Forex Trading is regulated in the UK by the FCA. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the statutory regulatory body that oversees financial markets including the forex market in the UK. They also issue licenses to market participants like the forex brokers that accept retail traders.
For ensuring that your funds are safe, traders in the UK must only trade via FCA regulated forex brokers.
Also, it is important to understand that forex & CFD trading is very risky, and almost 70-80% of retail traders lose their money when trading at different CFD brokers in the UK. Hence, if you are thinking about trading forex, then you must learn about the risks as well.
5 steps to start Forex Trading for Beginner Traders in the UK
Below are the some of the points that you need to know for learning everything about forex trading:
- Learn about the Basics of Forex Market
- Understand how Currency Pairs work
- Learn Forex Trading Terminologies
- Open your Forex Trading Demo Account
- Lean about all the Risks Involved in Forex Trading
In this guide, we will mostly discuss from the point of view of retail traders in the forex market. We will try to cover some of the topics that can help you decide if you should trade, and learn about the risks involved. Or simply learn about forex trading.
Summary & Comparison of Best Forex Brokers UK
Note: The spread data & minimum deposit is the typical spread as per information on these brokers’ websites in May 2022. Please see our methodology below.
What is Forex Market?
The foreign exchange market alias forex or FX market is a global, online over the counter (OTC) market where currencies of about 170 countries are bought and sold. It is open 24 hours a day. It is the biggest financial market in the world and has very high liquidity.
According to the Bank of International Settlement (BIS) survey conducted every three years, the UK accounts for about 43% of forex turnover globally. The forex market participants include businesses, banks, speculators, institutions, etc.
Most of the trading is from banks, businesses & institutional investors. Some of the tradings in the forex market are speculative in nature, and a part of them is from retail traders. Retail traders come to the forex market to speculate, hedge against currency and interest rate risk, etc.
The activities that take place in the forex market are what determine the exchange rate of any currency pair. The higher the demand for a currency, the higher its exchange rate.
Forex market participants
The forex market ecosystem teems with a lot of participants. Let us discuss some of them.
1) The forex broker
The forex broker is a regulated participant who acts as a bridge between the forex trader and the market.
The broker is a middle man who places buy and sell orders for retail traders and some brokers also offer research services as well if required by the trader. The forex broker charges a fee for their services.
That being said, retail traders need to pass through a forex broker that accepts retail traders if they are to access the market. There are several forex brokers in the UK to choose from.
However, traders in the UK should check the FCA website for a list of regulated forex brokers to avoid patronizing fraudulent/scam brokerages.
There are two types of brokers. They are classified based on their execution model. Here is the breakdown
Dealing Desk Broker: Dealing desk brokers take the opposite side of your trades. When you buy a currency pair, they sell. When you sell, they buy. Because of this, when you lose a trade, they make money off it, leading to a conflict of interest. This is why traders tend to prefer non-dealing desk brokers.
Dealing Desk brokers are also known as market makers.
Non-dealing Desk (NDD) Broker: NDD brokers do not take the opposite sides of your trades and they are divided into two. There are NDD brokers that use computerized networks to connect you to buyers/sellers in the market. This type is referred to as an ECN broker.
The second type are the STP brokers. They connect your trades to buyers/seller via their liquidity pool.
2) The Retail Forex Trader
Retail forex traders are individual investors who wish to trade in the forex market for personal gain. They don’t trade on behalf of an organization or company. They account for an estimated 5.5% of the global forex market as per BIS data.
Retail traders are in the market mostly for speculative reasons. They hope to profit from differences in exchange rates between currencies.
3) Central Banks
Their presence in the forex market is to create policies that can affect the currency, intervene and stabilize the currency through increasing or decreasing interest rates, performing Open market operations in some situations etc.
Central banks can also devalue their currency to make exports of their country more competitive to international buyers. In short, the Central bank plays a major role in deciding the value of a currency.
4) Commercial Banks
Commercial Banks make up the interbank market where they trade forex with other banks in very large volumes. These volumes are large enough to dictate the bid and ask prices for any currency. They trade on behalf of themselves and their customers.
Big companies that operate in different parts of the world have to trade in the forex market to hedge risk and also for business purposes.
A company hoping to buy raw materials from another part of the world may need to convert its currency to be able to pay the supplier at the other end.
Big companies who have business operations in other parts of the world may also want to convert and repatriate their profits in a stronger currency to hedge against the risk of currency depreciation.
