What is a SWIFT code?

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In a Nutshell

When you send money abroad, a SWIFT code helps ensure your money goes to the right place. It’s a unique ID number used in international wire transfers.
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If you’re wiring money overseas, you want to make sure it gets to the right place. That’s where SWIFT codes come in.

SWIFT codes are unique ID numbers used in international wire transfers to specify what bank is receiving the money.

If you’re a foreign exchange student receiving money from back home, a worker sending money to family overseas or an investor in a global business, chances are you’ll use a SWIFT code to make sure your money goes to the correct bank.

What is a SWIFT code?

SWIFT codes are issued by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is where the SWIFT acronym comes from. The Belgium-based international organization is a cooperative used by banks and securities companies around the world for secure financial communication.

These codes are also known as a Business Identifier Code, or BIC. The terms SWIFT codes and BIC codes are interchangeable.

What do the digits in a SWIFT code mean?

A SWIFT code has either eight or 11 characters, which can be letters or numbers. Each digit or letter tells you something. In an eight-character code, the first four and last two characters are unique to the financial institution that’s assigned the code. The middle two letters are a country code. For example, Bank of America’s SWIFT code is BOFAUS3N for incoming transfers in U.S. dollars. The BOFA is the bank identifier code, US is the location code and 3N is also part of the bank code.

For 11-character codes, the last three characters are a branch code, which can be used to identify a specific department, unit or branch within a financial institution.

How do SWIFT codes work?

Because each financial institution has its own unique SWIFT code, using these codes helps ensure the money you’re sending (or receiving) by wire gets to the specific bank account it’s intended for.

Say you live in the United States, and you want to wire $5,000 to a friend in Estonia. You contact your bank and ask it to start the transfer. You’ll tell your bank the name and address of your friend, their bank’s name and address, their account number and their bank’s SWIFT code. Some banks allow you to do this online or by mobile app, though others require you to do so in person or over the phone.

Your bank should make sure the request is legitimate, take money from your account, and send a SWIFT message to your friend’s bank with instructions to credit your friend’s account. Your friend’s bank can then choose whether to receive the money in U.S. dollars, Estonian kroons or euros.

Because each bank checks the legitimacy and security of the transaction, SWIFT transfers can take a few days, five days or even longer, though SWIFT does offer real-time payments. Just as domestic transactions can be subject to wire transfer fees, your bank may charge you a fee to send or receive a SWIFT payment.

When might I need a SWIFT code?

If you are sending money to someone internationally, you’ll want to know the SWIFT code for their bank. Likewise, if someone is the sender of money from overseas, they will likely ask for the SWIFT code of your bank.

Most banks and wire transfer companies ask you for the SWIFT code when initiating an international wire transfer.

Where can I find my SWIFT code?

Banks that have a SWIFT code generally publish their identifiers on their website. If you’re planning to receive a transfer from overseas or wire money abroad, check your bank’s website for an international transfer page, which will likely have that information. You can also contact your bank and ask.


What’s the difference between a SWIFT code and an ABA routing number?

You’ll typically use a nine-digit ABA routing number for domestic payments, and a SWIFT number for international transactions.

What’s the difference between a SWIFT code and an IBAN?

An IBAN — International Bank Account Number — is another standard format to identify banks for overseas payments. The United States does not use IBAN, so American banks won’t have one.

What is the SWIFT Network?

The SWIFT network is a system banks use to send secure financial messages to one another. Roughly 11,000 financial institutions are part of the SWIFT network in more than 200 countries. A bank may have a SWIFT code without being connected to the SWIFT network.

Does every bank have a SWIFT code?

No. Not all banks and financial institutions use SWIFT codes. If yours doesn’t, ask what number should be used in its place for sending or receiving international money transfers.

Are SWIFT codes safe?

SWIFT transactions use encryption and other security standards to help protect the security of international wire transactions.

About the author: Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than a decade of experience as a reporter and editor at North Carolina news organizations, including the Charlotte Observer and the StarNews in Wilmington. In those roles,… Read more.