What is a Bitcoin Exchange?

What is a Bitcoin Exchange?
A Bitcoin Exchange or Digital Currency Exchange is a business that allows customers to trade digital currencies for other assets such as conventional fiat money or other digital currencies. Different bitcoin exchanges around the world are what sets the price of Bitcoin.

Types of Bitcoin Exchanges

Since bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are all completely digital there are a number of different types of bitcoin exchanges and many different ways to buy and sell bitcoin. Some exchanges are for buying bitcoin with cash while others are for buying with an ACH transfer directly from your bank account and others are exclusively for trading digital currencies similar to a forex market.

If you want some bitcoin to experiment with or to save for years down the road, you are likely going to use a bitcoin exchange that sells bitcoins directly to end users. Here are the most popular exchanges for getting bitcoins both for personal use or for speculation purposes. Some of these are for buying directly, while others are trading platforms for day trading bitcoin against other cryptocurrencies.


Based in San Francisco, California, Coinbase is the oldest and largest bitcoin exchange in the United States for business to consumer bitcoin sales. To purchase bitcoin from Coinbase, you will need to initiate an ACH transfer directly from your bank account. Coinbase charges a premium of 1% for both buy and sell orders.


Based in Switzerland, ShapeShift is exclusively for trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies with other active users around the world. What I like (and probably most other users) the most about shapeshift is their focus on user privacy. No accounts or logins are required to trade on shapeshift. All you need is since these transactions are “on chain” you will need to pay a transaction fee for each transaction.

In my personal opinion, ShapeShift is probably the best cryptocurrency exchange in the world.

Bitcoin “ATMs” or BTMs

Bitcoin ATMs or “Bitcoin Teller Machines” are one of the easiest and quickest ways to purchase bitcoin with cash. I think that most of these terminals are one way terminals for buying bitcoin only but some of them are two-way machines so you can both buy and sell bitcoin. Bitcoin ATMs are incredibly convenient because of their speed but they often charge high fees. Premiums of 10-20% over spot price are very common. If you would like to buy some bitcoin using a BTM, you can use Coin ATM Radar to locate the nearest bitcoin ATM.

Local Bitcoins

Local Bitcoins is one of the oldest and most trusted place to buy and sell bitcoins. LBTC is a peer-to-peer marketplace for exchanging bitcoins with other bitcoin users. Payment mechanisms range from bank wire transfers to face to face meetings with cash payments. When large trading platforms go down or are shut down by governments, users usually resort to trading here on local bitcoins. Be careful on here since there are lots of scams and fraud.

Wall of Coins

Based in Sarasota, Florida, Wall of Coins is a great way to both buy and sell bitcoin with cash deposits into the bank accounts. The process usually takes about 30 minutes from when you start the trade to when you have your bitcoins but the premiums on here can get pretty steep. You can expect to pay about 20%+ over spot price for the convenience and privacy.


Paxful is on of tne of the most prominent bitcoin exchanges in the world for selling at a premium and allowing the largest number of payment mechanisms, Paxful is a the premiums on here are the highest I have ever seen ranging from 20%+ to well over 100%. There are a lot of scammers and fraud on here so be careful when buying or selling from users without a lot of good ratings/reviews.

Bitcoin Trading Platforms

Not all bitcoin exchanges are for buying bitcoins to hold yourself. Some bitcoin exchanges are strictly for speculating on the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to make a profit. These sorts of trading platforms are almost always custodial (they control your bitcoins) and usually have much lower premiums than the consumer exchanges listed above. These fees are usually around .1% to .25% for each trade that you make. Let’s take a look at some of these exchanges around the world.


Based in Deleware, Poloniex has more currency pairs than any other custodial exchange in the world.


Based in Seattle Washington, BitTrex is one of the largest trading platforms in the US.


Based in San Francisco, California, Kracken is a trading platform with roughly 30 different currency pairs. You can trade bitcoin against USD as well as a number of different cryptocurrency combinations.


BitFinex has the largest bitcoin volume of trades against the US Dollar so it is often the most trustworthy place to get the price of bitcoin from since it is the most stable on this exchange. Here on BitFinex, you can trade bitcoin against a few other cryptocurrencies and also USD.


That pretty much sums up all of the different types of bitcoin exchanges around the world. With all of these different ways to buy and sell bitcoin, there is no shortage of ways to turn a profit in the bitcoins space or just to hodl some of your own coins for years in the future. No matter what you plan on doing in the bitcoin space, there are a multitude of services there to help spread bitcoin across the globe.

What is a bitcoin term that you would like us to further define for you? Let us know with a comment below or tweet at @WhatIsBitcoin.

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