Broker profile

Charles Schwab One Account

This US online brokerage giant now has two international brokerage services: The Schwab Global Account, open to US citizens and residents only, and the international trading part of its long-standing Schwab One Account. The firm has never really advertised the latter much, but it can deal in a very wide range of overseas markets, albeit by telephone during US hours only.

Schwab One Accounts are available to clients outside the US, although the minimum account size will be larger – US$25,000 for most markets, US$10,000 through the Hong Kong and UK arms. Overseas dealing is likely to have a minimum of around US$5,000 per trade for some markets.

The main snag with the service is cost. International dealing rates are 0.75% with a minimum of US$100. While this is lower than rates at the wirehouses, you can do better than that for many of the markets it offers – within the US, try Interactive Brokers, Fidelity or Schwab’s own US resident-only Schwab Global Account. On top of this, its correspondent stock brokers in the overseas markets will add their own charges, include FX conversion (since you can only hold US dollars within the account). That will vary by market, but it’s likely to add 0.15-1.5% depending on region (Europe will be cheaper, emerging Asia more expensive).

That said, while nobody I know well has used Charles Schwab for buying international shares, second-hand feedback says the customer service is very good. Certainly, I was impressed with the knowledge of its representatives when I enquired about opening an account. At this price, I’d still say look for a cheaper broker for the easy markets. But perhaps consider this firm for the more exotic ones if you trade in reasonable size and the US$100 minimum is bearable.

Broker profile

Saxo Bank (Saxo Markets)

Founded in Denmark in the early 1990s, Saxo Bank now offers services to investors around the world and is one of two truly global operators (the other being Interactive Brokers). The name can cause some confusion – this is a brokerage and investment bank rather than a traditional retail bank. For this reason, it is now known as Saxo Markets in some countries.

The firm offers more countries for online trading than any other firm in the broker database. Trading commissions are mostly reasonable, but fees vary greatly depending on which country your account is opened in, so check your local version of the Saxo website to clarify these. The exact markets available may also be different, due to regulatory restrictions.

The commission on currency conversions also varies, but has unfortunately now risen to 1% in some countries (it was previously 0.5%). Investors trading in and out of stocks in the same foreign currency frequently will therefore want to keep the proceeds in cash rather than transferring back to their base currency.

You can operate multiple foreign currency sub-accounts to let you do this, but these need to be set up individually for each currency you require. In some countries, there may be a minimum account size to open sub-accounts.

Broker profile

Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers is a US-based firm with registered offices in a number of other countries, including the UK and Hong Kong, and is one of two genuinely global retail brokerages along with Saxo Markets. The firm offers extremely low-cost Direct Market Access to a large number of international exchanges in Asia, Europe and North America.

The underlying service is an institutional-level trading platform – it’s used by many professional traders and small hedge funds – and Interactive Brokers mostly markets its services to very active traders. However, non-traders shouldn’t be put off by that. This is a cheap and efficient solution for many long-term investors as well, with commendably transparent pricing.

There is a minimum monthly fee of US$10 for accounts under US$100,000, offset against commissions, but the low overall charges – including almost free currency conversion – mean that despite this the firm can still be a surprisingly cheap option even for relatively infrequent traders.

It is still difficult to recommend Interactive Brokers for inexperienced investors, as the technical support team will not walk you through everything with the same patience as a more retail-focused stock broker. That said, the web portal has become more user-friendly over the last few years.