Learning to trade forex may seem like a daunting challenge. In this article, you will find some pretty handy tips and practical advice to get you started with forex trading in no time!
Use a Demo Account to Assimilate Learning Material Twice as Fast!
That’s right! You actually need to open a forex demo trading account before you even start learning forex basics. So put down your ‘books’ and take a few minutes to open a free demo account with a good broker. We’ve made it easy for you – here is a list of reputable brokers, each with a link to open a demo account.
There are many things about forex trading that are much easier to understand when you actually see and try it. So, after you’ve opened your demo account, take the learning material you have and check what you’re learning right on the trading platform that comes with your demo account.
No.1 Demo Account Tip: (In a hurry to learn candlesticks?!)
When you start learning about how Japanese candlesticks work (open, high, low, close, bull candles, bear candles), open a 1-minute chart of any forex pair and observe how the candles open, change colour, form high and low values, and close. This way, you will understand how to read candlesticks much faster than you would have by just studying written material.
No. 2 Demo Account Tip: (Our second best demo tip… but very valuable!)
When you set up your first chart, make sure you can see both the bid and ask price lines on it. These are horizontal lines that show you how wide or narrow the bid/ask spread is. This is incredibly important, especially for a new trader.
- With the bid/ask lines plotted on your charts, you can get a good visual idea of how wide the spread is, compared to how much the market moves.
- The bid/ask lines show you exactly at what prices your buy and sell trades get executed. When you look at the bid/ask lines when you execute a trade, you will not get a nasty surprise when the spread is actually much wider than you thought. Remember, the spread varies all the time and can be really wide (expensive) when market liquidity is thin due to important news releases or during rollover (every day at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). This is either 00:00 (summertime in RSA) or 11 p.m. (wintertime in RSA), depending on the U.S. daylight savings adjustment.
*Some trading accounts operate with fixed spreads. The average spreads on such accounts are usually wider than the average spreads on a standard account with variable spreads, though. It is not recommended to trade with fixed spread accounts.
Here is a screenshot of AvaTrade’s MT4 trading platform:
When you first use your MT4 trading platform, you will only see the bid price, which alone gives you no idea of what the spread is. To plot the ask price on your charts, simply do the following:
- Right-click on your chart and choose ‘Properties’ (or just press F8). This brings you to this window:
- Click on ‘Common’
- Check ‘Show Ask Line’
- Click ‘OK’ to apply the change
If you prefer not to use MT4, you can ask your broker how to set up your bid and ask lines. Some trading platforms automatically display both the bid and ask price. A good example of such a platform is cTrader, which is an excellent trading platform, to say the least. Not all brokers offer cTrader, but with FxPro you can use this institutional grade trading platform with a demo or live trading account.
No. 3 Demo Account Tip:
Use the crosshair tool to measure what you’re looking at on the charts. This tool is really useful and will speed up your learning because it gives you a visual experience of what you’re reading in the ‘books’. The MT4 crosshair tool can count candlesticks and measure price differences in points/pips. It also shows you at what time the candlestick you’re hovering over opened. Of course, the crosshair also shows a price tag on the price scale on the right side of your charts, which means that you can easily see the price value of different objects on your charts by horizontally aligning the crosshair with the object.
To use the crosshair function in MT4, click the mouse wheel which brings up the crosshair (alternatively, click on the crosshair button in the toolbar just above your charts). Then click and drag the crosshair to the opposite end of what you want to measure.
When you often use the crosshair tool, you will quickly get a good feel of what a 10-pip distance looks like on a EUR/USD chart, for example. Just an important note: the MT4 ruler tool displays points, which is a tenth of a pip. So, to know how many pips you’re looking at, just divide the number you see by 10. For example, if you see a number like 245 (points), you know it’s actually 24.5 pips.
Most trading platforms other than MT4 also have crosshair tools or some sort of measuring tool. If you’re not sure how to access it, first click your mouse wheel, which will usually do the trick.
No. 4 Demo Account Tip: (There is always someone to guide you.)
