Whether you're a fan of decentralized technology or a foe of inflationary monetary policies, there are plenty of reasons to buy and hold Bitcoin.
With that in mind, I've received dozens of messages and questions from family, friends, and casual acquaintances interested in getting their first satoshis (smaller units of BTC) — nowhere near financial advice!
Unfortunately, due to existing financial regulations around the world, the answer to that question will depend highly on where you live, where you hold your domestic currency, and your passport.
I'm often blocked from using many services (and even downloading the apps) because I happen to have the wrong passport, which is unfortunate. Bitcoin is indeed a global monetary network, but the on-ramps are unfortunately still regulated by domestic financial regulators that try to track, trace, and tax whatever you may be buying. So it goes.
Of course, if you already hold digital stablecoins in one of your wallets (Tether, USDC, TerraUSD, etc.), trading over to Bitcoin is simple, easy, and can always be done without submitting Know Your Customer (KYC) information to exchanges or brokerages.
The most secure and private way to acquire Bitcoin without submitting any information is by mining it, which you can learn about here. I have been mining for a few weeks, and it is definitely something fun and interesting, but it really comes down to a cost calculation: do you make enough to offset your energy costs? If yes, then I would highly recommend this method.
If you already have stablecoins, or you're mining, then you're pretty set and you're probably not interested in this guide. Alas, this guide is for no-coiners who want some exposure to Bitcoin in their digital wallets.
I previously wrote up a guide on buying Bitcoin in 2013 on The Stateless Man, mostly focusing on using it as a medium of exchange for sending currency globally when it was just about $200. Since then, the price has multiplied more than I care to remember, and the options for purchasing Bitcoin have gotten much simpler and much more diverse. Times have certainly changed since then.
I've decided to offer an updated small and quick guide (replete with referral links to give you some incentives) for the three regulatory areas I'm most familiar with: the United States, Canada, and the European Union.
Regulated exchanges are one of the most popular ways of acquiring Bitcoin. Though they will have some KYC requirements, they can be an easy on-ramp for better understanding and tracking cryptocurrencies.
Kraken is a US-based exchange that happens to also be in over 176 countries, the largest exchange I'll recommend here. It is been around for about a decade, so it is more trustworthy than most.
The layout of the website and app is simple, easy-to-use, and has just a few steps for KYC. The fees charged depend on the amount you buy, but it begins at around 1.5%, which is reasonable. As a bonus, you are able to withdraw your Bitcoin relatively quickly, which is why Kraken remains a favorite for many.
Sorry folks, no referral code.
The next US-based exchange I'll list is Gemini, owned by the Winkelvoss twins of Facebook fame. It also trades in about 50+ countries, and has the benefit of plenty of venture capital backing and a unique claim to several digital currency licenses in the U.S.
It has a very sleek design, a very easy user experience, and the exchange prides itself on having some of the best security on the market. Considering the vast number of exchange hacks throughout the years, that means a good deal to the crypto crowd.
The fees are similar to Kraken, so they're about 1.5% and get smaller as you purchase more.
The only reason I'm hesitant to use Gemini more is that your payment must "clear" before you can claim your Bitcoin. Sometimes that can be up to 5 business days. Yet another problem that comes with regulated crypto apps and compliance.
You can get $10 in free BTC if you spend up to $100 on the platform with my code.
Singapore-based Crypto.com is probably one of the more advanced exchanges/brokerages for global users interested in more than Bitcoin. The main reasons are its easy-to-use app, the interest-bearing accounts on many tokens, and the debit card where you can spend your cryptocurrency (and get discounts on Spotify and Netflix subscriptions).
It is a great platform generally, and it provides a simple interface for first-time users. Assuming they also pick up the same digital currency licenses as Gemini, it could grow to be one of the more dominant players.
This isn't a Bitcoin maxi product as you'll have to use the native CRO token as your unit of exchange, but it still is simple to buy Bitcoin. The fees are free for the first month, and then they go up to 2.99%. So that's something to keep in mind.
