What are IBANs and SWIFT codes?

Don’t know your IBAN from your elbow? If you ever find yourself getting bogged down in banking terms, read on. Our useful guide will tell you what they are, who uses them, and why you might need them.

Don’t know your IBAN from your elbow? If you ever find yourself getting bogged down in banking terms, read on. Our useful guide will tell you what they are, who uses them, and why you might need them.

Anelda Knoesen
From the Money team
minute read
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Posted 14 JANUARY 2020

What’s an IBAN?

IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number. This is something you may need if you’re making or receiving international payments.

IBANs identify your country, your bank and your individual bank account. They have become a key part of the banking landscape in recent years, as they make sending money abroad easier and safer.

An IBAN consists of:

  • a country code
  • two numbers called ‘check digits’
  • a bank identifier code
  • your sort code
  • your account number

Each country has its own individual code and number length.

What are IBANs used for?

Banks use IBANs to verify your account information. They’re basically a way of ID-ing you.

If you’re making or receiving an international payment, IBANs make it easier for banks to check they’ve got your transaction details right. That’s why IBANs go a long way towards helping prevent fraud and banking errors.

Does my IBAN replace my sort code and account number?

No, not at all. You’ll use your sort code and account number to make and receive payments to and from UK bank accounts. You’ll only need to use your IBAN when making and receiving international payments.

Which countries require an IBAN number?

There are currently 75 countries around the world using IBANs, including most European countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

It’s also used in some places in around 25 other countries.

How do I find my IBAN?

You should be able to track down your IBAN on your bank statement or via your online banking service.

Failing that, most banks have an online tool allowing you to generate your own IBAN. Simply visit your bank’s website to see if it has this function. You’ll need to have your sort code and account number to hand.

If in doubt, you can always call your bank to ask.

What’s a SWIFT code?

A SWIFT code, sometimes referred to as a SWIFTBIC code, or SWIFT number, is an ID for banks. Every bank and financial organisation has its own SWIFT code. This lets you know who they are and where they’re based.

What’s a BIC?

BIC stands for Bank Identifier Code, which is pretty much self-explanatory. It’s a SWIFT code by another name and serves exactly the same purpose  - to identify a bank worldwide.

Bank Identifier Codes allow banks to send automated payments speedily and accurately. The code lets your bank know exactly which bank (and sometimes even branch) it’s dealing with.

BIC and SWIFT codes are a shorthand that let you identify:

  • The name of a bank
  • What country the bank is based in
  • What city the bank is in
  • The bank’s address

What’s the format of a SWIFT or BIC code?

BIC or SWIFT codes are 8-11 characters long. They’re formatted as follows:

  • 4-letter bank code
    Usually a shortened version of the bank’s name. For example, Halifax’s code is HLFX.
  • Country code
    Two letters that tell you which country the bank is in
  • Location code
    A two-digit code telling you where the bank’s head office is based.
  • Branch code
    Three digits that let you know where the branch is.

How do I find a BIC code?

Online you’ll find a whole bunch of websites that’ll tell you your bank’s BIC or SWIFT code, depending on what your bank calls it. These usually let you search by country and bank name.

What’s the difference between a BIC code and an IBAN?

BIC or SWIFT codes aren’t the same as IBANs. The big difference is:

  • BIC/SWIFT codes identify your bank’s branch for international payments.
  • IBANS identify your bank account for international payments.

BIC/SWIFT codes are used throughout the world, while IBANs are more popular in Europe.

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