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.
Let’s have a look at what an IBAN looks like at:
A French bank
A UK bank
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
|Country||Code||SEPA||Length||Account Check||Branch||IBAN Example|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||BA||No||20||✔||✔||BA393385804800211234|
|Holy See (the)||VA||Yes||22||VA59001123000012345678|
|Sao Tome and Principe||ST||No||25||ST23000200000289355710148|
|United Arab Emirates||AE||No||23||AE460090000000123456789|
|Virgin Islands, British||VG||No||24||VG21PACG0000000123456789|
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.