Foreign exchange markets exist to allow business owners to purchase currency in another country so they can do business in that country. The “FX” market, also called the Forex market, is a worldwide network of currency traders who work around the clock to complete these transactions, and their work drives the exchange rate for currencies around the world.

Spot Market

These are the quickest transactions involving currency in foreign markets. These transactions involve immediate payment at the current exchange rate, which is also called the spot rate. The Federal Reserve says the spot market accounts for one-third of all currency exchange, and trades usually take place within two days of the agreement. This does leave the traders open to the volatility of the currency market, which can raise or lower the price between the agreement and the trade.

Futures Market

As the name implies, these transactions involve future payment and future delivery at an agreed exchange rate, also called the future rate. These contracts are standardized, which means the elements of the agreement are set and non-negotiable. It also takes the volatility of the currency market, specifically the spot market, out of the equation. These are popular among traders who make large currency transactions and are seeking a steady return on their investments.

Forward Market

These transactions are identical to the Futures Market except for one important difference—the terms are negotiable between the two parties. This way, the terms can be negotiated and tailored to the needs of the participants. It allows for more flexibility. In many instances, this type of market involves a currency swap, where two entities swap currency for an agreed-upon amount of time, and then return the currency at the end of the contract.


There are approximately five different types of entities that use the foreign exchange markets on a daily basis. Commercial banks are the leaders in this market and are the main source of currency transactions. Traditional users refer to entities that do business across national borders. Central banks are the official players in this market, and each country has a central bank to manage its money supply. Brokers work as go-betweens for banks, typically during large transactions. And, traders and speculators work to take advantage of short-term trends in the market.

Where This Happens

Unlike the New York Stock Exchange, which has a physical building, currency exchange takes place all over the world and has no central building. Most transactions are done by phone or computer. Estimates have the international currency exchange driving $180 billion in business per day. The majority of transactions take place in London, New York and Tokyo, with cities such as Singapore, Zurich, Frankfurt and Hong Kong handling transactions as well.