Forex Market Time Zones
The forex market operates in four different time zones-
- Sydney (10pm GMT to 7am GMT)
- Tokyo (11pm GMT to 8am GMT)
- London (7am GMT to 4pm GMT)
- New York (12pm GMT to 9pm GMT)
Depending on the currency that you want to trade, some sessions can be better than others. Most of the trading is carried out in the London & the New York sessions.
The best time to trade the major currency pairs is when some of the major sessions overlap. At this time, market participation and liquidity are high, and spreads are at their lowest.
For example, the ideal time to trade the GBP/USD currency pair is when the London & New York sessions overlap. Because at that time liquidity in the market is highest.
If you are trading JPY-based pairs, then you will also find liquidity during the Asian session Tokyo).
What are Currency Pairs?
All the countries participate in the forex market and their currencies are represented as three-letter codes.
However, we will focus on the popular currencies here. The popular currencies and their codes are listed below:
- U.S Dollar – USD
- Great Britain Pound- GBP
- Euro – EUR
- Japanese Yen – JPY
- Canadian Dollar – CAD
- Australian Dollar – AUD
These currency pairs are not just popular. They are the most traded in the forex market. As aat 2019, the U.S. Dollar accounts for 88% of all trades in the forex market.
Forex Currency Pairs
Forex currencies are traded in pairs written as Base Currency/Quote Currency – GBP/USD
Currency pairs could be major, minor, or exotic. Let us discuss them below.
1. Major currency pairs
The major currency pairs quote the USD alongside another major currency.
They usually have the USD one side of the quote either as base or quote currency. Examples in order of popularity are:
2. Minor Currency Pairs
These are currency pairs of strong economies that do not contain the USD. Examples are
3. Exotic Currency Pairs
These are currency pairs involving a major currency and a currency of a smaller economy. These smaller economies are often referred to as emerging economies. Examples are
- USD/SEK- USD/Swedish Krona
- USD/DKK- USD/Danish krone
- USD/ZAR- USD/South African Rand
- USD/KES- USD/Kenyan Shilling
- USD/NGN- USD/Nigerian Naira
Reading a Forex Quote
Forex currencies are traded in pairs written as Base Currency/Quote Currency i.e. GBP/USD. The base currency is usually on the left while the quote currency will be on the right. Here is an illustration below
When you go long (buy) on a currency pair, the base currency is being bought while the quote currency is being used to pay for the base currency. It is the other way round when you go short (sell) on a currency pair.
Currencies are always traded in pairs at an exchange rate. The exchange rate is how much of the quote currency is required to buy the base currency.
Assume the GBP/USD exchange rate = 1.2
This means that it will take $1.2 to buy one GBP and vice versa.
While trading forex, we use one currency to buy another hence we can also quote the currencies in terms of BID/ASK prices
The Bid price is the highest price a forex trader is willing to pay to buy the base currency from the broker.
The Ask price is the lowest price the forex broker is willing to sell the currency.
Below is an illustration to help you understand
Forex brokers quote these two prices on their trading platforms. They are always obvious that you cannot miss them.
Forex Trading Terminology
Certain terms are widely used in forex trading and understanding is very important. We shall discuss some common terms below.
Spread is the difference between the bid price and the Ask price of a currency pair.
As seen in the image above the GBP/USD currency pair with a Bid/Ask price of 1.3089/1.3091 has a spread of 1.3089-1.3091 = 0.0002
Your forex broker may not always charge you a commission but makes their profit from the spread. A spread of 0.0002 means if you are trading in a standard lot of 100,000 units of GBP/USD currency, the forex broker makes $20 on every standard lot traded i.e. 0.0002 x 100,000.
There are two types of spreads in forex:
Variable spreads: As the name implies, variable spreads are spreads that fluctuate. This fluctuattion is due to changes in the condition of the market like high or low volatility. This type of spread is usually offered by NDD brokers as they try to get the best market price for your trades.
Fixed Spreads:These are spreads that remain the same regardless of market conditions. They are usually offered by market makers. Market makers determine the price of the currency pairs they offer. So they can keep the bid and ask price stable no matter the market condition.
Percentage in point alias “pips” is the unit of measurement for the spread.
As seen in the example above, if the spread is 0.0002 it is conventionally expressed as 2 pips. This is for a currency up to the fourth decimal. JPY pairs are usually to the second decimal (e.g. 0.01)
Forex currency pairs are traded in lots at forex brokers.
