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What is an International Bank Account Number (IBAN)?

If you’re planning on making an international payment in Europe, you’ll probably need your recipient’s IBAN number to ensure that it arrives safely. But what is IBAN? Although it’s only a couple of digits long, it contains all the information your bank needs to help your payment find its way to the right account. We’ll explain everything you need to know about using IBAN numbers, including how to find them and how they compare with BIC/SWIFT codes.

IBAN numbers explained

What is IBAN? IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number. It is a unique identifier for a bank account that is used by banks around Europe to ensure payments reach their destination safely. IBAN codes are used for accounts in the EU, as well as accounts in Hungary, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. If you’re based in the U.S. but sending payments to a European account, you’ll need to know the IBAN code of your recipient.

What do IBAN codes look like?

IBAN formats are standardized across every country that uses them. IBAN codes can contain up to 34 characters/digits, although it’s worth remembering that this depends on the country where the account is based. Generally speaking, however, IBAN numbers look like this:

AA-BB-CCCC-DDDDDD-EEEEEEEE

  • AA – Country code (the country where the account is held and where the IBAN was issued)

  • BB – Check number (this enables the bank to complete an integrity check of the IBAN)

  • CCCC – Bank identifier (identifies the account holder’s bank)

  • DDDDD – Sort code (this will vary according to your account)

  • EEEEEEEE – Account number (this will vary according to your account)

For instance, the IBAN format for a UK account with HSBC may read as follows:

GB-15-HBUK-123456-12345678

How do you check an IBAN number?

If you’re receiving an international payment, you may need to provide the sender with your IBAN number. You should be able to find it on your bank statement, although it should also be easily accessible via your online banking account.

Alternatively, you can use an online IBAN checker to work out your IBAN code, although you’ll need to know a couple of important pieces of information, including your sort code and account number.

If you’re sending an international payment, you should always ask the recipient to confirm the IBAN number, rather than simply relying on an online IBAN checker. Remember, if you use the wrong IBAN number, your payment may be invalid, or it could even go into the wrong bank account.

IBAN vs. SWIFT codes

IBAN numbers and BIC/SWIFT codes are both internationally recognised ways of identifying bank accounts for international payments. However, there is an important difference between the two numbers. Essentially, they identify different things. SWIFT codes identify a specific bank, whereas IBAN codes identify an individual account. Both numbers play an important role in ensuring the transfer of money across international borders remains safe and secure.

How do IBAN codes work?

Making international payments with an IBAN number is a relatively simple process:

  1. Head into your local branch (you can also send an international payment online or over the phone).

  2. Ensure you have all the information you need, including your recipient’s name and address, their IBAN number, the name and address of the recipient’s bank, their BIC/SWIFT number, and the amount that you need to transfer.

  3. Make the payment and wait to receive confirmation that it’s been successful.

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GoCardless (company registration number 07495895) is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Payment Services Regulations 2017, registration number 597190, for the provision of payment services. GoCardless SAS (23-25 Avenue Mac-Mahon, Paris, 75017, France), an affiliate of GoCardless Ltd (company registration number 834 422 180, R.C.S. PARIS), is authorised by the ACPR (French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority), Bank Code (CIB) 17118, for the provision of payment services.