Demystifying SWIFT Codes: What They Are and How To Find Them

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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. A SWIFT code — sometimes also called a SWIFT number — is a standard format for Business Identifier Codes (BIC). It’s used to identify banks and financial institutions globally. It says who and where they are — a sort of international bank code or ID.

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.

What Does a SWIFT Code Look Like?

A SWIFT code is an 11 digit code comprised of four components:

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How Do You Find a Bank’s SWIFT Code?

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:

Does Every Bank Have a SWIFT Code?

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.

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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)
Wells Fargo WFBIUS6S
Citibank CITIUS33

What Is the SWIFT Network?

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.

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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:

Swift Codes vs. Routing Numbers: What’s the Difference?

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.

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There are a few key differences between SWIFT codes and routing numbers:

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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