When you’re just starting out with forex trading, there will be many things on your trading platform you don’t understand. However, to many of your questions, there are short and simple answers available via your broker’s live chat feature. So, if you have questions regarding anything on your trading platform, or how to open/close/manage trades, don’t hesitate to contact your broker’s support team. You will usually get good answers in just a few minutes from a friendly person somewhere in the world. You can also email your broker’s support team, but the chat feature is usually much faster. Most brokers have chat agents available 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.
By the way, we have loads of handy information about the MT4 trading platform in our MetaTrader 4 – THE COMPLETE GUIDE. If you’re trading or going to trade with MT4, you definitely need to check it out!
Serious Reminder – Demo Trading Comes First!
Besides giving you a great visual/practical experience of how forex trading works, a demo account is a perfect environment in which you can learn from your mistakes and gain valuable trading experience. When you first start placing trades, it is easy to make huge mistakes (like hitting the sell button when you actually wanted to buy, selecting the wrong lot size, etc.). It is important to make these mistakes on a demo account rather than on a live trading account.
In our 7 VITAL FOREX TRADING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS, you can find handy info for forex newbies, including more reasons for using a demo trading account first.
Basic Forex Trading Terms and Concepts
Here are some basic forex things you need to understand…
What is a Currency Pair?
Forex instruments are expressed as currency pairs, like for example, the EUR/USD (euro/U.S. dollar). In this pair, the euro is the base currency and the U.S. dollar is the quote currency. The first currency in a currency pair is always the base currency and the second one is the quote currency. If you open a EUR/USD chart, the price you see on the right side of the chart is the U.S. dollar value of one euro. For example, if the EUR/USD trades at 1.25000, it means that one euro is worth $1.25.
While it is good to know these terms, it is more important to know what happens when you buy or sell a particular currency pair. Let’s forget ‘base currency’ and ‘quote currency’ for a moment and focus on the first currency in a currency pair, for example, the EUR in the EUR/USD pair.
When you buy the EUR/USD, you are actually buying the euro and when you sell this pair, you are selling the euro. So when you buy the EUR/USD pair, you will make money if the price of the pair moves higher, which happens when the euro strengthens against the dollar. For example, if you buy the EUR/USD at an exchange rate of 1.20000 and the price increases by 5% to 1.26000, you will make 5% on the amount you invested. Likewise, if you enter a short position (sell) the EUR/USD pair, you will make money if the price declines. When you buy the EUR/USD, you are simultaneously buying euros and selling dollars. In other words, you are ‘long’ the euro and ‘short’ the dollar.
*This example excludes trading costs.
How Many Currency Pairs Can You Trade?
This depends on how many currency pairs your broker has available but you may have as many as 60 pairs to choose from. In some cases, even more. These pairs are divided into 4 main groups:
- Major currency pairs
- Minor currency pairs (also known as major currency cross pairs): EUR/JPY, GBP/JPY, AUD/JPY, etc.
- Other cross pairs: AUD/NZD, NZD/CAD, etc.
- Exotic currency pairs: USD/ZAR, USD/MXN, EUR/SEK, etc.
Usually, the best currency pairs to start with are the major currency pairs because of their low spreads. There are 7 major currency pairs:
- EUR/USD (Euro/United States dollar) – the most liquid pair
- USD/JPY (United States dollar/Japanese yen)
- GBP/USD (Great British Pound/United States dollar)
- AUD/USD (Australian dollar/United States dollar)
- USD/CAD (United States dollar/Canadian dollar)
- USD/CHF (United States dollar/Swiss franc)
- NZD/USD (New Zealand dollar/United States dollar
These pairs are traded in large volumes and because of their dense liquidity, their spreads are generally low, especially the EUR/USD and USD/JPY. It is generally easier to trade currency pairs with low spreads successfully than pairs with wide spreads (although the high volatility of some pairs may justify trading them, notwithstanding their wider spreads). Other factors (like the occurrence of strong trends) may also justify trading currency pairs with wider spreads than the major pairs.
Did you know that you can trade other instruments on forex trading platforms besides currency pairs? With basically any forex broker, you can trade instruments like gold, silver, crude oil, and stock index CFDs (contracts for difference). Some brokers also offer you stock CFDs, cryptocurrency CFDs, bonds, and ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Avatrade has all of these instruments plus vanilla options. Here is our AvaTrade Review.
