In order to send an international wire transfer, you’ll likely need a Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) code. You can think of this as a routing number for reaching banks internationally. A SWIFT code might also be called a Business Identifier Code (BIC).

Here’s what a SWIFT code is, when you’ll need one and where to go to find it.

What a SWIFT code is

A SWIFT code, made up of eight to 11 characters, helps you send money to a person or business in many places outside of the United States. The SWIFT code is specific to a financial institution. Some banks might not have a SWIFT code.

Why you’d need a SWIFT code

You could go all or most of your life without needing a SWIFT code. But if you ever need to send an international wire transfer, you’re likely going to need one.

A SWIFT or BIC code has eight to 11 characters in it. The first four letters are the bank’s code, the country code is the next two letters, the location code is two next letters or numbers, and the branch code is three numbers, according to Western Union.

How to find a SWIFT code

The best source for a SWIFT code is a bank’s official website. You might also receive the SWIFT code in your wire instructions. But it’s smart to make sure this information lines up with what’s on the bank’s official website.

Things to watch out for with wire transfers

You might have the right code, but if your money is going to a fraudulent person or business you could lose the money. A wire transfer should be treated like you’re giving someone cash.

Also, wire transfer fees can be expensive. So make sure you understand the cost of a wire transfer before choosing this method to send money. Whether to send the money in U.S. dollars or foreign currency is also another strategic decision you’ll have to make – if you have the option – when sending an international wire.

Bottom line

You’ll need a SWIFT code to send an international wire transfer. The best place to get this information is from the official website of the bank to which you’re wiring the money. Always make sure that your wire instructions are correct and that you’re wiring money to the person or business that you intend to wire the money to.