How to Buy Bitcoin – A Beginner’s Guide
Last updated: 5/20/19
Looking to buy Bitcoins and don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place, I wrote this guide with a “noob mentality” in mind. By the end of it you’ll know everything you need to know about buying Bitcoin safely and quickly.
How Buy Bitcoin Summary
Here’s a quick guide for buying your first Bitcoin:
- Step 1 – Get a Bitcoin wallet
- Step 2 – Find your Bitcoin address
- Step 3 – Go to Coinmama and choose the amount of Bitcoin to buy
- Step 4 – Enter your Bitcoin address and payment information
The Bitcoins will be sent to your wallet within a matter of minutes. If Coinmama doesn’t work out for you here are the top 5 exchanges for buying Bitcoin worldwide:
If you want the detailed explanation of each step and additional buying options just keep on reading. Here’s what we’ll go over:
- When to buy Bitcoins?
- Where Can I Purchase Bitcoin?
- How to buy Bitcoin?
- Choosing a Bitcoin wallet
- How many bitcoins would you like to buy?
- Additional buying options
- Conclusion and resources
Don’t like to read? Watch the video version of this guide:
Even though Bitcoin has been around since 2009, it still seems to be too technical and complicated for the average Joe on the street. For the past five years, I’ve been getting two types of letters.
The first type are letters from people asking about the safest place to buy bitcoins. Since there are so many options available, it seems like people get into some sort of “analysis paralysis” and decide to abandon their decision to buy Bitcoin after doing some initial research.
The second type are letters from people who got scammed or had their bitcoins stolen or lost. Since Bitcoin is relatively new to the Internet, many (mean) people take advantage of the lack of knowledge of this amazing currency in order to fool others out of their money.
In order to try and help the growing Bitcoin community as much as possible, I decided to write the definitive beginner’s guide to buying bitcoins. I’m going to teach you how to fish, instead of giving you a fish…so to speak. I will teach you the basics, which will be applicable to any Bitcoin transaction you’ll ever make. This way you will be able to make the wisest decision possible the next time you come to purchase bitcoins.
First of all, I suggest you bookmark this guide. It’s not a short read, and you may want to refer to it later on.
Each chapter is a standalone mini-guide that can be read in separately, but I advise you to read the whole thing through so that everything will make sense.
One of the main questions people ask me is “Is this the right time to buy?”
The problem is that there’s no good answer for this question and it really depends on the reason that you’re buying Bitcoin for. If you’re looking to trade Bitcoins (meaning buy low and sell high) and are in it for the short term gain, you’ll probably need to get familiar with different Bitcoin trading techniques and try to time the market (personally I avoid these methods).
If, on the other hand, you’re into Bitcoin for the actual technology and believe that Bitcoin has a bright future there are two ways you can go about this:
“Dollar Cost Averaging” DCA – This means you buy Bitcoins at a fixed amount on a certain date recurrently regardless of the price. This way you are averaging out the fluctuations in exchange rate. Here’s a short explanation of the process:
Buy regardless of the price – Long term believers argue that it doesn’t matter if you buy now or when the price is $100 or even $1000 lower. In the long term the price will go up to make these differences seem unimportant.
If you’re just starting out, I suggest going with DCA since it will help you get into the process easier and then decide if you want to change your strategy.
Choosing a Bitcoin exchange is hard work. Each exchange has different rules, accepted payment methods, and fees, along with other factors to take into account. Here’s what you need to look out for if you want to do your own due diligence:
Countries supported: Not all exchanges accept customers from all around the world.
Accepted payment methods: Some exchanges accept a wide variety of payment methods, and some accept only wire transfers.
Fees: There are three kinds of fees: deposit fees, transaction fees, and withdrawal fees. Each one is different and can affect the total amount of money you’ll receive in the end.
The exchange rate: Some exchanges have low fees, but their exchange rates are higher relative to the competition. This means that the fees are “hiding” in the exchange rate.
Buying limits: Your buying limit will depend on your payment method and your identity verification level. If you’re looking to buy a large amount of bitcoins, some exchanges won’t allow it due to their buying limits.
