BIC and SWIFT codes in international payments - explained

Read our introductory guide to BIC and SWIFT codes, what they are, and why they are used.

Helen Cockle

When dealing with international clients or partners, you will inevitably come across BIC and SWIFT codes. These banking codes are required for making international payments. Keep reading for our guide to BIC and SWIFT codes, what they look like, how to find them for your bank account, and how to use them.

Bank of Ireland branch
When dealing with international clients or partners, you will inevitably come across BIC and SWIFT codes.

What is a BIC code?

BIC stands for Bank Identification Code, or Bank Identifier Code, and comprises of a code of eight to eleven characters. During an international transfer, the BIC code is used to identify a bank and ensure the capital sent goes to the right place.

What is a SWIFT code?

SWIFT is short for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. SWIFT is a global network that processes international payments. SWIFT codes identify banking institutes during those transactions.

Wallet with credit cards
SWIFT is a global network that processes international payments.

What is the difference between BIC and SWIFT codes?

BIC and SWIFT codes are two terms used interchangeably and refer to the same thing. Depending on the bank or financial organization, they will either refer to BIC or SWIFT in international money transfers.

BIC/SWIFT codes - format

BIC and swift codes follow the same pattern: AAAABBCCDD. "AAAA" stands for the bank code, a four-character shortened version of the bank name. "BB" is a country code, while "CC" is a two-character location code, referring to the bank's head office. "DDD" then refers to where the specific branch of the bank is located (branch code).

If a bank does not use a branch code, the SWIFT or BIC code will be shorter. In some cases, the specific branch code will just be replaced by "XXX".

Identifying your BIC or SWIFT code

If someone is sending money to your bank account from another country, you will need to provide them with your BIC or SWIFT. To find yours, you can simply look at bank statements or log in to your online banking account. If you cannot find the code, you can just get in touch with your local bank branch. If you are the one to send money overseas, you can use a BIC/SWIFT finder online to identify their BIC or SWIFT code. However, it is advisable to double-check the identified BIC with the recipient before you make any international transfers.

When you send international payments, do ensure you are aware of the fees that may incur. Most banks require a fee for international payments. You can also incur a handling fee from corresponding banks. With SWIFT payments going through a few corresponding banks, these fees can add up.

HSBC and Barclays buildings
If someone is sending money to your bank account from another country, you will need to provide them with your BIC or SWIFT.

BIC/SWIFT payments - explained

When doing international transfers, your bank will work with correspondent banks who move the money from one place to another, before it reaches the recipient's account. The codes are used to ensure that your payment goes to the right bank.

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