Buying Bitcoins from an ATM

bitcoin atm

Bitcoin ATMs (automatic teller machines) are springing up all over the world. They are a convenient way to buy bitcoins with cash without going online or interacting with another human being. But there are a few important things to known about Bitcoin ATMs before making a purchase:

  • Many Bitcoin ATMs are one-directional: meaning you can buy bitcoins, but cannot sell them (or vice-versa).

  • Finding a Bitcoin ATM near you can be challenging. Many governments have strict financial regulations that determine where and under what conditions an ATM can be installed.

  • Since Bitcoin ATMs can be subject to regulations, you may be required to prove your identity by having your fingerprints, hand palm, and/or government ID card scanned by the ATM. This all depends on the model of the ATM and jurisdiction of where it is installed.

How a Bitcoin ATM Works

Bitcoin ATMs dispense bitcoins for national currency (cash), and if the machine is bi-directional, it can additionally dispense cash for bitcoins.

Bitcoins are dispensed either to the buyer’s own Bitcoin wallet (via scanned QR code on the buyer’s mobile device or paper wallet), or to a paper wallet generated and printed by the ATM at the time of purchase. The price of the purchase is dependent on current Bitcoin exchange rate, which the ATM retrieves from the internet in real-time. Also, an additional percentage fee is charged by the ATM for the service and factored into the price.

The ATM either has a certain amount of Bitcoins to sell in a dedicated wallet, or it connects to an online exchange to purchase the bitcoins in real-time on behalf of the buyer. The method used is based on how the machine was configured by the owner, and whether or not real-time brokering of bitcoins is allowed its particular jurisdiction. For example, in the state of Texas, Bitcoin ATMs can be legally operated without a money transmitter license if the ATM does not make real-time, on-demand purchases from a 3rd party exchange on behalf of the buyer.

The Purchasing Process

The Bitcoin ATM purchasing process usually goes something like this:

  1. You walk up to the ATM and scan the QR code of an address of your Bitcoin wallet (i.e. located on mobile device or paper wallet) with the ATM’s scanner. This is the address your purchased bitcoins will be sent to. If you don’t have a Bitcoin wallet, in many cases, the machine will offer the option to generate and print a paper wallet for you once the purchase is complete.

  2. Depending on the ATM, how it was configured, and the jurisdiction’s financial regulations, you may be asked to scan your hand, fingerprints, or your government ID card. This is how your identity is tied to the transaction and anti-money laundering buying/selling limits are enforced. In some cases, you won’t be asked for any identification, meaning you can purchase bitcoins 100% anonymously.

  3. Enter in the amount of bitcoins you want to purchase, or the amount of national currency you want to spend. The amount you can purchase may be limited based on financial regulations and the amount of bitcoins available in the machine’s wallet.

  4. Insert your cash, and wait a few seconds as your purchased bitcoins are sent to your Bitcoin wallet’s address. If you opted for a paper wallet to be generated, it will be printed and your purchased bitcoins will loaded on its public address.

Finding a Bitcoin ATM

The most up-to-date resource for finding a Bitcoin ATM is the Bitcoin ATM Map website. It has a worldwide map of known Bitcoin ATM locations, the ATM’s fees, and user reviews for each location.

The sites Coin ATM Radar and Bitcoin ATM Spotter also have maps of Bitcoin ATM locations, but their listings do not seem to be as recent.

LocalBitcoins have recently started allowing Bitcoin ATMs listings. The site currently has ATM listings located in Helsinki, Singapore, Zurich, Alberta, and Boston.

Bitcoin ATM Models

There are many types of Bitcoin ATMs available, all with varying capabilities, specifications, and features.