Exchange reputation: Is it well known in the community? How well is the support in the event you get lost in the process? Have there been a large number of complaints against the exchange? Keep in mind that no exchange is free of negative reviews, but it’s important to consider the volume and content of those reviews.
To help you find the right exchange, we need to make a distinction between brokers, trading platforms, and P2P platforms.
Brokers are sites that allow you to buy coins via their platform at a set price, determined by the platform. While being more expensive than other types of exchanges, brokers are the most simple to use and are thus very popular. Examples for a broker are Coinmama and Coinbase
Simply put, trading platforms connect buyers with sellers indirectly. Sell orders are placed by sellers and picked up by buyers, with no direct communication between the two parties. A small fee is charged by the platform for providing the service.
Trading platforms, such as Bitstamp or Kraken to name two, are usually the cheapest way to buy bitcoins, however, they are not the most user friendly. For one, order fulfilment is dependent on finding sellers willing to meet your offered price, which might take time. More than that, some platforms offer advanced trading options such as stop losses or limit orders, which might confuse trading newbies.
Unlike trading platforms, P2P platforms enable buyers to communicate directly with sellers and vice versa. This direct communication allows the two parties to negotiate over the price. However, this direct communication involves risk, since you are essentially sending money to an anonymous seller. On the upside, P2P platforms usually have benefits such as availability in multiple countries, more payment methods, and the like. Two examples of prominent P2P platforms are Paxful and LocalBitcoins.
In conclusion, regardless of the platform you choose, the only thing that matters is that you’re happy with your price and that you’ve found a reliable service to handle your business. As for me, I prefer to pay a little more for a quicker and more reliable service, hassle-free.
It may surprise you, but one of the more crucial deciding factors of how much you’re going to pay for your bitcoins is going to be your payment method, and there’s a good reason for this.
Whenever a seller accepts any form of payment that isn’t hard cash for buying bitcoins, he is exposed to the risk of a chargeback. A chargeback basically means that I, as the buyer, can complain to my payment provider (e.g., PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, etc.) claiming that I didn’t receive what I paid for or that something else was not to my liking and I would like a refund.
If this happens, the credit card companies may open an investigation, but more often than not, they’ll just go with the buyer’s version. Understandably, this is why it’s harder to find places that will sell you bitcoins using a payment method that allows chargeback.
Let me explain this with a short example:
Let’s say I want to buy from you a single bitcoin and pay you via my PayPal account.
We agree on a price, I pay you, you send me the bitcoin. Now you have my money, and I have your bitcoin.
Assuming I am a scammer (for argument’s sake), a day after our deal, I contact PayPal and say, “I gave this guy money for bitcoins and never received them.”
Since PayPal has no way of checking if that’s true or not (since Bitcoin transactions are hard to trace, just like cash), it’s highly likely that PayPal will issue a chargeback and refund me. This way, I get both the BTC and my money back. You (i.e., the seller) will be left with nothing.
Because of this, most exchanges won’t allow the purchasing of bitcoins with payment methods that allow chargebacks. However, some exchanges will take this risk upon themselves but for a premium—plus a demand that you verify your identity.
Credit cards and debit cards
These are probably the most common payment method available. These days, many exchanges allow you to purchase bitcoins with a credit card. The main ones are Coinmama, Cex.io, and eToro, with the latter being available in Europe only.
Buying bitcoins with a credit card will always require some sort of identity verification and in most cases will be relatively expensive. On the other hand, the verification process is just a one-time thing, and the waiting time for your bitcoins will likely be short.
PayPal and Skrill
Buying Bitcoin with a wire transfer
When bitcoins are bought with a wire transfer, once the money goes through to the seller, it cannot be charged back, no matter what. Naturally, many sellers prefer that you pay them using a wire.
Wire transfers purchases will usually cost less than credit card purchases. However, the time it takes for the transaction to complete using a wire transfer is significantly longer, as it takes several days for a wire to go through.