Long (Buy) and Short (Sell) Trades
Forex newbies usually find it interesting and even strange that you can enter a trade by selling a currency pair or instrument like a gold CFD (contract for difference). After all, how can you sell something you don’t have? But you needn’t break your head about this technicality. The only thing you need to know (for now) is that you can make money when the price moves lower by entering a short position. When you’re in a short position, a 5% decline in the price will put a 5% gain in your pocket. Likewise, a long (buy) position makes money when the price moves higher.
*This example excludes trading costs.
What is a Pip (Percentage in Point)?
With the EUR/USD pair, a pip is 0.0001 and with Japanese yen pairs, it is 0.01. A pip is one basis point (1/100th of 1%). For example, if the EUR/USD trades at 1.11171 and moves one pip higher, the price will be 1.11181. If the USD/JPY trades at 111.171 and moves one pip higher, the price will be 111.181.
Different Time Frames
Candlestick charts are available in different timeframes. With a daily chart, each candlestick contains the price data of one day. With a 4-hour chart, each candlestick contains the price data of 4 hours. Common time frames available with most brokers are MN (monthly), W1 (weekly), D1 (daily), H4 (4-hour), H1 (1-hour), M30 (30-minute), M15 (15-minute), M5 (5-minute), and M1 (1-minute).
Time Frame Tip: The higher time frames contain more price data per candle and are usually more reliable for technical analysis. Instead of wasting your time on the lower time frames like 1-minute, 5-minute, 15-minute, etc, rather perform your analysis on the weekly, daily, and 4-hour time frames. You will find fewer trade signals but your accuracy will be better. If you want to, you can use the lower time frames to time your trade entries better.
What is the Smallest Forex Trade You Can Place?
The smallest trade you can place is usually 0.01 lots (one micro lot), which is 1000 units of the currency pair(s) you’re trading. A price movement of one pip will make a difference of about $0.10, depending on which currency pair you’re trading. So if you remember the $0.10 pip-value figure, you will always have a rough idea of the dollar value of your stop loss and take profit values before you place a trade (which is vitally important). If you’re trading more than 0.01 lots at a time, just multiply your lot size with the pip value of $0.10.
*Very important! This tip does not apply to all currency pairs (e.g. USD/ZAR) but you can use it as a general guideline for major currency pairs like the EUR/USD, GBP/USD, USD/JPY, etc.
What is Forex Leverage?
So, if the minimum trade size is 1000 units of a currency pair, how can you possibly trade forex with a small account like $300? Luckily, the leverage offered by your broker makes this possible. Here is an MT4 screenshot to give you a visual example:
Because this trading account’s leverage is 1:500, these four positions require only $7.06 to open instead of $3530. As you can see, these positions are 0.01 lots each, which is one micro lot (1000 units of a currency pair).
With these four positions opened, the trader still has $176.24 available (of an account equity of $183.30) to open additional positions and absorb potential drawdowns and transaction costs.
Very Important Leverage Tip: Don’t abuse leverage, you will lose money if you don’t apply sound risk management.
The leverage offered by forex brokers varies, but it is generally between 1:100 and 1:1000. An example is Markets.com, with a leverage of up to 1:300. So, even with a small trading account, you are able to have a couple of forex trades running simultaneously.
Solid Risk Management is Absolutely Critical!
Many professional traders and hedge fund managers’ primary objective is to protect their capital. Only then do they start thinking of making a profit. This is extremely important when it comes to trading. Risk management should be the first thing you pay attention to.
*Some Food for thought – it’s not difficult to lose 50% of your trading account but if you want to recover that same 50%, you need to make a gain of 100% on what you have left. With your reduced balance, you can’t trade the same lot sizes (as with 100% of your capital) except if you expose yourself to double the risk, percentage-wise. So, to recover your lost money at the same rate at which you lost it, you now expose yourself to twice as much risk. The other option is to reduce your lot size and take roughly twice as long to recover your losses. (*Provided that your trading strategy suddenly starts making money). Do you get what I’m saying? You need to do all you can to avoid large drawdowns in the first place.
How Much Money Should You Risk Per Trade?!
