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The Beginner’s Guide to Bitcoin Arbitrage

By: Alexander Reed | Last updated: 1/5/24

The fact that each Bitcoin exchange shows its own price for Bitcoin has given birth to the arbitrage phenomena. In this post, I’ll explain exactly what arbitrage is and how it is conducted.

Bitcoin Arbitrage Summary

Bitcoin arbitrage is the process of buying bitcoins on one exchange and selling them at another, where the price is higher. Different exchanges will have different prices for Bitcoin, and some people manage to take advantage of this to generate profit out of thin air.

That’s Bitcoin arbitrage in a nutshell. If you want a more detailed explanation of Bitcoin arbitrage and how it’s conducted, keep on reading. Here’s what I’ll cover:

  1. How Bitcoin’s price is determined
  2. A simplified example of Bitcoin arbitrage
  3. Barriers to Bitcoin Arbitrage
  4. Bitcoin arbitrage calculator
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. Conclusion – Should you try to arbitrage?

1. How Bitcoin’s Price is Determined

Before we can talk about arbitraging (i.e., buying at a low price and selling at a high price), we need to understand what “Bitcoin’s price” really means.

On any exchange, the price of Bitcoin is determined by the last trade made on that exchange. Since different exchanges have different amounts of buyers and sellers with different preferences, it’s only natural that prices won’t correlate 100%.

You can view exchanges as closed markets that aren’t directly linked. On top of that, some exchanges have very low trading activity on them, which makes Bitcoin’s price on them much more volatile.
As a result, some people try to buy Bitcoins “for cheap” on one exchange and then sell them at a higher price on another exchange. Here is a great video by Andreas Antonopoulos about why arbitrage opportunities exist:

2. A Simplified Example of Arbitraging Bitcoin

Let’s take a simple arbitrage example in order to illustrate how arbitrage is done. At the time of writing, the price of Bitcoin on Bitstamp is $11,561 while the price of Bitcoin on is $11,645.

The difference between prices is $84, and this is quite a decent opportunity for arbitrage. Let’s say you buy 100 bitcoins on Bitstamp at the rate of $11,561 each, and subsequently, you sell them on at the rate of $11,645 each.

In a perfect world, you’d make $87 per Bitcoin.

Let’s get down to the math:

Number of Bitcoins bought in Bitstamp – 100

Price of each Bitcoin – $11,561

Total expenses – $11,561 * 100 – $1,156,100

Number of Bitcoins sold on – 100

Price of each Bitcoin – $11,645

Total revenue – $11,645 * 100 = $1,164,500

Total profit – $1,164,500 – $1,156,100 = $8,400

An interesting thing to notice from the example above is that we need a relatively large amount of capital in order to make a substantial profit via arbitrage. However, in real life things are even more complicated than the simplified example above.

3. Barriers to Bitcoin Arbitrage

When trying to arbitrage, you’ll probably encounter several setbacks:

  1. It may take some time to verify transactions (to and from exchanges), and during this time, the price of Bitcoin may change.
  2. Many exchanges require considerable verification steps in order to trade a large amount of Bitcoins.
  3. Exchanges fees, which I have overlooked in the given example, will eat away at your profits.
  4. Transaction volume needs to be high enough on both exchanges to satisfy such large orders of buying and selling.
  5. Keep in mind that price differences can also reflect technical issues or reputation issues of an exchange. An interesting example is what happened during the last days of Mt.Gox, where the price of Bitcoin was extremely low since traders didn’t trust the exchange to allow them to withdraw their funds (i.e., There weren’t many buyers on the exchange).

4. A Detailed Bitcoin Arbitrage Calculator

Now that you know what you will face in a real-life Bitcoin arbitrage trade, let’s take an example that includes all of the different variants and fees involved. Relevant fees include:

  • Fiat deposit fees
  • Fiat withdrawal fees
  • Bitcoin deposit fees
  • Bitcoin withdrawal fees
  • Transaction fees (i.e. trading fees)

I’ve taken the liberty to create some sort of Bitcoin arbitrage calculator using a Google spreadsheet to show you how hard it can be to actually generate a profit.