Since the currencies don’t move by a lot, the traders tend to trade a higher number of units. Remember, the higher the traded volume, the larger the profit & loss.
Currency pairs are divided into various lots as seen in the table below.
||Number of units of currency
Standard lot example:
For a GBP/USD currency pair with details below-
Exchange rate = $1.36
Standard lot = 100,000 units
The margin needed for trading 1 standard lot will be $136,000 (i.e., $1.36 x 100,000)
Mini lot example:
For a GBP/USD currency pair with details below-
Exchange rate = $1.36
Mini lot = 10,000 units
The balance required for trading a Mini lot will be $13,600 (i.e. $1.36 x 10,000)
So, the margin that you need to trade depends on the total lots or units that you are trading. If you are trading 2.5 Mini Lots, this means that you are trading 25,000 units of a currency.
Leverage in forex trading is essentially taking a loan from your forex broker to trade most lots. The loan is repaid after you sell and make a profit or a loss.
Most retail forex traders don’t have the required capital to buy or sell thousands of units of currency pair, so they leverage their position. But this is very risky and can result in huge losses.
Leverage of 30:1 means for every $1 a forex trader can trade up to $30 position using margin money.
Leverage is inversely proportional to margin.
If margin is 3.33%, then leverage is 1/3.33 = 30 (also expressed as 1:30)
Since leveraging means taking a loan, it is a double-edged sword.
For example, if you lose big on a trade, and if the forex broker does not have Negative balance protection in place, the trader may have to repay more than the initial capital if the losses exceed capital.
This is why leverage that brokers can offers to retail traders in the UK for CFDs & forex is set between 30:1 and 2:1 (depending on the instrument) by the FCA to avoid abuse by traders and brokers.
Also, all regulated brokers in the UK are required to offer negative balance protection.
This is a good faith deposit a trader must keep in his trading account. It is expressed as a percentage and is inversely proportional to leverage.
Margin % = 1/Leverage
For leverage of 30:1, the margin is 1/30 = 3.33%
If a forex trader uses leverage to place a buy order of 1 standard lot of GBP/USD currency pair
GBP/USD Exchange rate = $1.33
Margin = 3%
Required deposit without margin = $133,000 (i.e. 100,000 units x $1.33)
Required deposit with 3.33% margin= $4428.9 (i.e. 3.33% of $133,000)
After the forex trader deposits $4,428.9 in his or her account, then the 1 standard lot trade on GBP/USD can be placed.
6) Negative Balance Protection
This is a system put in place by forex brokers to ensure your account doesn’t go into negative when the market moves against you quickly.
Once you lose the deposits in your CFD trading account, the brokerage system automatically closes all your positions.
It limits your loss to just your capital and ensures that the forex broker does not take the risk of your position. Negative balance protection is offered to only retail traders and not institutional traders.
All regulated forex brokers in the UK like Pepperstone markets offer negative balance protection to UK-based clients.
CFDs are derivatives, and these are contracts between the broker & trader. Derivatives are complex financial instruments that derive their value from another underlying asset such as Stock, Currency, Commodities like Gold, precious metals, etc.
When trading CFDs, a trader does not own the underlying asset and is only speculating on the price of the instrument.
This is the act of managing risk.
Traders sometimes trade derivative instruments such as currency futures and currency options to hedge against currency and interest rate fluctuation risk.
9) Day Trader
This is a trader who opens and closes trading positions on the same day. Day traders are usually speculators and use derivative products like CFDs to try to profit from the rise or fall of the price of an asset. There is a number of day trading platforms in the UK that you can choose from.
Slippage is the difference between the requested price of your order and the price it is executed by your broker. Slippage is can be caused by poor internet connection on your end, rapid price movement in the market, or your broker’s system. To know how your broker handles slippage, make sure you read their rider execution policy and other related official documents. They are usually available on the broker’s websites.
11) Forex Orders
A forex order is simply how you enter and exit the market. They are the offers you send to your broker from trading platforms. There are different types of orders you can place in the market. Here are the common ones:
Buy Order: This involves placing an order to purchase a currency pair. This order is instant. However, it has two variations called the buy stop and buy limit orders. A buy stop is when you set your entry price above the current market price. If the price rises to the level you have set, your buy order is triggered.
On the other hand, a buy limit means setting your entry price below the current market price in hope that the price will fall to that level. If it does, your buy order will be triggered.
Sell Order: It involves placing a trade to short (sell) a currency pair. A sell order is instant but has two variations too – the sell stop and sell limit orders. For a sell stop, you place your order at a price below the market price with the hope that the price will fall further from that point. If the price falls to the point you have set, your sell order will be activated.
