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How to buy international stocks

Buying and selling globally comes with increased risks and complications.

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Businessman analyzing stock market from laptop

International stock trading accounts allow you to access overseas stock exchanges to trade stocks in some of the world’s biggest companies. These online accounts are offered by the major banks and numerous online stock trading platforms. Learn about trading international stocks and how to compare international stock trading accounts.

What is international stock trading?

International stock trading is the process of buying and selling stocks in companies listed on global stock exchanges. This allows Americans to trade stocks in global companies instead of being limited to companies listed on US-based exchanges.

How to buy international stocks from the US

You can trade international stocks from the US with an online stock trading account. These brokers provide an online platform you can use to conduct trades 24/7, and most also have smartphone apps.

Which global stock exchanges can I access?

The global markets available will vary between providers, so it’s best to check if a provider can access the particular stock exchange you’re looking for before you open an account. However, most international stock trading platforms will provide traders access to the following major global exchanges, plus more:

  • Australia: The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX)
  • United States: The New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq
  • United Kingdom: London Stock Exchange
  • Europe: Euronext
  • Asia: Japan Exchange Group, Shanghai Stock Exchange, Hong Kong Stock Exchange

International stock trading brokerage fees

Trading international stocks can incur different fees and commissions to what you would pay when trading American stocks. Here’s an idea of the fees you can expect to pay when trading stocks on the Tokyo Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange.

Provider Tokyo Stock Exchange Brokerage Fee London Stock Exchange Brokerage Fee
Fidelity International Stock Trading JPY¥3,000 GBP£9
Schwab Global Account JPY¥2,000 GBP£9
Interactive Brokers JPY¥80 or 0.050% of trade value, whichever is greater GBP£1 or 0.050%, whichever is greater

What are the benefits of international stock trading?

Some of the major benefits of international stock trading include:

  • Access more stocks. The US stock market represents about half of the world’s stock trading. International stock trading allows you to access the other half of the market that you wouldn’t have access to if you were only trading on the US markets.
  • Diversification. Investing in global stocks as well as local US stocks will ensure your portfolio is more diversified. An internationally diversified portfolio will help protect you from any major dips in the US markets.
  • 24/7 trading. You can trade 24 hours a day rather than being restricted to trade within set hours.

What are the risks of international stock trading?

International stock exchanges give you access to many more investment options than those listed on the US markets. However, it can carry a few more risks than the domestic market. This includes foreign exchange rate risk, liquidity risk and risk from changes in foreign governments.

  • Exchange rate volatility. You will need to convert USD into a foreign currency to buy stocks listed on an international stock exchange. When you convert the money back to US dollars, there’s a risk the exchange rate will be worse than when you purchased the foreign currency.
  • Liquidity. Capital gains (or losses) are only realized once a sell order is settled. Overseas stock exchanges can have fewer participants and a lower trading volume. So if you’re trading on a small international stock exchange, there’s a chance you may not be able to find a buyer for your stocks and will have to sell at a significant discount.
  • Foreign policy. Just as the US Government’s policies can impact your bottom line, overseas governments can introduce policies and restrictions that can reduce your return on international investment. Many companies also have operations running in politically unstable regions. Political turmoil such as a military coup or civil war can derail foreign investment.
  • Tax legislation. The capital gains and other tax implications of trading international stocks are more complex than if you were only trading US shares, and you may need to pay for professional tax advice.
  • Different time zones. You’ll need to manage opposite time zones when buying or selling shares in major international markets such as America and Europe.

What fees and charges are involved with international stock trading?

  • Admin fee. Some providers charge a registration or ongoing membership/admin fee to use their brokerage services.
  • Brokerage fee. The brokerage fee is a flat fee or a percentage of trade, whichever is greater. You may be able to find a deal on brokerage fees as a new customer.
  • Foreign exchange commission. The international stock trading account provider will take a margin when funds are exchanged from USD to a foreign currency.
  • Market fees. A charge or fee for trading in a particular market. For example, sell trades in the UK attract a stamp duty charge. Local exchange fees can also apply.

