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What are BIC and SWIFT bank codes?

Although BIC and SWIFT codes may seem confusing, they’re essential for anyone who needs to send international payments. So, for businesses with a global presence, they’re something you may need to know about. We’ll explain everything you need to know about BIC and SWIFT codes, including what they are, what they look like, how to find them, and how to use them.

BIC codes explained

BIC means Bank Identification Code, or Bank Identifier Code. It is an 8 to 11-character code that is used to identify a specific bank when you make an international transaction. It’s almost like a postcode for your bank, ensuring that your money goes to the right place. So, what is a SWIFT code? SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is a global network that processes payments between different countries.

But is there any difference between BIC codes and SWIFT codes? Short answer: no. The terms are used interchangeably and mean exactly the same thing – they’re simply given different names by different banks and financial organisations. It’s also worth noting that these codes may be referred to as SWIFT/BIC codes, BIC/SWIFT codes, or SWIFT identifiers, but again, in practice there is no difference between any of the terms.

What do BIC/SWIFT codes look like?

All BIC and SWIFT codes follow the same format. They are between 8 and 11 characters long and they are arranged as follows:

AAAABBCCDD

  • AAAA – 4-character bank code that looks like a shortened version of the bank’s name

  • BB – 2-character country code telling you which country the bank is in

  • CC – 2-character location code telling you where the bank’s head office is located

  • DDD – 3-character branch code (optional) telling you where the specific branch is located

Because some banks don’t use the 3-character branch code, they’ll have a shorter (8-character) BIC code. For these banks, the branch code may be replaced by a triple X (i.e. MIDLGB22XXX) or left off entirely.

How do I find my BIC code?

If you’re receiving an international payment, you’ll need to know your BIC number. You can usually find it on your bank statements, but if you don’t have any to hand, you could also log into your online banking account or just call into your local branch.

If you’re making an international payment and need to find the BIC number of the recipient, you can simply use a BIC/SWIFT finder – such as this online tool from Bank.Codes – that allows you to search for the codes of particular branches or validate SWIFT numbers for extra security.

Finally, it’s important to double-check with your intended recipient that the BIC code you’ve been given is correct before you authorize a payment. An incorrect code could mean that your payment is sent back, delayed, or even goes into the wrong account.

Is there a fee for using BIC/SWIFT numbers?

Yes, most banks will require a fee to process international payments, so you may need to pay up to $40-50 when you use a BIC number for your payment. It’s also possible that when your transfer is in transit, you’ll incur a handling fee from corresponding banks. As bank transfers using SWIFT numbers often go through 1-3 corresponding banks, these fees can add up. In addition, information on handling fees is often hidden in the small print, so it may be difficult to know how much you’ll be charged when you make the transfer.

How do BIC/SWIFT codes actually work?

When banks send international payments, they rely on a network of correspondent banks. These correspondent banks work together to move your money from one place to another, before it finally reaches your recipient. BIC codes are used to ensure that your payment goes to the right bank. On the customer side, it’s a simple process. Once you’ve got your recipient’s SWIFT number and confirmed that it’s correct, you simply head into your local branch and ask to make an international payment. Alternatively, you can use your online banking account to make the payment.

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