Buying Bitcoin with cash
Some websites, such as LocalBitcoins, connect buyers and sellers who are located nearby in order to conduct face-to-face Bitcoin transactions. Of course, buying bitcoins with cash (or fiat currency, as it is referred to in the Bitcoin ecosystem) is quick and usually cheaper.
The downside to conducting transactions with cash is that you have to physically meet with the person. Also, you never know who you are dealing with when it comes to cash, so it’s important to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.
Bitcoins need to be stored inside a Bitcoin wallet. A Bitcoin wallet is a piece of software that helps you manage your Bitcoins (i.e. send them, receive them, store them). Just like in order to use email you’ll need Gmail, Outlook or a similar program, using Bitcoin requires a Bitcoin wallet.
When you buy Bitcoin from an exchange, it’s highly recommended (like, super highly recommended) that you move it from the exchange into your own personal wallet, so that you will be in full control over your coins. If you fail to do so, you are at risk that someone may hack the exchange—or even that the exchange will close shop and you won’t be able to get your money out (hey, it happened before).
There are more than 20 types of known Bitcoin wallets you can use, and it can get a bit overwhelming trying to compare all of these Bitcoin wallets. But that’s what this guide is for, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at the options you have at hand.
BTC, BCH, ETH
Web, iOS, Android
Desktop, iOS, Android, Web
Desktop, Android, iOS
Pre-set, Segwit, RBF
Desktop, iOS, Android, Web
iOS, Android, Web
iOS, Android, Web
There are four types of Bitcoin wallets you can choose from:
A Non-Custodial Bitcoin wallets
A non-custodial wallet means that you are the sole owner of your bitcoins and that you are not putting your Bitcoins in the hands of any third party. There are many types of non-custodial wallets. For example, the first Bitcoin wallet ever to be produced known as Bitcoin Core wallet is a non custodial wallet.
Even though using a non-custodial wallet is considered to be more secure, it also means that you are the only one responsible for your coins’ security, so you need to take the appropriate measures (keep reading—I’ll get to that as well). Non-custodial wallets are linked to a specific device such as a laptop or phone and can only be accessed via that device.
Another thing to take into account is that non-custodial wallets are usually harder to set up than third-party wallets (aka custodial wallets). Also, if you lose your non-custodial wallet, you lose your coins. No one will be able to get them back to you (ask this poor fellow).
Third-party Bitcoin wallets / Custodial wallets
Using these types of wallets is usually easier since often they are more geared toward beginners. You can also access them from anywhere on the web – they aren’t connected to one specific physical device like a computer or phone. This also makes them more prone to hacking.
When using a custodial wallet you’re putting the fate of your coins into the hands of someone else. That’s why it’s important to only use trusted third-party wallet providers. The company that is supplying you with the wallet has some amount of control over your bitcoins (the amount of control varies depending on the wallet).
Most third-party wallet companies today take sufficient security measures in order to ensure that no one hacks your account. One of these measures is called Two-Factor Authentication (or 2FA for short). Using 2FA helps the wallet verify your identity by asking you to enter not only your username and password but also enter a one time access code that is sent to a device you own.
Multi-user Bitcoin wallets
A multi-user wallet (also known as a multisig wallet) is a wallet that has more than one owner, and the coins inside that wallet can only be accessed if a preset number of owners agree to it.
For example, let’s say a company opens a multisig wallet with three owners: the CEO and two other managers. They set the rules for this specific wallet so that it takes at least two owners to authorize a transaction. If the CEO wants to send bitcoins to someone from this wallet, they need to get at least one other manager on board.
Multisig wallets are considered more secure because even if one of the keys to the wallet is stolen, there’s still no way to drain the wallet’s funds without the other owners. A good way to use a multisig wallet would be to give two keys to yourself and one to a third party so that if one key gets stolen, your bitcoins are still safe and accessible. Some wallets, like Electrum, have the option to enable multisig.
Paper and physical wallets
At its core, a Bitcoin wallet is just a set of letters and numbers, like a secret code to access your Bitcoins—also known as a private key. If you write that “code” down on paper, you can create what is known as a “paper wallet.” If you want to dive deeper into this subject, take a look here.
