What Is an IBAN and How Is It Used to Transfer Money Internationally?

Are you trying to send money across borders and been asked for the beneficiary’s IBAN?

An IBAN is a unique code used to identify a specific bank account for the purpose of cross-border payments. Knowing your beneficiary’s IBAN is what you need to make sure your transnational payment arrives safely at its destination.

If you have any doubt and instruct an international payment with the wrong IBAN, this payment will be rejected by the beneficiary bank. Your bank will also charge you a fee to retrieve it. Pinpointing the correct IBAN can save you both time and money in the long run.

Below we review how to identify and utilise an IBAN in international money transfers.

What is an IBAN?

An International Bank Account Number, better known as an IBAN, is an international numbering system used to recognise bank accounts in relation to cross-border payments.

Before IBAN was created different standards for bank account identification across countries were confusing and the source of many errors for transactions. For countries that have applied IBAN, transaction errors have been reduced to under 0.1% of the total number of transfers.

To give a little background on where IBAN originates, it was initially implemented by the European Committee for Banking Standards (ECB) to overcome these international payment difficulties. Originally, the system was developed to facilitate the processing of cross border monetary transfers within the EU.

As IBAN gradually get adopted by banks beyond the EU, it was made an international standard under ISO 13616:1997.

Currently, the scheme has been employed by most European countries and several other countries around the world, namely in the Middle East and the Caribbean. A full list of these countries is provided at the end of this article. Another 25 countries are currently conducting partial/experimental use of the IBAN system.

Many major countries do not use the IBAN system, including the USA, Canada, Australia, China, Japan. However, all these countries recognise the system and process IBAN payments.

How do you recognise an IBAN number?

An IBAN is a series of up to 34 characters, including both letters and numbers. The IBAN is not the same as the bank account number. Actually, it includes the bank account number, plus some more characters that identify the country and bank you’re sending money to.

The IBAN number contains:
  • Two-letter country identification code
  • Two check digits
  • Up to 30 characters for the Basic Bank Account Number (known as BBAN). The BBAN format is decided by each country to cater to their national standard for domestic payments.

IBAN number format
Let’s have a look at what an IBAN looks like at:
A French bank

French IBAN number

A UK bank

UK IBAN

What’s the difference between SWIFT/BIC and IBAN?

SWIFT/BIC and IBAN are all internationally acknowledged banking standards used for cross-border payments.

However, there are some key differences between those international transfer systems:
  • The SWIFT system was created before any initial attempts to homogenise international banking transfer through IBAN. Today, SWIFT is the largest international payment system worldwide.
  • The most significant difference lies in what they identify. Each IBAN pinpoints an individual account in a given bank in a given country. Each SWIFT/BIC code identifies a bank or a financial institution in an international transaction. Both information actually complement each other when a cross-border payment is made to a country participating to the IBAN system: proper routing of the transaction will be subject to providing correct SWIFT/BIC code and IBAN in the payment details.
  • Unlike BIC/SWIFT code, IBAN codes aren’t assigned by a central organisation. They are directly issued by the banks according to a format described in the IBAN Register.
  • SWIFT/BIC codes contain a mix of numbers and letters, and they are always 8 or 11 characters.
  • As a result, the SWIFT/BIC code is always required to process a transaction and the IBAN information is provided to locate the beneficiary bank account in countries participating to the IBAN system.

When it comes to international payments, SWIFT and BIC are used interchangeably. For more information on BIC and SWIFT codes, read this article.

How to check the IBAN of your beneficiary

If you have any doubt about the correctness of your beneficiary’s IBAN, take a few second to check this information. This will be a good use of your time as any payment instructions made using the wrong IBAN will cause the payment to be delayed and rejected. You can also expect your bank to charge a fee for the inaccurate payment.

In case you only have part of your beneficiary’s IBAN, you may want to find out the missing pieces by using an IBAN calculator. We have tried this tool on multiple occasions, and it was reliable in providing the correct IBAN. However, we cannot guarantee it is always reliable so use it with caution…

Obviously, the best way to check your beneficiary’s IBAN is to go to the source and ask the beneficiary himself.

A good habit is to double-check the information. Believe it or not, it is pretty common for beneficiaries to provide their payment details with an invalid IBAN. To do so,  you can use an IBAN checker that will help you flag any potential errors.

And by the way, if you are looking for your own IBAN, you can locate it by signing into your online banking and checking your account details. Most of the banks also show it on your monthly bank statement.

When is IBAN required?

IBAN is needed when you make a cross-border payment and the bank of your beneficiary is located in a country participating to the IBAN system. When instructing the payment, the IBAN must be entered in the field reserved for the beneficiary’s account number, without spaces.

