How to Make International Payments – Guide

Going abroad is not easy. Nor are you managing your finances in two different countries. When I moved to France in September, I realized that not every country in the world has such an electronic and fast banking system as the United States. I had to submit document after document, wait for my requests to be processed, and then wait for my card, PIN, and online banking information to arrive in the mail (all in different letters, of course). In total, it took me about five weeks to get a French bank account. I couldn’t skip the process either. I specifically needed a French bank account with a French IBAN (International Bank Account Number) to be able to pay my bills. For example, my Metro Pass account will only accept direct debit each month from a French bank account. Also, some online retailers only authorize transactions with EU-issued payment forms, which means my credit cards are sometimes declined when shopping online. Depending on where you live abroad, there are services that can manage your finances in multiple currencies or for US residents living abroad. Make it easier for consumers to send money.

Main payment networks by bank transfer


SWIFT is the acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a Brussels-based organization that has been in existence since the early 1970s. It was created to help banks communicate more securely and quickly with each other regarding the processing of payments by bank transfer.

How does SWIFT work?

Today, SWIFT is a communication network of more than 10,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries, making it the largest international payments network in the world. We insist on the word ‘communication’ because SWIFT is nothing more than a messenger between banks. Basically, what SWIFT is doing is channeling the message with payment instructions from the issuing bank, that is, the paying bank, to the sending bank, the payee’s bank. Now, this job may seem simple, but you should never judge a book by its cover. Read our article on how the SWIFT network works.


SEPA is the acronym for Single Euro Payments Area. It was created in 2008 to simplify cross-border payments in euros in Europe. In others words, a SEPA payment is similar to a domestic payment. The SEPA zone comprises 36 countries: the 27 EU member states, the United Kingdom, Andorra, Iceland, Monaco, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino and the Vatican City State (see the full list here).

How does SEPA work?

SEPA works in the same way as SWIFT, except it is only for payments in euros within the SEPA zone. Banks have direct or indirect relationships (ie they use a network of intermediary banks).

Payment codes by country

BIC (also known as SWIFT) for international payments

BIC stands for Bank Identifier Code. It is a code assigned by SWIFT – the organization – when the bank joins the SWIFT network.

What is the difference between a BIC and SWIFT code?

Technically, this is what is happening. In fact, you will also hear SWIFT code, BIC/SWIFT code, SWIFT/BIC code or SWIFT identifier. They all refer to the same code and are required when making an international payment.

What does a SWIFT/BIC code look like?

It is a series of 8 or 11 characters (letters and numbers) that identify a specific bank you are sending money to. The code includes details of the country in which the bank is based, its location and branch number. This is what a SWIFT/BIC code looks like:

IBAN code for SEPA payments

Unlike the BIC/SWIFT code, IBAN codes are not assigned by a central organization. They are issued directly by banks according to a format described in the IBAN Register.

What is an IBAN code?

It’s a series of up to 34 characters (letters and numbers) that identify the country, bank and account details you are sending money to. The IBAN number consists of: At the time of writing, there are over 100 countries registered with the IBAN. 75 participating countries (including the 36 countries of the SEPA zone) and 25 countries that make partial/experimental use of the IBAN system. However, mainly European banks use the IBAN. The US and Canada are two major countries that do not use the IBAN system (but recognize the system and process payments).

BSB for Australian payments

BSB is the acronym that stands for Bank State Branch. You must have this 6-digit code in addition to the SWIFT code when making a payment to Australia.

What does a BSB code look like?

This is what this 6-digit code means:

ABA for US payments

ABA stands for many things in the US, but when it comes to payment ABA is the acronym that stands for American Bankers Association. You would probably have guessed that the ABA number (also known as a bank routing number or routing transit number – RTN) identifies the location where a bank account was opened.

What is an ABA code like?

This 9-digit code consists of:

CNAPS for RMB payments to China

The banking world is a big fan of acronyms. Here’s another one: CNAPS stands for China National Advanced Payments System. You will need this code in addition to the SWIFT code only if you are making a payment in RMB (or CNH for purists) to the People’s Republic of China. If you are making a payment in other currencies (eg USD), you only need the SWIFT code.

What does a CNAPS code look like?

CNAPS is a 12-digit code that can start with the code word CN to indicate that the account is in China. This is what the 12-digit code refers to:

Bank code for payments in Hong Kong

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there are no mysterious acronyms for the Hong Kong bank code. Unlike other jurisdictions, Hong Kong does not define a format. In addition to the SWIFT code, you will need a 3-digit bank code, a 3-digit branch code, and a 6-9 digit account number.

What is a Hong Kong code?

If it’s an HSBC account, it should look like this. The bank code is always given separately, the HSBC bank code is 004. It is also common to see HSBC 812-852456-888.

Classification code for UK payments

Sort is not an acronym for anything. The name of this code dates back to the last century, when 5-digit national codes (for manual processing) were replaced by 6-digit classification codes (for automated processing). So the sort code is literally a code that helps the bank sort payments to the right UK account.

What is a classification code?

The sort code is a 6-digit code that is always written as three pairs of numbers. The first two digits identify the bank, the next four digits identify the branch.


When you make an international payment, these are all fees that add up:

How much does it cost to make a SWIFT payment?

It is practically impossible to estimate how much an international transfer will cost, it varies according to the banks involved in the transaction, the currencies involved, the amount, whether there are intermediary bank fees, etc. you can pay up to USD50 to transfer money from Country A to Country B. Make sure you are using a correct SWIFT code to avoid late payment and paying a return fee.

When you make a SWIFT payment, there are three ways to pay international transfer fees:

How much does it cost to make a SEPA payment?

When you’re making a SEPA payment, it will cost you a domestic transfer fee (which usually means it’s free).

Processing time

Bank transfers are normally only processed on the same business day if they are requested before the bank’s cut-off time. In some cases, they are processed on the next business day due to the time difference. In Hong Kong, these cut-off times vary +/- 30 minutes from bank to bank. You can see the cutoff times for international transfers for major currencies below. Beware though, a bank processing an international transfer on that business day does not mean it will reach the recipient’s bank account on the same day. What happens after you make the payment instruction is beyond your control. Like you, we’d love to see real-time SWIFT transfers, but we’re not quite there yet. International transfers typically take 1-5 business days to reach your destination. final destiny. But there are many factors that can delay your transfer: incorrect bank details, holidays, weekends, time zones, destination country, regulatory checks, number of intermediary banks, etc.

Final note

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