Top > BIC IBAN and SWIFT bank transfers

SWIFT bank transfer codes

Synopsis: SWIFT bank transfers are available worldwide. SWIFT codes are now called BIC.

SWIFT identifies the payment beneficiary’s bank; the bank designated to receive the funds transfer. It usually consists of 8 to 11 characters that adds bank identification to the details provided by the Basic Bank Account Number or BBAN. SWIFT has been renamed BIC which stands for Bank Identifier Code, however most banks still refer to SWIFT codes, SWIFT numbers or SWIFT addresses; all of which can be found in the SWIFT online database of worldwide banks using the form below - access is free:

SWIFT or Bank Name:  

SWIFT does not include a check sum for automatic validation unlike the modern IBAN. Most banks conducting international business will have their full SWIFT details listed in the SWIFT online database.

BIC + IBAN = Faster international bank transfers

The European adoption of BIC + IBAN helped banks automate and speed transfers between bank accounts in different countries within the world’s largest single market. Existing bank account numbers were strictly national and did not include any particulars indicating the country in which an account was located. IBAN standardized them by prefixing existing account numbers with a group of four characters: two alphabeticals identifying the country, and a two digit check sum (plus additional optional checksums in some countries).

Internationally, IBAN will be progressively introduced in many OECD countries to permit faster straight through processing (STP) of cross border payments with the exception of the United States of America (their domestic interbank payment system doesn’t meet international banking standards). IBAN is not available in Asia, Canada, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand. Contact your bank for further details.

BIC + IBAN = free bank transfers in Euro

BIC + IBAN is often the cheapest way to transfer money internationally and is usually free of charge in much of Europe*. The EU/EEA directive 2560/2001 on cross border transfers in Euro states: banks in the EU/EEA (even if not in the € zone) may not charge more to send or receive a transfer in Euro within the EU/EEA than they do for a domestic transfers (which are free in many countries). To benefit from EU regulation 2560/2001, the ordering customer must send the payment in Euros: EUR, select Shared charges, and the correct IBAN and BIC details of beneficiary/recipient must be used. Shared charges simply means the sender and beneficiary/recipient each pay their own bank fees (if any).

Some useful banking terms in English, and their corresponding German, French and Italian equivalents - helpful for easier requesting of inward BIC + IBAN transfers from foreign partners.

Ordering CustomerAuftraggeberDonneur d’ordreDatore d’ordine
Account numberKontonummerN° de compteNumero di conto
Beneficiary’s BankBank des BegünstigtenBanque du bénéficiaireBanca del beneficiario
Amount to be paidzu zahlender BetragMontant à payerImporto da pagare
Charges to be paid byGebühren zu LastenFrais à la charge duSpese a carico del
SharedGebührenteilungFrais partagésSpese condivise
Please refer to your bank for instructions.Ausfüllhinweise erhalten Siebei Ihrem Finanzinstitut.En cas de besoin, contactez votre établissement financier.Per informazioni rivolgersi al proprio istituto finanziario.

Since Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom are members of the EU, but have not adopted the Euro as their currency, cross border Euro transfers with those countries may cost more than domestic transfers in their currency. Here is the official UK Government’s view on cross border Euro payments, and the BBC has an excellent article on why UK to EU transfers are so expensive: often up to 10 times more that Europeans pay for the same cross border Euro transfers. Details on United Kingdom domestic bank transfers are also available: these are usually free to both sender and recipient.

More details about IBAN are available on the European Union Financial Services website.

How can I find a beneficiary’s IBAN and BIC codes?

BIC and IBAN details are printed on all bank statements issued by banks within the EU and EEA. This information should be supplied by the payment beneficiary to the person or party sending the payment. Under the EU and EEA’s strict privacy laws, banks are prohibited from divulging account details to outside parties without prior written authorization from the account holder.

Bank Account Security

Banks (particularly European ones) take security very seriously and IBAN account details alone are not sufficient to debit, withdraw or transfer funds out from a bank account; they are used solely to credit or transfer funds into bank accounts.

Some countries with fragmented financial networks, particularly the United States of America, are more vulnerable to myriad types of banking fraud. Anyone can withdraw funds from a US bank checking account by issuing a demand draft using just the account number and bank routing number - information found on every US check, with no signature necessary. Avivah Litan, research director at Gartner believes ID theft will claim 10 million US victims in 2005 resulting in losses of around US$15 billion from 50 million accounts.

By comparison “victimless” phantom fraud - bad debt run up in the name of non-existent US individuals with phony social security numbers - will hit US$50 billion this year. US banks are so desperate to recruit new customers they will often open accounts on the basis of identification from just a pay-as-you-go mobile phone bill without running proper checks on the validity of supplied ID documents - going against the doctrine of “know your customer” and in violation of the US Patriot Act.

Back to part one of this article: IBANs, BICs and SWIFT explained.

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