If you use my referral code and stake the native CRO token for about $400, you'll get $25. Yeah, altcoin sure (sue me), but you can then unstake and buy Bitcoin while benefiting from the debit card.
NOTE: You'll notice I don't list the three largest exchanges by volume (Binance, Coinbase, FTX). I've had my fair share of problems with each of these (accounts blocked, access restricted, some payment methods not available, etc.), and the compliance and KYC requirements are pretty stringent for a casual user, not to mention the fees are a bit higher. Plus, due to international and domestic financial regulations, there are several jurisdictions that don't allow you access to them. Hence why there's not on my list, but you're free to give them a try.
Decentralized exchanges are very exciting for more seasoned Bitcoin folks, but it would be a lot of work for a novice to understand them. These are peer-to-peer exchanges in which you can use ordinary payment methods (SEPA bank transfers, Venmo, Cash App, Interac, etc.) to send money to private people and they will send you Bitcoin. That's what God intended.
The two I would recommend would be Bisq and Hodl Hodl. The advantage of Hodl Hodl is that it is based on the browser whereas Bisq must run as a native app on your computer. That said, Bisq doesn't require an account to "sign-up" and uses the Tor network to encrypt your access to the server, so it's definitely more secure and private.
For Europeans in the Euro Zone, I would recommend bitcoin.de as a peer-to-peer service. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the account as I changed my bank account, but this was my go-to service for many years.
The US has many options for stacking sats. Some are exchanges (listed above), some are brokerages, and others are more decentralized exchanges that offer the ability to buy Bitcoin without revealing your private information to a company or government. For brokerages, you need a domestic US address and a social security number.
The first service I would recommend for Americans is Strike. It's a simple Bitcoin-only app installed on your phone, connected to your debit card or bank account. As of writing, it has $0 fees for all Bitcoin transactions (hence why I recommend it). The app itself uses the Lightning layer of Bitcoin between users, which makes it a great crypto replacement for Venmo or PayPal.
Its simplistic design and ease-of-use are also handy when sending satoshis to your cold storage on a non-custodial hardware, desktop, or mobile wallet (which I also recommend). Once you deposit USD, you can buy any amount of Bitcoin, up to the limit (usually around $1,000 on a debit card). The BTC in your wallet is available immediately, and you can send it to your private wallet it will arrive via the next Bitcoin block in about 10-15 minutes.
You can also sell Bitcoin from the app, but I don't believe it is possible to receive external Bitcoin from anything but another Strike account, which would be the only drawback.
You can get $5 free if you use my referral code and confirm your account.
The next service is a brokerage that is also Bitcoin-only. River Financial offers a more traditional web/mobile investing experience that I would recommend for older users who aren't digital natives but who have investing experience.
It looks and feels like an ordinary online brokerage, and offers metrics on returns, prices, and the gains/losses on your account. As a plus, it also allows you to make purchases of up to $100,000 at a time (for you bourgeois folks) with either your debit card or bank account.
The fees will depend on how much you're buying at one time (from $1-$3 on purchases under $200 to small percentages as you purchase more), but they are still low enough to be attractive. This service allows you to buy and sell Bitcoin, and also withdraw to an external wallet using on-chain Bitcoin transactions or even the Lightning network.
It will take around 6 days for the Bitcoin to become available (until the payment clears) which I find as the only drawback.
There are a few states, including New York and New Jersey, that do not support River for its residents. So be sure to check that before you sign up.
If you use my referral code, you'll be able to buy up to $10,000 in BTC with no fees in the first week.
Another service used by many millennials and zoomers is the Cash app. While the app is mostly used for sending dollars between friends for payment, the app also allows you to buy, sell, and send Bitcoin. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is behind this app, so you know he's all-in on BTC. And beginning in February 2021, you can also use the lightning network functions.
The buying process is simple and easy, and the fees are very similar to River (anywhere from 1-3% depending on the size order).
As I mentioned, Cash App now has Lightning Network capability, but for the moment you can also easily withdraw to your Bitcoin wallet.
If you use my referral code and you don't yet have Cash app, you'll get $5 free.
Voyager is another large US crypto platform that is up-and-coming. It is a public company, so as you can expect, it has more KYC requirements than some of the other services I've mentioned.
