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A crash course in major, minor and exotic currency pairs

Are you just getting started with forex? Then you’ll definitely want to know what currency pairs are.

In the forex market, you deal with two currencies at a time. For example, when you’re selling South African rand, you need to know what you’re selling it for.

Let’s say you’re selling rand and getting euros in return. In that case, you’re trading the ZAR/EUR currency pair.

In forex, you’ll be talking about currency pairs a lot. Whether you’re trading JPY/EUR (Japanese yen and euro) or USD/MXN (US dollar and Mexican peso), currency pairs will dominate the discussion at every turn.

There are three types of currency pairs: major, minor and exotic.

Major currency pairs

Major currency pairs consist of the most frequently traded currencies globally. Because they have massive liquidity, you’re able to trade them virtually always. Furthermore, you’ll find the lowest spreads — or brokerage costs — when trading these pairs.

Major currency pairs include:

Currency pairs
EUR/USDEuro/US dollar
USD/JPYUS dollar/Japanese yen
GBP/USDBritish pound/US dollar
USD/CHFUS dollar/Swiss franc
USD/CADUS dollar/Canadian dollar
AUD/USDAustralian dollar/US dollar
NZD/USDNew Zealand dollar/US dollar

Notice that every major currency pair has the US dollar on one side. With good reason: The dollar is the world’s leading reserve currency, and it’s involved in about 88% of currency trades.

Minor currency pairs

When a currency pair doesn’t include the US dollar, it’s called a minor currency pair or a cross-currency pair.

Here are a few minor currency pairs:

  • EUR/GBP — Euro/British pound
  • EUR/AUD — Euro/Australian dollar
  • GBP/JPY — British pound/Japanese yen
  • CHF/JPY — Swiss franc/Japanese yen
  • NZD/JPY — New Zealand dollar/Japanese yen
  • GBP/CAD — British pound/Canadian dollar

The most widely traded minor pairs consist of the euro, yen or British pound.

Exotic currency pairs

An exotic currency pair includes a major currency and the currency of a developing economy (such as South Africa or Brazil). You won’t find exotic pairs as often as you’ll find major or minor pairs, which means the spreads can be higher when trading them.

Exotic currency pairs include:

Currency pairs
EUR/TRYEuro/Turkish lira
USD/HKDUS dollar/Hong Kong dollar
JPY/NOK Japanese yen/Norwegian krone
NZD/SGDNew Zealand dollar/Singapore dollar
GBP/ZARBritish pound/South African rand
AUD/MXNAustralian dollar/Mexican peso

Which pairs should I trade?

Picking the right currency pairs to trade depends on your experience as a forex trader. If you’re new to the game, it’s best to stick with the major and minor pairs — it’s easier to find trades and you’ll get lower spreads. Exotic pairs are more difficult to work with because they’re far less liquid and you’ll find higher spreads. Check out our guide on forex trading to learn more.

That said, it’s possible to make money with exotic pairs as long as you know what you’re doing. These pairs can be riskier, but they can pay off more significantly.

Compare currency pair providers

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 60 1 day ZAR 0.00 0.067 USD
675
Skrill offers easy transfers to many popular destinations, but keep an eye out for added fees. Go to site Show details
AUD 2,000 2 days ZAR 0.00 0.067 USD
675
CurrenciesDirect makes transferring money abroad simple with bank-beating exchange rates. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour ZAR 500.00 0.067 USD
640
Use promo code FREE to send your first transfer with no fee. T&Cs apply.
WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups.
Go to site Show details
EUR 8 3 - 5 days EUR 3.00 0.067 USD
672
Special offer: Zero fees on your first 10 transfers.
CurrencyFair has bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
Go to site Show details
USD 2,000 1 day ZAR 0.00 0.067 USD
675
TorFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. Conditions apply.
TorFX sends money overseas in 30+ currencies, with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

Bottom line

The more widely traded a currency is, the easier it will be to trade and the lower spreads you’ll find.

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