What are BIC and SWIFT Codes?

29 Aug 2022 - Category: Blog /
swift bic

Anybody who sends international payments via their bank will come across BIC and SWIFT codes. Understanding what they are and how they work is important for anyone wishing to send money back to their home country, as well as anyone doing business internationally. Below we’ll explore:

What is a BIC code?

BIC stands for Bank Identification Code. It is an 8 to 11-digit number used to identify specific banks when making international transfers. They are often considered like a digital postal code for your bank, and it ensures your money goes to the right place, wherever that is in the world.

SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a global network for processing payments between different countries. You may wonder if the codes are the same thing. The answer is yes. The terms are often used interchangeably depending on the bank or financial organisation you’re using. You may see them referred to as BIC/SWIFT codes, SWIFT ID or SWIFD identifiers, but they all mean the same thing.

What do BIC/SWIFT codes look like?

For ease of use, all BIC and SWIFT codes have the same appearance globally. This makes it easy to find the code and easy for banks to use them. All codes are between 8 and 11 characters long and come in the following format:


Each letter refers to a different identifiable element of the code:

  • AAAA: this is a four character bank code that usually looks like a shortened version of the bank’s proper name.
  • BB – a two character country code, so you know which country the bank is in.
  • CC – a two character location code referring to the bank’s head office location.
  • DDD – an optional three character branch code that tells you where the specific branch is located.

Not all banks use the final DDD three character code, which refers to the individual branch. Sometimes this means the code will be shorter at eight characters, or it may end with XXX.

BIC/SWIFT examples from UK banks

The easiest way to understand and recognise a BIC/SWIFT code is to see some real-life examples from UK banks. Here are seven codes from some of the most-used banks in the United Kingdom:

  1. Barclays - BARCGB22XXX
  2. Halifax - HLFXGB22XXX
  4. Lloyds - LOYDGBC1XXX
  5. Monzo - MONZGB2LXXX
  6. Nationwide - NBSMGB22XXX
  7. NatWest - NWBKGB2LXXX

You can easily find the codes of other banks using an online service provider or, if you are a customer, simply check your online banking app.

How do these codes work?

When a bank sends an international payment, they rely upon a wider network of correspondent banks. These banks work together to move money from place to place until it reaches the recipient. The BIC code ensures the payment goes to the right bank. For customers, the process is straightforward. You simply need the BIC/SWIFT code of your recipient’s bank along with other relevant account details, and you can easily make international payments.

How to find your SWIFT/BIC code?

If you are sending money abroad, you need the BIC code of your recipient. You can use an online BIC/SWIFT finder or ask the recipient. You should always double-check the code with the person you are sending it to. This will stop the payment from being delayed or sent back to your account.

Finding your BIC code is straightforward. You can usually find it on your paper bank statements or when you log in to your online banking app or account.

Fees for using BIC/SWIFT codes

If you use your bank to make international payments, you may find there are fees incurred. UK banks typically charge £40-50 when you use your BIC number for a payment. You may also find there are further handling fees incurred as the funds pass through corresponding banks. It can be tricky to know in advance how much you’ll be charged when you make the transfer.

Using a money transfer service is usually much more cost-effective, and you may find transactions are processed quicker too. Our service exists to make transferring your money abroad to family and friends or for business purposes as easy as possible.

The difference between BIC/SWIFT and IBAN

For some transactions, you may find you are asked for an IBAN number. This is different to your BIC/SWIFT code. An IBAN number directs you to an individual bank account and is used by European banks to ensure payments safely reach the right destination. Put simply, the BIC code tells you where to pay, and the IBAN number tells you who to pay. You need both these numbers from your recipient to send money overseas. Just like the BIC/SWIFT code, you should be able to find the IBAN on bank statements or when you log in to your online banking.

Sending money with Small World

It’s easy to send money directly to over 90 countries with Small World. To make your transfer, you simply need:

  • The recipient’s name and address
  • The type of bank account they have
  • Their IBAN (International Bank Account Number) number
  • The name and address of their bank
  • Their bank’s BIC or SWIFT code

All our customers get their first online transaction for free and digital payments could not be more straightforward or easy.

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