American options can be exercised at any time between the date of purchase and the expiration date. European options are different from American options in that they can only be exercised at the end of their lives on their expiration date. The distinction between American and European options has nothing to do with geography, only with early exercise. Many options on stock indexes are of the European type. Because the right to exercise early has some value, an American option typically carries a higher premium than an otherwise identical European option. This is because the early exercise feature is desirable and commands a premium.
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So, call options are also much like insurance - you are paying for a contract that expires at a set time but allows you to purchase a security (like a stock) at a predetermined price (which won't go up even if the price of the stock on the market does). However, you will have to renew your option (typically on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis). For this reason, options are always experiencing what's called time decay - meaning their value decays over time.
Conversely, a put option is a contract that gives the investor the right to sell a certain amount of shares (again, typically 100 per contract) of a certain security or commodity at a specified price over a certain amount of time. Just like call options, a put option allows the trader the right (but not obligation) to sell a security by the contract's expiration date.
However, options are not the same thing as stocks because they do not represent ownership in a company. And, although futures use contracts just like options do, options are considered lower risk due to the fact that you can withdraw (or walk away from) an options contract at any point. The price of the option (its premium) is thus a percentage of the underlying asset or security.