When you’re doing business outside of the UK, there’s some extra information you need to be aware of regarding making and receiving international payments.

One of the most important things to look out for is currency fluctuations. Exchange rates between the pound and other currencies regularly change, which can impact your bottom line.

1. An introduction to payments in Europe

Banks throughout Europe use a standard format for international bank transactions, which means making or receiving payments is quicker, safer and more efficient.

You’ll need two codes when making or receiving payments from Europe:

  • Your Bank Identifier Code (BIC)
  • Your International Bank Account Number (IBAN)

To receive a payment, you’ll need to give the payer your own BICs and IBANs. To send a payment, you’ll need to know theirs.

You can find your BIC and IBAN on your bank account statement. They both consist of numbers and letters (see below).

When you make an international payment from Bank of Scotland, we'll also require:

  • The recipient's full name and address
  • The name and address of their bank

When receiving a payment, you should provide the above plus the amount and currency you wish to be paid in.

Remember, your payment may be rejected if you don't include all of this information.

Timings for your payment may also vary depending on the country and currency.

2. A quick guide to BICs and IBANs

What is a BIC?

A Business Identifier Code (BIC) identifies particular banks worldwide. It's also known as a SWIFT code. You can find your BIC in Business Internet Banking under 'More actions' and 'Account Information.’

It is formatted like this, with your own combination of numbers and letters:

bos business bic one

What is an IBAN?

An International Bank Account Number (IBAN) identifies individual bank accounts according to an international agreement. IBANs are mandatory for EU (European) and EEA (European Economic Area) countries. You can find your IBAN in Bank of Scotland’s Business Internet Banking site under ‘More actions’ and ‘Account Information.’

It is formatted like this, with your own combination of numbers and letters:

bos business bic two

An IBAN is specific to a country, so character length can vary. French IBANs always have 20 characters, for example:

  • France: FR123456789101112131
  • Germany: DE123456789101112131
  • Ireland: IE291234567891011121

3. How to make international payments outwith Europe

You may need to use an IBAN when making or receiving payments outside of Europe, and you should always provide the BIC if possible.

Payment Purpose Codes are used by some foreign banks to identify why payments are being made. They are becoming more common and will be required if you trade with countries such as China and Jordan. 

4. Trading with China

Whether you’re selling goods and services to China or buying from Chinese suppliers, it helps when you can trade in their currency, the Renminbi (RMB). Transactions in Renminbi have grown steadily since the Chinese Government liberalised its use for global trade and it now offers many operational advantages.

By conducting international business in Renminbi, you can:

  • Benefit from discounts or preferential terms as an importer
  • Gain an advantage with Chinese customers as an exporter
  • Minimise your foreign exchange costs by using an RMB currency account
  • Make payments to both mainland China and offshore accounts
  • Hold Renminbi in an RMB currency account
  • Exchange RMB against other currencies on a ‘spot’ basis
  • Secure forward cover against RMB payables and receivables

Read our Trading in China guide to find out more about making and receiving payments in Chinese Renminbi.

Transaction costs

Transaction costs vary depending on payment type and the account you hold. Our standard exchange rate includes a margin. Learn more about the percentage margin that will be applied to your payment.

The International payment charges vary depending on where you make the payment, such as in branch or online, and the type of payment.

Keep your accounts protected

Only share your BIC and IBAN with someone who’s making a payment to you. Never give out any other confidential details, such as your PIN or memorable information.

 Bank of Scotland. A hands-on approach to your ambition.

5. Useful Links


How to start exporting (Scottish Enterprise).

International Trade Portal

A powerful insight platform with practical support that helps you trade with your chosen market.