<- Back
November 28, 2023

How Long Does a SWIFT Transfer Take?

A typical SWIFT transfer takes between one and five days to process. 

This may not be the most helpful news if you run a business that relies on a high number of cross-border payments to function. One to five days seems like a wide range when you’re trying to maintain a steady cash flow.

But you don’t just have to pick a number between one and five to guess how long a SWIFT transfer takes. Knowing how SWIFT payments work can give you a better sense of how to plan them. Some factors that may delay a payment can’t be avoided, but others can. 

  • What is SWIFT?
  • How do SWIFT transfers work?
  • How long does a SWIFT transfer take?
  • What can delay a SWIFT transfer?
  • How SWIFT transfer delays can affect your business
  • Faster alternatives to SWIFT transfers
  • Simplify your cross-border payments with Levro

What is SWIFT?

The name “SWIFT” suggests speedy payments, but it actually stands for something else entirely: the Society for WorldWide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. 

The SWIFT network was founded in 1973, with the express goal of simplifying the process for inter-bank and international financial payments. Though the name doesn’t literally equate to “fast,” SWIFT is an appropriate acronym for a financial messaging system designed to make international payments less of a hassle. 

The idea behind the SWIFT network is a simple one: Standardization makes life easier for everyone. SWIFT thus provides a standardized format so that banks in different countries can securely send and receive electronic payments. 

It’s an idea that has caught on in recent decades, with more than 11,000 financial institutions across more than 200 countries now connected via the SWIFT network.

How do SWIFT transfers work?

The SWIFT messaging network is built on the back of standardized codes called Bank Identifier Codes (BIC). 

You may have heard these referred to as SWIFT codes, but SWIFT and BIC codes refer to the same thing: an 8–11 character code that identifies the financial institution and the country to which money should be transferred.

A BIC code may just look like a random assortment of characters, but it contains some key information:

  • The business party (characters 1–4)
  • The country where the business party is located (characters 5–6)
  • The business party’s city or location within a country (chapters 7-8)
  • A specific branch or department of the business party: (characters 9–11; optional)

In short, SWIFT/BIC codes ensure that your money gets to the place you want it to go. 

This is why your bank will ask you for the BIC code of the receiver’s bank or financial institution every time you transfer money overseas via the SWIFT network. 

Who is involved in a SWIFT transfer?

There are four primary parties involved in a typical SWIFT transfer:

  • The payer
  • The payer’s bank
  • The recipient
  • The recipient’s bank

The identities and locations of the payer, the recipient, and their respective banks may affect how long a SWIFT transfer takes.

This is especially true if the two banks in question don’t have a pre-existing SWIFT agreement or commercial relationship. In these cases, the money sent by the payer may need to be processed by an intermediary or third-party bank.

How long does a SWIFT transfer take?

SWIFT transfers generally take between one and five days to process. 

This is a good rule of thumb to go by when sending a transfer via the SWIFT network, though one to five days is a pretty wide range. Whether your transfer ends up on the shorter or longer side of that range may depend on a few different factors.

When the two banks have an existing agreement in place, things tend to be more efficient. In these cases, it isn’t uncommon for the receiver to receive the money sent in a SWIFT transfer within a single working day. 

Even transfers that require an intermediary bank can take a relatively short time to process, but this isn’t always the case. 

How long do SWIFT transfers take from major US banks?

To give you an idea of how SWIFT transfer times may differ based on your bank, here are some figures provided by four major US banks:

  • Chase: Between one and five business days
  • Bank of America: Usually within two business days
  • Citigroup: Usually within two business days
  • WellsFargo: May vary based on the recipient’s country

In short, it depends. You may be a bit frustrated by the vagueness of these figures, but a SWIFT transfer has a lot of moving parts that may cause delays. 

Let’s take a look at them and explain why your best bet for international money transfers is a bank designed for just this kind of thing.

What can delay a SWIFT transfer?

The goal behind SWIFT may be standardization, but it’s difficult to standardize everything! Here are some of the unique aspects of your SWIFT transfer that may be causing delays:

Timing of the transfer

International transfers are typically only processed during a bank’s business hours, so the time zones of the banks involved in the transaction matter. 

For example, if you’re in New York City and you send a bank transfer at 2 p.m., your bank may well send it by the end of the day. But, if the receiving bank is based in Munich (local time: 8 p.m.), you’ll likely have to wait at least until the next business day until it’s processed. 

