How does forex trading work?
This may get a bit complicated, but bear with us – it’s not as daunting as it might seem.
In a broad sense, exchange rate movements occur in dynamic response to economic situations and world events, either occurring in or widely predicted by either of the issuing countries involved in a particular currency pair. (In other words; a currency’s value is bound to fluctuate when there are shake-ups in the economy, or when big, news-altering events occur).
As market participants (forex traders) shift their expectations – and their positions – to encompass new information, they are betting that the currency supply/demand balance shifts to either a higher or lower rate. Roughly speaking, it’s these shifts that determine a currency’s value at a given time, and it’s these highs and lows that forex traders attempt to navigate (and exploit) when making forex trades.
As one might expect, in order to try to predict future changes in exchange rates, traders need to keep themselves apprised of the fundamental details pertaining to each of the currencies in a particular currency pair.
With all of the major currency pairs, traders can go long, or short one currency against another (though some of the less-actively traded national currencies are subject to exchange rate controls).
Buying and selling forex: Let’s imagine that you are speculating on the forex market, and you believe that the price of the euro will go up relative to the U.S. dollar (a price increase of the exchange rate). So, what do you do? You buy the EUR/USD pair, with the goal of making money on the deal.
Let’s say that (at the time of your trade) one euro = 1.1200 USD. So, you decide to buy 1,000 units of the EUR/USD pair. You’ve bought 1,000 euros, worth $1,120 U.S. dollars. Then, there’s a price increase of 100 pips that brings the EUR/USD exchange rate to 1.1300. This means that the euro went up in value, and now the 1,000 euros you bought are worth $1,300 dollars (representing a $100 profit).
It’s important to note that currency pairs can also be quoted in reverse. For example, you might see the price of the U.S. dollar quoted in euros, which is the USD/EUR pair (note that the USD symbol comes first this time).
In this case (assuming the same exchange rate as the above example) the USD/EUR is 0.893 euros for each dollar. Here, you are trading the USD, not the euro. You would initiate a sell trade (not a buy trade), with the hope of profiting when the price of the USD/EUR drops (which would reflect a weakening U.S. dollar).
To sum it up; both examples involve the same currencies, but the pairs are inverted. You sold short the USD/EUR, rather than buying long the EUR/USD. In both cases, the outcome is actually the same; you are benefiting when the euro strengthens (relative to the U.S. dollar).
Pro tip: always remember that the symbol (or currency code) on the left side of the pair (EUR/USD) denotes what you are buying or selling, and the symbol on the right (EUR/USD) represents the price – or rate – at which the base currency is being bought or sold. So, if you are buying the euro (EUR/USD) then you want the rate (EUR/USD) of the pair to go up.
Reminder: Forex trading is a high-risk endeavor, whether you are buying or selling. You can take a long (buy to open) position and see the price of the EUR/USD decline (and lose money). You could also open a short (sell to open) forex trade and see the price increase (and again, lose money). The key is to position yourself according to your expected market price direction while managing your potential profit and loss (more on that later).
Basic forex trading terms:
Each forex broker may offer different trading tools and order types. That being said, there are certain basic trading conventions that you’ll find wherever you trade. For example, you’ll use a market order or limit order to open new trades and close existing ones.
Your order type will depend on your outlook and the direction of your trade (long if you expect a rise in price, and short if you expect a decline) and whether you want to open a new trade or close an existing one. When entering or exiting the forex market, there are four basic scenarios to keep in mind:
- Buy to open (entering market, long position)
- Sell to close (exiting market, long position)
- Sell to open (entering market, short position)
- Buy to close (exiting market, short position)
Currency pairs: Among forex traders, the most actively traded currency pairs are known as “the majors” and “the major crosses.” Moderately traded currency pairs are known as minors, while the least-actively traded pairs are known as exotics.
Examples of popular major currency pairs include the EUR/USD (the euro against the U.S. dollar), the USD/CAD, and the USD/JPY. When the U.S. dollar is not involved in a major currency pair – like the EUR/GBP, for instance – it is called a major cross currency pair.
