Most brokers also provide leverage. Many brokers in the U.S. provide leverage up to 50:1. Let's assume our trader uses 10:1 leverage on this transaction. If using 10:1 leverage the trader is not required to have $5,000 in their account, even though they are trading $5,000 worth of currency. They only need $500. As long as they have $500 and 10:1 leverage they can trade $5,000 worth of currency. If they utilize 20:1 leverage, they only need $250 in their account (because $250 * 20 = $5,000).
For example – the rate you find for GBP/USD represents the number of US dollars one British pound will buy you. So, if you have reason to believe the pound will increase in value versus the US dollar, you’d look to purchase pounds with US dollars. However, if the exchange rate climbs, you’d sell your pounds back and make a profit. Likewise with Euros, Yen etc
Currencies are traded against one another in pairs. Each currency pair thus constitutes an individual trading product and is traditionally noted XXXYYY or XXX/YYY, where XXX and YYY are the ISO 4217 international three-letter code of the currencies involved. The first currency (XXX) is the base currency that is quoted relative to the second currency (YYY), called the counter currency (or quote currency). For instance, the quotation EURUSD (EUR/USD) 1.5465 is the price of the Euro expressed in US dollars, meaning 1 euro = 1.5465 dollars. The market convention is to quote most exchange rates against the USD with the US dollar as the base currency (e.g. USDJPY, USDCAD, USDCHF). The exceptions are the British pound (GBP), Australian dollar (AUD), the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the euro (EUR) where the USD is the counter currency (e.g. GBPUSD, AUDUSD, NZDUSD, EURUSD).
There are actually three ways that institutions, corporations and individuals trade forex: the spot market, the forwards market, and the futures market. Forex trading in the spot market has always been the largest market because it is the "underlying" real asset that the forwards and futures markets are based on. In the past, the futures market was the most popular venue for traders because it was available to individual investors for a longer period of time. However, with the advent of electronic trading and numerous forex brokers, the spot market has witnessed a huge surge in activity and now surpasses the futures market as the preferred trading market for individual investors and speculators. When people refer to the forex market, they usually are referring to the spot market. The forwards and futures markets tend to be more popular with companies that need to hedge their foreign exchange risks out to a specific date in the future.