If you’re making an international payment, you’ll be asked to provide the correct SWIFT/BIC code for your recipient. This short but crucial code contains much of the information required to make sure your payment arrives in the right account, including the bank name, country and branch location.
This guide covers all you need to know about SWIFT/BIC codes, including how to find the right one for your international transfer. We’ll also take a look at a great way to send secure, low cost international transfers with TransferWise.
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What is a SWIFT code?
A SWIFT code – also known as a SWIFT/BIC or a SWIFT number – is a unique identifier which helps banks processing international payments deliver money across the globe. It tells the banks which process the payment which institution the recipient’s account is with, the country the account is held in, and the branch location.
SWIFT code example
SWIFT codes are laid out in a standard format. You’ll find 8 letters or digits for a standard SWIFT code, or 11 if you also have the branch code added. The last 3 digits which show the specific branch an account is held at are not always necessary.
Here’s what you can expect to see:
- 4 letter bank identifier – this may look like a shortened form of the bank’s name, but thanks to bank name changes, mergers and acquisitions, this is not always the case
- 2 letter country code
- 2 character location code – this could include both letters and numbers and indicates the bank’s head office location
- 3 character branch code – this can be a mix of letters and numbers, and gives more detail about the location of your specific bank
SWIFT CODE FAQ
What is the difference between SWIFT and BIC?
SWIFT codes, SWIFT numbers, SWIFT/BIC. Finance is full of acronyms. But in this case, it’s not all that complicated.
A BIC is a business identifier code – part of a standard set of agreed identifiers used by all different types of business to help avoid confusion when working across countries and languages.
In the case of financial institutions, you have SWIFT codes. SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. That’s the system used to send secure messages between banks to arrange international transfers. So, when you want to safely send money from one country to another, you provide a SWIFT/BIC to make sure the banks processing the request – no matter where they are in the world – can all understand where you want the money to go.
Do I need a SWIFT code or routing number?
SWIFT codes are used for international payments. Routing numbers – also called ABA routing numbers – are used for payments within the US. In effect, a routing number is similar to a SWIFT code, in that it is a unique identifier which helps guide your payment to the right recipient account. But routing numbers are used only for domestic payments within the US, not for any transfer which crosses borders.
It’s worth noting that banks sometimes have different BIC codes for different types of transactions. So you may need one code for a payment in dollars, and a different one for transfers in foreign currency for example. Other banks have different BIC codes depending on your location. Check the details if you’re unsure, to avoid delays in your payment.
SWIFT/BIC codes for main banks in the UK:
As noted above, there are some different SWIFT codes used within UK banks, depending on location and type of payment. If you’re unsure which to use, check with your local branch.
How to find a SWIFT or BIC code
We have highlighted the SWIFT/BIC codes of a few of the most popular banks in the US and UK above. However, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, try the SWIFT finder tool to look up banks and branches elsewhere.
You’ll also usually be able to find your SWIFT number by logging into online banking or calling into a local branch to ask for help.
What is a SWIFT code used for?
SWIFT codes tell the sending bank and any other banks involved in processing an international payment, where the money is headed. They may be short – but there’s a lot of information held in those 8 or 11 digit codes.
Do you need a SWIFT code for an international transfer?
If you’re looking for the right SWIFT/BIC code to send an international transfer, it’s good to know that you may be able to save by using a specialist like TransferWise to process your payment. TransferWise customers get secure, fast international transfers which use the mid-market exchange rate with no markups – all for just a low, transparent fee. This can work out cheaper than sending the payment directly through your bank. See if you can save with TransferWise, today.