IBAN and European accounts: in the SEPA area, all IBANs are the same

Let’s say you want to take a job opportunity in Spain and, to get your salary accredited by the Spanish company, you present your account with an Italian, or even Lithuanian, Greek, or German IBAN. In short, an account of a European country.

Well, at that point, what happens? Nothing.

In fact, within the SEPA area, all IBANs are the same and no IBAN can be discriminated against thanks to the SEPA 260/2012 European regulation.

But let’s start from the basics: what is an IBAN?

IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is the code you usually give people so they can send you money , either as regular direct debits or as one-time wire transfers.

The IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is a unique combination that can reach 34 letters and numbers (in Norway it is for example 15 characters while in Italy it is 27), which identifies your bank account and always starts with a code of 2 digits which refers to the country in which the account is based.

And the SEPA area, can you explain it to me better?

The SEPA area is the single euro payments area (Single Euro Payments Area), ie an area in which all parties – from individuals to companies – can easily pay to another account, thanks to common standards.

In practice, there is no difference whether you send money from an Italian account to another Italian account, or from a Slovenian account to an Italian one. And this also applies if you want to domicile an Italian bill in another country’s account.

There are 36 countries that are part of the SEPA area , including EU member countries (which adopt the euro and not) and some countries that are not part of the Union; in these States, payments are standardized: both SCT (SEPA Credit Transfer), equivalent to classic national transfers, and SDD (SEPA Direct Debit), i.e. direct debits, or bank domiciliations, for repetitive payments such as, for example , the bills.

A nice convenience if you want to use goods and services even from abroad or if you temporarily move to another country, since you do not need to open a new account on site.

I have heard, however, that local IBANs are preferred, or even necessary, in the various countries. It’s true?

So, you have accepted the job opportunity in the Spanish company and now you want to give your Italian account number to the new employer to credit the salary, however he refuses to accept an IBAN that does not start with “ES”. Is it right for him to ask you to open an account in a specific country?

If a company based outside the country where you opened your account refuses your bank details, you need to know that they are doing something illegal. Discriminating an IBAN, in fact, violates article 9 of the SEPA regulation, which prohibits the different treatment of IBANs when they are reachable through the SEPA circuit . In Italy, the AGCM has imposed heavy sanctions on companies and public bodies over the years for this reason, as well as in other countries of the European Union the respective authorities have taken steps to ensure that this law is respected.

Unfortunately, however, there are still some companies that deny payments from abroad (risking heavy penalties). On the other hand, it is very easy to identify a foreign IBAN, as we have seen, thanks to the first two characters of the code that identifies it.


The reason behind the refusal of these operations is not so much the economic convenience but lies, more than anything else, in technical and administrative problems. In fact, many companies have not fully adapted their internal IT systems to the harmonization dictated by SEPA, despite the fact that several years have passed since the “equality of IBANs” came into force. Furthermore, some subjects, due to lack of information, are unnecessarily worried about incurring bureaucratic complications and additional costs.

This process of normalizing the use of non-local IBANs, despite the fact that there are still reluctant companies, has been accelerated by some banks, particularly innovative ones. These are banking infrastructures with which an account can be opened online and which often have a banking license in European countries other than those of residence of their customers. Their presence and efforts have given, and are giving, a boost to the practical completion of IBAN acceptance.

What can I do if a company in Europe does not accept my IBAN?

If your IBAN is unfairly discriminated against (for example, if a merchant blocks a direct debit or a bank doesn’t allow you to make a payment), there are a few things you can do:

  • You can contact the company that refuses to complete the transfer by informing it that it is violating Article 9 of the SEPA Regulation;
  • You can send a formal complaint in writing if the company ignores your first communication;
  • If the formal complaint is also ignored, you can contact the competent regulatory body, or the competent authority of your country (for Italy it is the AGCM), providing personal details, name of the company that is not has accepted your IBAN, a brief description of the specific case and perhaps also a screenshot of the refusal or other relevant documents;
  • In any case, you can report the situation to your bank which will be the first to take action and support you.

Two more tips:

  • If your IBAN is rejected by telephone, internet or pay TV operators, you can send a complaint to ConciliaWeb , the platform of the Authority for communications guarantees;
  • In any case of IBAN discrimination, you can also report via the Accept my IBAN platform . This is an initiative of various innovative fintechs that makes it quick and easy to declare your case anonymously. The data collected by the site are then sent to the authorities of the individual countries (for Italy it is the Antitrust Authority) and to the European Commission.

Regarding the declarations, do I have to declare my foreign account and pay the stamp duty?

If you have a foreign account and reside in Italy, there are some precautions to take, but don’t worry, it’s very simple:

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