Take a look below:

If you want to clone this calculator for yourself, feel free to make a copy using this link. As you can see, my “real world” profit comes to about a $10K loss, while I’ll need over $1.1M in capital. All of this suggests that making a profit through Bitcoin arbitrage is quite a difficult task.

In the case above, the main thing that’s eating away at my profits is the withdrawal fee from CEX. Once you get to deal with such large amounts, you can reduce your trading and withdrawal fees by using OTC (Over The Counter) services.

Keep in mind that the bigger the spread (the difference in price between buy and sell orders), the more profitable the arbitrage. However, it still doesn’t amount to much unless you put large amounts of money at risk.

Another thing to take into account is that it can take up to 7 days for fiat deposits to appear on an exchange due to how slow the traditional banking system is.

During that time, the spread can change drastically and eliminate any chance for arbitrage. So, the best tactic would be to keep some fiat currency on the exchange and choose the right time to execute the arbitrage.

Finally, any time you keep money on an exchange, you’re putting your money at risk, as exchanges getting hacked or going out of business is unfortunately still common these days.

As I’ve demonstrated, you’ll need to keep a large amount of money on the exchange in order to be mildly profitable, so I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.

5. Frequently Asked Questions

Is Arbitrage Illegal?

Arbitrage is completely legal as the only thing that is being done is exploiting price gaps between exchanges. A person conducting arbitrage is just buying and selling as any other trader would do.

6. Conclusion – Should you try to Arbitrage?

The act of arbitraging Bitcoin is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. Overall, Bitcoin arbitrage may be an opportunity to make some passive income, but at the same time, it involves huge risks.

Arbitrage is actually a positive process, unlike speculation, margin trading, and other activities that can be viewed as market manipulation – and in some cases, may even be truly harmful to the market as a whole.

Bitcoin should have the same price across all exchanges. Arbitrage simply helps bring the exchanges together onto the same page. As Bitcoin’s market grows, the gap between exchanges will narrow as more and more people will conduct arbitrage.

As for the ‘how’, nowadays, almost all exchanges have an API that can become a useful arbitrage tool.

Utilizing these APIs will allow you to create a custom arbitrage bot so that you don’t have to sit in front of the computer all day. Still, even attempting to arbitrage manually can be very beneficial as long as you watch closely and make sure you are placing simultaneous trades.

If you’ve had any experience with Bitcoin arbitrage, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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99 comments on “Arbitrage”

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  1. Bongbimi Bertrand Nchanji

    I actually need a cionbase API to be using bitcion arbitrage as well, I have been trying to do so and there is no way for me since my website designer have limited information on how to Incorporate the API into my website. Am waiting for a quick and best reply from cionbase.

  2. I’ve been trying crypto arbitrage lately. There aren’t crazy 20% spreads or anything but I’ve been seeing regular opportunities for $30, $50, $100 every here and there. Particularly on the BTC-EUR markets. You just need a tool to help scan spreads in real-time, like Coygo Terminal or Coinigy. There’s definitely still chances for money if you can be quick.

    1. One thing that you need to consider is that there is sufficient demand when trying to sell the coin @ a higher price. I bought a coin on one exchange transferring it to another with the intention of selling and making an instant profit, however, I did not consider the liquidity of the coin on the other exchange and thus had to twiddle my thumbs whilst waiting for the sell order to go through. That particular trade was extremely profitable nonetheless and the arbitrage still exists – the question is if you’re willing to wait for the demand to pick up (which could happen today, tomorrow or never).

    1. John West (staff)

      Hi Kevin,

      Not that I know of but I suggest you take a look at coinmarketcap’s entry for XRP. Under the markets tab, you’ll find a listing of all known XRP trading markets and their prices. By importing that data into a spreadsheet and scanning for min / max values, you’ll find the best possible arbitrage. Of course, there may be complications with trading on those markets, so you may have to keep working the data to find suitable arb destinations.

  3. Hi, have you ever heard of Plus Token? Or maybe take a quick look at it and share some review of the wallet. They said they make profit from arbitrage trading and share the profit with its users. I’m skeptical and curious.

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