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Bank codes demystified: IBAN and SWIFT

These international systems move your money from South Africa to countries all around the world.

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 eight or 11 characters long, depending on which bank office it refers to. Each South African bank has its own unique SWIFT code.Bank statement, Online banking system, Inquire in the bankABSAZAJJCBF
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. More than 11,000 institutions worldwide are part of the SWIFT network, including banks in South Africa.

What does a SWIFT code look like?

A 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.

An example of a SWIFT code is this one for the ABSA Bank International Center Bloemfontein branch: ABSAZAJJCBF.

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 three-letter branch code.

Where can I find my SWIFT code?

You can 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 overseas from South Africa and need a SWIFT number, ask your recipient for the SWIFT number of the bank to which their account belongs.

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.

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 is this one for Great Britain’s National Westminster Bank: GB 29 NWBK 601613 31926819.

Breaking down our UK IBAN code 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 an IBAN number?

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

If you’re residing in a country outside South Africa that uses IBAN, you can find your IBAN number on your bank statement or by signing in to your online banking system.

Bottom line

The mysterious IBAN and SWIFT codes are anything but. They identify specific banks among the many financial transactions conducted worldwide between 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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