The fee is about the same, at about 1-2%, but it will take over a week for your deposit to clear, making it difficult to withdraw your Bitcoin.
That said, for those who want an alternative with a debit card and some interest-beraring accounts, perhaps Voyager fits your fancy.
If you deposit $100 or more, you'll get $25 for free with my referral link.
Many Bitcoiners recommend Swan and are huge fans of its savings plans and direct payment options. The fees seem to be low as well.
My only issue with them is they require a physical address, a tax ID, and the usual KYC process that ended up being too time-consuming for me. I'm sure others will speak of its charm, but I just don't use it.
I know Shakepay is a very popular Canadian brokerage, but unfortunately, I don't have access as I don't have a Canadian cell phone number. But others speak highly of it.
The only other Canadian brokerage I would recommend is BullBitcoin.
It provides a lot of great billing connections so you can actually pay for ordinary things with Bitcoin, and offers fairly low rates. It is easy to use INTERAC or a simple debit card transaction to purchase BTC.
You'll get a small amount of CAD to use to buy Bitcoin when you use my referral code.
Many European exchanges and brokerages block non-EU citizens or persons from accessing their services, so this list will only apply to a few.
Unfortunately, this is a problem of regulation, as many services have made the decision to block all citizens of non-EU countries even if they have legal residence in an EU state. I blame FATCA and the US government.
Regardless, here are a few I have been able to crack:
For anyone in the EU who wants broad exposure to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, Bitpanda is an interesting one. Yes, it's a 4 billion-euro company by now and Peter Thiel is one of the investors and it's right in Austrian territory. Much like the other larger exchanges, it also has its own native token BEST.
It also has debit cards, but also the ability to buy stocks, index funds, and even gold.
That said, I've had my own problems with the service when it comes to withdraws and fees. If you are Bitcoin-only, it's probably not for you, but for the crypto crowd, it will likely fulfill your services. And with the severe digital assets regulation in Austria, Bitpanda is pretty strict on reporting to tax authorities, so watch out.
If you use my referral link and deposit at least 25 EUR, you'll get 10 EUR free.
Here come the Swiss! Relai.ch is a simple and easy app that allows you to easily set up one-time or recurring buys of Bitcoin. It's only available to Europeans, so I've had to do some App Store switching to access, but it is a fine app.
Pocket Bitcoin is probably the simplest Bitcoin buying app I've ever seen and likely one of the best for satoshi stackers.
You merely connect your wallet and send a SEPA transfer to their bank account with your personal code in the memo. No other information necessary, no KYC, and no video or document verifications. It usually takes about a day for the BTC to deposit, and it's very simple to set up a recurring payment from your bank account.
That, plus the fees are incredibly low at just 1.5%.
The main advantage is that you don't need to register or login, and everything can just be handled by your bank.
Others include Moonpay, BTC Direct, Coinfinity, Coinify, which are available and have great reviews, but I haven't personally used them. Often, I find the verification process to be just too complicated, or I haven't been able to access them as a non-EU citizen.
The developers of 21Bitcoin.app are already gaining a great reputation, but the app hasn't yet launched. It will be a Bitcoin-only brokerage that claims it will be even easier to use than BitPanda, available on Android and iPhone.
As you can see, there is a myriad of options available for people buying Bitcoin.
Whether you're in the U.S., Canada, or the European Union, there are services tailored for exactly what you're looking for. Now you can stack sats and enjoy the future of money.
Unfortunately, financial regulators have placed immense pressure on crypto brokerages and exchanges, so often you can only access a few according to your passport and your residency.
That is something that we hope will change with time, and something my colleagues and I at the Consumer Choice Center are actively lobbying to try to change.
Regardless, Bitcoin remains globally decentralized, it remains free of censorship and control, and the innovation will truly shape our financial future for years to come.
For next layer solutions, if you want to learn more about the lightning network or connect to my node, feel free to open a channel to me and I'll open one right back! Perhaps I'll write about that and my experience in Bitcoin mining very soon.
Until then, au revoir.