Lamassu“Built for Bitcoin.”
Machine ImageLamassu ATM
Interface Images Lamassu ATM UI 00
LocationsInstalled at over 20 locations
Reviews
Exchange Rate BasisBased on operator’s configuration – supports prices from multiple online exchanges
National Currency Capability Can scan and accept most major national currencies
Digital Currency Capability Bitcoin
Identity Verification CapabilityNone
Bi-directionalNo – dispenses bitcoins only
Can purchase BTC in real-time from an exchange Yes
Can Print Paper Wallet No
Machine Price 1-9 units cost $6,500 USD each, 10 units or more cost $5,500 USD each
Machine Ownership Franchise/Licensing Fees None
Dimensions35.6cm width x 48.1cm height x 26.9cm depth
Robocoin“Bitcoin’s Global Bank”
Machine ImageRobocoin ATM
Interface Images Robocoin ATM UI 00
Robocoin ATM UI 01
Robocoin ATM UI 02
Robocoin ATM UI 03
Robocoin ATM UI 04
Robocoin ATM UI 05
Robocoin ATM UI 06
Robocoin ATM UI 07
LocationsInstalled at over 10 locations
Reviews
Exchange Rate BasisBitstamp
National Currency Capability Can scan and accept most major national currencies:

  • Japanese Yen (JPY)
  • Chinese Renminbi (CNY)
  • Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)
  • Taiwan Dollar (TWD)
  • Australian Dollar (AUS)
  • Euro (EUR)
  • British Pound (GBP)
  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Israeli Shekel (ILS)
  • Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • US Dollar (USD)
  • Czech Crown (CZK)
Identity Verification Capability
  • Collects phone number as means of user identification.
  • Scans the veins in the palm of the hand as means of user identification. Also, matches the palm scan against a database to ensure customer has not exceeded purchase limits (money laundering protection).
  • Can photograph user’s face and scan their government photo ID and compare images for identity verification.
Bi-directionalYes – dispenses bitcoins and cash
Can purchase BTC in real-time from an exchange No – “Only coins needed to maintain operational liquidity are stored in a hot wallet, the rest are stored in our secured offline system.”
Can Print Paper Wallet Yes
Machine Price $20,000 USD
Machine Ownership Franchise/Licensing Fees Promotion running until April 31st, 2014:

  • No fees if a $10,000 lifetime license is purchased
  • Or 1% of the operator’s transaction fees

Ownership fees after this promotion are unknown.

Dimensions3ft wide x 6ft height x 3ft depth
Other Stuff
  • ATM has ability to remit bitcoins to other Robocoin users via their phone number.
Genesis1“No math degree necessary.”
Machine ImageGenesis1 ATM
Interface Images Genesis1 ATM UI 00
Genesis1 ATM UI 01
LocationsInstalled at 3 North American locations
Reviews
Exchange Rate BasisBased on operator’s configuration – supports prices from multiple online exchanges
National Currency Capability Currently known:

  • US Dollar (USD)
  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Mexican Peso (MXN)
Identity Verification Capability
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Government ID scanner
Bi-directionalYes – dispenses bitcoins and cash
Can purchase BTC in real-time from an exchange Yes
Can Print Paper Wallet Yes
Machine Price $14,500 USD
Machine Ownership Franchise/Licensing Fees 1% of the operator’s transaction fees
DimensionsUnknown
BitAccess“Facilitating Bitcoin Transactions Worldwide”
Machine ImageGenesis1 ATM
Interface Images BitAccess ATM UI 00
BitAccess ATM UI 01
BitAccess ATM UI 02
BitAccess ATM UI 03
BitAccess ATM UI 04
BitAccess ATM UI 05
BitAccess ATM UI 06
BitAccess ATM UI 07
BitAccess ATM UI 08
BitAccess ATM UI 09
LocationsInstalled at 6 locations, mostly in Canada
Reviews
Exchange Rate BasisBased on operator’s configuration – supports prices from multiple online exchanges
National Currency Capability Can scan and accept most major national currencies
Identity Verification Capability
  • Collects phone number and sends a code in a text message as means of user identification.
  • Can photograph user’s face and scan their government photo ID and compare images for identity verification.
Bi-directionalYes – dispenses bitcoins and cash
Can purchase BTC in real-time from an exchange Unknown.
Can Print Paper Wallet Yes
Machine Price $12,000 to $15,000
Machine Ownership Franchise/Licensing Fees 1% of the operator’s transaction fees
DimensionsUnknown
Other Stuff
  • ATM has ability to “recycle” its fiat money supply, so that bills can be automatically dispensed to customers after being collected from other customers.