This is guide to US options trading from the UK, because I've seen countless requests of people browsing in /ukinvesting
etc. about this.
First thing's first - no part of this post is to be taken as financial advice. It is a guide on how to start options trading from the UK. Options/CFD trading is a high-risk activity and most retail traders lose money.
1. CFDs vs. Options
So getting started, options and contracts for difference (CFDs) are both financial derivatives - they derive their values from an underlying security e.g. stock, indices, currency, commodities. Long story short, CFDs do not have an expiration and options do; and at the option expiration date, options give the opportunity to buy/sell the underlying (e.g. stock) at the agreed strike price. CFDs are highly directional (delta) trades where positions require ongoing financing fees by a broker, whereas options strategies allow the trader to trade time decay (theta) as well as market volatility (vega). Options provide greater flexibility in trading strategies (time/volatility trading as well as direction); however, due to this, the more complex strategies can be difficult to understand.
Spread betting allows a literal directional bet of an underlying by a certain date. It is most similar naked options - i.e. if your position moves against you enough, your broker may forcibly close your position unfavourably and/or margin call you for extra cash ("you can lose more than your initial deposit"). With options/CFDs, you can define risk by specifying a profitability range (spreads) instead to avoid this scenario. Due to spread betting being so close to gambling, it is treated as such in the UK in terms of taxation - gains are tax free. I will also add here that CFDs/options can also be used in this manner (gambling, with subsequent margin calls etc.), and that CFD brokers tend to understate the risks of these strategies, whilst almost all options brokers require elevated permissions to seek out this level of risk - this is because blowing through margin presents a risk to the broker and they would rather have commissions without the risks of the brokerage going bust. The lowest level of permissions still allows you to buy extremely highly leveraged OTM options without margin, as your max loss is limited to the amount you paid for those options.
Given that options effectively open up two additional aspects of trading (time/volatility) and require additional regulatory oversight compared to CFDs/spreadbetting, there is basically no options market in the UK - the only brokers at this time are IG/Saxo, and they only do vanilla options on Forex/Indices/Commodities. Everyone else only does CFDs and/or stock (T212, Freetrade, IG, Plus500 etc.). To engage in true stock options trading, the only choice is to open an international/US brokerage account.
The two that are accessible to UK investors are Interactive Brokers
(IB) and TastyWorks
. Both are reputable brokers and have strong insurances for cash & securities held with them.
- IB is quite expensive (£20+ pcm minimum), but is the full bells and whistles international trading platform - you may access European options as well as worldwide markets on stocks/currency/anything you want really. Recommended for high value traders/investors.
- TastyWorks is the opposite - free accounts, low fees (zero inactivity, free stock trades, low option trading fees), though they charge $45 for cash withdrawals. TastyWorks primarily offer trading on US options (inc. futures) and stocks, so anything listed on the American stock exchanges are game, including international companies listed via ADRs (e.g. global UK companies, especially on FTSE100).
3. Opening an account
I will walk through some of the aspects of funding and operating a TastyWorks
account from the UK, as this is my recommendation if you're here looking for a cheap way to get started.
Opening a free account on TastyWorks is easy as they are used to foreign traders (form filling within 20-60 mins - you will need a photo of proof of ID and address). It typically takes 1 day for cash accounts and 2-3 days for margin accounts to be ready for funding. My referral link if you feel this guide deserves the effort is: https://start.tastyworks.com/#/login?referralCode=GD9EGGNZYZ
. (mods, happy to remove this is this guide is deemed low effort)
The account types are:
- Cash. Recommended to start because you can always open a margin account easily later. Able to buy long calls/puts and sell covered options. No short stock allowed.
- Basic (margin). Able to sell naked puts, and trade defined-risk strategies i.e. anything with a known maximum loss before entering the trade. E.g. credit/debit spreads. Note that naked puts carry significant risk - this is equivalent to CFD trading on margin, and you can have your position forcibly closed at unfavourable market rates if you overleverage. You minimum $2k to access this account.
- The Works (margin): everything above, and able to sell naked calls - also easily upgraded to trade futures. Note that naked calls carry HUGE risk - this is equivalent to CFD trading on margin, and you can have your position forcibly closed at unfavourable market rates if you overleverage. The difference in naked calls and naked puts: stock can only go to zero, limiting the (huge) loss on a naked put, whereas a naked call has theoretically unlimited loss since stocks can (theoretically) go to infinity. I won't go into futures - be warned that they carry additional risks to stock options. You need a minimum of $2k, self-declare extensive knowledge on financial products and self-declare min. income of $100k + $50k net liquidity to access this account.
4. Funding the Account
Since trading US options is done in USD, the account must be funded in USD. As international traders, deposits must be "By Wire", assuming you do not have a US bank account - full instructions for the "By Wire" method will show up when you are approved to fund your account. With TastyWorks, UK traders have 3 options at time of writing, going from highest to lowest fee:
1) Starling Bank: ~1% commission (+flat fee TBC?)
2) CurrencyFair: typical ~0.75% commission +$20 flat fee
3) TransferWise/Revolut + UK USD Account: ~0.5% commission +$20 flat fee
TastyWorks does not accept third party transfers (accounts not in your name), so services such as Revolut and TransferWise (inc. borderless) do not work directly 4.1 Starling Bank
With Starling Bank, you can do an international wire from a GBP account directly. Easy online bank setup and probably fastest way to get started, especially if you already bank with them. Note: Starling Bank is rejecting transfers to TastyWorks 'as it sits out of our international payment provider's risk appetite' (as of 11th May) - waiting for updates
Note that other routes include a $20 flat fee charged by intermediate banks before the transfer reaches TastyWorks. Haven't got confirmation that this route is charged or if Starling includes it within their higher fee. 4.2 CurrencyFair
TastyWorks have approved transfers via CurrencyFair with a guide at: https://support.tastyworks.com/support/solutions/articles/43000435321-can-i-use-currencyfair-to-fund-my-account-
Easy to get started, but a couple hoops to jump through to confirm your transaction to TastyWorks via email.
Note that the $20 flat fee is for an intermediary bank to take their cut between CF and TastyWorks, but that is not mentioned on the CurrencyFair website. 4.3 USD account + TransferWise/Revolut
The cheapest option is to set up a USD currency account and transfer through that.
The account of choice is the Barclays USD Foreign Currency account - you need a current account with them to be able to open the USD account. HSBC also have an offering, but not had this route confirmed.
Once the USD account is open, you can transfer into it using Revolut/TransferWise (cheap) and then international (wire) transfer from Barclays account to TastyWorks (free!
). Note that the Barclays USD account is still a UK bank account, so you'll need to use a SWIFT transfer from Revolut/TransferWise to turn your GBP into USD.
Note that the $20 flat fee is for an intermediary bank to take their cut between Barclays and TastyWorks, but that is not mentioned on the Barclays website. 4.4 Withdrawals
To withdraw funds, do the opposite for a deposit, noting that $45 will be charged by TastyWorks per withdrawal.
5. Getting Started
I highly, highly recommend TastyWork's education centre and their TastyTrade videos, especially if you are new to this.
Otherwise, once funded, it's as simple as downloading the app on mobile, using the browser trading screen, or downloading their full desktop platform.
That's it for the guide - happy trading, and if there are any questions, feel free to get in touch and I'll edit the answers in here. I want this to be a resource because I've helped many people get started, and it would be good to have it all in one place!
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