In addition to the IBAN number, you will need at the very least the following information to instruct the payment to your beneficiary:
  • The account name
  • SWIFT/BIC code

Depending on your bank you may be requested additional information such the beneficiary’s bank name, the bank address and the beneficiary’s address.

For more details about international payment, check our guide providing all important information.

List of countries using IBAN

CountryCodeSEPALengthAccount CheckBranchIBAN Example
AlbaniaALNo28AL35202111090000000001234567
AndorraADYes24AD1400080001001234567890
AustriaATYes20AT483200000012345864
AzerbaijanAZNo28AZ96AZEJ00000000001234567890
BahrainBHNo22BH02CITI00001077181611
BelarusBYNo28BY86AKBB10100000002966000000
BelgiumBEYes16BE71096123456769
Bosnia and HerzegovinaBANo20BA393385804800211234
BrazilBRNo29BR1500000000000010932840814P2
BulgariaBGYes22BG18RZBB91550123456789
Costa RicaCRNo22CR23015108410026012345
CroatiaHRYes21HR1723600001101234565
CyprusCYYes28CY21002001950000357001234567
Czech RepublicCZYes24CZ5508000000001234567899
DenmarkDKYes18DK9520000123456789
Dominican RepublicDONo28DO22ACAU00000000000123456789
EgyptEGNo29EG800002000156789012345180002
El SalvadorSVNo28SV43ACAT00000000000000123123
EstoniaEEYes20EE471000001020145685
Faroe IslandsFONo18FO9264600123456789
FinlandFIYes18FI1410093000123458
FranceFRYes27FR7630006000011234567890189
GeorgiaGENo22GE60NB0000000123456789
GermanyDEYes22DE75512108001245126199
GibraltarGIYes23GI04BARC000001234567890
GreeceGRYes27GR9608100010000001234567890
GreenlandGLNo18GL8964710123456789
GuatemalaGTNo28GT20AGRO00000000001234567890
Holy See (the)VAYes22VA59001123000012345678
HungaryHUYes28HU93116000060000000012345676
IcelandISYes26IS750001121234563108962099
IraqIQNo23IQ20CBIQ861800101010500
IrelandIEYes22IE64IRCE92050112345678
IsraelILNo23IL170108000000012612345
ItalyITYes27IT60X0542811101000000123456
JordanJONo30JO71CBJO0000000000001234567890
KazakhstanKZNo20KZ563190000012344567
KosovoXKNo20XK051212012345678906
KuwaitKWNo30KW81CBKU0000000000001234560101
LatviaLVYes21LV97HABA0012345678910
LebanonLBNo28LB92000700000000123123456123
LiechtensteinLIYes21LI7408806123456789012
LithuaniaLTYes20LT601010012345678901
LuxembourgLUYes20LU120010001234567891
MaltaMTYes31MT31MALT01100000000000000000123
MauritaniaMRNo27MR1300020001010000123456753
MauritiusMUNo30MU43BOMM0101123456789101000MUR
MoldovaMDNo24MD21EX000000000001234567
MonacoMCYes27MC5810096180790123456789085
MontenegroMENo22ME25505000012345678951
NetherlandsNLYes18NL02ABNA0123456789
North MacedoniaMKNo19MK07200002785123453
NorwayNOYes15NO8330001234567
PakistanPKNo24PK36SCBL0000001123456702
PalestinePSNo29PS92PALS000000000400123456702
PolandPLYes28PL10105000997603123456789123
PortugalPTYes25PT50002700000001234567833
QatarQANo29QA54QNBA000000000000693123456
RomaniaROYes24RO09BCYP0000001234567890
Saint LuciaLCNo32LC14BOSL123456789012345678901234
San MarinoSMYes27SM76P0854009812123456789123
Sao Tome and PrincipeSTNo25ST23000200000289355710148
Saudi ArabiaSANo24SA4420000001234567891234
SerbiaRSNo22RS35105008123123123173
SeychellesSCNo31SC52BAHL01031234567890123456USD
Slovak RepublicSKYes24SK8975000000000012345671
SloveniaSIYes19SI56192001234567892
SpainESYes24ES7921000813610123456789
SwedenSEYes24SE7280000810340009783242
SwitzerlandCHYes21CH5604835012345678009
Timor-LesteTLNo23TL380010012345678910106
TunisiaTNNo24TN5904018104004942712345
TurkeyTRNo26TR320010009999901234567890
UkraineUANo29UA903052992990004149123456789
United Arab EmiratesAENo23AE460090000000123456789
United KingdomGBYes22GB33BUKB20201555555555
Virgin Islands, BritishVGNo24VG21PACG0000000123456789

About the author

Jonathan Cusimano is Head of FX at Statrys. With nearly a decade of experience in banking and Fintech, Jonathan has advised and assisted many SMEs in their FX hedging and treasury management strategies.

Topics:Payments