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Bank codes demystified: IBAN and SWIFT

We break down these international systems that move your money between countries.

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Banks and other financial institutions keep track of your money using a system of unique codes assigned to each bank or account they do business with. Different countries use different systems, and the two most common are IBAN and SWIFT codes.

SWIFT codes vs. IBAN numbers

DescriptionWhere you can find itExample
SWIFTA SWIFT number is an alphanumeric number containing information that identifies a bank and branch. It can be 8 or 11 characters long, depending on which bank office it refers to.Bank statement, Online banking system, Inquire in the bankNFBKUS33
IBANAn IBAN number is an alphanumeric number containing information that identifies a bank, country and account number. With lengths fixed by country, IBAN codes can be up to 34 characters.Bank statement, Online banking systemGB 29 NWBK 601613 31926819

What is a SWIFT code?

SWIFT is short for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. Despite its oversized name, it’s simply a worldwide bank ID.

Unlike IBAN, which identifies specific bank accounts, SWIFT refers to a specific bank only—including banks in Canada. Some 40,000 banks and offices worldwide are part of the SWIFT network.

What does a SWIFT code look like?

A SWIFT number is an alphanumeric number containing information that can identify either a bank, or a bank and particular branch. It can be 8 or 11 characters long, depending on which bank office it refers to.

An example of a SWIFT code is this one for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC): ROYCCAT2CIC. If the sending bank requires an 11 character SWIFT code, RBC uses the same generic one for all of their branches, and it is ROYCCAT2XXX.

We can break down this SWIFT code to discover:

  • A 4-letter bank code.
  • A 2-letter country code.
  • A 2-letter location code.
  • A 2-digit branch code.

Where can I find my SWIFT code?

If you live in a country that participates in SWIFT, find your SWIFT number on your bank statement, by signing in to your online banking system or by calling your bank.

If you’re sending money internationally and need a SWIFT number, ask your recipient for the SWIFT number of the bank to which their account belongs.

What details do I need for an international money transfer?

Is my SWIFT code the same as a transit number or routing number?

No. For domestic payments, Canadian banks use a 5-digit transit number to identify your specific bank branch. You can find your transit number by signing in to your online banking system or reading your bank statement.

In the US, a 9-digit routing number is used instead of a transit number. The UK uses a 6-digit sort code. In Australia, each bank branches is identified by a 6-digit Bank State Branch (BSB) number.

What is an IBAN code?

Short for International Bank Account Number, an IBAN code is a unique number assigned to specific bank accounts involved in international business. Though not exclusive to Europe, IBAN is used in most European countries. Canada does not use IBAN numbers, but you could encounter them when sending money to an international recipient—specifying the IBAN number makes transactions quicker.

What does an IBAN code look like?

An IBAN number is an alphanumeric number containing information that identifies a bank, country and account number. With lengths fixed by country, IBAN codes can be up to 34 characters.

An example of an IBAN code in at Great Britain’s National Westminster Bank is GB 29 NWBK 601613 31926819.

Breaking down our UK IBAN code, we find:

  • A 2-letter country code.
  • A 2-digit transaction number.
  • A 4-letter bank code.
  • A 6-digit bank sort code.
  • A unique number specific to the bank account.

Where can I find my IBAN number?

If you live in a country that uses IBAN, you can find your IBAN number on your bank statement or by signing in to your online banking system.

If you’re sending money internationally and need an IBAN number, ask your recipient for the IBAN number of their deposit account.

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Bottom line

IBAN and SWIFT codes identify specific banks to help direct money between bank accounts around the world. As such, these numbers are important when it comes to international money transfers.

Learn more about getting the best rates and fees to friends, family and businesses abroad in our guide to international money transfers.

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