Guide to International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs)

By Jackie Lam · July 14, 2022 · 7 minute read

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Guide to International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs)

When trying to transfer payments to a bank overseas, not having a standardized process to identify bank accounts can easily turn into a quagmire. If you’re making a payment internationally, two major identifiers help standardize financial transfers made overseas — IBANs and SWIFT codes.

Let’s shine a light on what an international bank account number (IBAN), the difference between IBANs and SWIFT codes, and which countries use them:

What is an International Bank Account Number?

In a nutshell, IBAN’s meaning is International Bank Account Number, and it’s a one-of-a-kind identifier that banks use to refer to a specific bank account in any of 70+ countries around the world. In turn, banks use that info to swiftly send money between accounts in different countries.

While IBANs allow for sending and receiving funds, they aren’t used for withdrawing funds or for transferring ownership of accounts.

How Does an International Bank Account Number Work?

Now that you know what an IBAN is, let’s look at how this numbering system identifies bank accounts in other countries. If you want to send or receive payments internationally, the IBAN can help you identify a specific bank account and do so.

An IBAN is a standardized numbering system that includes up to 35 alphanumeric characters. While the length of an IBAN varies by country, the sequence remains the same: A two-digit country code, a two-digit check digit, followed by the remaining characters. This includes the bank code, branch code, and account number.

IBANs are very much a part of the daily financial flow today. You may not have had international transactions in mind when you took the time to open a bank account, but they are becoming quite common. Whether doing business with a vendor overseas or shopping online for items that wind up being stocked on another continent, financial transfers across country lines happen frequently.

IBAN vs. SWIFT Code

Both IBANs and SWIFT (aka Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) codes are globally recognized and accepted banking transfer identifiers. They play a part in making sure a transfer goes through successfully, and they help keep international finance running smoothly.

They are not, however, the same set of digits. The main difference between an IBAN and a SWIFT code lies in what they identify. Whereas a SWIFT code identifies the financial institution, the IBAN points to a specific bank account. Both work in tandem to help a transaction proceed.

To provide a bit more detail, here are a few other key differences between IBANs and SWIFT codes:

•  While an IBAN works more to identify a bank, branch, and bank account numbers, SWIFT identifies a particular bank during a transaction.

•  SWIFT Codes are issued by the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which is a member-owned cooperative. The SWIFT banking system is a messaging network that enables financial institutions around the world to talk to one another securely. IBANs, on the other hand, are issued directly by the financial institutions.

•  Whereas IBANs are alphanumeric codes that are up to 35 digits, SWIFT codes include alphanumeric code that’s either 8 or 11 characters.

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Requirements for International Bank Account Numbers

IBANs contain a very specific sequence of characters to ensure that they encode the information needed to identify a bank account. They are up to 35 characters long, and include:

•  A country code (two digits)

•  Check digits (two digits); this validates the routing numbers and accounts. It is sometimes referred to as a control code.

•  A Basic Bank Account Number (BBAN); this is an alphanumeric sequence that’s up to 28 characters long and represents a country-specific bank account number (which could represent different types of bank accounts, such as checking or savings).

While the format is standardized around the globe, the length of the code varies depending on the country.

It’s worthwhile to note that when using an IBAN to send or receive payments, there might be a processing fee or commission on the transfer.

Do All Countries Use IBANs?

While more than 70 countries use IBANS, not every nation does. IBANs are generally used in the majority of banks in the Eurozone and other European countries. Parts of the Middle East, the Caribbean, and North Africa also use IBANs.

Some countries, such as Austria, Croatia, France, and the Netherlands make IBANs mandatory. Other countries don’t require the use of IBANs, but it is recommended. These include Albania, Brazil, Costa Rica, and the Virgin Islands.

Lastly, there are countries that don’t use IBANs. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. fall into this camp.

Why Were IBANs Created?

As you might imagine, the world of international bank transactions can be very complex. The IBAN system was developed to smooth the process and minimize errors. By having such specific information about a bank account compressed into 35 or fewer digits, there’s less opportunity for mistakes and delays to occur, and for the related fees to be charged.

What Does an IBAN Number Look Like?

An IBAN is up to 35 digits of alphanumeric code. The length of the code varies according to the country. Regardless, an IBAN always begins with a two-digit country code, and a two-digit check digit. The rest of the code will vary in length depending on the country.

Here are some examples of IBANs:

Albania: AL 35 202111090000000001234567
Denmark: DK 95 20000123456789
Spain: ES 7921000813610123456789

When Is an IBAN Number Required?

An IBAN number is required if you’re sending or receiving money from a country that participates in using IBANs. If you’re going to start the process of wiring money to a country with a financial system that uses IBANs, you’ll need the IBAN to wire funds.

How Can I Get an IBAN?

If IBANs are available in both the country you live in and in the recipient’s country, you can obtain an IBAN by reaching out to your bank or checking on your bank statement. The person you’d like to send or receive money from will also need to to get their IBAN by contacting their bank or looking at their bank statement.

In addition, the IBAN website also has a handy tool to calculate your IBAN code based on your country, bank code, and account number.

Alternatives to IBANs

As mentioned before, some countries don’t use IBANs. One alternative, as previously mentioned, are SWIFT codes or BICs (Bank Identifier Codes). These identify financial institutions, but they don’t point to specific bank accounts. So to send or receive money internationally, you’ll need additional information, such as an account number. For instance, financial institutions in the U.S. and Canada use a mix of routing and account numbers.

What’s the difference between a routing vs. an account number? A routing number identifies the financial institution, while the account number is linked to an individual account.

(One vocabulary note: When performing financial transactions, you may hear some people use the term ABA number. That’s the same thing as what most people call a routing number.)

Here’s one more example of an alternative to IBANs: New Zealand and Australia use SWIFT codes to send or receive payments, and Bank State Branch (BSB) codes for local money transfers.

The Takeaway

While the U.S. doesn’t use the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) system, when you are sending or receiving funds from overseas, you’ll need the other party’s IBAN. This number contains vital information that will help funds to safely and quickly get to the intended account in another country. IBANs play an important role in keeping international financial transactions flowing.

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FAQ

How do I find my international bank account number?

If you live in a country with banks that use IBANs, you can typically find your IBAN on your bank statement. You can also contact your bank to locate your unique IBAN.

What is the difference between an IBAN and an account number?

An account number is specific to the individual and identifies their account, while an IBAN layers in more information. It’s an alphanumeric sequence that contains an account number, along with a bank code, bank branch code, and country code, and location code.

Which countries use an IBAN?

More than 70 countries globally use IBANs. The Eurozone and other European countries use them, as do some parts of the Caribbean, the Middle East, and North Africa and other areas.


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