How to trade forex (for beginners)

How forex trading works and how to make money trading global currency pairs.

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The global foreign exchange market (forex) is the largest financial market in the world. While it’s a highly liquid marketplace that enables traders to trade currency pairs round the clock, it can be confusing to new participants.

Read on to find out more about how to trade forex.


Trading CFDs and forex on leverage is high-risk and you could lose more than your initial investment. It may not be suitable for every investor. Refer to the provider’s PDS and consider the risks before trading.

What is forex trading?

Foreign exchange trading (also known as forex, FX or currency trading) refers to exchanging currency with the goal of making a profit on the exchange rate between two currencies.

The forex market is large and complex and involves many different players, both institutional and individual. When talking about forex trading for individual traders, most people are referring to a set of instruments that are traded on the retail forex market, and which allow people to profit from currency movements without actually owning or holding foreign currency at any stage of the transaction.

The forex market is known for being:

  • Fast paced: Currencies are traded 24 hours a day, five half days a week. When the market closes in one country it opens in another, so prices are changing constantly.
  • Extremely big: The forex market dwarfs the stock market in terms of the sheer value of trades being made. Figures change constantly, but the forex market typically sees trillions of dollars of trades being made every day.
  • Decentralised: There is no actual forex marketplace that trades run through, like there is with share trading. Instead, buyers and sellers make direct over-the-counter deals with each other.
  • High liquidity: Liquidity refers to how easily an investment, in this case currency, can be bought and sold without its value being affected and how easily it may be exchanged for other assets. Currency, because it is actual money, is the asset with the highest liquidity. This means that you don’t necessarily have to accept a loss if you can’t find a buyer quickly, you don’t have to worry about your trades impacting market values and, in a pinch, you can convert your assets (currency) into useful Australian dollars without losing as much value.

How does it work?

Forex trades always involve two currencies. The two currencies involved in the transaction are known as currency pairs. Some examples of currency pairs are set out below:

The first currency in the currency pair is the base currency. The second currency is the quote currency, and indicates how much of that currency is required to buy one unit of the base currency. In a forex transaction, the investor is understood to be exchanging one currency for the other.

Rather than physically exchanging the two, however, traders lodge a ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ order with a broker. Forex brokers are basically intermediaries who facilitate trade by standing ready to accept either buy or sell orders on a range of currency pairs.

If the trader lodges a ‘buy’ order, they’re understood to be buying the base currency and simultaneously selling an equivalent amount of the quote currency. If they’re lodging a ‘sell’ order, they’re understood to be selling the base currency and buying an equivalent amount of the quote currency.

Once the exchange rate moves, the trader ends the trade (or ‘closes out their position’) by entering into an opposite transaction to the one they initially lodged. So if they initially lodged a ‘buy’ order for the currency pair, they’ll now lodge a ‘sell’ order, which reconciles the arrangement with the broker and ends the trade.

To learn more about currency pairs, visit our guide to the most widely traded currency pairs.

Vantage FX Trading Offer

Spreads start from 0.0 on major currency pairs and you get some of the lowest forex trading fees in Australia.

  • Trade 49 global currency pairs, commodities, stock & index CFDs, metals, energy
  • $0 commission for clients with a standard account
  • 24-hour customer support

Disclaimer: Trading CFDs and forex on leverage is high-risk and losses could exceed your deposits.

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How do I profit from forex trading?

The main way that you can realise a profit from forex trading is when the value of one currency changes relative to the other.

Say you lodge a ‘buy’ order (or in other words, purchase a quantity of the base currency while selling an equivalent amount of the quote currency). In that scenario, you stand to gain if the value of the base currency increases relative to the quote currency.

Once you ‘close out your position’ (or in other words, sell the base currency while buying an equivalent amount of the quote currency), you get more of the quote currency back than you initially sold, because the exchange value of the base currency has gone up. You stand to profit off that difference.

Another key attraction of forex trading for many is the fact it enables short-selling, which means you can profit when the exchange rate of a currency decreases. In this scenario, if you had an inkling that the value of the base currency was about to fall (relative to the quote currency), you would lodge a ‘sell’ order, which would simultaneously result in you ‘buying’ a quantity of the quote currency.

Once the value of the base currency falls, you’d then place an order to ‘buy’ it back. Because the exchange rate has fallen, you can now buy it for less of the quote currency than you initially bought. Once again, you pocket the difference.

