Are you thinking about relocating to the United Kingdom? If you’re planning a move to England, Northern Ireland, Wales, or Scotland, there’s a lot of new information to wrap your head around—especially when it comes to financial matters.
When you open a bank account in the U.K., you won’t receive just an account number. You’ll also receive a bank sort code, which is essential for certain financial transactions in the countries that make up the United Kingdom.
So, just what are sort codes, and how do you identify yours? Let’s dig into the answers. We’ll look at how sort codes work, why you need them, and how you can find your own.
What is a bank sort code?
Currently managed by Pay.UK—a combination of Bacs, Faster Payment, and Image Clearing System—a sort code is a bank identifier that makes it possible for U.K. bank accounts to do domestic transfers.
The sort code is a string of numbers that identifies two things:
- Your bank (for example, Barclays, Santander, or Lloyds)
- The specific bank branch where you opened your account
Every sort code is made up of six digits that are arranged in three pairs. For example, your code might be 22-45-19. The first two digits identify your bank, while the remaining four digits identify the branch.
Sort codes are important because they allow financial institutions to confirm the validity of a transfer and correctly route money between accounts. They’re similar to the routing numbers used in the United States.
It’s worth noting that online-only banks, which don’t have branches, may provide just one sort code to all of their customers. For example, 60-83-71 is the sort code for every Starling Bank account, while 04-00-04 identifies all Monzo accounts.
How sort codes differ from SWIFT codes
Have you encountered a SWIFT code before? Also known as BIC codes, SWIFT codes are similar to sort codes but with a critical difference. While sort codes are for banks within the U.K. (i.e., English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish banks), SWIFT codes are used for international transfers.
SWIFT codes are the international equivalent of a sort code. They make it possible to do bank transfers across the globe.
Unlike a sort code, which is just six numbers, SWIFT can contain 8-11 alphanumeric characters. With SWIFT:
- The first four characters identify the bank
- The second set of characters identifies the country code
- The third set of characters is for the location ID
- The fourth set of characters is for the unique branch ID
For example, a Chase bank located in the United States might use the SWIFT code CHASUS33.
The international banking industry isn’t always consistent, so if you’re doing a money transfer internationally, it’s better to use SWIFT codes because they translate to banking systems outside of the U.K.
In all likelihood, this means you’ll need to work with both sort codes and SWIFT codes if you’re transferring money to someone outside of the United Kingdom.
Sort codes versus international bank account numbers
Sort codes are unique to the U.K. and identify a particular bank. If authorities want to know more about the account number involved in a transaction, neither the sort code nor the SWIFT code will give them that information.
This is why many banks also require an international bank account number (IBAN). IBANs reveal information about a specific bank account. Up to 34 characters in length, you might need an IBAN for certain international transfers.
If the bank is asking for an IBAN, don’t worry, it’s simple to find and use an IBAN number for international money transfers.
Why do I need a sort code?
All of these codes might seem confusing, but your bank will let you know which numbers are required to process a transaction. If your bank is requiring a sort code, that likely means:
- You’re receiving money in your bank account from a person or an institution in the U.K.: This applies if friends want to pay you back for dinner, if family sends you a monetary gift, or if an employer pays wages into your account.
- You’re setting up direct debit: With direct debit, you allow a business to automatically collect payments from your bank account on a predetermined date. This is a common option for paying regular monthly bills, like electricity or rent. It’s a great way to ensure that you always pay your bills on time, but you will need a sort code to set it up.
Essentially, you need sort codes because they make it possible to send and receive money in the U.K. So if someone wants to send you money, they need your sort code. If you want to send money to another person with a U.K. account, you’ll need to know their sort code, too.
If you aren’t sure whether your sort code is set up or if you’re able to accept payments, you can consult Pay.UK’s official sort code checker to make sure it’s set up properly.
If it is, you’ll be able to use the Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) system from the Bank of England, which offers faster online payments to U.K. consumers.
How do I find my sort code?
Whether you want to receive ACH payments from your employer or you need to send money to another family member in the U.K., you’ll need your sort code to make the payment go through.
The good news is, as long as you’ve set up an account with an English, Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Irish bank, you can quickly pull your code for the transaction.
Since the six digits are always separated into three pairs of numbers by hyphens, sort codes are pretty easy to spot. Here’s where you can find your sort code:
- Check your debit card: The bank will often (but not always) print the sort code on the front of the card, next to the account number.
- Log into your bank account: Visit your bank’s website or mobile app. You should be able to find the sort code listed with your account details.
- Check your bank statements: Whether they’re sent online or in the post, your bank statements will display your sort code.
Remember that you’ll need both your sort code and the recipients’ sort code if you plan on conducting a domestic transfer.
Ready to start sending money?
Sort codes are unique to bank accounts in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. They’re useful for accepting payments from within the U.K. and transferring money to other residents in the U.K. But for international money transfers, you’ll likely need to provide the bank with either a SWIFT code or IBAN.
The downside to traditional bank transfers is that they can take a long time.
Remitly is on a mission to make international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Since 2011, millions of people have used Remitly to send money with peace of mind.