What is a sort code and account number?

Tilly Michell4 minutes
What is a sort code and account number?
In this article

When you open a UK bank account, you will be assigned an account number and sort code. The account number identifies your unique bank account and the sort code identifies the branch and bank where you opened your account. Account numbers are eight digits long and sort codes are six digits long. You may be able to find your account number and sort code printed on your debit card, but not all debit cards will show these details.

Account numbers and sort codes are used by financial institutions in the UK to facilitate money transfers. You will need to share these details with your employer, friends and (if you own a business) your customers in order to receive payment from them via bank transfer. Your account number and sort code can also be used to set up a direct debit.

Where can I find my sort code and account number?

You may be able to find your sort code and account number printed on your debit card. However, this is not always the case. For example, Airwallex Borderless Cards do not come with bank details printed on them. That’s because our cards are multi-currency and allow you to spend from several currency account balances with one card.  

If your account number and sort code is not on your debit card, you will be able to find it in your mobile banking app, on your bank statements, or on cheques.

If your account number is printed on your card, it will appear as an eight digit number on either the front or the back of the card. Your sort code will appear as a six digit number grouped into pairs. You don’t need to worry about spacing the numbers out when entering them online.

Example of how an account number and sort code would appear on a debit card from a UK bank account

Be careful not to confuse either your account number or sort code with the 16-digit number that’s also printed on the card. This number is used to authorise online payments, along with the card expiry date and CVV, and is therefore a target for fraudsters. You should never give this number out unless you are making a secure payment with a trusted vendor. 

Is it safe to share your account number and sort code?

Yes, it is safe to share your account number and sort code. In fact, you’ll need to share these details any time you want someone to transfer money into your account. Your sort code and account number cannot be used to transfer money out of your account, only to put money in it, or to set up a direct debit. 

Direct debits allow companies to take automatic payments from customers. You may wish to use direct debit to pay regular bills or to set up a subscription. Only companies that have been vetted by the Direct Debit Scheme can use your account number and sort code to take money from your account in this way, and your funds are always protected by the Direct Debit Guarantee. This means you do not need to worry about sharing these details with companies online or over the phone.   

If you own a business that invoices customers, you should include your account number and sort code on your invoices so your customers can pay you via bank transfer. Alternatively, Airwallex customers can include a Payment Link in their invoices and get paid in a click.

Never give out your PIN, 16-digit card number, card expiry date or CVV unless paying for something from a trusted vendor. These details can be used by fraudsters to access the funds in your account. 

So, what exactly is an account number?

An account number identifies your bank account and is always unique. If you have several accounts, for example a savings account and a current account, they will have different numbers, even if you hold them with the same bank.

UK account numbers are eight digits long. There are some that are seven digits, but a zero is added to the front of the number to standardise the length. 

What is a sort code?

The sort code is a six digit number which indicates the bank and the branch where you opened the account. 

The first digits describe the bank or provider you have the account with, and the later digits refer to the branch. Some banks and financial institutions are online-only and don’t have brick-and-mortar branches. For these banks, every customer is given the same sort code. 

Six-digit sort codes in the UK date back to 1957, and were a result of the industry becoming more automated. 

Are sort codes and account numbers the same in the Republic of Ireland?

Sort codes are no longer used in the Republic of Ireland. Instead, all information is held within the account number.

As a part of the Eurozone, transactions in Ireland are processed using an IBAN (International Bank Account Number).

An IBAN has 34 characters: both numbers and letters. It identifies the bank, the specific account, and the geographical location of the branch, as well as potential routing information.

Can sort codes and account numbers be used for international transfers?

Sort codes and account numbers are used for domestic transfers within the UK. You may need to share your international bank account number (IBAN) and SWIFT code along with additional details, in order to receive money from abroad.

If you’re looking for a faster way to accept and send payments around the world, try Airwallex.

Manage money globally with Airwallex

Airwallex is a global business account designed for companies that operate across borders. We make it easier and cheaper to accept international payments, by allowing you to open 11+ foreign currency accounts in a tap, with no monthly account fees.  

Open a British Pound account with Airwallex from anywhere in the world and you will be given an account number and sort code. These account details will allow your UK clients to pay into your account easily, with no international fees or forced currency conversions.

Airwallex offers bank-beating exchange rates and zero international transaction fees, giving you a chance to cut the cost of international money transfers and payment acceptance. 

You can also issue borderless Visa debit cards to your team, allowing them to spend in multiple currencies without the cost. Create new physical and virtual cards in minutes, set spending limits on a card level, and track expenditure in the app.   

To find out more, sign up for a free account today or click below to watch a three-minute demo.

Related article: What is the SWIFT Payment Network?

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Tilly Michell
Content Marketing Manager

Tilly manages the content strategy for Airwallex. She specialises in content that supports businesses in their growth trajectory.

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