What’s my IBAN number?

Learn the meaning of three of the most used abbreviations in the world of international money transfers.

Updated: May 21, 2024
Matt Crabtree

Written By

Matt Crabtree

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Bank of England forecasts show that by 2027, the total amount of international transfers would have increased to about £200 trillion, up £80 trillion from 2017.

While digital technology has simplified and lowered the cost of domestic money transfers, international wires still need the use of numbers like the IBAN and the SWIFT/BIC Code.

An overview of all three: IBAN, SWIFT, BIC

SWIFT stands for ‘Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication’. Together with IBAN codes, they are two standardised ways of pointing to specific bank accounts when making a bank transfer across countries.

The fundamental split between these methods is the nature of the data encoded.

During an international transaction, SWIFT codes point to specific banks, while in comparison, IBANs point to a specific bank account. When it comes to international money transfers, both SWIFT codes and IBANs play crucial roles in ensuring that everything goes through without a hitch.

In addition to SWIFT, BIC may be familiar to you. Bank Identifier Code, or BIC for short, is equivalent to a SWIFT code in most circumstances. SWIFT and BIC are frequently used interchangeably because of this.

Necessity — the mother of innovation — is also the mother of digital finance. International payments would often be sent to the incorrect account before the widespread use of SWIFT and IBAN codes, resulting in wasted time, money, and resources.

Different countries used various forms for account numbers, which caused unending inconsistencies until IBAN was implemented. More on that below. 

An overview of IBAN

The system of standardisation for IBANs was first devised in 1997 by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), an international standard-setting body composed of members from several national standards organisations.

IBAN is a globally accepted and standardised method of transferring money that's used to make sure wire transfers go to their intended recipients.

The information included in your code includes not only the account holder's name and address, but also the account holder's nationality, bank, branch, and account number. There is a maximum length for an IBAN of 34 characters, including letters and numbers.

Your International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is a combination of the receiver’s account number and the bank's location's country code. The code can also be used to verify the accuracy of the transaction information. The first two digits are a country code followed by two more numbers and then 3-5 letters or numerals.

Each group of digits in an IBAN conveys unique information to financial institutions. ‘FR' is the beginning of the French and ‘DE' is the beginning of the German ones. Control checks, the following two numbers, provide an extra degree of protection unique to your bank.

The remaining digits are your Basic Bank Account Numbers (BBANs), which are used for domestic financial transactions. Although forms may vary among IBAN areas, the BBAN will normally consist of a bank code, branch reference, and account number.

As an arbitrary example — a Turkish IBAN can look like this: TR330006100519786457841326

The “TR” in this example denotes a Turkish account, and the “33” serves as a checksum to ensure the remainder of the IBAN is entered properly. The routing number is 00061 and the account number is 0519786457841326 at the bank.

This technique of verification is widely utilised throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom. Find out whether an IBAN is required to send money to a country that uses them.

You will need an IBAN to initiate a SEPA Credit Transfer.

Where can you find your IBAN?

The upper right corner of your bank statement will display your IBAN. If you don't have your account number handy, you can always check your bank's website or download their mobile app to see it there. If none of these solutions work, you should contact your bank.

Why do you require an IBAN?

An IBAN is required for any local or international wire transfer.

First time sending money abroad? Have a look at our primer for more info.

Do only European countries use IBANs?

Initially intended for use just in Eurozone bank transfers, IBANs are now accepted in 70+ countries. There is no need to provide an IBAN number when sending money to countries that have not implemented the system, such as Canada and the United States. However, they are required if a transaction involves a foreign country that uses the system.

An overview of SWIFT/BIC

To facilitate international wire transfers, financial institutions worldwide utilise SWIFT, an acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, a communications network.

The SWIFT code, commonly known as the BIC (Business Identifier Code), is a unique identifier for each bank. The SWIFT code, then, identifies the sending and/or receiving bank, whereas the IBAN identifies the specific bank account.

When it comes to the distribution and oversight of BICs, SWIFT is crucial. SWIFT is a cooperative owned by its international members that facilitates the safe, standardised, and reliable transfer of financial transaction information between financial institutions across the globe.

To facilitate financial transactions, SWIFT provides each financial institution with a unique Business Identifier Code (BIC). This verification of identity is essential in international money transfers since it guarantees that the money goes to the right place.

International money transfers stay simple and safer with the use of SWIFT codes, often known as BICs. Over 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 nations and territories rely on them. The significance of BICs in the international monetary system is shown by their widespread usage.

The number of characters in a SWIFT code is up to eleven digits and no less than eight. There are four letters for the receiver’s bank, two numbers for the location code, two letters for the nation code, and an additional three numbers for the branch if necessary. SWIFT codes do not correspond to a particular account number as an IBAN code does.

This is an example of a message code used by the SWIFT system: BOFAGB22 XXX

The “BOFA” in this case represents Bank of America N.A., the intended recipient. The “GB” stands for Great Britain, while the “22” indicates that you are in London. The final “XXX” points to the main branch of the bank, although it is optional.

When comparing SWIFT with IBAN, what are the key distinctions?

Beyond Europe, SWIFT codes have largely replaced IBAN as the industry norm. SWIFT is favoured by financial institutions and other business account holders since it is utilised by a wider variety of institutions than IBAN is, including brokerages and clearinghouses.

Here’s our guide on the best international business accounts for 2024

Where can you find your SWIFT number?

Your SWIFT code is located on your bank statement or via your mobile banking app. You'll find it where you'd normally find your IBAN.

Why is a SWIFT code necessary?

The success of your overseas transfer is dependent on the accuracy of your SWIFT Number.

Who requires them?

In order to make an international transfer, you'll need both an IBAN and a SWIFT number from the receiving bank. However, simply a SWIFT may be required in countries where the IBAN system is not utilised (such as the United States and Canada). 

However, either a SWIFT or an IBAN will be needed and approved in order to perform a successful international transfer anywhere in the globe.

IBAN vs. SWIFT / BIC: The Verdict

Despite their apparent similarities, there are important distinctions between the two:

  • The abbreviations: Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication for SWIFT, Society for International Bank Account Number for IBAN, and Bank Identifier Code for BIC.
  • Purpose: When making an international transfer, the IBAN is used to identify a particular account, whereas the SWIFT/BIC is used to specify a financial institution.
  • Length: SWIFT codes are 8-11 alphanumeric characters long, but IBANs may be anything from 8 to 34 characters long (for example, LU 28 001 94006447500003 for Luxembourg).
  • Who uses them: Banks, service providers, clearinghouses, corporate business houses, and brokers all utilise SWIFT codes, whereas IBANs are used for transactions between financial institutions.

What are IBAN and SWIFT fees?

Using these codes will need a bank transfer, which will add a charge of 3-5% to your total.

For cheaper ways to transfer money internationally, check this out.

Related Guides:

FAQs

Do I need both an account number and an IBAN?

Do I require both the receiver’s IBAN and the sending bank's SWIFT code?

Where can I locate my IBAN?

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