Movements in currency values tend to be quite small. Usually, a large initial investment is required to realise any gains from forex investments. Today, however, everyone can stand to make reasonable returns thanks to the widespread use of leverage, also known as buying on margin. This involves opening a margin account where they contribute a fraction of the total amount of the trade, and the broker contributes the rest.

Margin trading means that significant profits can be realised from relatively low upfront investments. Equally, leveraged agreements between investor and broker mean any losses are magnified too.

Example: You have $2,500 to invest in a currency pair

You’re feeling good about the odds so you decide you want to use leverage to magnify your potential earnings and get another $2,500 from your broker. Now you can invest $5,000 in total.

  • If your forex investment goes up in value and is now worth 10% more, a $2,500 investment (without leverage) would net you $250 profit. A $5,000 investment (with leverage) would get you a $500 profit.
  • If the forex investment goes down in value then your losses are also magnified. If your margin account drops below a certain value then your broker may require you to put more funds into it, or may close it and extract the remaining funds to cover their losses.

How do I begin?

After deciding to trade in the forex market, you need to open a margin account with an initial deposit. The size of the initial deposit depends on the amount of leverage that’s been agreed with the broker, often expressed as a ratio. For example, the leverage ratio may be 50:1 or 100:1 or 200:1.

The leverage ratio indicates the percentage you must have available as cash in the account. For an account with a 100:1 leverage ratio, you need to have a cash deposit of 1% of the total invested amount. Most trades are done on 100,000 units of currency, so if you want to trade $100,000, you would need to have a $1,000 deposit.

Trade EUR/AUD

Michael has AUD$1500 to invest in the forex market. He decides to trade the currency pair EUR/AUD which is currently trading at 1.25*. This means that one Euro buys 1.25 Australian Dollars. Michael does some research and believes the Euro will rise even more, relative to the Australian dollar.

He opens a margin account with a forex broker offering a 1:100 leverage ratio. Leverage is the loan the broker provides you to trade forex. A leverage of 1:100 means Michael can borrow up to 100 times the amount of his initial deposit of AUD$1500. This also increases his profit potential up to 100 times. At the exchange rate of 1.25, Michael exchanges all of his AUD$150,000 and purchases EUR€120,000.

Michael is correct in his assumption. The Euro strengthens against the Australian dollar. It’s now trading at 1.26. He now exchanges his EUR€120,000 back into AUD, except now it’s worth AUD$151,200. As a result, Michael now has AUD$2200 in his trading account after returning the loan ($149,000) to the broker. Taking into account his initial deposit of $1500, this is a profit of $700.

How do currency pairs work?

All forex trades involve simultaneously buying one type of currency and selling another. These are known as currency pairs. Think of each currency pair as a different individual product which is bought and sold. The first currency listed is known as the base currency, while the second is the quote currency.

Example: AUD/USD = 0.73

  • The Australian dollar (AUD) is the base currency and the US dollar (USD) is the quote currency.

When you buy a currency pair, you are buying the base currency and implicitly selling the quote currency. The opposite applies when selling a currency pair, where you are selling the base currency and implicitly buying the quote currency.

Example: AUD/USD = 0.73

  • If you buy this currency pair, you are buying Australian dollars at a rate of 73 US cents per Australian dollar.
  • If the Australian dollar goes up in value relative to the US dollar between when you buy this currency pair and when you sell this currency pair, you will have made a net profit.

The bid is the buying price. It refers to how much of the quote currency you need to buy one of the base currency. The ask is the selling price, and it refers to how much of the base currency you will need to sell to get one of the quote currency.

Example: AUD/USD = 0.73

  • The bid would be 0.73 because you need 73 US cents to buy one full Australian dollar.
  • The ask would be 1.36 because you need to sell $1.36 Australian dollars to get one US dollar.

There are as many currency pairs as there are currencies and just because you’re in Australia doesn’t mean you have to trade Australian currencies. You might buy a currency pair of euros and Japanese yen (EUR/JPY = 129.49). But remember, the key to actually making money with forex trading is to have an understanding of how currency values are likely to change.

If you aren’t following shifts in both the euro and the Japanese yen, then that particular trade may not be a good idea.

Is forex trading safe?

