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What is a SWIFT Code?

By Kathy Heydasch
Updated: May 16, 2024

A SWIFT code is a universal way of identifying banks throughout the world. The acronym SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication Code. This code is recognized and approved by the International Standards Organization, or ISO, and represents a particular bank or bank branch. It is especially useful in facilitating international wire transfers.

When transferring money to another country or another bank, options include on-site express funds transfer services like Western Union, online funds transfer services like PayPal, or direct wire transfers from one bank to another. If a direct wire transfer is selected, the bank will probably ask for a SWIFT code for the bank receiving the funds. The code is universally recognized and usually necessary for a funds transfer.

Currently, a SWIFT code is eight or eleven characters. The first four characters are letters and refer to the bank specifically. The next two characters are the country code, and the last two characters are the location code. If the code is eleven characters, this means that the bank has added a three-digit code to denote a specific branch of a bank.

The SWIFT code format listed above is the standard established by the ISO, in particular, ISO 9362. This is the individual mandate which created the Business Identifier Code, or BIC. For this reason, this type of code is also known as a BIC code or ID or SWIFT-BIC code or ID. Prior to 2009, BIC stood for Bank Identifier Code because it only identified financial institutions. In 2009, the ISO changed the acronym to stand for Business Identifier Code because it now sometimes identifies financial and non-financial companies.

SWIFT codes only identify a particular bank or other institution. They do not replace an account number. A person will need to provide an individual account number along with the code which will put the funds directly in the account.

An account number is different from a SWIFT code or a routing number. A routing number, also known as a routing transit number, is a 9-digit code used in the US which is unique to a particular branch of a bank. A routing number and account number can be found on the bottom of checks and other financial documents. On the bottom of a typical check, there are three sets of numbers. The first number is the routing number, the second number is the unique account number, and the last number is the individual check number.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Aug 04, 2011

@KoiwiGal - You should still keep a copy of your bank's SWIFT code on hand just in case though. I know that there are some online payment systems that prefer to have the SWIFT code when you are setting up your account with them.

If you are having trouble finding it online, try calling and asking, or if it is a SWIFT code for an international bank you might want to email them.

I think we get used to being able to find things out instantly, but there is no substitute for a well trained employee giving you the information first hand.

By KoiwiGal — On Aug 03, 2011

I've had to use a SWIFT code before and I remember it being a pain to work it out. When I tried to find my swift code online, it seemed to be buried at the bottom of the bank website.

I'm quite glad that more often than not you can just use Paypal or some other online system as a go between for payments now.

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