What is forex trading? A complete guide

Forex trading is a common way to gain access to the foreign exchange market, the most-liquid market in the world.

What is forex trading?

Foreign exchange trading – also known as forex trading or FX trading – is the process of buying and selling currencies with the objective of making a profit from fluctuations in their exchange rates.

Currency pairs are the cornerstone of every transaction in forex trading. Essentially, a currency pair consists of two different currencies traded in relation to one another in the forex market. These pairs are used to determine the exchange rate between those currencies.

The first currency in the pair is the base currency, and the second is the quote currency. The value of the pair is determined by how many units of the quote currency is equal to one unit of the base currency. For example, in the popular EUR/USD pair, the euro (EUR) is the base currency, and the US dollar (USD) is the quote currency. If the EUR/USD rate is 1.1000, that means that 1.1 US dollars equates to 1 euro. If it rises to 1.1200, that means that 1.12 US dollars equates to 1 euro. 

Classifying currency pairs

Currency pairs are categorised into three main groups: major, minor, and exotic pairs. Major currency pairs consist of the most liquid and widely traded currencies globally, such as EUR/USD (euro/US dollar), USD/JPY (US dollar/Japanese yen), and GBP/USD (British pound/US dollar, also known as cable). These pairs typically offer high liquidity and are usually associated with lower spreads.

Minor currency pairs, also known as ‘cross-currency’ pairs – do not include the US dollar in their pairing. Examples include EUR/GBP (euro/British pound) and AUD/JPY (Australian dollar/Japanese yen). Although these pairs may have slightly wider spreads and lower liquidity than the major pairs, they are still widely traded.

Exotic currency pairs involve one major currency and one currency from a smaller or emerging economy, for example, USD/TRY (US dollar/Turkish lira) or EUR/TRY (Euro/Turkish lira). These pairs can be more volatile and less liquid compared to majors and minors, meaning their price fluctuations may be more severe, making it additionally important to trade with caution.

Popular forex currency pairs to trade

You may choose certain currency pairs over others due to their high liquidity and market activity. The major currency pairs are known for their substantial trading volumes and often relatively tight spreads. So it’s no surprise that the majors are the most traded currency pairs in the world by volume. They include:

  • EUR/USD (euro/US dollar)
  • USD/JPY (US dollar/Japanese yen)
  • GBP/USD (British pound/US dollar)
  • AUD/USD (Australian dollar/US dollar)
  • USD/CHF (US dollar/Swiss franc)
  • USD/CAD (US dollar/Canadian dollar)
  • NZD/USD (New Zealand dollar/US dollar)

Some forex traders also choose to trade minor pairs, such as EUR/GBP (Euro/British pound), or exotic pairs, like the USD/TRY (US Dollar/Turkish lira) to diversify their portfolio and spread risk.

What moves forex prices?

FX rates fluctuate constantly, based on patterns of demand between the two currencies in a pair. Here are some of the main ways currencies shift in price.

Economic releases

The value of a nation’s currency is determined significantly by the health of its economy. Forex markets react to releases of key economic data, as they give a picture of how the country’s economy is performing and how it compares with other countries. For example, if a country’s GDP announcement reveals a better-than-expected economic performance, its currency may strengthen against others.

Political news and events

Currency prices also react to domestic and international political news and events. As the global reserve currency, the US dollar is considered a safe haven, which increases its value during times of macroeconomic uncertainty and political instability. For example, a political crisis in the UK may lead to a sell-off in the British pound, which may in turn make the US dollar more attractive.

Interest rates

A country’s monetary policy stance, for example in response to persistent inflation or poor economic performance, is an important driver of forex prices. Higher interest rates often cause a currency to appreciate as investors seek a bigger return by acquiring that currency. Meanwhile, lower interest rates may lead market participants to choose other currencies instead.

Commodity prices

The cost of commodities can impact currencies depending on whether the countries involved are net importers or net exporters. For example, a significant increase in the oil price can benefit oil-exporting countries like Canada, leading to greater demand for Canadian dollars and an appreciation of its currency against others. Currencies of countries that export large volumes of commodities, such as the Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar and Canadian dollar, are often referred to as commodity currencies.

Why trade forex

Traders choose forex trading for various reasons, ranging from profit-seeking to hedging against currency risks. Here are some of the most common reasons.


Forex traders aim to profit from price fluctuations in the exchange rate of currencies by either going long or short on selected pairs. For example, if you are trading EUR/USD and you go long, it’s because you believe EUR will rise, USD will fall, or a combination of both. As with any type of trading, there’s also a high risk of losing money too.


The forex market is often highly liquid, meaning there’s a constant flow of buyers and sellers. It’s thanks to this liquidity that forex traders can enter and exit positions with relative ease and at the price they intended. However, some markets, such as exotic pairs, are traded in much lower volume and can therefore mean a higher risk of slippage.


Due to low entry barriers, forex trading is accessible to a wide range of traders – including retail traders. Many brokers, like us, offer leverage, allowing forex traders to control larger positions with a relatively small amount of money, providing the possibility for larger profits, but also larger losses.


