Routing Number vs. Sort Code: Understanding the Differences for Non-US Banks

What's the difference between a routing number and a sort code (for non-US banks)?

Routing Number vs. Sort Code: Understanding the Differences for Non-US Banks


In the global landscape of banking, different countries have their own unique systems for facilitating electronic transactions. While routing numbers and sort codes serve similar purposes, they are distinct identifiers used in different regions. In this blog post, we'll explore the key differences between routing numbers and sort codes, focusing on their functions and usage for non-US banks.

Routing Numbers and Sort Codes: A Brief Overview

Routing numbers and sort codes are numerical codes that help direct electronic transactions to the correct financial institutions. They play a crucial role in ensuring accurate and secure transfers of funds. However, they are used in different parts of the world and are associated with different banking systems.

Routing Number:
A routing number is a nine-digit code used primarily in the United States. It is assigned to financial institutions, including banks and credit unions, to identify them during electronic transactions. Routing numbers help route funds to the correct bank and account within the US banking system.

Sort Code:
A sort code, on the other hand, is a six-digit code used in countries that follow the United Kingdom's banking system, as well as in some other countries. Similar to a routing number, a sort code identifies specific banks and branches within the banking network. It is used to route payments and transfers within the UK and other countries using a similar system.

Key Differences Between Routing Numbers and Sort Codes

Geographic Scope:
Routing numbers are used exclusively in the United States. They facilitate transactions within the US banking system.
Sort codes are used in countries that adopt a similar banking system to the UK. This includes the United Kingdom itself, as well as other countries that have adopted the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) system.

Length of Code:
Routing numbers are nine-digit codes in the US.
Sort codes consist of six digits.

Bank Identification:
Routing numbers identify both the bank and the specific branch where an account is held.
Sort codes also identify the bank and branch, but they may include additional information about the bank's processing center.

IBAN Integration:
In many countries that use sort codes, they are often part of the International Bank Account Number (IBAN), a standardized international system for identifying bank accounts.
Routing numbers are not directly part of the IBAN system.

Associated Banking Systems:
Routing numbers are integral to the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system used for electronic fund transfers in the US.
Sort codes are used in systems like BACS (Bankers' Automated Clearing Services) and CHAPS (Clearing House Automated Payment System) in the UK and other countries.


While routing numbers and sort codes share a common purpose—to ensure the accurate routing of funds within their respective banking systems—they are unique to different regions and serve different global financial networks. Understanding these differences is crucial for individuals and businesses engaging in international transactions, ensuring that funds are directed to the correct bank and account while navigating the intricacies of various banking systems across the world.

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