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What is SEPA?
SEPA is a system that allows for euros to be transferred across 36 countries.

It stands for Single Euro Payments Area and was launched by the European Union (EU) as a standardised way of making electronic payments.

SEPA isn't something you opt into as a customer - it happens in the background.

But if you've ever wondered how international payments are actually made, we'll explain here how SEPA works.

What countries are in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

The SEPA region consists of 36 European countries:

  • All 27 members of the EU
  • All 4 members of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland)
  • 4 microstates (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
  • The UK

How SEPA payments work

If your bank supports SEPA payments, you can make them using online banking, on a mobile banking app or by visiting your local branch.

Like most international money transfers, SEPA payments can be either:

  • A recurring Direct Debit
  • A single payment

A one-off SEPA payment involves sending euros from one account to another within the SEPA region. 

SEPA payments offer a secure method of transferring euros between banks within the SEPA region. Both sender and recipient must have SEPA accounts within SEPA countries, and the currency transferred must be in euros. 

Suppose you wanted to send €200 from your bank account in the UK to a bank account in France. Since both accounts are in SEPA countries, the process would be similar to a domestic transfer. 

First, your bank would deduct €200 from your bank account. Then, using the recipient’s IBAN and BIC, the French bank deposits the funds into the correct bank account. 

Please note, some Spanish banks have accounts that can't receive SEPA payments. In these rare cases, the receiving bank would either charge the recipient to receive euros or pass a charge back to the sender.

How long does a SEPA transfer take?

A single SEPA payment is usually processed within 1 business day. 

A recurring SEPA Direct Debit takes longer to process. It can take up to 3 business days for the funds to reach the recipient’s account. 

What you’ll need for a SEPA payment


You’ll need the recipient’s International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and often the Bank Identifier Code as well. The IBAN and BIC are used to identify the bank account and to make sure the payments go to the right person. 


You might need to authenticate the payment with a PIN, one-time password (OTP) or your Secure Key. Once authorised, the payment will be processed and confirmed.

Fees and charges

A SEPA transfer works like a local transfer and is typically free of charge. All SEPA payments from HSBC accounts are fee-free. 

Explore: Tips on transferring money outside the UK

Differences between SWIFT and SEPA

Both SWIFT and SEPA allow you to transfer money internationally, but there are some key differences between them. 


SWIFT has a global reach, allowing financial institutions to send and receive money worldwide. SEPA focuses on the Eurozone and on SEPA countries within Europe. 


SWIFT payments often take several days to complete, particularly for transfers that involve multiple banks. In contrast, SEPA payments take between 1 to 3 business days. 


There are usually no fees involved when making a SEPA payment. SEPA payments from HSBC accounts are fee-free. However, you can expect to be charged a transaction fee of around £20 when making a SWIFT payment. 


SEPA transactions are limited to payments sent in euros while SWIFT allows for payments in any currency. 

SEPA payments are a secure method for sending money within the Eurozone. If you need to send or receive money from outside the SEPA region, see our full range of international services.