Bank Identification Codes: Your 2024 Guide

Last updated on February 26th, 2024 at 11:56 am

Bank identification code: man happy with the document that he's reading

If you live in a foreign country, you already know that sending money home is more complex than just putting cash in an envelope and mailing it. Apart from the fact that sending money that way may be unsafe, banks have to carefully track money transfers. One way that banks help governments track the flow of money over their borders is with bank identification codes.

When someone makes an international money transfer, banks use these codes to ensure the money they send gets to an exact bank and account. Though these codes are important tools, you don’t always need to know a bank identification code to make a secure money transfer. For instance, you don’t need to know them to use Remitly, which makes affordable and safe transfers from your phone. 

Still, knowing how such codes work and how to find one can be helpful. This article looks at the different types of bank identification codes and what they mean.

Types of bank identification codes

Bank identification codes help identify a financial institution when making a transaction. Here are two types of bank codes and their purposes:

Code Description
SWIFT/BIC These codes help identify a specific bank during an international transaction.
IBAN These codes identify an individual bank account for international transactions. 

The term “bank identification code” can mean something different depending on the type of transfer you’re making, where the money is coming from, and where it’s being sent.


The first major type of bank code is the bank identifier code or BIC. You may also hear it called a SWIFT code. SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which registers these codes for banks worldwide.

As we’ll discuss in the next section, the most common bank identification codes are eight- to 11-character codes that refer to specific banks and/or bank branches. SWIFT codes follow a standard called ISO 9362, where ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization.

There are also 12-character codes that further determine a local terminal where the account information gets sent. However, they’re not universally used as a SWIFT BIC code.

Finding your bank’s SWIFT code through the SWIFT network can take a while, but you can get it if you know where to look.

International Bank Account Number (IBAN) codes

Another way to identify banks is with IBAN codes. These codes help with international transfers to different countries.

Rather than a central organization like SWIFT assigning IBAN codes, banks assign them. However, SWIFT maintains the registry and standards for IBAN codes.

The IBAN is less widely adopted than SWIFT BIC codes, though it’s used throughout Europe and some parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. These numbers are much longer than SWIFT BIC codes and can contain up to 34 characters.

The IBAN registry contains the standard format for the IBAN. You can download the registry from the SWIFT website.

If you’re trying to send money directly to an account and you need to know whether the transaction requires an IBAN, you can have the account holder check their latest bank statement or online banking. They may find the number listed with their other basic account statement information, like the holder’s name and address.

So, let’s say you work in the U.S., but you’re supporting your family back in Romania. This requires an IBAN to send money to a bank account.

In this scenario, you’re hoping to make international money transfers to cover your family’s monthly expenses, so getting the money into their account is the easiest option. In that case, the IBAN is a critical piece of information.

However, you won’t need their IBAN to make international transactions if you send the funds to a company that doesn’t require an account to pick up funds. Remitly can help you send money to a bank account or for cash pickup, among other options, depending on your recipient’s location.

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Numbers that identify specific banks domestically

When you want to transfer money domestically or enter your account information into an app that makes bank transfers, you may need to provide a domestic identification code plus your bank account number.

Countries identify financial institutions with different types of codes. Here are some bank codes used in some countries:


The U.S. uses the American Bankers Association (ABA) routing transit number system domestically. Routing numbers consist of nine digits and represent one specific bank. Some large banks in the U.S. have more than one routing number.

Learn more: What is a Routing Number for a Bank Account?


Canada also uses a routing number system administered by Payments Canada. The number consists of eight digits: a five-digit transit number representing a specific bank branch and a three-digit financial institution number representing the bank itself.


Instead of a routing transit number, the U.K. uses a national sort code. Each sort code consists of three pairs of digits. The first two digits are the bank code, and the final four digits refer to a specific branch.

Learn more: What Is a Sort Code?


In France, banks use the Relevé d’Identité Bancaire or RIB number for identification. It’s a 10-digit number that includes both bank and branch codes.


Spain handles bank routing a little differently than other countries. Instead of having a separate bank code, the transit information gets added to the bank account number. Bank accounts in Spain have 20-digit numbers that break down as follows:

  • First four digits: Bank name
  • Next four digits: Branch code
  • Next two digits: Security control code
  • Final 10 digits: Bank account number


Australia refers to a routing number as a Bank State Branch (BSB) number. Like the sort code in the U.K., the BSB is a six-digit number with codes corresponding to banks and bank branches.


The Indian version of the routing number is the Indian Financial System Code (IFSC). It’s an 11-digit code that identifies specific banks and branches.

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How do bank identification codes work?

Banks communicate with each other using codes. Remittance messages are communications between banks that show money being transferred to an account at the bank (an inward message) or sent from the account (an outward message).

These messages might look like nonsense to the average person since they often contain long strings of letters and numbers that mean nothing to most bank customers.

The basic BIC code consists of eight digits. For example, suppose you were in Japan and were sending a wire transfer to an American bank account at (the hypothetical) Giraffe Bank. In that case, you might use the following swift code: GIRAUSNY.

Here’s how that SWIFT BIC code breaks down:

  • GIRA is the code for the bank’s name: Here, that’s Giraffe Bank.
  • US is the country code: In this example, that’s the U.S.
  • NY is the bank location code: Here, we’re sending the transfer to Giraffe Bank’s New York office.

An 11-digit code follows a similar structure, with the three extra characters used for a particular branch. 

Knowing how to read a SWIFT BIC code might be important when sending money to a big national bank. In this case, the three-digit branch code helps route the money where it’s going more quickly, so there aren’t unnecessary delays.

Let’s say we wanted to transfer money from the U.S. to Japan—to the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) in Osaka, Japan. Then, the SWIFT BIC code would be SMBCJPJTOSA:

  • SMBC is the code for the bank’s name.
  • JP is the country code for Japan.
  • JT is the bank location code.
  • OSA is the branch code, which, in this case, is the Osaka branch.

Do you need a bank identification code when using Remitly?

If you use the Remitly app, you don’t need to scour the internet to find your bank’s SWIFT BIC code or IBAN.

We designed our app to make it as easy as possible for you to transfer money. You only need to know your recipient’s individual bank account information if you send directly to a bank account.

We also offer the option of cash pickup, mobile money, or even home delivery, depending on your recipient’s country.

For example, let’s say you want to send money to your family in Mexico with Remitly. You can send the money to a bank or various non-financial institutions for cash pickup, like certain gas stations, supermarkets, or pharmacies.

Learn to speak the banks’ language

Even if you don’t look up every SWIFT BIC code you ever use for a money transfer, knowing how the banks talk to each other can be useful when making international money transfers.

These codes make up the basic vocabulary of international payments, and knowing them puts the power and knowledge in your hands.