Invest Internationally – How to do it.

There are a number of ways individual investors may gain exposure to international investments. As with domestic investments, investors should first learn as much as they can about an investment.  The purpose of this post is to provide the reader with general discussion of this topic.  This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not designed to be complete in all material respects.  Thus, it should not be relief upon as providing legal or investment advice.

If you are contemplating investing internationally, consider the following:

Mutual funds. There are different kinds of mutual funds that invest in foreign securities, including: global and international funds (that invest in companies and businesses outside of the United States); regional or country funds (that invest in a particular region or country); or international index funds (that seek to track the results of a particular foreign market or international index). Investing through mutual funds may reduce some of the potential risks of investing internationally because mutual funds provide more diversification than most investors could achieve on their own. If you want to learn more about investing in these types of mutual funds, as well as in mutual funds generally, information is available in Mutual Funds – A Guide for Investors.

Exchange-traded funds. An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a type of investment that typically has an objective to achieve the same return as a particular market index. ETFs are listed on stock exchanges and, like stocks (and in contrast to mutual funds), trade throughout the trading day with fluctuating market prices. A share in an ETF that tracks an international or foreign index seeks to give an investor exposure to the performance of the underlying international or foreign stock or bond portfolio along with the ability to trade the ETF shares like any other exchange-traded security.

American depositary receipts. The stocks of most foreign companies that trade in U.S. markets are traded as American depositary receipts (ADRs) issued by U.S. depositary banks (rather than the actual foreign company stock). Each ADR represents one or more shares of a foreign stock or a fraction of a share. If you own an ADR you have the right to obtain the foreign stock it represents, but U.S. investors usually find it more convenient and cost-effective to own the ADR. The price of an ADR generally corresponds to the price of the foreign stock in its home market, adjusted for the ratio of ADRs to foreign company shares. Sometimes the terms “ADR” and “ADS” (for American depositary share) are used interchangeably.

U.S.-traded foreign stocks. Although most foreign stocks trade in the U.S. markets as ADRs, some foreign companies list their stock directly here as well as in their local market. For example, some Canadian stocks that are listed and trade on Canadian markets are also listed and trade directly in U.S. markets, rather than as ADRs. Some foreign companies list their securities in multiple markets, which may include U.S. markets. You can purchase ADRs and U.S.-listed foreign stocks that trade in the United States through your U.S. broker.

Trading on foreign markets. Your U.S. broker may be able to process an order for a company that only trades on a foreign securities market. These foreign companies are not likely to file reports with the SEC. The information available about these companies may be different than the information available about companies that file reports with the SEC. Moreover, the information may not be available in English.