Bank codes demystified: IBAN and SWIFT

These international systems move your money among 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 the IBAN number and the SWIFT code.

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 eight or 11 characters long, depending on which bank office it refers to.Bank statement, Online banking system, Inquire in the bankHBUKGB4BXXX
IBANAn IBAN number is an alphanumeric number containing information that identifies a bank, country and account number. With lengths fixed by country, IBAN numbers 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 the UK. Some 40,000 banks and offices worldwide are part of the SWIFT network.

What does a SWIFT code look like?

A SWIFT code 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.

An example of a SWIFT code is this one for HSBC: HBUKGB4BXXX.

We can break down this SWIFT code to discover:

  • A four-letter bank code
  • A two-letter country code
  • A two-letter location code
  • A two-digit branch code

Where can I find my SWIFT code?

If you live in a country that participates in SWIFT, you can find your SWIFT code on your bank statement, by signing in to your online bank account or by calling your bank.

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

Is my SWIFT code the same as my sort code?

No. Sort codes are used for domestic payments in the UK to identify your specific bank and bank account. The code is usually made up of six numbers split into three pairs.

What is an IBAN number?

Short for International Bank Account Number, an IBAN numbeer 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.

What does an IBAN number 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 numbers can be up to 34 characters.

An example of an IBAN number for an account with NatWest is GB 29 NWBK 601613 31926819.

Breaking down our UK IBAN number, we find:

  • A two-letter country code
  • A two-digit transaction number
  • A four-letter bank code
  • A six-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, by signing in to your online bank account or by calling your bank.

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

Bottom line

The mysterious IBAN and SWIFT codes are anything but – they identify specific banks among the many financial transactions conducted worldwide among bank accounts. And they’re especially 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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