Each currency pair has two acronyms (known as currency codes). The currency code you see on the left side of a currency pair represents what is known as the “base currency” (the currency you’ll be buying or selling). The code on the right side of a currency pair represents the “counter currency”, which denotes the rate at which the base currency is being bought or sold.
Let’s say you want to purchase some euros (the euro, then, is the base), and you’ll be buying them with U.S. dollars (making USD the counter currency). In this case, the currency pair would be the EUR/USD. If the current EUR/USD price is 1.0950, it means you’ll be paying $1.0950 for each euro that you buy (not including trading costs or the spread).
For beginners who are interested in dipping their toes in the forex world, the good news is that the forex market is now wide open to your participation as an online forex trader – even if you only have a few bucks to put at risk (if that’s you, you might want to check out our guide on Micro Accounts).
To start trading, you’ll need access to a forex trading platform that can execute transactions – whether that’s provided by a regulated broker, a third-party developer, or a custom system via an API. Next, we’ll help you choose the best trading platform for your needs.
Which broker has the best trading platform?
Online brokers provide trading platforms that allow you to trade currency pairs electronically. These platforms are developed either by the broker or by third-party developers like MetaQuotes Software or Spotware Systems.
According to our research, the following forex brokers provided the best trading platforms:
- Saxo Bank - Best web and mobile app
- IG - Most trusted, great for beginners
- CMC Markets - Best platform technology
- Interactive Brokers - Best for professionals
- TD Ameritrade FX - Best desktop platform (U.S. only)
- FXCM - Great for algorithmic traders
Learn more about the best forex brokers at our sister site, ForexBrokers.com.
Is it safe to use a forex broker?
Yes, but it’s crucial to determine whether your broker is a reputable, highly-regulated brokerage. Most reputable forex brokers will be overseen by a major financial regulator, such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the U.K. Regulators aim to protect the broker’s clients by making sure the firm complies with their jurisdiction’s financial laws and regulations.
You should be able to find the name of each forex broker’s regulatory authority on their respective websites – their registration number should also be listed so that you can verify the status of their regulatory approval.
All of the forex brokers listed here on BrokerNotes or reviewed on our sister site ForexBrokers.com are regulated by at least one financial regulatory agency. Learn more here about how we evaluate a broker’s trustworthiness.
Can I trade the most popular currency pairs?
Yes. Generally speaking, most brokers will offer the popular major forex pairs, like the EUR/USD, the USD/JPY, and the GBP/USD, for example. That being said, each forex broker provides a different assortment of tradeable instruments and forex pairs, and some might also offer currency-related commodities like crude oil or gold – some even offer the ability to trade cryptocurrencies.
A forex broker may offer you the ability to trade the underlying currency, or a non-deliverable spot contract or derivative such as a contract for difference (CFD), depending on any relevant country-specific regulatory restrictions.
What does it cost to trade forex?
Forex brokers can (and do) charge fees for using their services and their platform. These fees generally come in three forms:
- Commissions simply represent the fee charged by your broker for the trades being placed for you. This may be a flat fee charged on a per-trade basis, or the commission might be expressed as a percentage of the amount traded.
- Spreads are typically measured in a unit called a “pip”, and they communicate the difference between the “bid” price and the “ask” price for a currency pair.
- Swaps (or rollover fees) represent the interest that can be charged (or in some cases, earned) for positions that are held overnight (and, like spreads, are generally expressed in pips).
Keep in mind that wide dealing spreads, swaps, and high trading commissions can stack up quickly, adding considerably to your transaction costs when trading forex. If you intend to be an active forex trader, it can pay to shop around for the fee structure that will best suit your trading style.
Can you get rich by trading forex?
Yes, some traders will get rich by trading forex. But the majority (between 65% and 83%) of retail traders actually lose money each year, according to brokerage data published in the EU and U.S. Those traders who turned a profit or struck riches with forex trading are in the minority, and either committed to excellent trading strategies with ironclad discipline or took massive risks on a few timely trades and – simply put – got lucky.