For the sell limit, you place your sell order at an entry price above the current price, with the hope that the price will fall from there. If the price rises to the point you have set, your sell order will be activated.
The buy limit, buy stop, sell limit, and sell stop are generally referred to as pending orders.
Take Profit: It literally means what the name suggests. It is that price you set for your broker to close your trades and lock in your profits. The order is usually executed automatically on the trading platform. You can also execute it manually.
Stop Loss: If a trade goes against you, you are losing money. There is a limit to losses that you can take as a trader. This is why the stop loss order is important. It is that price you set for your broker to close your trade to reduce losses. It can be executed automatically or manually.
There is an advanced form of the stop loss order called the guaranteed stop loss order (GSLO). This order makes sure that your stop loss order is executed at the exact price you choose so you don’t lose more money. That is, your stop loss order is not subjected to slippage. A premium fee is usually charged for GSLO. Though it is not offered by all brokers, GSLO can be very key to your risk management strategy.
How to Open Forex Trading Account?
To open a forex trading account, you need to first choose a reputed broker that is regulated by the FCA. There are many brokers that are regulated, so you should compare factors like the safety of funds, fees, platforms, instruments, support, ease of withdrawals, etc.
Once you have decided on the forex broker that you want to choose, then you should proceed with opening your trading account. We will take Pepperstone as an example. The steps involved are generally the same at all forex brokers.
Step 1) Compare the Forex Brokers: This step is basically checking the regulation, fees, spreads, instruments, and other factors in a broker.
After you have done your research on the broker that you want to trade with then proceed to the next step.
Important note: Only choose forex & CFD brokers that are regulated by the FCA. Trading with unregulated brokers would mean that you could lose all your deposited funds.
Step 2) Open your Trading Account: Go to the website of the broker that you want to signup with. Do note to go to the website that is listed on the FCA, and avoid any clones.
On the website on the broker, go to the “Open Account” section, and complete the signup process.
Step 3) Submit your documents for KYC: All regulated brokers are required to complete the KYC of trading clients.
You will be required to submit details like your ID proof & Address Proof. The brokers generally verify it in 48 hours I.e. 2 working days.
Step 4) Download the Platform: All brokers offer platforms like MetaTrader or their own proprietary platforms. Most forex brokers offer multiple platforms.
You will generally get an email from the broker regarding the details on how to download a login to your platform.
Step 5) Deposit Funds: You can choose methods like a card or bank transfer for depositing. Watch out for brokers that charge extra fees during deposits.
Also, avoid any brokers that charge excessive withdrawal fees. Some brokers claim to charge low trading fees, while charging excessive charges on withdrawals & deposits, making their overall fees very high.
What are Forex Trading Platforms?
Forex brokers act as intermediaries between traders and the market. When you open a trading account, you will need a platform to analyze CFDs, place and monitor your trades. These platforms are offered by CFD brokers and they are divided into two categories. They are ‘third-party’ and ‘proprietary’ platforms. A forex broker can have both or one of the categories.
Third-party platforms are trading apps or software developed by another company. Forex brokers partner with these companies to develop these platforms for them. A common example of these is MetaTrader 4, MetaTrader 5, and cTrader. These three are the most popular trading platforms. They are available on mobile phones, desktops, and web-based trading platforms. You can download them from your broker’s website. The mobile versions are available on Google Play Store and App Store.
In addition, there are third-party platforms that allow forex brokers link their client’s accounts to their own platforms. TradingView is a typical and common example of this kind of platform.
Proprietary platforms are the opposite of third party platforms.They are owned and developed by individual forex brokers. Some forex brokers prefer to develop their own apps and software for traders. They can be available on mobile, desktop, or on the web. eToro, for example, does not have any third-party platforms. They only offer their CFD trading platform and Copytrader.
Risks Involved in Forex Trading
The forex market is very liquid and this liquidity has caused a lot of traders to throw caution to the wind and even become greedy.
Most retail traders trade forex because of leverage, and this can cause losses to escalate very quickly.
Let us discuss some risks.
1) Risk of Unlicensed Forex Brokers
There are lots of unlicensed brokers who lure unsuspecting traders with promises of huge returns with low investments.
Some of them claim to hold licenses from regulators in countries that are not known for strong regulatory supervision.
Forex traders in the UK must only trade via FCA licensed forex brokers. Traders should go to the FCA website and check if their broker is on the list of licensed forex brokers.