An example of a Bitcoin paper wallet
Hardware wallets are devices that can be connected to your computer and hold your private key for you. They are considered to be ultra-secure since they are not connected to the Internet and can even be run safely on a compromised computer.
Types of hardware wallets
Hardware wallets and paper wallets are actually a subset of non-custodial wallets. They present the best form of security and control you can have over your Bitcoins.
To sum things up, the more control you have over your Bitcoins the more responsibility you’ll have to keep them secure as well. There’s usually a tradeoff between security and usability and you’ll have to decide where you want to be on that line.
Now let me help you a bit with that..
Choosing the right wallet depends on several factors. Keep in mind that it’s pretty easy to switch between wallets, so it’s not a life-or-death decision. Here are the factors I would consider when choosing my wallet.
Frequency of use
How often are you planning on sending bitcoins? Notice that I ask only about sending bitcoins, as receiving bitcoins is pretty much the same for all types of wallets.
If you think you’re going to be a heavy Bitcoin user, I suggest using a wallet that is easily accessible on your mobile phone so that it will always be available.
However, if you’re buying Bitcoin as a long-term investment, I suggest using a hardware or paper wallet, as it’s the most secure option.
How many Bitcoins do you plan on owning?
If you’re just going to buy a small amount of bitcoins, then it doesn’t really matter which wallet you use since the risk isn’t that big. However, if you’re planning to buy large amounts of Bitcoin, you may want to consider using a multisig wallet or a hardware wallet, both of which are considered to be safer in general.
How easy is it to access the wallet, send bitcoins, and receive funds? Some wallets have a great user interface, while others tend to lag behind with interfaces that will scare any new Bitcoiner away.
Personal paranoia and anonymity preferences
How paranoid are you about someone stealing your bitcoins? How concerned are you about your anonymity? The answers, of course, will vary from one person to the other, but many in the Bitcoin ecosystem don’t trust anyone but themselves. Some wallets also focus on complete anonymity and privacy.
Ledger: A non-custodial hardware wallet. If you’re planning on holding large amounts of Bitcoin, you should use Ledger. This is a hardware wallet that’s as secure as you can get. Anonymity is completely maintained—the only issue is that since it’s a “physical” product, it will cost you money. However, considering the fact that it protects your investment, it may be worth it.
Blockchain.com: Hybrid wallet (meaning it’s a mix between a custodial and non custodial wallet). A semi-user-friendly wallet that has a mobile and web interface. Comparing to other third-party wallets, security is high since the company doesn’t have direct access to your bitcoins. Your anonymity is still compromised, but at least you have more control over your coins.
Electrum: A non custodial desktop wallet. In my opinion, if you’re using a desktop, Electrum is the best possible wallet. It may not be super user friendly, but it has all of the features you could ask of a wallet, and it maintains good privacy. Electrum is also open-source and has been around for a long time, so it’s fairly reliable.
Alternatively, you can also choose to distribute your coins between several wallets. This way, if something goes wrong, you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.
So go ahead and choose your wallet: install its app on your mobile phone or create an account through the relevant website. It’s now time to decide on a payment method.
Once you have your wallet you will need to find your Bitcoin address. A wallet usually holds two important pieces of information:
- Your private key – Also known as a seed phrase. This is like the password to your wallet. Whoever knows this can get control of your Bitcoins, that’s why it needs to be kept safe and hidden at all times (and definitely note on a file on your computer or in the cloud).
- Your Bitcoin address – Just like your email address, this is where people can send your Bitcoins. It’s a string of letters and numbers that start with a “1” or “3”. Here’s an example: 1BvBMSEYstWetqTFn5Au4m4GFg7xJaNVN2. It can be displayed publicly and there’s no need to hide it.
Once you locate you public Bitcoin address you can move on to the next step in buying Bitcoins.
Picked up a wallet? Found your preferred way to buy Bitcoin? Good! You now need to ask yourself a very important question: how much money do you intend to invest in Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a VERY risky asset. This means you should never buy any amount you can’t afford to lose. It’s important to think this through. If this is the first time you’re buying bitcoins, choose an amount that won’t affect you financially if Bitcoin drops to zero.
