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Last updated: 29th September, 2020


What is a SWIFT (BIC) code?

A guide to SWIFT (BIC) codes: what they’re for, how they work and where to find them.

If you’re using a high-street bank to send money abroad, you will need a SWIFT or BIC code. To make your transfer as smooth as possible, let’s unravel the intricacies of the system or, in other words, crack the code.

What are SWIFT and BIC codes?

Put simply, they are internationally recognised codes that identify the exact branch to which a bank account is registered.

What’s the difference between a SWIFT code and BIC code?

There isn’t really a difference between a BIC code and a SWIFT code – the terms refer to the same code. SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It was founded in Brussels in 1973 as a communications system that allows banks worldwide to communicate effectively with each other.

The system works by assigning a SWIFT code – a unique series of letters and numbers – which contains all the information necessary for a transparent transaction at both ends. It identifies the bank that will receive the funds, right down to the exact branch and the country in which it lies.

It’s also known as the BIC – or Business Identification Code – which is assigned by SWIFT to any business that requires one.

Where can I find the SWIFT (BIC) code?

It’s easy enough to find a SWIFT code. There are online SWIFT code locators – just search ‘locate SWIFT code’ online – or look at your statements, whether they’re paper statements or online, as your bank’s SWIFT code should appear there. Should you still be struggling to locate it, check your bank’s website, drop into your local branch or give them a call.

Is an IBAN code the same as a SWIFT code?

No. An IBAN code identifies the specific account relating to the transaction, rather than just the bank itself.

And what about routing numbers and sort codes?

A routing number is a nine-character code used for domestic transfers in the USA. If you’re sending money from the USA to another country, you’ll need to use a SWIFT code. The same applies for the sort code in the UK. This identifies the branch for domestic transfers only.

What is the format of a SWIFT code?

A SWIFT code consists of either eight or 11 characters. Let’s break it down, using the format AAAABBCCDDD as our key:

● AAAA: this is a four-character code that identifies the bank 

● BB: this two-character code locates the country 

● CC: this two-character code identifies the location within the country

These eight characters are found on every SWIFT/BIC code. However, some contain an optional three extra characters – marked as ‘DDD’ on our key – which identify the exact branch.

How does a SWIFT code work and why is it required?

When your money leaves your account, it doesn’t simply use the SWIFT code to land directly in the recipient’s account. It must be transferred from your bank to what’s known as a ‘correspondent bank’ – that is, a bank in another country that has an agreement with your bank to share services and make exchanges easier. The bank in the country of origin will calculate the exact exchange rate in the recipient’s currency, and then deduct that amount from the customer’s account. It will then instruct its partner in the destination country to pay the corresponding amount to the recipient. This process avoids the need to exchange the currency on the foreign exchange market, which would result in corresponding fees and costs.

How long does an international money transfer take?

The estimated time of arrival differs between international money transfer services. For instance, the Santander-backed PagoFX allows UK users to send money abroad as fast as within minutes (depending on the destination and the cut-off point). However, one thing is for certain: fail to fill in the details correctly and your payment will be delayed, possibly by weeks. Your bank will have to come back to you to verify the details and then you’ll join the back of the payment queue again. For some money transfer services, if everything is filled in correctly, the transfer should be completed in between two and five working days.

What are the SWIFT codes for some of the biggest banks?

Remember that you can locate your codes online, but we’ve included a few codes below for some of the biggest banks worldwide, with the extended code of their head office in brackets. Remember that you can also add an additional three-character code to the end to identify the exact branch.

● Bank of America: BOFA (BOFAUS3N)

● Santander UK: ABBY (ABBYGB2L)

● Deutsche Bank: DEUT (DEUTDEFF)

● Narodowy Bank Polski: NBPL (NBPLPLPW)

● Wells Fargo: WFBI (WFBIUS6S)

As mentioned previously, it’s vital to get the details right first time.

If you’re sending money abroad, you can use a low-cost and secure international money transfer app such as PagoFX. With bank-level security, the app is a transparent method of sending money internationally, with real-time, mid-market exchange rates and no hidden fees. You can transfer money from the UK to more than 40 countries, with more currencies coming soon. It’s open to any UK resident, no matter who they bank with. Read more about PagoFX or download the app for free today.