The forex trading craze is now a global phenomenon, driven by improvements in technology, the advent of smartphones and tablets, and an increase in social media activity. These factors have driven advertising of forex trading and forex products to some of the highest levels ever seen since the 1990s. The last 10 years have seen a lot of internet penetration, which has seen penetration of forex into regions of the world that had never heard of this 5-letter word for the first time. However, the forex market is also a place where there is a lot of geographical inequality. Where things are an easy breeze for traders in some countries, in others, they present all kinds of challenges.
Most of the forex literature on the internet showcases and presents forex in a manner that assumes that all traders in all countries have the same access to knowledge, skills, tools, technology, and resources to trade forex. This is very far from reality.
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The geographical location of forex brokers is one area where there is a huge disparity. Most of the forex brokers in the world today are located in the US, Europe (UK and Cyprus specifically), Asia (Japan, Singapore, Australia), and the Middle East. There is hardly any brokerage presence in Africa. This has led to a situation where those who trade forex in countries where there is no physical brokerage presence are at the mercy of the offshore brokers and the regulations issued by the agencies that regulate and supervise these brokerages.
After September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, the government revised the rules under which US companies could do business with foreign entities. This led to a situation where almost all US forex brokers began shutting down accounts of many traders from countries that were on the blacklist of the US Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC). To date, traders from countries on the OFAC blacklist are still unable to open accounts with US forex brokers.
Another topical issue that concerns trading with US forex brokers is the issue of the US tax law known as the Foreign Assets Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Under the provisions of FATCA, US citizens are expected to declare any income made worldwide, including any profits from the proceeds of forex trading with foreign brokers. FATCA also provides for sanctions on foreign companies that fail to provide information to the IRS on US traders who have trading accounts with them. In order to avoid any problems with the IRS, many brokers located in Europe and Asia have simply closed their doors to US traders. As it stands today, traders in the US can only trade forex effectively with US forex brokers. US traders will not miss much by trading only with homegrown brokers. The regulatory environment in the US forex market is strong; arguably the best organized as well. The technology base that serves brokers and traders in the US is very strong as well. New York is recognized as a major forex trading hub. The data centers and the virtual private servers that serve the US trading hub are well constructed and properly co-located. The forex market in the US is very robust; unfortunately, it is only open to US citizens and citizens of a few other countries.
The major forex trading hubs in Europe are located in London and Cyprus. Some major hubs are gradually emerging in Central and Eastern Europe (Malta, Bulgaria, Russia, and Romania). Cyprus emerged as a major trading hub due to its investment-friendly policies that attracted a large number of forex brokerages. In addition, no restrictions are placed by these brokers on the traders they can accept (except banning US citizens from their platforms in order to avoid compulsory reporting to the US IRS). Many traders from far-flung regions of the world presently trade with brokers in Cyprus and the UK. The regulatory environment in the UK is very strong. While there have been some criticisms about the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) being a bit too lax with enforcement, CySEC has indeed made some strategic changes to strengthen regulation in Cyprus.
Forex trading in Japan, Singapore, and Australia is hitting levels not seen in many years. Recently, the Bank of International Settlements declared Singapore to be the number 3 forex trading hub in the world, after London and New York. Taiwan now ranks as one of the countries with the largest forex reserves, thanks to the massive foreign investment flows into that country. China has seen a massive boom in the forex brokerage business, and introducing brokers for forex companies are easily netting trading volumes of 90,000 lots per month. Asian regulators have pushed towards enhancing the forex markets in their countries to adapt better to the local environments within their jurisdictions. Presently, regulators in Japan and Australia have begun a cooperative effort to ensure that forex brokers in each country restrict their marketing efforts to their local markets to promote better regulation and compliance with local practices.
Many forex brokerages have gone the pathway of opening different offices in different regulatory jurisdictions in order to better comply with local regulations and have better access to markets in these regions.
Forex Brokerage Payment Systems
An integral part of forex trading in countries of the world is the development of acceptable systems of payment. Credit cards, digital wallets, and lately, digital currencies have been developed over the last two decades as means of payment in forex so as to improve the speed and ease of forex-related transactions. These payment methods are designed to make it more convenient for Forex traders to deposit and withdraw funds from their brokerage accounts. However, not all forex traders from around the world have been able to access and utilize these payment systems maximally. In many countries, usage of credit/debit cards, as well as digital wallets, is impossible due to financial blacklisting. For these traders, the bank transfer method remains the only method of transaction. This method is slow, cumbersome, involves a lot of paperwork, and in today’s fast-paced trading, gradually becoming obsolete.
This presents an equality gap that has still not been adequately addressed. There have been attempts to create country-specific e-wallets to address these issues, but these are not widespread and are still limited in scope.
There have to be improvements in this regard. Some forex brokers such as AvaTrade are attempting to solve these issues by citing local branches of their forex business in countries where there is a potentially huge market but a dearth of effective payment systems. The thinking is that if traders in these countries can use local payment methods, then the payment transaction gap can be bridged. This is an expensive model and has not taken traction among the generality of brokers. It is expected that as more financial technology companies come into the forex marketplace, solutions to these problems will be devised and deployed accordingly.
Where is Forex Trading Allowed, Restricted, or Banned?
A discussion of forex trading online can never be complete without reviewing the state of forex trading across the world. Where is forex trading online allowed? What countries have restrictions on forex trading online and where is the trading of forex banned? Here is a shortlist of countries that fit these three descriptions.
1) Countries where forex trading is allowed
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe
2) Countries where forex trading is restricted
Forex trading is allowed in these countries, but with restrictions from the central governments. These restrictions border on the amount of money that can be transferred to a broker for trading, how much can be kept in foreign currency in a domiciliary account, and how forex is accessed for trading purposes. These restrictions could also be due to anti-money laundering laws.
- South Africa
3) Countries where forex trading is banned
Forex trading is banned completely in the following countries:
- India – Restrictions on the way Indian citizens are allowed to trade in the Forex markets are being regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)
- North Korea
- Bosnia Herzegovina
- Countries with strict Sharia laws such as Pakistan
The Best Countries to Trade Forex
The best countries to trade forex are countries which fulfill the following criteria:
- Have easy access to the major trading hubs, with the ability to open forex trading accounts with brokers in these hubs.
- Countries with good internet systems.
- Countries with a sound technology backbone which can support the placement of servers and systems required to enhance the forex trading experience.
- Countries with easy and unlimited access to any payment system offered by the forex brokers.
- Countries that have a solid financial technology presence.
- Countries with no restrictions on forex trading activity.
Only very few countries can fulfill all the criteria spelled out. However, if a country can fulfill four out of the six listed criteria, it can still be classified as one of the best countries to trade forex.
In conclusion, forex trading online is indeed a complex business that goes beyond simply opening an account, funding it, and trading with a click of a few buttons on the computer. A lot of factors come into play. These have to come together to provide the entire environment that can support the forex brokerages, financial technology companies, and software providers that deliver access to the market on one hand, and the forex traders who constitute the end-users on the other.
Traders in some countries will find themselves unable to compete at a particular level with traders from well-developed countries due to gaps in technology, payment access, and infrastructure. But the situation can be managed as companies that have seen these gaps are creating solutions to fill these needs. For instance, the development of the forex virtual private server technology is allowing traders in technologically-challenged countries to get above the limitations and still trade as if they were in resource-rich countries.
The forex market is undergoing continuous evolution, and as the years go by, it is clear that the state of forex trading in countries will continue to undergo a change that will impact the markets.