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SWIFT vs IBAN: What's The Difference?

SWIFT codes/BIC and IBAN numbers are two globally recognised identifiers used to locate bank accounts when arranging international money transfers. Both are used to ensure streamlined global payments, the main difference being the information conveyed by each type of identification code. Read on to find out how they work and the differences between the two.

Updated: 18/10/2022
Read time: 5 minutes
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SWIFT Code vs IBAN: What is the difference?

Despite several differences, both IBANs and SWIFT codes are used to identify and facilitate international money transfers. 

What is an IBAN?

An International Bank Account Number – more commonly known in its shorter form IBAN – is a bank code consisting of up to 34 letters and numbers. It is used as a unique identifier for bank accounts around the world when initiating international money transfers. An IBAN contains the account holder’s country, bank, and bank account and is used to ensure funds are deposited to the right account. 

What is a SWIFT code?

SWIFT codes are another type of bank code, internationally recognised by banks and financial institutions as a method of identification when transfering money overseas. SWIFT codes are issued by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) and should not be confused with IBANs. 

SWIFT codes are shorter than IBAN numbers – made up of 8 to 11 characters – but they serve a similar purpose: to provide crucial details during the process of transferring funds to an overseas bank account. SWIFT codes include the bank’s address, branch number and destination country of the relevant global remittance. SWIFT codes may also be referred to as a BIC: this stands for Business Identification Code. 

What is the difference between an IBAN and a SWIFT code?

IBANs and SWIFT codes are both used to identify and facilitate international money transfers but the key difference between the two lies in the information that each code conveys. An IBAN is a unique identifier of an individual account, while a SWIFT code specifies the bank.

What does an IBAN number look like? 

An example of an IBAN is: GB33BUKB20201512345678

The format of any IBAN number can be translated as follows:

  • The two digit country code (GB33BUKB20201512345678)
  • The two digit check numbers (GB33BUKB20201512345678)
  • The four digit bank code (GB33BUKB20201512345678)
  • The six digit sort code of the bank branch (GB33BUKB20201512345678)
  • 8 digit code of the bank account number (GB33BUKB20201512345678)

What does a SWIFT code look like? 

An example of a BIC/SWIFT code is: BUKBGB22

This information is interpreted by banks and financial institutions and translated into the following:

  • BUKB: Bank code. These four letters usually look like a shortened version of the bank name.
  • GB: Country code. These two letters represent the country the bank is in.
  • 22: Location code. These two characters will indicate where the bank’s head office is located.
  • 09L: Branch code. The last three characters will indicate the specific branch of the bank.

Can you use an IBAN to find a SWIFT code?

A customer’s IBAN number will contain some of the same characters as the SWIFT code. However, these codes are not the same and therefore it is not possible to use an IBAN to find a SWIFT code.

If you’ve read our guide How to find an IBAN number you will know how to find this information. Wherever customers find their IBAN, the SWIFT code/BIC should also be clearly displayed in the same place. This can be in any of the following places:

  • Online banking account: view your account details or search for the option to display your SWIFT code or BIC 
  • Online or paper bank statements: these will display your SWIFT code or BIC 
  • On the bank’s website: if the bank does not have the SWIFT code or BIC displayed on their website you can call the bank or pay the branch a visit to find out your SWIFT code or BIC 

Will you ever need both an IBAN and a SWIFT code?

IBANs and SWIFT codes are both used as methods of communicating bank account information during an international money transfer. We will run through a few country-specific scenarios to illustrate when an IBAN or SWIFT code will be needed:

Cheaper alternatives to bank transfers

To enjoy cheaper alternatives to bank transfers, you need to use specialist transfer providers. Companies like WorldRemit and Wise do not have the big overheads of banks. Therefore, the savings from lower operating costs are passed down to the customer. Also, the money transfer industry is very competitive. It means you can account for fair competition to keep the fees low.

Most banks charge a hefty markup percentage for currency conversions. This is a bad deal when sending money internationally. Whereas top-tier transfer services offer much better FX rates. This saves significant sums of money over the long term. 

Bottom line

These internationally recognised banking codes are used around the world as standardised identification methods. For this reason, many customers assume a SWIFT code can be found using an IBAN. Although the information and formatting is similar, it is not possible to find a SWIFT code from an IBAN. However, wherever you find your IBAN number displayed, your SWIFT code or BIC will never be too far away. We hope this guide will help you locate this information, to ensure a smooth sailing overseas transfer. 

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Article Factchecked by Elliot Laybourne on 20th July 2022

Elliott is a former investment banker with a 20 year career in the city of London.

During this time he held senior roles at ABN Amro, Societe Generale, Marex Financial and Natixis bank, specialising in commodity derivatives and options market-making.

During this time, Elliott’s client list included Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Schroders Asset Management, and the Pennsylvania State Public School Employees Retirement System, amongst others.

April Summers

April is a trained journalist and the Content Editor for MoneyTransfers.com. She has 10 years experience writing about a diverse range of subjects, from financial services to arts and entertainment. When she’s not writing about global remittances she can be found daydreaming about her next holiday abroad.

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