The highly-leveraged nature of currency trading means that any profits realised from the trade can be magnified. Equally, so can the losses. If the currency you’ve invested in goes down in value instead of up, the potential losses you stand to make are amplified. Most investors put in place mitigation strategies to contain any losses. These measures include limiting the amount of capital that they invest in any one trade, plus issuing stop and limit orders.

Tips for getting started

  • Start with one currency pair. You can trade in any currency pair. However, tracking the movements of multiple currencies can be difficult. It’s usually best to focus on one currency pair to start with.
  • Choose your broker wisely. Consider which type of broker is appropriate for your situation. Many consumer banks and investment banks offer a forex brokerage service. Recently, more discount online brokers have started to appear, many of which are based overseas. Look closely at your options and the pros and cons of each.
  • Have a strategy. Decide on your trading strategy. Make sure you have an appetite for conducting the analysis you need to confidently manage your trades.
  • Try a demo account. Take advantage of a demo account. Many online forex traders offer demo or practice accounts, to provide you with the experience of making trades without needing to invest actual cash.

Choosing the right broker

Once you’ve decided to trade forex, the next step is to consider how you’ll go about executing the trades. One consideration is whether to use a broker to execute trades on your behalf, or an online discount forex broker.

In deciding to use a broker to execute trades, make sure you consider the following:

  • Compliance. The forex market isn’t as regulated as other trading environments. Local forex brokers are issued licenses by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), but the same doesn’t apply to overseas brokers. However, there’s a requirement in most developed countries for forex brokers to be licensed. Your broker should list which regulators have issued the license, along with the registration number.
  • Remuneration. Some brokers are paid via a commission structure, meaning they receive a percentage of any profit realised for a particular trade. Other brokers rely on the bid-ask spread for their earnings. The “spread” refers to the difference between the amount the market is prepared to pay for a particular currency (the bid) and the amount that currency is selling for on the market (the ask). The broker may make a profit from this difference or via a combination of the spread and a commission. It’s important to understand the remuneration scheme of your particular broker.
  • Other considerations. Other factors include liquidity (how easy it is to move cash around and withdraw from your account), the size of the deposit required to set up your trading account, and any other fees and charges.

When comparing online forex trading platforms, there are a couple of key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Platform features - to succeed in your investment strategy, you need to monitor your forex investments closely. Ensure that the trading platform is robust and reliable. It should come equipped with the latest tools to keep you informed about the status of your currency exchanges. Real-time data visualisations and live news feeds are key features to look out for.
  • Customer service - make sure you read reviews of your preferred online forex trading platform. Get a feel for how queries and complaints are handled.

Compare online forex brokers

Compare Australian forex brokers below to find one that meets your trading level and needs.

Name Product Minimum Opening Deposit Minimum Spreads for Major Currencies Commission Minimum Trade Size Platforms
Vantage FX
AUD 200
0.0 pips - 1.0 pips
$0
0.01 lots
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
TradingView
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Spreads start from 0.0 on major currency pairs and you get some of the lowest forex trading fees in Australia. Plus you can place trades and find global trends through the TradingView charts platform.
eToro Forex Trading
USD 200
1.0 pips
$0
US$200 (to CopyTrade)
eToro Trading Platform
Note: This broker offers CFDs which are volatile investment products and most clients lose money trading CFDs with this provider.
Social trading, advanced charting tools, plus receive exclusive benefits through the eToro Club (membership is tiered based on the equity in your trading account).
Plus500 Forex Trading
AUD 200
1.0 pips
$0
N/A
Plus500 Trading Platform
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Minimum spreads of 0.01% for major currencies. Customers should visit Plus500's website for updated spreads in real time.
Open an account and experience Plus500's easy-to-use proprietary trading platform, 24/7 online chat support and free real-time forex quotes.
IG Forex Trading
0
0.6 - 1.5 pips
$0
1 lot
MetaTrader 4
ProReal Time
IG Trading Platform and Apps
L2
CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Choice of trading platforms. Choose optional extras like advanced charting, reporting and order types. Over 90 currency pairs to choose from.
IC Markets Forex Trading (Raw Spread account)
USD 200
From 0.0-0.1 pips
AU$3.50 per 100k traded
0.01 lots
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
cTrader
CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Saxo Forex Trading (Classic Account)
AUD 3,000
0.5 pips
$0
$1000
SaxoTraderGO
SaxoTraderPRO
CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Trade majors, minors, exortics, crypto and spot metals on Saxo's award-winning trading platfrom.
Blueberry Markets Forex Trading
USD 100
From 0.0 pips
$0
0.01
MetaTrader4, MetaTrader5
CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Bottom of the market fees on forex, CFDs and commodities with 24/7 quality customer service.
CMC Markets
0
0.7 - 1.5 pips
$0
0.01 lots
CFD Next Generation
MetaTrader 4
CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Pepperstone Forex Trading (Razor Account)
USD 200
0.0 - 0.1 pips
AU$3.50 per 100k traded
0.01 lots
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
cTrader
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Margin FX is a complex financial product and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.

