Sort Code vs. Routing Number: Which One Applies to Your Transaction

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When sending cash abroad, you will encounter acronyms like BRN, IBAN, and swift code. These acronyms refer to several bank codes that differ from one nation to the next. And they can be pretty confusing to people when sending cash for the first time.

In this article, we’ll answer the question, “Routing number vs sort code: which acronym applies to my transaction?”

The Main Difference Between Sort Code vs. Routing Number

  • Sort code is composed of 6 digits, whereas the routing number has 9 digits.
  • Sort code is used by banks in Ireland and the UK, whereas the routing number is used by banks in the US.
  • Some banks print the sort codes on their bank card in the UK, whereas American banks don’t print the routing number on their bank cards.

What Is the Sort Code?

A sort code is a unique bank identifier that UK banks use when doing domestic transactions. Basically, they make it possible for bank accounts in Ireland and England to complete local transfers. This number is composed of 6 digits that help with the identification of a bank and its branches.

The 6 digits are split into 3 pairs, with the first 2 digits identifying the bank. The last 4 digits are branch codes that help determine the specific branch where you opened the bank accounts.

These codes help banks confirm the validity of the bank transfers and route the cash between accounts correctly. You can find this code on your bank cards, checks, or the financial institutions holding the account number. And if it’s less than 6 digits, leading zeros are added.

They can be encoded into IBANs, but unlike Swift code (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), they’re used for domestic purposes.

The swift code can come in handy when dealing with an international bank account numbers transfer. Without swift numbers, you can’t make international payments. Swift code contains location code, country code, and branch code.

What Is the Routing Number?

The routing number is a 9-digit code that is used by banks in the US. The routing number, also known as ACH or ABA routing code, can be found on bank websites and personal checks together with the bank account.

Generally, they use the routing numbers to direct bank transfers from one American bank account to another. The routing numbers help bank branches complete domestic transactions.

The routing numbers are usually split into 3 sets, with the first 4 digits referring to the Federal Reserve routing symbol. The second set of 4 digits is the branch code supplied by the American Bankers Association. The final digit is actually the check identifier.   

These numbers were initially created by the ABA (American Bankers Association) to help with the circulation of cash on a vast scale.

When Can You Use Routing Number vs. Sort Code?

Despite their differences, they do have lots of similarities. For instance, you’ll only need these numbers when transferring cash to a US or UK-based bank account number. Since you’ll be doing local bank transfers, you won’t need a country code.

On top of that, you can only use them for making domestic bank transfers. Therefore, you’ll need the recipient’s account number and the sort codes or routing numbers. In fact, every nation has a unique code that’s used for transactions.


Despite serving the same roles but in different nations, sort code and routing numbers are pretty different. Sorting codes are used in the UK, whereas the other numbers are used in the United States bank transfers. 

Another significant difference is that the UK bank number has 6 digits while the US bank code has 9 digits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sort codes swift codes?

Swift is similar to sort code but with a huge difference. Swift is used for international transfers, while sort codes are used in the UK.

Do international bank accounts have a sort code?

No, but the IBAN and the BIC are actually sort codes and account numbers written in an internationally recognized format.

Are IBANs the same as routing numbers?

Generally, IBANs serve as international routing numbers. The IBAN is common in European nations, but it can also be used in other countries.