Forex refers to the Foreign Exchange Market. It’s the international market that is used to trade and exchange various world currencies. Activity on the Forex market sets the global exchange rates for each major currency, making the market exceptionally important for global finance.
In fact, the Forex market is the largest financial market by trading volume – larger than any stock or commodity market by a good measure.
The biggest participants in the Forex market are large financial institutions and banks, who use Forex exchange to swap currencies vital to their daily operations. Banks and hedge funds also use Forex to speculate on changing currency values.
Individual traders, too, can access the market to make speculative trades. If you believe that the USD is going to strengthen against the Euro, for example, you can easily place this wager on the Forex market.
Currencies on the Forex market are always traded in pairs. Examples include EUR/USD, GBP/AUD, and JPY/USD. Exchange rates for each given pair are established based on trading activity, which is in turn influenced by world events, inflation expectations, and many other factors.
Trading Forex can be complex, and also risky. Even so, there is huge potential for experienced traders.
In order to trade on the Forex market, investors will need to work with a licensed Forex broker. This article lists the best Forex trading platforms to use, as well as information on how to select the best option for your specific situation.
What is a Forex trading platform?
Forex trading platform can refer to two things:
- A Forex broker, which is a company that facilitates trades
- The actual platform, or technology, that each broker uses to manage trades
For most Forex traders, the focus should be on choosing a good broker. By selecting a reputable broker, everyday traders can rest assured that they are working with a trustworthy company and that they are paying fair fees to trade. These brokers function in a similar way to stockbrokers, by connecting traders with the global market. A list of the best Forex brokers can be found further down this page.
For experienced traders, choosing a good platform may also be relevant. There are many different platforms, but some of the most common include:
- MetaTrader 4 (MT4) – The most widespread platform. Offers 1-click trading, limit orders, over 50 indicators, and a very stable trading experience.
- MetaTrader 5 (MT5) – The newest version of the MetaTrader platform. Offers slightly faster trade execution, a few more order types, and often a wider range of trading instruments.
- cTrader – A newer platform, cTrader is relatively simple. Offers many of the features of MetaTrader, but is less customizable and less powerful overall.
- NinjaTrader – An advanced platform for active traders. Offers advanced charting and trading features, however, it charges an annual or quarterly fee (MT4 is free via brokers).
Most brokers will either use the MT4/MT5 platform, or they will offer their own proprietary trading platform. Some actually offer the choice of multiple platforms. Again, by choosing a good broker, most traders don’t need to worry about the specific platform being used.
Why are Forex brokers needed?
Forex brokers are needed in order to conduct trades on the Forex market. They act as middlemen, buying and selling currencies to connect traders. Forex is not a centralized market, like a stock market, so these middle-men are necessary for trades to be conducted.
Each participant on the Forex market must use a broker of some sort. Even large financial institutions may use brokers – or they may serve as their own broker, in some cases.
A broker is also necessary for obtaining real-time FX pricing information. Brokers will display live pricing for each currency pair that is available to trade.
Risks of Forex trading
Keep in mind that trading Forex is very risky. Most traders lose money in the market, as you can see in many disclaimers on Forex websites. It is not recommended for new investors.
Most Forex trades are done on margin, which means they are leveraged with loans. This can improve returns, but also magnifies losses. Traders should be fully aware of the risks of Forex trading – as well as the risks of using margin loans – before participating in the market.
What to look for in a Forex trading platform
There are many different brokers to choose from. Here are the most important factors to consider when making your selection.
Trusted, regulated brokers
Choosing a broker that is regulated by the relevant financial authorities is very important to help avoid scams and shady companies.
In the US, several different financial regulators are involved, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the National Futures Association (NFA). In Australia, ASIC is the regulating body, while it’s the ESMA in the European Union. In the UK, it’s the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
By selecting a regulated, reputable broker, you can rest assured that your money is in good hands.
As mentioned, different FX brokers will have different FX trading platforms available for use. Some have their own proprietary platforms, which may have unique functionality, while many use pre-existing trading tools like MetaTrader.
When browsing different platforms and brokers, some things to keep an eye out for are a mobile app (for Android, iOS, or the OS you use), tools for technical analysis, real-time pricing displays, and research tools to help you learn about trading opportunities.
If you don’t have a specific platform in mind, MetaTrader 4 is likely a good option, as it is user-friendly and used by many different brokers.
The number and type of investment options vary substantially between brokers. The number of Forex pairs for currency trading, for example, maybe as few as 50 and as many as 150+. If you want to trade diverse currency markets, look for a broker with a wide selection.
Some brokers offer multiple account types – retail investor accounts, with the basics, and active trading accounts, with more advanced features and more complex instruments to trade.
Some brokers also offer access to other asset classes, like equities, bonds, and even cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Keep the available investment options in mind when shopping for a new broker.
Trading on the Forex market costs money – but the costs can vary between brokers. To keep costs down (and improve returns over time), it’s wise to consider the trading costs of each broker.
Forex brokers make money in two ways:
- Charging commission on each trade
- Through the Spread, which is the difference in between the buy and sell price
Most brokers make the bulk of their profit through the spread. Some brokers offer low spreads but slightly higher commissions, which are usually more attractive to higher-volume traders.
