Sort Code vs. Routing Number: A Comparative Analysis

In the world of banking and finance, different countries use different systems and terminologies. Two such terms that often cause confusion are “sort code” and “routing number”. While both are used to identify banks and financial institutions, they serve different purposes and are used in different countries. This article will delve into the differences between these two terms, their uses, and their significance in the banking industry.

Sort Code vs Routing Number

What is a Sort Code?

A sort code is a number assigned to a branch of a bank for internal purposes. It is typically composed of six digits in the format ##-##-## and is most commonly used by banks in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The British banking industry uses the sort code to route money transfers between banks domestically. The code identifies both the bank and the branch where the account is held.

What is a Routing Number?

On the other hand, a routing number is a nine-digit numerical code used to identify a specific financial institution in the United States. Banks use routing numbers to direct the exchange of funds between different institutions and also to identify themselves within the financial industry. The routing number is used for domestic transfers; you can easily find it at the bottom of your checks.

The format of the Routing Number code is like this:

  • AAAA is the Federal Reserve Routing Symbol
  • BBBB is the American Bankers Association (ABA) Institution Identifier
  • C is the check digit

Key Differences

While both sort codes and routing numbers are used to identify banks and branches, there are key differences between the two:

  1. Geographical Usage: Sort codes are primarily used in the United Kingdom and Ireland while routing numbers are used in the United States.
  2. Number of Digits: Sort codes are made up of six digits while routing numbers consist of nine digits.
  3. Purpose: Sort codes are used for domestic transfers within the UK and Ireland while routing numbers are used for both domestic and international transfers in the US.
  4. Format: Sort codes are usually formatted as three pairs of numbers (AA-BB-CC), while routing numbers follow a specific format (AAAA BBBB C).


In conclusion, while sort codes and routing numbers serve similar purposes, they are used in different geographical locations and have different formats. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone involved in banking, finance, or anyone who needs to transfer money internationally. It ensures that funds are correctly and efficiently transferred between banks, reducing the risk of errors and delays.

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