Compare domestic stock trading accounts

If you’re not ready to deal with the additional risks, complications and taxes taht come with trading on international exchanges, compare accounts that let you trade on US exchanges.

Name Product Stock trade fee Asset types Option trade fee Annual fee
Vanguard
$0
Stocks, Mutual funds, ETFs, Forex
$1
$20 per year
Get a personal advisor when you open an account with at least $50,000.
Sofi Invest
$0
Stocks, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
N/A
0%
A free way to invest in stocks, ETFs and crypto.
Robinhood
$0
Stocks, Options, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
$0
0%
Make unlimited commission-free trades in stocks, funds, and options with Robinhood Financial.
Interactive Brokers
$0
Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual funds, Index funds, ETFs, Futures, Cash
$0 + $0.65/contract, $1 minimum
0%
IBKR Lite offers $0 commissions, and IBKR Pro offers advanced tools for professional traders.
TD Ameritrade
$0
or $25 broker-assisted
Stocks
$0 + $0.65/contract,
or $25 broker-assisted
TD Ameritrade features $0 commission for online stock, but watch out for high short-term ETF and broker-assisted trading fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Investing in global ETFs and exchange traded options

Exchange trade funds (ETFs) and exchange traded options (ETOs) provide alternative ways for Americans to access international stocks.

An ETF is a fund traded on an exchange the same way as a stock. ETFs are made up of many different types of assets. For example, stock ETFs can be made up of hundreds of stocks from a certain industry such as energy or mining. ETFs mirror the movements and returns of a particular market and there are many global market ETFs to choose from.

Options contracts (ETOs), on the other hand, give you the “option” to buy a security in the future for an agreed price. For example, equities options let you trade now on the future performance of a company.

What to look for in an international stock trading platform

When comparing international stock trading accounts, consider registration fees, brokerage fees, customer support and these other features:

  • Available markets. Where can you trade? Almost every provider can give you access to the popular exchanges like the London Stock Exchange, but not all platforms let you trade in some areas of Asia and Europe.
  • If you can trade options. Can you trade ETOs and ETFs as well as stocks, and in which markets? Only some international stock trading accounts let you trade options.
  • Execution speed. Check how long it takes for funds to clear and to execute the trade.
  • The buffer. The account provider will take a couple of percentage points extra as a buffer against international currency fluctuations in the time it takes for the trade to clear.
  • Exchange rate margin. The account provider will often charge a bit extra on top of the real currency exchange rate in order to make a profit when converting USD to a foreign currency and vice versa.
  • Trading platform. Is smartphone compatibility in the form of a mobile app an important feature or are you happy with a browser-based platform? Either way, the trading platform should be easy to use. You should also be able to access account services such as tax, profit and loss and dividend reporting tools quickly and easily.
  • Education and research tools. Check which market tools and resources you can access to educate yourself about different companies and foreign markets. Fundamental analysis and charting tools are key to making better trades.

What do I need to open an account?

You can typically apply for an international stock trading account online in less than 15 minutes.

Eligibility

Application requirements can vary between different international share trading account providers. Generally, eligibility requirements for personal applicants will include:

  • 18 or older
  • US residential address
  • Valid contact number

Documentation and ID needed

If you’re a new customer to the stock trading platform, you’ll need to verify your identity before you can begin to make trades. Have the following information on hand when you start your application for a stock trading account.

  • Photographic identification such as your passport or driver’s license
  • Your Social Security number (optional)
Disclaimer: The value of any investment can go up or down depending on news, trends and market conditions. We are not investment advisers, so do your own due diligence to understand the risks before you invest.

Bottom line

International share trading accounts can give you access to some of the biggest names in the world. However, there are risks and issues to consider. Make sure you know the basics of the US stock market before trying to branch out internationally.

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