For the quickest transfer possible, try to schedule your transfer for a time that falls within the business hours of both banks in question (and not right before a weekend). This may not always be possible, depending on the locations and time zones of the banks.

Also, beware that local bank holidays differ by country and region. If you send a SWIFT transfer just prior to a local bank holiday in the receiving country, you may have to wait one or two extra working days for the transfer to go through.

Check out our list of overlapping bank holidays by country to better avoid delays.

Cross-currency transfers

Many international payments require the conversion of one currency to another. For example, if you are sending US dollars (USD) from the United States to a receiving institution based in London, you may need to convert those dollars into British pounds (GBP).

It makes intuitive sense that transfers in a single currency would generally be quicker than cross-currency transfers. But even among cross-currency transfers, there may be differences in transfer times depending on the currencies involved

This usually owes to the clearing systems (i.e. the sets of rules and processes governing transfers) within a country, and how efficiently they operate. In a country like the US, these systems tend to go pretty smoothly. In other countries, however, delays may occur.

Cross-border compliance checks

Regulatory and compliance checks—by the sender or receiver’s bank, or both—may also slow down international bank transfers. 

It can be difficult to determine when these checks will happen, how strict they are, and how disruptive they might be. But in some cases, they may hold up SWIFT transfers for a few days or more.

Inaccurate payment details

If there’s one big thing you can do to shorten the processing time for your next SWIFT transfer, it’s this: Get the payment details right.

Banks can get caught up trying to make sense of inaccurate payment details, and in many cases they’ll reject the transfer altogether. So, be sure you have all the details you need, including:

  • The recipient’s name
  • The recipient’s bank account details
  • The name of the recipient’s bank or financial institution
  • The BIC code of the recipient’s bank or financial institution
  • The transfer amount
  • The currency
  • Any references relevant to the payment

Of course, just knowing these details isn’t enough—you must also type them in correctly! So, take a second to proofread your work the next time you send a SWIFT transfer.

Intermediary banks

As noted above, banks that don’t have a commercial relationship may need to rely on an intermediary bank (or banks) to process a transfer. If your bank is a smaller or local institution, the odds are higher that an intermediary will be involved.

With that said, many intermediary banks process SWIFT transfers efficiently, and this additional step may not lead to any great delays.

How SWIFT transfer delays can affect your business

SWIFT transfer delays can be a big pain point if you’re running a business with a tight cash flow. 

Knowing when expenses and costs are going to hit can be crucial to business success, and a delayed SWIFT transfer can disrupt this. 

In the worst cases, delayed payments can lead to fines or damage important business relationships. This is especially true if you have international contractors that specify timely payment requirements—and may lead to lawsuits if left unfulfilled.

Faster alternatives to SWIFT transfers

SWIFT isn’t always the fastest solution, and other options may be more appropriate in certain cases.

If you’re transferring money domestically, you’ll likely find that it’s faster and cheaper to use local payment rails. These are systems or networks designed to facilitate smooth and accurate payment transactions within a specific geographic area.

Different countries and regions have their own version of these local payment rails. The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), for example, facilitates cashless euro payments to anywhere within the EU (as well as a number of non-EU countries). Other examples include:

  • ACH in the US
  • The Faster Payments Service (FPS) in the UK
  • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) in Canada 
  • Clearing House Automated Transfer System (CHATS) in Hong Kong  

At Levro, we support these local payment rails in 37 different countries.

Other alternatives?

SWIFT probably isn’t the end-all, be-all in international transfers, and the field is ripe for innovation. 

Some businesses are beginning to experiment with blockchains and cryptocurrencies as a fast and secure means of transferring money between countries, but those may come with their own risks. 

So, what’s the best solution for your business? We built Levro with that question in mind. 

Simplify your cross-border payments with Levro

Levro’s tools and products are designed to provide the fastest and most transparent cross-border payment experience possible. Our easy-to-integrate API supports an end-to-end experience that includes:

  • Creating payments
  • Approval workflows
  • Funding
  • Additional integrations with your existing process

Our platform not only ensures that your international transfers will arrive as quickly as possible, but also automates and streamlines your payment processes to get rid of the guesswork. And with seamless integrations to your existing accounting software, we’ll make sure your payments process doesn’t skip a beat.

View our free interactive demo of Levro today, or send an email to [email protected] to learn how Levro can help your business.

International Banking Made Easy
Get a Global Business Account in 24 Hours
Join Waitlist->