In general, we tend to be overly optimistic when we invest, and we can forget about the very real possibility of a downside. My personal rule of thumb is to never invest more than 5% of my disposable income or total wealth.
The price of Bitcoin varies depending on how much it is in demand. The more people are looking to buy, the higher it will cost. If no one wants to buy the price will decrease until someone thinks it’s cheap enough. Price can also vary a little between exchanges. At the moment is 9,869 US dollars.
Keep in mind that you can always buy less than 1 bitcoin. A bitcoin can be divided up to eight decimal points. This means that you can buy half a bitcoin, one-quarter of a bitcoin, or even one-hundredth of a bitcoin. The smallest amount of Bitcoin is known as a “Satoshi” and it equals 0.00000001 Bitcoin.
If you’re looking to buy large amounts of Bitcoin—let’s say over $10,000 worth—there are specific exchanges and brokers that deal in these sort of transactions. If this is the case for you, take a look at this guide.
During registration to the exchange of your choice, you’ll probably be required to provide some personal details, such as your registered address and ID. In some cases, you might even be required to provide details about your income. Don’t take this personally!
This process, known as Know Your Customer (KYC for short), is required by the government and enforced by the exchanges, probably against their will. The good news is that such regulations are the outcome of Bitcoin becoming more mainstream.
If all I’ve covered above just doesn’t work for you here are a few additional options for buying Bitcoins.
Bitcoin ATMs are machines that accept cash, also known as fiat currency, and provide bitcoins in return. Some ATMs allow you to only buy bitcoins, while others will also allow you to sell your bitcoins and get cash in return.
Many people love to use ATMs because of the relative anonymity throughout the purchasing process. You don’t have to wait for long identity verification processes to finish. Just enter your money and get your coins instantly.
Bitcoin ATMs are run by companies that usually charge a specific fee for their services, so make sure you’re aware of the fees before making the transaction. You can find a map of Bitcoin ATMs worldwide here.
Some people will prefer to buy bitcoins from an individual and not an exchange. In this case, there are a few things to watch out for:
Try to see if you can verify the seller’s identity. Some people will want to remain anonymous, and that’s fine, but verifying someone’s identity will dramatically reduce your risk of being scammed.
Try to use some sort of escrow service that will hold your money until the seller sends you the coins. If that’s not possible, stick to cash and meet with the person face to face. In any case, never use irreversible payment methods such as wire transfers before receiving your coins.
You’ll want to wait for the Bitcoin transaction to have at least two to three confirmations before considering the deal complete. Of course, this depends on the amount of money you’re exchanging. Smaller amounts can do with only one confirmation.
Keep in mind that buying from an individual usually involves a lot of uncertainty, and sometimes it’s just not worth the few bucks you’ll save in the process.
You’re now ready to go and buy your first Bitcoin. If you want step by step guides you can use the resource list below.
Also, if you found this guide informative, we’d appreciate you helping us spread the word about 99Bitcoins and sharing it on Facebook or Tweeting about it.
I know I already wrote this at least three times throughout this guide, but I can’t emphasize this point enough: If Bitcoin’s history has taught us anything, it’s that as long as you keep your money on an exchange, you don’t actually own that money—the exchange does. If the exchange becomes insolvent or gets hacked, you risk losing that money for good. This has happened in the past with MT.Gox, BTC-e, and Bitfinex.
Once the coins are in your account, make sure to withdraw them to the Bitcoin address you’ve copied from your wallet. After the coins arrive safely in your wallet, you can proudly say that you’ve bought your first Bitcoin.
If you feel that you still need additional assistance, you can use the following step-by-step buying guides for the different payment methods:
- How to buy Bitcoin with PayPal
- How to buy Bitcoin with a credit card
- How to buy Bitcoin with a wire transfer
- How to buy Bitcoin with cash
- List of verified Bitcoin exchanges
- Recommended hardware wallets
- Recommended wallets for iPhone
- Recommended wallets for Android
- Recommended wallets for your desktop
- Buying large amounts of Bitcoin guide
- List of Bitcoin ATMs
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