SWIFT Code vs. Routing Numbers

The difference between a SWIFT code and Routing numbers

Any bank is identified by two things the SWIFT codes and routing numbers. These help financial institutions to trace the bank accounts and the particular bank where the account is created. Both though work as an identification system of a bank in outside world but are different from one another. For instance, routing numbers are printed on the checks (cheques). These are 9 digit numbers and were developed to help other financial institutions to sort out, bundle and ship paper checks back to the account they are drawn from. Now, with the advent and implementation of Check 21 in America, routing numbers are also being used to process paper drafts, direct deposits and withdrawals, and bill payments.

SWIFT code, on the other hand, is alphanumeric and used to identify banks when the money is sent or received via wire transfers. There could be minimum 8 and maximum 11 alpha-numeric characters in a SWIFT code. The first four letters are bank code, the latter two are country code and last two letters or numbers depicts location. If the code is of 11 digits, the rest of three numbers signifies branch code of the bank.

Both of these codes symbolize a safe banking system. Now, when money can be drawn and deposited anywhere and anytime, these codes make sure that the money is directed to the right person and to the whom, it is meant to be and as indicted in a check.

SWIFT code is used for international transfer whereas routing numbers are used within the country i.e. for domestic transactions. Similarly, SWIFT code will be an identifying mark for the bank on international shores whereas routing number would help other national level institutions to trace the bank.

SWIFT code is alphanumeric in depiction whereas routing code only consists of 9 numbers. For instance, the SWIFT code for a bank would be- CHUCK123 and routing number imprinted on the check would be-123456789.


  • Bruce Dauphin

    So why the two separate codes, one for international and one for domestic? That seems a way to lead to confusion. If these number/letter combinations represent the address or identifier of a particular bank, I have to ask again why two distinct forms? That would be like having an address for my home for international purposes and then a completely different address for domestic mail. Simply arcane, when banks and financial institutions are all supposed to be so clever.