-date and compliant.

Communicate Per Diem Rates to Employees

Effective communication of per diem rates is key to smooth operations. Inform employees about the current rates for their travel destinations. Use internal communication channels like emails, intranet, or team meetings to share this information. Providing a detailed breakdown of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses helps employees plan their travel budgets. Regular updates ensure that everyone is aware of any changes in the rates, preventing misunderstandings and ensuring compliance with company policies.

TIP: Boost employee engagement with employee happiness tools to ensure they feel valued and informed.

Keep Detailed Records for Tax Purposes

Maintaining detailed records is important for tax compliance. Keep track of all per diem payments, including the dates of travel, locations, and applicable rates. Ensure that employees submit travel reports that match the per diem rates and travel dates. Accurate recordkeeping simplifies the process of verifying expenses and ensures that per diem payments remain non-taxable. Proper documentation also helps in case of audits, providing a clear trail of the expenses reimbursed.

Consider Using a Per Diem Tracking Tool

A per diem tracking tool can streamline the management of travel expenses. These tools automate the calculation of per diem rates based on the travel location and duration. They also provide a platform for employees to submit their travel details and for managers to approve expenses. Using a tracking tool reduces manual errors, saves time, and ensures accuracy in per diem payments. It also helps in maintaining detailed records, making it easier to comply with tax regulations.

TIP: Simplify scheduling and tracking with employee scheduling tools.

Stay Up-to-Date on Current Per Diem Rates

Per diem rates change periodically, so staying informed is important. Check the General Services Administration (GSA) website regularly for updates on the rates for different locations in California. Ensure that your company policies and communication reflect the latest rates. Staying up-to-date helps in budgeting accurately for travel expenses and ensures that employees receive fair compensation. Regular updates also prevent discrepancies and ensure compliance with both company policies and tax regulations.

Is Per Diem Worth it for California Employers?

Using per diem rates simplifies the expense reimbursement process. You no longer need to sift through piles of receipts or verify each individual expense. Instead, you provide a daily allowance that covers meals, lodging, and incidental expenses. This straightforward approach reduces administrative tasks and streamlines the entire reimbursement system.

Per diem also saves time and paperwork for both employers and employees. Employees don’t need to keep track of every meal or hotel receipt. They receive a set amount each day, making it easier to manage their expenses. For employers, processing expense reports becomes quicker and more efficient, freeing up time for other important tasks.

Another significant advantage is the tax benefit. Per diem payments are not taxable if they fall within IRS rates. This means you can provide fair compensation to your employees without worrying about additional tax burdens. It also simplifies tax reporting, as you don’t need to include these payments as taxable income.

Ensuring fair compensation for employee travel expenses is another key benefit. Per diem rates are designed to reflect the cost of living in different areas, ensuring your employees are adequately reimbursed for their expenses. This fairness boosts employee satisfaction and can improve morale, as employees feel their needs are being met while they are on the road.


  • What: Per diem in California covers daily travel expenses.
  • So What: Saves time and ensures fair reimbursement.
  • Pros & Cons: Pros: Simplified process, no receipts needed, non-taxable. Cons: Rates vary by location.
  • Bottom Line: Simplifies expense management, ensures fair pay.

Managing travel expenses can be complex, but understanding per diem rates in California simplifies the process. Homebase can help you streamline all aspects of employee management, from scheduling to payroll. Let’s make work easier. Get started today with Homebase by signing up here.

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