While at it they should check the phone number on the FCA website related to the forex broker and call the number to be sure they are dealing with a legitimate broker.
2) Risk of Cloned Forex Brokers
Some scam forex brokers go ahead and clone other licensed brokers.
They go as far as hosting websites with logos and registration numbers to deceive unsuspecting targets. The image below shows the FCA issuing a notice to the UK public about a cloned Pepperstone forex broker website.
Forex traders must be watchful and look out for red flags such as little differences in the broker name as can be seen in the image above (pepperforeign instead of pepperstone). Forex traders should also report any cloned page they come across to the FCA.
Scam brokers do exist so you should be wary of them and report anyone you come across to the FCA.
The first two risks that we discussed are associated with the risk due to a third party I.e. your broker. We will now talk about the risks that you face with actual trading.
3) Leverage risk
The FCA has set leverage restrictions on the max leverage that brokers in the UK can offer to traders. This is set to a maximum of 30:1 for forex.
This being said, forex traders should resist the urge to open an account with brokers outside the UK who offer higher leverage. This restriction is set so that retail traders do not lose excessively. FCA Regulated brokers stick to these leverage caps. Here is a page from Pepperstone’s website:
You can see that high leverage is for professional traders alone. Retail traders cannot access higher leverage.
Reports state that even with the leverage restrictions, 70 to 80% of retail forex traders lose money. The actual percentage depends on the broker-to-broker.
This is mainly because of over-leveraging a position. Traders must avoid using more than 1:10 leverage on any forex trade.
Let’s take an example, let’s say you place a buy order on EUR/USD at 1.1000 targeting 1.1100, which is 100 pips. You have $10,000 in your trading account & you decide to use 1:10 leverage to place 1 Standard lot trade.
If the price does go in your direction, then you can make a profit of $1000 on this trade. But if the price goes against you by let’s say 100 pips, then you would lose $1000, which is 10% of your capital. If you had used 1:30 leverage, then the losses would have been $3000, which is 30% of your capital on a single trade.
Hence, you must remember that trading with excessive leverage can cause big losses.
The use of leverage should be done responsibly as it amplifies both gains and losses. You should find out if your broker offers negative balance protection so as to stop your account from going negative.
You can also use Stop Loss orders to automatically exit a position if the loss exceeds a certain level. Stop-loss orders are automated instructions a trader gives the broker to exit his trading position once the price goes below a predetermined amount. Stop-loss orders could be used to manage risk.
4) Risk of Losses from your trades
The forex market is very volatile and should be approached with caution. For example, it is not uncommon for some currency pairs to move 4-5% in a day.
Normally, even majors like EUR/USD can move 1-2% in a single day. If you are risking too much on a single trade, then you can lose very quickly.
In fact, most of the retail traders trading in the forex market lose their money. It is really hard to be profitable with forex trading, mostly because traders trade with gamblers’ nature of risking excessively.
It is really important to practice risk management on a demo account for some months before going live. Also do not risk more than 2% of your trading capital on one trade.
FAQs on Forex Trading UK
What is Forex Trading?
Forex Trading involves trading currency pairs like EUR/USD, GBP/USD, EUR/GBP etc. A forex trader speculates on the prices of currencies. For example, if a trader thinks that the USD is going to be weaker in the next few weeks against the GBP, then that trader can buy GBP/USD. Forex Trading generally involves leverage, which is very risky as we explain in our guide.
Is Forex Trading Legal in the UK?
Yes, forex trading is legal in the UK. But you must only trade via FCA licensed forex brokers to ensure that your funds are protected against third-party risk associated with brokers.
Is Forex Trading Profitable?
There is no guarantee of profits with forex trading. Infact, most of the retail traders trading forex lose their money. FCA requires all its regulated CFD brokers to publicly highlight the percentage of losing traders on their platform. Most of the brokers have as high as 83% of traders losing on their platform. So, it is really important to understand the risks and note that you could lose all your capital with forex & CFD trading.
Can You Get Rich by Trading Forex?
Trading Forex is very risky & most retail traders lose their money when trading CFDs as per data from FCA regulated CFD brokers. About 70-85% of retail traders lose at CFD brokers (at some brokers this number is lower).
How do I Start Trading Forex in the UK?
Traders can trade via FCA regulated CFD brokers. You can open your account with any regulated broker. It is important to understand the risks involved before you trade Forex or CFDs as most of the retail traders lose.