Gambling vs. Investing: Anyone can get lucky on a few trades. The best traders are consistent and pick strategies that make money over time – even if they have to stomach a bunch of losing trades on the way. The most successful traders focus on their win/loss percentage over the long haul. The secret to consistency (and profits over time) lies in the effective management of your risk-reward ratio, and in keeping your average profits larger than your average losses.
Risk-reward: The risk-reward ratio measures the average risk on each trade compared to average profits over time. As a simple example, we’ll imagine that you made 100 trades in a given time period. Over the course of those 100 trades, you lost an average of $200 across 60 of those positions (so you lost about $12,000). However, you realized an average profit of $400 for the remaining 40 trades (adding up to a tidy $16,000). The net result ($4,000 in profit) reflects what really matters – keeping average profit high enough to offset average losses.
Long-term success: There is a key strategic difference between gambling and investing. The former is a win-or-lose bet, whereas the latter is a calculated risk that can be managed with the goal of making a profit over time. Trading forex can yield positive returns in the long-term, with the right investment strategy and risk/reward ratio. But, don’t forget that the majority of forex traders lose money, year over year. The odds are simply stacked against you.
Taking a gambler’s approach to forex trading is not recommended. Some speculators may place large bets and treat trading forex like a gamble, believing they can get rich by taking concentrated positions in the forex market. Such strategies (and any associated potential gains) do not come without considerable risks, and traders can quickly find themselves in serious trouble – especially when factoring in leverage.
Beware of forex claims by influencers: Be extremely wary of any claims you may hear, see, or read about on social media from people saying they became rich from forex trading. At best, those claims are misleading and tend to display cherry-picked gains that have been exaggerated – with little mention of losses.
At worst, the claims are outright fabrications. Even regulated hedge funds and portfolio managers are prohibited from making such claims, and their performance must be made available in a prospectus and disclosure documents that hedge funds offer to their high-net-worth investors.
In other words, when you see forex influencers on Instagram showing off flashy cars, expensive Swiss watches, and stacks of cash, chances are you are dealing with a scammer – and at BrokerNotes, we recommend steering far clear of scams whenever possible.
Forex fraud and market price manipulation: Forex fraud is rampant. Just glance at the multiple warnings and regulatory actions taken each year by the CFTC against Commodity Pool Operators (CPOs) and brokers that fail to register or comply with regulations, and it becomes clear that forex fraud remains just as pervasive and destructive as ever. Another excellent reason why it is crucial to only deal with well-regulated forex brokers.
Some of the largest banks in the world have been reprimanded for forex market price manipulation, a practice that is comparable to price gouging. Forex market price manipulation occurs when a bank purposefully alters execution prices for their clients (without their clients’ knowledge). The banks’ clients end up with falsely inflated trading costs, and the bank (or the bank’s senior traders) make money by skimming from their own clients’ funds.
In recent years, these bad practices have brought to light the need for the global forex markets to develop best-execution standards, such as those outlined in the Global FX Code. Also, if you aren’t yet familiar with our proprietary Trust Score, take a look at how we determine whether a forex broker is trustworthy, at our sister site ForexBrokers.com.
What are the top 10 forex brokers in the world?
When it comes to the best of the best or the “Crème de la crème” of forex brokers, these companies stand out for their excellent offering, wide range of markets, high trust factor, and integrity thanks to numerous regulatory licenses, status as a publicly-traded company, and all continue to innovate to offer you the latest trading platform technology. Here are the top ten forex brokers globally:
- Saxo Bank
- CMC Markets
- Interactive Brokers
- TD Ameritrade
- City Index
What are the best forex trading apps?
The best mobile apps for forex trading come fully loaded like a high-end luxury car, stocked with powerful tools, top-tier market research, and advanced charting capabilities, all wrapped in an intelligent user interface (UI) designed to give you the control you need to navigate the markets.
