Exchange Rates 101: Get Answers to 12 Common Questions

Last updated on September 13th, 2023 at 02:09 pm

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Currency exchange rates can be complex, and you may wonder why they change so frequently. If you have questions about exchange rates, you’ve come to the right place.


Read on to learn about why exchange rates fluctuate, what they mean—and just about everything else there is to know about how exchange rates work.

Exchange Rate FAQs

1. What are exchange rates?

An exchange rate is the value of a certain currency as compared to a foreign currency. Each country’s money has a unique value compared to another country’s money. In other words, the exchange rate determines how much of one currency you get for that amount in another currency.

As of November 2021, for example, five U.S. dollars will get you 650 Icelandic króna, about 32 Chinese yuan, 15.5 Israeli new shekels, and just 4.3 euros. There’s a big difference, as you can see.

International exchange rates fluctuate daily and can be widely different from one nation to another. The value of a currency is very much dependent on the country’s economic situation, as well as other factors, such as monetary policy, global trade, and political stability.

2. How are exchange rates determined?

Foreign exchange rates vary based on supply and demand and other economic factors. No single bank, government, or financial service determines an exchange rate. Instead, they fluctuate based on global market conditions.

As supply and demand go up, the value of the currency increases. As supply and demand decrease, so does the value of that country’s currency. Exchange rates have a direct link to the country’s economic prosperity.

Many other factors can affect exchange rates, including public debt, interest rates, inflation, and even the country’s deficit.

In other words, the economic health of a nation has a direct impact on the value of that nation’s currency in the global market.

3. Why do exchange rates change daily?

Money exchange rates constantly fluctuate because global markets change daily. Interest rates, supply and demand, and other economic factors change day by day—and by the minute!

Exchange rates fluctuate at the same speed. Money exchange rates are an up-to-date reflection of the economic health of that nation, and the value of their currency changes as the country’s economy changes.

4. Is a higher or lower exchange rate better?

The terms “higher” or “lower” exchange rate depend on the specific currencies and the context or goals of the parties involved. A higher exchange rate indicates a stronger currency, benefiting importers and travelers from the stronger currency’s country while boosting exporters in the weaker currency’s region.

Conversely, a lower exchange rate signifies a weaker currency, benefiting exporters and travelers from the weaker currency’s country and importers in the stronger currency’s region.

Ultimately, whether a higher or lower exchange rate is better relies on the situation and objectives of the stakeholders, as their preferences may vary based on their needs.

5. Why is the exchange rate important?

Currency exchange rates are important because they also determine the value of goods in the U.S. and overseas. For example, the value at which you sell U.S. products overseas depends on the exchange rate. It also affects how the cost of imported goods in comparison to local goods.

The exchange rate directly impacts the value of imports, which can also affect both supply and demand in the global market. That means it will affect the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar.

6. How does inflation affect exchange rates?

Inflation has a direct impact on interest rates, which play a big role in determining foreign exchange rates. Inflation can cause interest rates to skyrocket or drop very low.

This, in turn, can affect the exchange rate of different currencies in the global market.

The value of money is no longer backed by gold, but by governments (fiat money), so inflation can fluctuate and rise more easily than it did in the 1970s and before.

7. What makes the dollar (USD) strong or weak?

The United States dollar, or USD, is perhaps the most powerful currency in the world. A strong United States dollar allows you to buy more of another currency. A weak dollar means you can buy less of another currency for your dollar.

Note: other strong currencies include the euro (EUR), British pound (GBP), Japanese yen (JPY), Swiss franc (CHF), and the Saudi riyal (SAR).

The strength of the dollar depends on the country’s economic health. Low debts and increasing supply and demand can be helpful in strengthening the dollar.

On the other hand, high unemployment, rising debt, and decreasing supply and demand can weaken the dollar.

Did you know? The U.S. isn’t the only country using dollars. Other well-known dollars include: the Canadian dollar (CAD), Australian dollar (AUD), New Zealand dollar, Singapore dollar, and Hong Kong dollar.

8. What can also increase an exchange rate?

When there is a high demand for a country’s currency, the value of the currency will increase. The exchange rate can also increase as a country’s economic health improves. 

Increases in interest rates and trade can also create a favorable exchange rate. For example, many countries purchase goods in U.S. dollars. If more nations choose to use U.S. funds, then more nations will buy up U.S. dollars, which can increase the U.S. dollar’s value even further.

9. What can also decrease an exchange rate?

An exchange rate can decrease as the value of the dollar decreases. Economic distress, lower demand for the country’s currency in the global market, less supply and demand for exports, and decreasing interest rates can all weaken the value of the dollar. 

As the dollar weakens, the exchange rate can decrease. These types of fluctuations can vary day by day.

10. What is a floating exchange rate?

A floating exchange rate is when the exchange rate varies based on supply and demand in the Forex market (foreign exchange market) in relation to other countries. This means there will be wide variability in money exchange rates, and the value of the exchange rates can change dramatically based on economic factors.

Floating exchange rates are common in countries using fiat currencies.

11. What is a fixed exchange rate?

A fixed exchange rate system is when a central bank bases the value of its currency on a set factor or commodity. Formerly, this would have been gold. Nowadays, a fixed exchange rate generally means that the value of that currency is determined in comparison to a select few others. The Senegal West African CFA franc is one example.

Very few countries still follow this model. Most follow the fiat model, wherein the government backs the currency.

12. How to find an exchange rate

To find exchange rates for different currencies, you can check online or with your favorite bank. Many financial services publish current exchange rates on their websites.

When you’re ready, you can purchase or sell different currencies at banks or exchange counters. You can also send money overseas using a money transfer service or app. Often, the exchange rate will be marked up to account for the cost of the transfer, though not always.

When sending money to another country, follow the exchange rates for your currency pair, and get familiar with them. This way, you’ll know when the exchange rates are in your favor.

Another way to follow the exchange rate? Keep up with global news. Economic developments and political changes can give you some insight into how the money exchange rate will vary in the coming weeks or days.

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