If you’ve ever had a bank account, you’ve likely heard the term “SWIFT code.” But unless you’ve needed one, you probably don’t know what it is or how it might affect you. In the event you need to transfer money internationally, you’ll use your bank’s SWIFT code to facilitate the process. Keep reading to learn more about SWIFT codes — and be prepared in case you ever need to use one.
This guide to SWIFT codes will answer the following questions:
- What Is a SWIFT Code?
- What Does a SWIFT Code Look Like?
- How Do You Find a Bank SWIFT Code?
- What Is the SWIFT Network?
- Does Every Bank Have a SWIFT Code?
- What Is the Difference Between SWIFT Codes and Routing Numbers?
First, you should know what the acronym SWIFT stands for: Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. Next, you need to know that a SWIFT code is a standard format for a bank identification code, referred to as a BIC code. Last, it’s important that you realize that a SWIFT code is the same thing as a BIC code.
A SWIFT code’s purpose is simply to identify banks and other financial institutions around the world. Think of a SWIFT code as an international bank ID — one that distinguishes who and what each bank is — across the world. Banks use these codes for a number of purposes, including exchanging messages and simplifying the transfer of payments, treasuries and securities between financial institutions all over the world.
Here’s a closer look at SWIFT codes.
A SWIFT code is comprised of four components:
- Bank code: Four letters that represent an abbreviated version of the financial institution’s name
- Country code: Made up of two letters that indicate in which country the financial institution is located
- Location code: Two numbers or letters that identify the city of the financial institution’s headquarters
- Branch code: Optional three digits that identify a financial institution’s particular branch vs. its headquarters
To send money internationally, you’ll need the SWIFT code of the financial institution to which you’re sending the funds. You can find a bank SWIFT code in a number of ways:
- Go to your financial institution’s website — finding the SWIFT code is typically just a matter of logging in, going to the “Account Summary” page, choosing the account and clicking on “View Account Details.” The code should be listed with your account number and branch address.
- If you’re sending money, try the following: Go to your account, type in the amount you want to transfer from it, enter the name of the person you’re sending it to and his or her bank details, and then enter the city or name of their institution in the search box.
- Check your bank statement — if your institution has a SWIFT code, it will appear there.
- Conduct a search online at a SWIFT-dedicated website.
- Call your financial institution and ask for the SWIFT code.
The SWIFT network provides financial institutions with a uniform way to transfer money between banks in different countries. The network itself doesn’t carry out transfers — it transmits transfer instructions banks make to other financial institutions — requests that often pass through intermediary institutions before reaching their final destinations. As of 2019, the secure network enables an excess of 11,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries to trade information about financial transactions. And SWIFT carries more than 5 billion financial messages annually for financial institutions.
Before financial institutions used the SWIFT network to make money transfers, they used the TELEX system, which did not provide the speed or security that the SWIFT network does. And lack of a uniform system of bank identifiers made TELEX prone to human error.
These are important things to remember about the SWIFT network:
- It doesn’t transfer funds — it facilitates payments between financial institutions using SWIFT codes.
- The SWIFT network standardized BICs and International Bank Account Numbers, or IBANs.
- Businesses other than financial institutions that use the SWIFT system include corporations, security broker-dealers and money brokers, clearinghouses and depositories.
Surprisingly, not all financial institutions have SWIFT codes. In fact, many U.S. credit unions and small banks do not connect to the SWIFT network, which means they have no international routing codes.
Instead, these institutions send and receive international transactions, or wire transfers, by using U.S. banks to serve as intermediaries to wire the money. And financial institutions that do use SWIFT might not register for SWIFT codes for all of their branches.
Here are some major U.S. banks’ SWIFT codes to give you an idea of what they look like:
|SWIFT Codes for Major Banks|
|Bank of America||BOFAUS3N (incoming wires in U.S. dollars)|
BOFAUS6S (incoming wires in foreign currency)
SWIFT codes and BICs are the same exact thing, but don’t mistake a SWIFT code for a bank routing number. Although both are used to identify banks, you must use a BIC/SWIFT code to transfer money internationally and an American Bankers Association, or ABA, routing number to transfer money domestically.
Often, U.S.-based banking customers give their ABA routing numbers instead of SWIFT codes when they make international transfers. If that happens, you’ll need to use a third-party transfer agent to deal with the money transfer.
There are a few key differences between SWIFT codes and routing numbers:
- You use a routing number to transfer money domestically and a SWIFT code to transfer money internationally.
- A routing number appears at the bottom left of a check, but you must use one of the methods discussed previously to find a SWIFT code.
- A SWIFT code consists of eight to 11 alphanumeric identifiers; a routing number consists of nine digits.
- A SWIFT code is also called a BIC; a routing number is also called an ABA number, a routing transit number — RTN — or a check routing number.
- SWIFT codes are used for electronic transactions such as transferring money, notifications and instructions, and buying and selling securities; routing numbers are used for things such as paying bills, sending digital checks, transferring funds and making direct deposits.
Next Up: What Is a Routing Number?
Barri Segal has been writing about personal finance topics for 20 years, helping people get their money matters in order one person at a time.
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