Did you know that you can easily blow your entire trading account with a very profitable trading strategy? Here is an extreme (but applicable) example of what can happen when you risk too much of your capital per trade:
Let’s say you have a trading strategy with a 1:1 risk-to-reward ratio and a 70% win rate (which is really good). Now remember, out of every 100 trades taken, you would expect to lose more or less 30 trades and win about 70. If you risk 25% of your entire account per trade with this incredible strategy, you only need 4 consecutive losing trades to ruin your account. While this may seem absurd, it is actually possible in the forex market because you have leverage at your disposal and because the margin stop out feature on your trading account will not save your last few dollars in case of a large price gap.
However, if you use this same trading strategy with appropriate risk management in place, you are basically guaranteed of making a good profit and not burning your hard-earned cash. You don’t need to understand all the maths behind it, but if you just remember to risk 2% or less of your entire account per trade, you are one step closer to making consistent profits over the long run. Of course, when you risk 2% per trade, you need to limit the number of open trades running simultaneously (or make adjustments to existing trades to take a portion of your risk off the table and make ‘space’ for additional trades).
You Don’t (Necessarily) Need to Use a Stop Loss BUT You Probably Should
Got your attention? Although we wouldn’t advise the average retail forex trader to trade without a stop loss, there are certain cases where traders and institutions trade without stop loss orders without exposing their accounts to excessive risks. Without going into all the details, let’s just say that these individuals and institutions, due to their large accounts, actually risk a suitable portion of their capital per trade, even with no stop loss attached. For example, if you invest $2,000 in an unleveraged EUR/USD buy trade, the most you can possibly lose is (of course) $2,000, which is highly improbable. If you have a $100,000 trading account, you could easily risk $2,000 on a trade without losing sleep over it.
For the average retail forex trader, using a stop loss is really important, though. Please read What is a Stop-Loss and Take-Profit for information on how to calculate and place your stop loss orders.
Know Your Limits and ONLY Trade With Money You Can Afford to Lose
Forex trading is risky and the majority of retail traders lose money. That’s why you first need to become profitable on a demo account before you even think of trading with real money. And when you trade real money, you need to know exactly how much you can afford to lose. You see, trading can have a really severe impact on your emotions, especially when you lose some of your money. Traders who do not know their limits are prone to deposit more money than they actually should, whether it be because of winning, losing, overconfidence, or whatever reason.
How Should You Analyse the Forex Market?
There are many factors and events that influence supply and demand in the forex market. Without elaborating on every aspect, here are a few basic things you need to understand of fundamental and technical analysis.
Technical analysis is focussed mostly on the price of an asset. This is where you look at forex price charts and take note of trends, ranges, candlestick patterns, price breakouts, trading volume, trader sentiment, technical indicator values, etc.
We first mention technical analysis because it is so valuable to traders and trading robots (expert advisors). Traders with little knowledge of fundamental and political factors can be brilliant traders of they understand technical analysis and simply trade the price action in front of them. Also, many profitable trading robots rely on technical analysis alone and only use a few technical indicators and/or price action.
Technical Analysis Tip: (Don’t miss what happens right in front of you!)
Trading is all about observation. Fundamental events/news are often ignored by the big players who actually trade the volumes that move the market. Traders who only pay attention to the fundamentals are then caught on the wrong side of the market because they don’t observe and react to what the price action is doing.
You should be aware that economic and political factors influence the forex market. Fundamental analysis entails studying local and global economic factors like monetary and fiscal policy, different economic indicators, employment figures, industrial production volumes, trade balance numbers, retail consumption, payroll data, and other factors. It also takes politics into account and even the impact that natural disasters and war may have on a country’s economy.
Generally, a strong, expanding economy and a stable political environment are good for a country’s currency. Rising interest rates also make a currency more attractive (under normal conditions) because of its higher yield. (A country’s interest rate is often raised in response to a rapidly growing economy).
For more information on technical and fundamental analysis, take a look at TECHNICAL ANALYSIS VS. FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS.
Forex Trading Tools
Technical indicators are widely used to analyse the forex market. Popular indicators include RSI, MACD, moving averages, Bollinger bands, and stochastics. Custom indicators can also be used with most trading platforms.
PitView™ is proprietary trading software that tells you what the major liquidity providers (banks) are doing in the forex market by monitoring their real-time buy and sell quote behaviour. PitView is a unique trading tool with massive potential. For more information and video instruction on how PitView can be used, please look at our PITVIEW REVIEW.
