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IBAN, BIC and SWIFT explained

In brief: SWIFT bank transfers are available worldwide; SWIFT codes are similar to BIC. Free cross border IBAN bank transfers within EU countries. BIC + IBAN details are printed on EU/EEA bank statements.

BIC + IBAN is often the cheapest way to transfer money internationally and is now free of charge* in much of Europe under EU/EEA directive 2560/2001. BIC + IBAN international bank transfers are faster, more efficient, and low-cost as they are sent directly through the SWIFT interbank network without using intermediary banks (who deduct charges or fees for their service). IBAN will be progressively introduced in most OECD countries to allow Straight Through Processing of cross border payments.

BIC + IBAN is not available in the United States of America, nor is it likely to be, with the decentralized structure of the US banking system and lack of nationwide banks. Electronic account-to-account transfers are often called wire or ACH transfers in the USA.

What is BIC or SWIFT?

The Bank Identifier Code or BIC identifies the payment beneficiary’s bank — the bank that will receive the funds transfer. A BIC can be combined with the details provided by the IBAN to provide automated international funds transfers.

Although BIC is often referred to by bankers as a SWIFT code or SWIFT address, do note that BIC is slightly different from SWIFT§. SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication - a banking industry intranet for worldwide communications and funds transfer. You can find bank payment codes or Bank Identifier Codes in the SWIFT BIC online database of worldwide banks using the form below:

BIC or Bank Name:  

Unlike the modern IBAN, the telex-era SWIFT (or BIC as it is now known) does not include a check sum for automatic validation. Fortunately, all banks doing regular international business have their full BIC details listed in the SWIFT online database shown above; access is free.

§ Technical details: BIC comes in either an eight (8) or eleven (11) character format with the digit 1 always in the eighth position e.g. PORA ITR1. SWIFT codes come in a similar eight or eleven character format with any alphanumeric character except 1 in the eighth position e.g. DEUT DEDK 390.

What is IBAN?

The International Bank Account Number or IBAN is a bank account number designed to simplify and speed cross border transfers; it is structured according to ECBS format. Every bank account in a participating EU/EEA country has an associated BIC + IBAN, which is clearly identified and printed on all bank account statements issued after July 2003.

Examples of IBAN in written format - printed in sets of four characters for legibility:
DE89 3704 0044 0532 0130 00
FR14 2004 1010 0505 0001 3M02 606
GB29 NWBK 6016 1331 9268 19
GR16 0110 1250 0000 0001 2300 695
MT84 MALT 0110 0001 2345 MTLC AST0 01S

In electronic format, IBANs are shown without spaces. The IBAN validator and IBAN decoder below converts IBANs from written to electronic format prior to verifying them.

IBAN Validator & IBAN Decoder

Verify and decode any International Bank Account Number using our IBAN validator and combined IBAN decoder. This IBAN validation form will verify that an entry is correct; note that it does not verify that the account exists. The IBAN validator will also decode and identify the country, bank and branch routing details, and bank account number of any valid IBAN. For enhanced security, all IBAN validation and IBAN decoding is performed on your computer.

Account No

Every International Bank Account Number contains all the information needed to transfer a payment with no need for any manual intervention, and thanks to its check sum validation, IBAN practically eliminates erroneous payments.

Second part of article continues in What is IBAN? (continued) which contains details of all countries using IBAN.

* For amounts up to €50,000 under EU regulation 2560/2001 within the 15 EU Member States and EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).