Before making a selection, look for a broker with a good balance of reasonable costs, and full-featured trading tools. In other words, you don’t necessarily want the cheapest option, but you also don’t want to overpay.
Leverage and margin
Most Forex trades are conducted on margin, meaning that the trader borrows money temporarily in order to increase the size of the trade. For instance, a trader may use $1,000 of her own money, and $9,000 of borrowed money, for a total trade value of $10,000.
All FX brokers will offer margin, but the terms, interest rates, and specific requirements can vary substantially. If you plan to trade on margin, this is an important factor to pay attention to.
The top Forex brokers will offer quality customer service, which can help guide traders through any issues they may face. To gauge customer service, you can read customer reviews, or simply call in to ask some questions.
Many brokers and trading platforms will offer learning resources to help traders gain more knowledge of the complex Forex market. This could include information on trading strategies, understanding volatility, and liquidity, etc.
Some brokers go a step further by offering a demo account. These are simulated accounts that use fake money and are intended to practice trading strategies. If you’re brand new to Forex, using a demo account is a great way to learn without risking any actual money.
Other financial services
Some Forex brokers offer a bundle of financial services, beyond just Forex trading. For instance, some function as full-service brokers, offering trading of equities, bonds, mutual funds, and more. Some offer retirement accounts or tools to trade in cryptocurrencies. Some even offer bank accounts and other financial services.
Other Forex brokers focus solely on Forex trading itself. If you’re someone who likes to keep things simple, there are some benefits to keeping multiple financial services under one roof. For other traders, this is not an important factor.
Best Forex trading platforms
The best Forex brokers are listed below. These selections were made based on a combination of available currencies to trade, pricing/fees, customer service, and more.
One of the largest brokers in the world, with a wide variety of currency pairs to trade
IG is one of the most popular Forex brokers, with operations spanning the globe. It’s popular among professional investors and casual traders alike.
The biggest selling points of IG are its wide selection of tradable currency pairs (over 90 at the time of this writing), and very competitive pricing. IG offers spreads of as low as 0.745 on popular FX pairs.
IG’s platform is intuitive, yet powerful. This makes it well suited to traders of any skill and experience level. They even offer learning resources to help beginner traders learn the ropes.
Over 150 currency pairs to trade, with competitive pricing
CMC Markets is a global Forex broker with a significant operation in the US. They offer one of the largest selections of tradable currency pairs in the industry. At the time this article was written, over 150 currency pairs were available on the CMC Markets platform. That’s nearly twice what many competitors offer, so if you’re looking for variety, CMC Markets is a great choice.
Pricing, too, is competitive. A typical spread on a popular pair like EUR/USD may be as low as 0.75 pips. Plus, rebate programs for high-volume traders can lower costs even further.
There is no minimum deposit to get started. CMC’s powerful Next Generation platform offers a full set of trading features but is also very easy to use.
A sophisticated platform for advanced traders
Interactive Brokers is a multi-use online broker that operates in many countries. The platform offers Forex trading, as well as tools for trading CFDs, ETFs, mutual funds, equities, bonds, and more. The wide selection of investment options makes Interactive Brokers a good choice for those looking to trade a diverse set of assets all in one place.
Interactive Brokers is mostly meant for sophisticated traders. They offer advanced tools and charts, but the interface may be overly complex for new traders. The design is less user-friendly than some alternatives. Traders can access over 100 currency pairs on Interactive Brokers, most of which offer competitive spreads.
A versatile broker covering Forex, equities, crypto, and more
eToro is a trading platform with features focused on “social trading”. Their Copy Trading feature lets investors “follow” professional traders, and actually directly copy their trades automatically. eToro also has social tools that can help traders gauge market sentiment and momentum for various assets.
eToro is also unique in that it offers access to a wide variety of investment classes. For Forex, around 50 currency pairs can be traded – which is lower than average – although spreads are pretty competitive. On eToro, traders can also access cryptocurrencies, equities, bonds, and more.
There are beginner-friendly resources and features on this platform, but there are also sophisticated tools to keep experienced traders happy. eToro even offers a demo account, which can be used to practice trading without risking real money.
The #1 Forex broker in the US, with transparent and reliable pricing
Forex.com is a popular Forex broker – in fact, it was the #1 Forex broker in the United States in 2020. They offer 90+ currency pairs to trade and many CFDs. they even have Cryptocurrency CFDs in some countries.
Forex.com has higher trading costs than many brokers, however. A typical spread on a popular pair may be around 1.4 pips. This can be reduced through their active trader rebate program, but even so, costs are a bit higher than average.
While not the cheapest broker out there, Forex.com is still quite useful. It’s very user-friendly and offers both the popular MetaTrader 4 (MT4) platform, as well as its own proprietary platform. Lastly, Forex.com has many useful learning resources, training tools, and strategic articles to browse.
TD Ameritrade FX
A full-service broker with a variety of investment options
TD Ameritrade is a popular brokerage offering equities, bonds, and of course, Forex trading. For Forex traders, TD Ameritrade offers the think or swim platform, with powerful research and learning tools for education.
There are over 70 currency pairs to trade on the Think or Swim Forex platform. There are no CFDs, however, so there are fewer total investment options on this platform.
See the full review of TD Ameritrade here.