A Bitcoin exchange is a digital marketplace for users to buy and sell Bitcoins using different currencies. The Bitcoin can be exchanged for either fiat money (legal tender) or other alternative cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum. The exchange serves as the middleman for traders of the cryptocurrency.
Being able to purchase Bitcoin is the initial step to trading in it. Just like trading a stock, Bitcoin exchanges charge transaction fees, which range from 0 to 1%. In order to trade Bitcoin on an exchange, the user needs to have an account, and go through a series of steps to be verified. Remember that Bitcoin and alternative cryptocurrencies are a completely digital currency, and there are no physical Bitcoins.
However, before plunging in with both feet, users should be aware of what to look for in choosing a Bitcoin exchange for their cryptocurrency transactions. This is analogous to the issues and potential pitfalls in making a choice of where to do your banking, or open an online brokerage account. Furthermore, bear in mind that unlike banks and stock trading, Bitcoin trading is largely unregulated by most countries, although this is changing as its popularity increases.
A good place to start is to look at the virtual coins which are supported by an exchange. With over 4,000 cryptocurrencies, and additional ones being added all the time, it is key to figure out which currencies you want to trade in, and then match the exchange that deals in those. For example, Ethereum mining has recently become more popular, but not all Bitcoin exchanges support this alternative cryptocurrency.
Next look at the country that is hosting the Bitcoin exchange. Some are in less regulated countries, and there may be additional problems if something goes awry. This can include time differences, international long distance costs, and language barriers. In general, it’s preferable to find an exchange that speaks your language.
Additionally, pay close attention to the fees levied. While all these exchanges charge transaction fees – after all, they are businesses looking to make a profit – as the user, it is obviously best to find one with the lowest costs in order to maximize your own profits.
Also look for a secure trading platform, and a Bitcoin exchange which has robust security measures. After all, you wouldn’t use a bank that didn’t have a vault, and stored its money on the counter…
Desirable security features include two-factor authentication, SMS or email alerts, encrypted emails, and wallet monitoring. A smartphone app can also be very useful in terms of accessing and monitoring funds – but equally, poorly implemented software can represent a security risk.
Finally, look for an exchange which is doing a good volume of trading – in other words, one with a high number of trading pairs, and high liquidity.
Now that we know the features to look for in the best Bitcoin exchanges, let’s move on to pick out our particular favorites.
The biggest exchange out there
This is a US-based exchange which was founded in 2012, and it supports over 32 countries. Coinbase exchanges Bitcoin and the alternative cryptocurrencies of Ethereum and Litecoin, and it’s the largest of the exchanges, claiming $20 billion (£15 billion) in currency exchanged. In 2014 Coinbase created GDAX, the Global Digital Asset Exchange which was developed for professionals with high volumes of trading.
The firm offers a mobile wallet, offline storage, and insurance protection for currency stored on its servers. Coinbase supports several fiat currencies: British Pounds, US Dollars, Euros, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars and Singapore Dollars.
The Coinbase exchange has a 1% flat fee for each purchase, while cryptocurrency deposits and withdrawals are done without any fees. A streamlined user interface which is ideal for novice traders – and fast trades – makes Coinbase a popular exchange with traders.
Regulated exchange from the Winklevoss twins
Gemini Exchange is another US-based outfit founded by the Winklevoss twins – the pair who sued Mark Zuckerberg over social networking, and were awarded $65 million (£48 million), which they put to use as venture capitalists. This exchange is based in New York, and is available in 45 US states, as well as the UK, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.
Gemini’s only supported fiat currency is US dollars, and it only trades Bitcoin and Ethereum. Gemini does not charge deposit or withdrawal fees, and levies a low flat rate of 0.25% for trades, to both the buyer and the seller.
Another advantage of Gemini is that it’s a New York state limited liability trust company, and is regulated by New York’s Department of Financial Services. Close proximity to the Wall Street financial markets allows the company to easily provide a bridge from more traditional investments to newer cryptocurrency markets, for both individual and institutional investors.
Gemini is also notable in that it accepts ACH transfers for fast access to money for trades. A potential downside is that the interface is not particularly novice-friendly.
From the team that created MinerGate
Changelly is a cryptocurrency exchange with support for many more virtual currencies than most, including Monero, Dash, Bytecoin, and DigitalNote among others. If you are mining a less popular currency, chances are that Changelly can exchange it for you.
This exchange comes from the popular mining platform MinerGate which provides a merged mining pool across Windows, Mac, Linux and Android operating systems. While Changelly focuses on exchanges between different cryptocurrencies, users can also purchase cryptocurrency with US Dollars or Euros.
Note that this exchange has a shorter track record, as it only entered the market in 2016. Exchange fees are 0.5% on transactions.
An exchange that supports literally hundreds of cryptocurrencies
Cryptopia was founded in 2014, aiming to be a comprehensive exchange that focuses on the user experience, with integration of additional services including a marketplace and wallet. It is based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Cryptopia is notable in that the first level of verification happens very quickly, and only requires an email address for initial verification.
While Cryptopia does not support fiat money trading, it does support a ridiculously large number of cryptocurrencies: over 400 to date, with more being added all the time. The trading fee is also a low 0.20% per transaction, which compares favorably with many competitors. The website is quite large and sprawling, meaning that new users might find their first experiences with the site a little daunting.