Some traders choose to trade forex to diversify their investment portfolio, and some choose to trade various currency pairs at once – including major, minor, and exotic pairs – to spread risk.


Due to its decentralised nature, the forex market operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, across the world. This flexible nature allows traders to buy and sell forex whenever it suits them.

Risk management

Some traders use forex to hedge against currency risk. As for businesses involved in international trade, they can use forex markets to protect against adverse currency movements that could impact their profits.

How to trade forex with leverage

You can trade forex currency pairs through financial derivatives such as CFDs, which give you leveraged exposure to the fluctuating exchange-rate price. It’s the underlying price fluctuations that traders attempt to profit on when taking a position. By trading forex with leverage, you can control large positions with a relatively small amount of capital, or ‘margin’. However, it’s important to remember that forex trading with leverage can also amplify losses, so traders must use it with caution and have a solid risk-management plan in place.

Costs involved in forex trading

As with all of our markets, when you trade forex with us you’ll pay a spread, which is based on the difference between the market price at which you can buy, (also called the offer/ask) and the price at which you can sell (or the bid price). For example, if you’re trading EUR/USD, our spread is 0.00006, which you will pay on the opening and closing of the trade. The correlation between the bid, the ask, and the spread looks something like this:

You may also pay additional fees, for example if you use a guaranteed stop-loss* or if you hold a trade overnight, as well as forex conversion fees where applicable. As with all Capital.com instruments, you won’t pay any commission when forex trading on our platform.

It’s advisable always to make sure you’re aware of the cost of trading before you open a position. You can do this via our charges and fees page.

*Stop-losses are not guaranteed, but we offer guaranteed stop-losses (GSLs) for a fee. You can check the GSL fee value in a deal ticket when opening a position and adding a GSL.

How to trade forex with Capital.com

You can trade forex with us by following these steps:

  • 1. Choose a currency pair to trade with CFDs, based on your trading goals
  • 2. Decide on your trade size
  • 3. Consider applying a stop-loss to manage risk
  • 4. Open your position long or short
  • 5. Manage your position, monitoring fundamental and/or technical drivers
  • 6. Close your position

Forex trading example

Why trade forex with Capital.com

We’re proud to have won a range of awards from some of the leading authorities in the trading world, including Best CFD Provider 2023 at the Online Money Awards. We’re rated Excellent on Trustpilot, and we’re always working to improve the experience of our 500,000+ clients.

Here are just a few reasons to choose us for forex trading:

  • Clear, easily-navigable interface across desktop, app and tablet
  • Rapid withdrawals*
  • Multiple chart types and 75+ technical analysis tools
  • Insightful education via courses, videos and webinars, as well as an in-platform, asset-specific Reuters feed
  • Round-the-clock support

*98% of withdrawals are processed within 24 hours, according to our internal server data from 2022.


Frequently asked questions

What is forex trading?

With close to $7.5 trillion in daily trading volume, forex is by far the largest market in the world. Due to its decentralised nature, it’s traded 24 hours a day, except weekends, and determines the foreign exchange rates for all of the world's currencies.

While assets such as stocks and commodities are traded on regulated central exchanges, currencies are bought and sold over the counter. This means that trades are conducted largely between institutional counterparties in major global forex trading centres, although retail traders also contribute to the daily volume. The biggest and the most liquid of these forex trading centres are London and New York. Tokyo, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and Singapore are also key forex trading centres.

How to forex trade?

To learn forex trading – and start forex trading yourself – firstly, it’s wise to educate yourself about the market. Then, choose a reputable broker and trading platform to start your trading experience. Once your account is up and running, you can analyse the performance of currency pairs using technical and fundamental methods, and create a forex trading strategy. Then, you can practise placing orders and monitoring your trades on a demo account, learning how to manage risk with stop-loss and take-profit orders.

Once you feel confident enough to risk real money, you’ll be ready to switch to a live account. Remember to always stay informed about market events, and keep in mind that forex trading carries risk. As an extra tip, try maintaining a trading journal to keep notes and plan out scenarios.

How do you make money with forex trading?

As with any market, there’s no certainty to making money with forex trading. You can, however, aim to make money with forex trading by buying a currency pair at a lower price and selling it at a higher price. For example, if you anticipate that the euro (EUR) will strengthen against the US dollar (USD), you might buy EUR/USD at a lower price and sell it once it appreciates, thus earning a profit. You could also go short at a higher price with the intention of exiting your position at a lower price. However, remember that forex trading carries a high level of risk, and losses are always possible.

Can I teach myself to trade forex?

Yes, you can teach yourself forex trading through studying and practice. Many traders are self-taught, but it requires dedication, discipline, and a commitment to ongoing learning (our education hub is a good place to start). Begin by building a strong foundation in forex concepts, technical and fundamental analysis, and risk management. Practice with a demo account to gain experience without risking real money. Then, continuously refine your trading strategy and stay updated on market developments as you start to trade.

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