FormationSeeker is a proprietary pattern recognition tool used to find harmonic chart patterns in different markets. For more information, check out our FORMATIONSEEKER REVIEW.
Expert Advisors (Trading Robots)
Expert advisors are computer programs that not only analyse technical and even fundamental aspects of financial markets but can also place trades automatically without human supervision. EAs can be incredibly handy for several reasons, including:
- Their ability to make hundreds of calculations in less than a second.
- Fast and accurate trade execution.
- The automation of many tasks that are tedious or impossible for humans to execute.
- Trading strategies can be backtested and optimised with EAs before using it live.
- You can combine the ‘effort’ of numerous EAs to manage a single portfolio or trading account collaboratively.
You can program your own expert advisors or buy them online. Some EAs can even be downloaded for free.
Autochartist is an award-winning automated technical analysis tool that works with MT4 and identifies trading opportunities across hundreds of financial instruments.
Autochartist’s advanced recognition engine identifies the strongest potential trading opportunities and predicts future price movements. Some of Autochartist’s key features are:
- Chart pattern recognition
- Fibonacci pattern recognition
- Key level analysis
- Pattern quality indication
Other Trading Tools
There are plenty of tools to enhance your forex trading experience, like position size calculators, volatility calculators, pip value calculators, etc. For more information, take a look at FOREX ANALYSIS TOOLS.
Other Important Forex Things
You will often read about traders saying that your profit targets should always be at least 2 or 3 times as large as your stop losses. While there are traders making money with excellent risk-to-reward ratios like 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, etc., it is erroneous to generalise this to a specific ratio for all types of trading strategies, currency pairs, time frames, and market conditions.
There is a specific trading strategy that takes with-trend trades on the daily time frame. The strategy places a stop loss at the high or low of the trigger candle with a take profit of 150% of the stop loss distance. A backtest over ten years reveals a good performance with a relatively low drawdown. Another backtest was done with a take profit setting of 300% of the stop loss distance. The “much better” risk-to-reward ratio of 1:3 not only made less money but also produced a larger drawdown. Interesting.
So the point we’re making is this: the risk-to-reward ratio you use needs to be optimal for your trading strategy/approach. Making money with limited risk is what matters. If a 1:1 ratio performs better than other ratios, stick to it. If a 1:2 or 1:3 works better, then rather use it. Depending on the trading frequency and technicalities of your trading strategies, you should try to backtest them by manually checking how they would have performed over historical data. If you know how to code your strategies, you will have more flexibility to do backtests and be able to do it really fast. However, even if you don’t know how to build trading bots (EAs), or want to pay a programmer to code it for you, you can do manual backtests to see how your strategies would have performed. Here it really helps if you know how to use the crosshair tool to measure candlesticks, price waves, etc.
Trade Without Emotions / Stick to Your Trading Plan
To lose trades has a meaningful impact on inexperienced traders, emotionally. And so do winning trades/winning streaks. With forex trading, trading without emotions is a cardinal virtue, and you need the discipline to stick to a good trading plan.
Of course, any trading plan needs an ‘eject’ button, or a ‘line in the sand’ if losses exceed a predetermined value. But an important thing you need to know is that with every good trading strategy, you will encounter both winning and losing streaks, but you need to stay focussed and execute your trading plan like a pro.
So, before you start using a certain strategy or methodology, you need to establish how much money you want to risk per trade, per day, per week, per month, etc. Then you need to decide what kind of drawdown you can tolerate and if/how you will adjust your lot sizes when a drawdown occurs. Also, you need to think about how you will increase your lot sizes if your capital increases due to profitable trading. (These are just some of the things you need to take into account. We have great information for you on how to CREATE A FOREX TRADING PLAN right here).
You will also need to exercise discipline when managing open trades because in some cases, (especially with beginners), you may be tempted to increase your stop loss distances to avoid losses or close profitable trades prematurely because you fear that you could lose the current profit. Sometimes traders also bypass their trading plans and increase their profit targets, which may in some cases cause unnecessary losses or reduce their profits.
These are just a few examples to show you that to be a successful forex trader; you need to rule over your emotions to follow and stick to a well-worked out trading plan.
