What is SEPA transfer?

You may have heard of SEPA transfers in passing, but what does it actually do? Essentially, SEPA transfers are an effortless way to transfer money within the European Union (EU)—it’s one of the quickest, cheapest, and safest ways to get your money across from one eurozone country to another. 

Ready to discover which SEPA transfer option best matches your needs? Let’s dive in.

What is a SEPA bank transfer?

The SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) is a pan-European network that allows you to send and receive payments in euros (€) between two cross-border bank accounts in the eurozone. With SEPA, sending money within the eurozone is as easy as making your usual domestic bank transfers.

Which countries are included in the SEPA?

There are currently 36 SEPA member states: 

  • 27 of these countries are from the European Union (e.g. Spain, France, Germany, Italy)

  • Four countries are from the European Free Trade Association (Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland)

  • Four are microstates that have special monetary arrangements with the EU (Vatican City, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra)

  • The UK, although in the process of leaving the EU, is still counted as a member of SEPA and is expected to remain so even after officially leaving the EU.

How does a SEPA bank transfer work?

There are three types of SEPA bank transfers, which offer three distinct services. Here’s how the SEPA Credit Transfer, the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer, and the SEPA Direct Debit Transfer work.

SEPA Credit Transfer

Usually used for one-off transfers, the SEPA Credit Transfer uses the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and occasionally the BIC (Business Identifier Code) numbers of both the sender and the recipient’s bank accounts to move money from one bank account to another. Once the transfer is authorized, the recipient should receive their money within one business day after the payment was made.

Say you wanted to send €500 from your bank account in Germany to your friend’s bank account in France. As both countries are within the SEPA region, this would work just like a domestic transfer with the SEPA Credit Transfer. First, your German bank would take €500 from your bank account. Then, by using the IBAN—and if necessary, the BIC—numbers to find the correct bank account, the €500 would then be deposited into your friend’s account by their French bank, all within one business day.

SEPA Instant Credit Transfer

Also known as SEPA Instant Payment, the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer was established in November 2017. And true to its name, the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer is all about speed. Once the sender confirms a SEPA Instant Credit Transfer, the funds can be available in the recipient’s bank account in less than 10 seconds. This is because SEPA Instant Credit Transfers use direct routing from the sender’s bank to the recipient’s bank, without involving any intermediaries in the process. SEPA Instant Credit Transfers are also available 24/7, 365 days a year, unlike other banking procedures that may be delayed during the weekend or public holidays. 

However, to use the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer, both the sender and the receiver’s banks must be registered as SEPA Instant members. So before you hit send on a SEPA Instant Credit Transfer request, be sure to check that both your bank account and your friend’s bank account can accommodate SEPA Instant Credit Transfers.

SEPA Direct Debit Transfer

In contrast to the SEPA Credit Transfer and the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer, the SEPA Direct Debit Transfer is frequently used for recurring payments. Some examples of recurring payments may include your monthly rent, internet or electricity bills, or regular loan repayment installments. 

Similar to the other SEPA transfers, the SEPA Direct Debit Transfer also requires the IBAN— and occasionally the BIC—of both the sender and the recipient’s bank accounts. But because the SEPA Direct Debit Transfer works as a “pull-based” method of payment, it’s slightly different to other SEPA transfers—in this case, the roles are reversed and the recipient of the funds must request the money transfer from the sender.

First, the recipient who will receive the funds must send a request to the sender to allow the money to be withdrawn (i.e. “pulled”) from the sender’s account. Before any money can be transferred, the sender must sign a “mandate,” which is a contract that allows the recipient of the funds to take money out from the sender’s account on a recurring basis. This can be especially useful if you’d rather have your bill payments automatically taken out from your account each month, rather than remembering to pay the bill on time yourself. 

There are two types of SEPA Direct Debit Transfers: 

  • The SEPA Core Direct Debit Transfer is available to individuals, and must be offered by all banks participating in the SEPA scheme.

  • The SEPA B2B Direct Debit Transfer is only available between businesses, and banks participating in the SEPA scheme may choose to offer it to their customers, but it is not mandatory.

How long does a SEPA transfer take?

The length of time for a SEPA transfer to be completed depends on which type of SEPA transfer you choose. 

  • The SEPA Credit Transfer takes one business day. 

  • The SEPA Instant Credit Transfer takes less than ten seconds.

  • The SEPA Core Direct Debit Transfer takes a minimum of two business days.

  • The SEPA B2B Direct Debit Transfer takes a minimum of three business days.

Are there any SEPA transfer charges?

SEPA transfers generally cost the same amount as a local domestic bank transfer, which means that they’re usually free. However, a small number of banks may charge you an extra fee for SEPA transfers if they also charge an extra fee to make local bank transfers within the same country. Depending on your bank, the SEPA transfer charge may either be paid in full by the recipient, or shared between both the recipient and sender. This is referred to as a “shared costs” (SHA) payment method.

Additionally, there may be an extra currency conversion fee if multiple currencies are involved. For example, if you’re sending money from the UK to another EU country, your British pounds would have to be converted into euros. This can sometimes incur additional bank charges, so be sure to check with your bank before receiving a SEPA transfer from a different currency.  

What are the SEPA transfer limits?

The transfer limits—or simply put, the maximum amount of money that you can transfer at a time—depends on which type of SEPA transfer you choose. 

  • SEPA Credit Transfers have a maximum transfer limit of €999,999,999.99 (i.e. one cent short of one billion euros).

  • SEPA Instant Credit Transfers allow you to send up to €100,000 at a time.

  • SEPA Direct Debit Transfers do not have a fixed transfer limit—rather, the limit depends on what was agreed upon between the recipient and the sender.