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SWIFT/BIC Codes

This page contains everything you need to know about SWIFT/BIC codes when making an international transfer. SWIFT codes are an essential part of transferring money abroad, ensuring your funds reach their destination safely. This guide will tell you what they are, where to find them, and how to use your SWIFT/BIC codes. 

Updated: 26/01/2022
Read time: 10 minutes
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What is a SWIFT code?

A SWIFT code is used to identify the exact bank you are sending money to, including the country, bank location, and branch number. Made up of 8 or 11 characters, these codes are used universally to identify banks and financial institutions when sending and receiving money.

SWIFT codes are a component of the SWIFT network – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – which has existed for over 40 years and provides a secure way for banks to communicate between themselves across the world. 

SWIFT code formatting

SWIFT codes all follow the same format, arranged accordingly:

AAAABBCCDDD

AAAA: Bank code. These 4 letters usually look like a shortened version of the bank name.

BB: Country code. These two letters represent the country the bank is in.

CC: Location code. These two characters will indicate where the bank’s head office is located.

DDD: Branch code. The last three characters will indicate the specific branch of the bank.

Note

Not all banks use the three-digit branch code, and instead have a shorter 8-digit code. In these cases, the final three characters may be replaced by a triple X, or might be left off altogether.

How the SWIFT network works:

The SWIFT network is essentially a secure messaging system for banks to communicate with each other across the world. Founded in 1973, the network is now used by over 200 countries to make sending and receiving information worldwide easier than ever.

Rather than being used to transfer money directly, the SWIFT network is used to communicate information between banks using SWIFT codes. These codes identify the receiving bank that needs to be sent transfer instructions, while IBAN formats are used for an actual transfer of funds.

Who uses SWIFT codes?

The SWIFT network has gradually expanded over the years, with a reported 10 million messages sent via the SWIFT network in 1979, compared to more than 5.6 billion messages transmitted in 2014. 

The SWIFT network is utilised by more than 11,000 institutions of the following kind:

  • Banks
  • Foreign exchange companies
  • Money brokers
  • Clearing house
  • Depositories
  • Brokering institutes
  • Trading houses
  • Asset management businesses

Where can I find a SWIFT code?

Your SWIFT code can be found in the following places:

  • Bank statements
  • Online banking account
  • By contacting your bank 

What is a BIC code?

BIC stands for Business Identifier Code – replaced from Bank Identifier Code in 2009 to reflect the growing number of non-bank financial services. BIC code is used interchangeably with SWIFT code, as they are both exactly the same thing. 

What is the difference between a SWIFT code and BIC?

BIC stands for Business Identifier Code and it is often interchangeably used with the term SWIFT code. It replaced the original acronym Bank Identifier Code, to reflect the number of non-bank financial services. Both codes serve the same purpose, but it is worth noting that different countries and territories use different terms, so while your bank may have referred to it as a SWIFT code, the receiving bank may refer to it as a BIC. 

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How and when are SWIFT/BIC codes actually used?

SWIFT/BIC codes are required almost any time money is transferred internationally to a bank account. Of course, if you are sending money to be picked up as cash, mobile money, or via an alternative payment method, you may not need a SWIFT code for your recipient.

SWIFT/BIC codes are used by financial services to identify exactly where your money needs to be sent to when sending money internationally, so will generally be required any time you are transferring funds directly to your recipient’s bank account. 

Exceptions are when you use a transfer provider that does not use the SWIFT system for international transfers. The SWIFT system, though secure and convenient for money transfers, can also be relatively slow to transfer funds (for international transfers, you’re usually looking at a wait of 3 – 5 working days, which can work out as much longer if you are sending around a weekend or bank holiday). Many transfer providers by-pass the SWIFT network which enables them to process international transfers within minutes, rather than days.

When is a SWIFT/BIC code required?

You may be asked for a SWIFT code from your bank or money transfer provider if you are sending money internationally. For example, a SWIFT/BIC code will be used to process your transfer if you are making an international wire transfer or SEPA payment.

How do I find my SWIFT/BIC code?

If you’re sending or receiving an international payment, it’s likely that you’ll be asked for your SWIFT/BIC code, especially if you are using your bank to initiate the transfer.

You can find your SWIFT/BIC code by:

  • Checking your bank statements
  • Logging into your online banking and checking it there
  • Visting your local branch to request your BIC and IBAN codes.

If you need the SWIFT code of the person you are sending money to, of course, you could ask them directly, or you could use a SWIFT finder that will allow you to search for the codes for particular branches.

Getting the right SWIFT code

It’s crucial that you double-check you have the correct SWIFT code before you start your transfer. Providing the incorrect code could cause long delays to your transfer, make your payment bounce back to your account, or code even result in the transfer being deposited in the wrong account – which once completed, can be very difficult to reverse. You can find the correct SWIFT/BIC code using our SWIFT code calculator.

Checking that you’ve got all the correct information and are sending to a trusted person or organisation is therefore always a sensible and prudent approach when transferring funds internationally.

Fees for using SWIFT codes

If you are using your bank to send an international transfer, it is highly likely that you will be charged a fee for this service. These fees will often be charged by both the sending and the receiving bank and can range from anywhere between $10 – $50 and upwards.

It is possible to send money internationally for less, however. If you are using a money transfer provider such as WorldRemit or TransferWise to send funds to a recipient’s bank account, you will still be asked to supply a SWIFT code for your transfer.

Money transfer providers, however, tend to have much lower fees associated with international transfers than banks. Additionally, these services will almost always offer a more competitive exchange rate for the currency pair you are converting between and should be able to process your transfer quicker than a traditional bank.

If you’re ready to start sending money abroad today, make sure you’ve entered your transfer details into our comparison engine to help find the best service for you based on cost, speed, security, and more.

How does SWIFT make a profit?

SWIFT is a global cooperative which is owned by its members; these members are categorised based on share ownership. Prospective members are required to pay a one-time joining fee as well as additional annual fees determined by their membership. 

In addition to this, SWIFT charges financial institutions by the volume, length and type of messages sent via the SWIFT network. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect for customers, who can incur high International Bank Transfer Fees.

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Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.