Choose from a range of fee-free funding methods, plus a suite of 10 different apps available as part of Pepperstone's Smarter Trading Tools.
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Trading CFDs and forex on leverage is high-risk and you could lose more than your initial investment. It may not be suitable for every investor. Refer to the provider’s PDS and consider the risks before trading.

Benefits of forex trading, compared to other asset classes

Forex presents some distinct advantages over other asset classes, such as:

  • 24-hour trade. Unlike most global exchanges, forex markets never close. This makes them an attractive option for part-time traders.
  • Safety in numbers. The highly leveraged nature of forex trades arguably makes them a risky proposition. However, some argue that the market is a safer trading environment than others. The sheer size of the market makes it harder for single players to have undue influence, so it’s less prone to manipulation.
  • Liquidity. The forex market is the most liquid of all financial markets. Because millions of transactions occur within the market each day, it’s generally easy to buy and sell currency as you wish.

See our guide to online trading and investing for a rundown of other products available for trade.

Deciding your forex trading strategy: Short-term versus long-term forex trading

As with other forms of trading, there are various strategies available to forex investors when they trade. Short-term strategies involve buying and selling currencies over shorter timeframes. A few different approaches are common within this strategy.

  • Day trading. As in other types of securities, forex investors can opt for day trading. The aim is to repeatedly buy and sell currency pairs over the course of one day to realise many smaller gains. This has the advantage of minimising risk, as the potential losses from any one trade are less pronounced. Also, investors who employ this strategy don’t need to monitor their investments overnight, as all trades are typically closed out at day’s end.
  • Scalping. This is a more extreme version of short-term trading. Scalping refers to the practice of holding currencies for very short intervals, with the intention of realising small incremental increases (known as “pips”) in the value of those currencies.

With a long-term forex trading strategy, investors are banking on a gradual upward trend in the value of one currency against another. They therefore hold their currency pair over a long period of time and ignore any intraday or intra-week volatility. This has the advantage of necessitating fewer transactions. A level of patience is required to enable the trader to weather daily fluctuations in the value of their currency holdings.

Predicting currency movements

The key to making smart trades is to understand the market. With forex, that means understanding the international currency market and foreign exchange rates. It’s important to keep up with the news and keep an eye out for factors that may affect currency values, like strong economic growth, natural disasters or political strife.

Want to learn more about how to make smart trades? Read up on some strategies that may help.

Jargon buster

Currency pairThe two currencies involved in a forex transaction. When you trade forex, you are understood to be exchanging one currency for another.
Base currencyThe first currency quoted in a currency pair.
Quote currencyThe second currency in a currency pair. The quote currency is always shown in the amount required to buy one unit of the base currency.
PipA “point in percentage”, or a fraction of a single unit of currency. It’s usually 0.0001 of a single unit, though this varies from currency to currency.
BidThe amount the forex market is prepared to pay for your currency pair. If you purchased a particular currency pair, this would be the price to be mindful of.
AskThe amount at which the forex market is ready to sell a particular currency pair.
SpreadThe difference between the bid and the ask price of a particular currency.
Stop orderA price point you can set, which needs to be exceeded before any trades are executed. Essentially, it’s a directive you can issue, to start buying or selling a particular currency pair once it reaches a certain price.
Limit orderAn order that sets the maximum or minimum price at which you are prepared to buy or sell a particular currency pair.
Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of futures, stocks, ETFs, CFDs, options or any specific provider, service or offering. It should not be relied upon as investment advice or construed as providing recommendations of any kind. Futures, stocks, ETFs and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and therefore are not appropriate for all investors. Trading CFDs and forex on leverage comes with a higher risk of losing money rapidly. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before making any trades.

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