HomeSwift CodesWhat is a SWIFT Transfer?

What is a SWIFT Transfer?

SWIFT transfers are a reputable and safe money transfer method used by thousands of banks worldwide. We will be delving into the finer details of SWIFT transfers to help our readers gain an understanding of the pros and cons, and the difference between SWIFT and other types of financial networks.

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A brief history of SWIFT transfers

SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications which is a member-owned cooperative network designed to improve the communication of financial transactions. The network was set up in 1973 to support electronic international wire transfers.

The SWIFT headquarters are based in La Hulpe, Belgium and the organization employs nearly 3,000 people as part of a cooperative society under Belgian law. Readers arranging an international money transfer will do well to learn more about SWIFT codes, how the network operates, and the safety procedures in place.

What is a SWIFT code?

Each financial institution included in the SWIFT network is assigned a unique ID code 8 - 11 characters long which identifies the name, city, country, and branch.

For example, the UniCredit Milan branch can be identified by using the SWIFT code UNCRITMM. The code can be broken down as follows:

  • Characters 1-4: UNCR refers to the bank name; UniCredit

  • Characters 5-6: IT stands for the bank’s country; Italy

  • Characters 7-8: MM stands for the city code or location; Milan

  • Characters 9-11: These are optional and used to specify the exact bank branch

When a transfer is initiated, the sender’s bank will communicate transaction details with the recipient bank. The SWIFT network is used to communicate instructions and only once a SWIFT message has been received can the funds be released and deposited into the designated account.

Find out everything you need to know about SWIFT codes

Pros and Cons of SWIFT Transfers

In this section we will outline the distinguishing aspects of this kind of transfer, to help our readers decipher the difference between SWIFT codes and other bank codes.


Reputation: SWIFT network is the largest international payment network in the world with 10,000 financial institutions as members
Secure: SWIFT employs elaborate safety measures to all communications which include data encryption, audit tracking and intrusion detection, in a bid to maintain data confidentiality and integrity
Low cost: SWIFT transfers are cheap - in some cases free depending on the recipient and sender bank, and currencies involved in the transfer - with currency conversion and admin fees included
Fee flexibility: Fees for SWIFT transfers can be settled by the sender, recipient or both, making it a flexible payment option


Slow: The speed at which transfers are processed by the SWIFT network can be slow, with some transactions taking up to 5 business days; this is slower than the competitive services offered by companies such as Wise and Instarem who facilitate instant payments
Limitations: Some institutions do not support SWIFT transfers and in these cases, you will need to use other transfer methods; in this instance, we recommend checking out these Top 10 Money Transfer Companies
Exchange rates: The majority of banks involved with the SWIFT network will charge a currency exchange mark up in the range of 3 - 5% which means you will be charged a significant fee for larger amounts when making a foreign currency transfer

How a SWIFT transfer works

Setting up your first SWIFT transfer may be a daunting prospect so we will have put together a step-by-step guide for sending and receiving this type of payment.

Sending money

  • Step 1: Start by creating a bank account with a bank that allows for SWIFT transfers.

  • Step 2: Navigate to money transfers and enter the recipient details. You will need to enter the account number and SWIFT code to complete the transaction.

  • Step 3: Enter the amount you wish to send.

  • Step 4: Review the details for accuracy before confirming the transaction.

Receiving money

  • Step 1: Create a bank account with a bank that accepts SWIFT transfers.

  • Step 2: Provide your bank account details to the recipient, which should include the SWIFT code.

  • Step 3: Look out for confirmation of money arriving in your account.

Alternatives to SWIFT transfers

This section will showcase the best alternatives to SWIFT transfers that provide you with different unique advantages that could save you money and reduce transfer time.

1. Balance transfers

Money transfer companies Wise offer balance transfers. Typically, all you need for transfers is the recipient’s email address or other unique identification code. Most balance transfers have an instant transfer time, which offers an advantage over SWIFT transfers.

Also, balance transfers can save you money compared to using the SWIFT network. Some companies offer free balance transfers no matter the transaction size. This is perfect for customers that want to send small amounts without incurring charges.

2. Cash pick up

Cash pick up is ideal when the recipient does not have a bank account to receive funds. You can send a money order to a specific bank branch or other pick up location. The recipient will need to bring their ID and transaction details to pick up the money. Most cash transfers can be picked up immediately after the transfer has been initiated. However, they can come with expensive charges depending on the pick up location.

3. Personal checks

This old-fashioned money transfer method takes a long time because the check needs to physically arrive in the recipient's hands. Then they have to take the check to a bank branch or other location for the funds to transfer.

Bottom line

In conclusion, SWIFT transfers are a safe and widely accepted money transfer method that you can use to send money internationally. However, it is limited by transfer time and the costs can be high compared with what alternative transfer providers offer.Consider learning more about bank transfers by checking out our guide on if bank transfers are safe. It will help you determine how to avoid scams and the different transfer options available to you.


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April Summers
April Summers
April is a trained journalist and the Content Editor for 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.