The best forex brokers deliver their own proprietary trading apps in addition to popular third-party platforms like MetaTrader, creating a well-rounded offering that will accommodate all traders.
Whether you are a beginner who is just getting your start in the forex world, or an experienced trader searching for the ultimate mobile trading platform, you can’t go wrong with our list of the best forex trading apps in 2024:
- Saxo Bank - SaxoTraderGO app, TradingView, MetaTrader (MT4), MultiCharts.
- IG - IG Trading app, MetaTrader 4 (MT4), IG Academy.
- CMC Markets - Next Generation app, MetaTrader (MT4).
What are the best forex brokers for beginners?
The best forex brokers for beginners in 2024 are IG, AvaTrade, Capital.com, eToro, Plus500, CMC Markets, and XTB. These brokers each offer a vast selection of educational content to help new traders familiarize themselves with the forex world. Articles, videos, webinars, podcasts, interactive courses, and even dedicated educational mobile apps are available for beginners who want to build their knowledge of trading and financial markets.
When getting started, beginners should first familiarize themselves with the trading software by using a free demo account provided by their broker – most brokers will provide some version of a demo (or virtual) account so that you can practice your trading strategy. Plus500, for example, allows you to switch to the demo app on their trading platform.
These educational offerings are paired with easy-to-use platforms and plenty of tradeable instruments, making any of these forex brokers an easy choice for beginners in 2024.
What are the key forex trading sessions?
The forex markets open each week starting in Australia and New Zealand on Monday morning (9am in Wellington, or UTC+13) when it is technically still 4pm on Sunday afternoon in New York (UTC-4). As the sun rises and then moves westward, other financial centers in the Asia-Pacific region – such as Japan and Hong Kong – follow. Europe and London are next, with New York opening last as the furthest-west market – that session ends at 5pm EST.
At that point, rollover occurs. Markets are usually thin (or even paused) for up to an hour. This 24-hour cycle repeats itself each day until Friday afternoon in New York, when markets close for the weekend. It all starts over again the following week.
Pro Tip: When veteran forex traders refer to the time of day within the forex daily schedule, you’ll usually hear them grouped into four trading “sessions.” Some of these sessions overlap each other as they transition from one to the next, as can been observed in the table below (which assumes DST is in effect):
- The Sydney Session (trading week starts in New Zealand and then Australia) 7am - 4pm AEDT (UTC+11)
- The Tokyo Session (also referred to as the Asian session) - 9am - 6pm JST (UTC+9)
- The London Session (includes Europe and Africa) - 8am - 5pm BST (UTC+1)
- The New York session (for the Americas) - 8am - 5pm* EDT (UTC-4) (Except on Friday when most forex markets close at 4pm EST to prevent rollover).
Weekend trading: As more brokers start to offer cryptocurrency trading on weekends, we are starting to see limited forex trading sessions available on Saturdays. However, markets remain thin (and potentially volatile) during those times, and as the full global markets remain closed over the weekend, those times are generally best avoided.
BrokerNotes.co 2023 Overall Rankings
To recap, here are our top forex brokers for 2023, sorted by Overall ranking.
Popular Forex Reviews
At BrokerNotes.co, our data-driven reviews of online brokers are based on our own extensive testing of each broker's products and services as well as the qualified observations of our expert editorial team. In conjunction with our sister site, ForexBrokers.com, we’ve published well over 100,000 words of research and collected thousands of data points across hundreds of variables. Our in-depth trading guides are created with the same rigorous, data-driven approach.
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There is a very high degree of risk involved in trading securities. With respect to margin-based foreign exchange trading, off-exchange derivatives, and cryptocurrencies, there is considerable exposure to risk, including but not limited to, leverage, creditworthiness, limited regulatory protection and market volatility that may substantially affect the price, or liquidity of a currency or related instrument. It should not be assumed that the methods, techniques, or indicators presented in these products will be profitable, or that they will not result in losses. Learn more about foreign exchange risk.
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