OK, so you’ve learned the basics about bitcoin, the next step is to get some bitcoins. But how? This guide will tell you what you need to know.
You can buy bitcoins from either exchanges, or directly from other people via marketplaces.
You can pay for them in a variety of ways, ranging from hard cash to credit and debit cards to wire transfers, or even with other cryptocurrencies, depending on who you are buying them from and where you live.
First, get yourself a bitcoin wallet
Next, you will need a place to store your new bitcoins. In the bitcoin world, they’re called a ‘wallet’ but it might be best to think of them as a kind of bank account.
Depending on the security levels you want, different wallets will provide different levels of security. Some act like everyday spending accounts and are comparable to a traditional leather wallet, while others tout military-grade protections.
The main options are: (1) a software wallet stored on the hard drive of your computer, (2) an online, web-based service or (3) a ‘vault’ service that keeps your bitcoins protected offline or multisig wallet that uses a number of keys to protect the account.
Most have their vulnerabilities: if you store bitcoins locally on your computer, make sure you back up your wallet regularly in case the drive becomes corrupted; and online web wallets employ varying degrees of security against hackers, from quite good (multi-factor authentication) to quite poor (ID and password).
Exchanges and Online Wallets
Bitcoin newcomers will find a variety of exchanges and wallets competing for their business.
Some are full-blown exchanges for institutional traders, while others are simpler wallet services with a more limited buying and selling capabilities.
Most exchanges and wallets will store amounts of digital and/or fiat currency for you, much like a regular bank account.
Exchanges and wallets are the best option if you want to engage in regular trading and speculation, don’t need total anonymity and don’t mind lengthy bureaucratic setup procedures that usually involve proof of identity and supplying detailed contact information.
This is the law in most countries and no regulated exchange can get around it, as any company interfacing with the current financial system must meet ‘know your customer’ (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements.
Unocoin , Zebpay and Coinsecure are exchanges aimed at the Indian market, allowing users to buy, sell and store bitcoin. Deposits can be made via any national online bank or through NEFT/RTGS. Registration with a PAN card is necessary to use the site’s services.
Warnings about exchanges, wallets and banks
Despite the proof of identity requirements, remember exchanges and wallets don’t provide the same protections banks do.
For example, there is often no or limited insurance for your account if the exchange goes out of business or is robbed by hackers, such as was the case with the infamous failed exchange Mt Gox.
Bitcoin does not have legal status as a currency in most of the world, and authorities usually do not know how best to approach thefts. Some larger exchanges have replaced customer funds after a theft from the exchange itself, but at this stage they are not legally obliged to do so.
Further, if a theft from your personal wallet occurs due to a security or password lapse on your part, you do not have any guaranteed way to recover your funds.
Face-to-face, or ‘over-the-counter’ (OTC) trades
If you live in a city, prefer anonymity or don’t want bank hassles, the easiest option to acquire bitcoin is to make a face-to-face trade with a local seller.
LocalBitcoins is the primary site where such transactions are arranged and prices negotiated. The site also provides an escrow service as an added layer of protection for both parties.
There are security considerations for both buyers and sellers, especially if the trade is a sizeable one. Always meet in a busy public place, don’t meet in private homes and take all the precautions you’d usually taken when walking around with large amounts of cash.
Buying bitcoins is not always as easy as newcomers expect. The good news is the number of options is increasing, and it is getting easier all the time.