International payments have made it possible for SMEs to trade in the global economy and form partnerships with suppliers all around the world. There are many cross-border money transfer options available to businesses today and one of the popular methods is the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA).

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about SEPA payments, including what they are and why SMEs should use them.

What is a SEPA payment?

The SEPA scheme was set up by the European Union (EU) in 2008 with the goal of simplifying international payments in the Eurozone. Essentially, SEPA facilitates smooth borderless payment within Europe. For example, if you are based in the UK, you can use SEPA to send money to a recipient in France (or another SEPA country) in a similar way that you would send a payment to another bank account in the UK.

As the name suggests, SEPA allows individuals and businesses in the SEPA zone to send and receive money in euros from one bank account to another. SEPA covers payments between EU countries as well as five other countries including the UK.

More than 529 million citizens live in the SEPA zone and make 146 billion electronic payments every year according to the European Payments Council.

How do SEPA payments work?

A SEPA transfer works in a similar way to a regular domestic transfer. You need to follow these simple steps to make a SEPA payment.

  • Stage 1: Log in to your online banking account.
  • Stage 2: Start a transfer just as you would any other bank transfer. Insert the receiver’s details and the amount you want to transfer.
  • Stage 3: Add the recipient’s IBAN (bank account number).
  • Stage 4: Check the information is correct and then send the payment.

Make sure that the bank where you are transferring the money is a member of SEPA.

How long do SEPA transfers take?

SEPA payments are generally faster than other international transfer options as they are in euros and transferred between SEPA countries. This means the transfer is less likely to be delayed due to issues like extreme time differences or rare currencies. SEPA transfers to the UK usually take between 1-2 working days to be completed.

Why should businesses send money via SEPA?

Sending money overseas can present challenges but SEPA makes the process more efficient and secure. The SEPA payment system aims to make international transfers between European countries as simple as domestic transfers. Here are some key reasons why businesses should choose SEPA over other payment methods.

Transfer speed

As mentioned above, most SEPA transfers are completed within 24-48 hours whereas other international payments systems (like SWIFT) can take up to five business days to be processed. SEPA is ideal if your business needs to make fast transactions within Europe.

Lower costs

Money Transfers explains how you pay the same fee for a SEPA transfer as you would pay for a domestic wire transfer. This makes SEPA a much more affordable option when compared to other international payment systems like SWIFT. One of the biggest benefits of SEPA is that it offers a transparent fee structure with no hidden transfer fees.


Arranging a SEPA transfer is typically much simpler than processing a transfer by SWIFT. In most cases, the only information you need to provide is the recipient’s IBAN and the money will then be transferred to their bank account.

Key takeaways

Overall, the SEPA system was designed to simplify international transfers in the EU area. It is currently available in 36 members states and allows businesses to make fast and secure transactions in euros at low cost.

That said, SEPA does have limitations as it only services a limited number of countries and can only process payments in one currency.

SWIFT may be a better option if you are looking for a more flexible solution and want to send money to a country outside of the EU or in a different currency.

How can I make a SEPA payment?

You can make a SEPA payment in a bank branch or by using online banking services. Alternatively, you can send a SEPA transfer through a payment service provider such as PayAlly. Our team are international payment specialists with extensive experience processing SEPA payments and an in-depth understanding of global business operations.

Contact PayAlly if you would like to arrange a SEPA transfer or discuss cross-border payments with our team of experts.