Copy Trading and Forex Signals
Who says you need to do all the analysis and trading yourself? Have you heard about copy trading and trade signals? Let’s see how you can take advantage of other traders’ knowledge, experience, and even trading robots.
Copy trading enables you to link your trading account to other traders’ accounts. The trades they place are then automatically copied to your trading account. The lot sizes for trades are adjusted to suit the size of your trading account, and in some cases, you can manually set the lot sizes you prefer.
Copy trading can be a great way to manage your portfolio with the skill and expertise of seasoned traders. Copy trading can save you much time while possibly making you more money than you would have made with your own trading. Of course, copy trading can also open up a big door for successful traders to earn money as popular investors (traders who initiate the trades that are copied to other accounts).
If you’re interested in managing your portfolio with the experience of up to 100 popular investors, simultaneously, open a live/demo trading account with eToro. eToro’s algorithms make it easy to sift out (from thousands of individuals) the popular investors that satisfy your specific criteria. You can investigate each popular investor’s historical performance and also see which instruments they trade. eToro’s social trading platform enables you to interact with the popular investors you follow, as well as the millions of traders that use eToro.
When copying other traders, the only fees you incur are the applicable spreads and overnight fees. eToro’s popular investors (copied traders) can only do manual trading on its platform. However, some of the other copy trading platforms also allow automated trading. This means that you can copy the trades placed by trading robots.
For inexperienced (and even experienced) traders, copying popular investors can be educative because you can see what the popular investor is trading, where he places his stop loss and take profit orders, how he manages his portfolio, etc. You can even do copy trading with a demo account before investing real money.
For more information on trading with eToro, please visit our ETORO REVIEW.
Another broker with a copy trading platform, is AvaTrade, with its DupliTrade platform. With a minimum deposit of $2,000, you can gain access to DupliTrade, which is linked to your MT4 trading platform. DupliTrade allows you to automatically duplicate the actions of expert traders (with proven histories) directly into your AvaTrade trading account.
Forex signals basically follow the same concept as copy trading but traders usually copy these signals to their trading accounts manually. Some brokers and online sources provide trading signals free of charge, but in some cases, you need to pay for a forex signals subscription. Forex signals are usually distributed via sms or email notifications.
Choose the Right Broker to Match Your Needs
When you choose a broker, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Spreads, Commissions, and Rollover Charges
Transaction costs can play a significant role in how profitable your trading is, especially if your trading frequency is high. It can even be the difference between being profitable and losing money. If your spread is 1 pip wider than which an alternative broker would charge, it means that the price needs to move 1 pip further to hit your take profit and at the same time, 1 pip less to reach your stop loss. Transaction costs have a direct impact on your probability of making money with forex trading. Make sure you choose a broker with low spreads, commissions, and rollover charges.
You should never trade with brokers that are not regulated. Here you can find top regulated brokers in South Africa. There are also some other reliable brokers you can check out in our FX Broker Comparison. If you would like to know how we compare forex brokers, take a look at OUR REVIEW PROCESS.
As you pursue your trading ambitions, the last thing you need is poor customer support from your broker. You can easily test a prospective broker by contacting its support team with a few questions via telephone, live chat, or email. See if they can answer your questions accurately, promptly, and with at least some enthusiasm.
Trading Platforms, Education, Trading Tools, Assets, Etc.
It’s really important that you have the right trading platform at your disposal. If you don’t like MT4, then you need to choose a broker that offers a different trading platform, for example, cTrader. Brokers like Pepperstone and FxPro have cTrader available. By the way, you can also use cTrader for algorithmic trading (trading with robots).
Other factors like trading tools and trading education may also influence your choice. Both of these can make a significant difference in your trading performance. Some brokers have excellent learning material available to hone your trading skills.
Of course, if you want to do copy trading, you need to sign up with a suitable broker like AvaTrade or eToro.
Lastly, your choice of tradable assets will also influence which broker you choose. Most forex brokers also have some commodities like gold, silver, and crude oil and a few stock indices like the Dax, Dow, and S&P 500. Then, some brokers also have individual stocks, cryptocurrencies, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), bonds, and even vanilla options. AvaTrade is a good option if you want to trade all of these asset classes with a single broker.