You can buy Bitcoins directly from other people using online marketplaces, no different than any other product or service. Alternately, you can also use a digital currency exchange or broker such as Coinbase, Bitstamp, Kraken, and Gatehub. Coinbase is one of the biggest U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges. For a beginner, it’s best and easiest to use one of these exchanges.
You’ll also need a “wallet,” a place to store the digital currency. (You’ll need one of these no matter which exchange you might use.) The wallet stores your private key, a secret number—a 256-bit string—that gives you access to your Bitcoins. Your private key also allows you the freedom to move across marketplaces. Just because you purchased Bitcoin on a particular exchange doesn’t mean you have to stick with it; your private key ensures that you can always access your wallet, whichever marketplace you use.
There different kinds of wallets, including software and hardware wallets. Software wallets are in essence applications, or apps, that you connect with your traditional bank account. There are several to choose from: Coinbase offers a wallet, which is convenient because it is tied directly to its exchange service. There is also Mycelium, a popular mobile wallet, as well as Electrum. Meanwhile hardware wallets store the user’s private keys on a secure hardware device that looks a lot like a flash memory stick. Hardware wallets are considered by some people to be more secure because they can disconnect from the Internet. (There have been cases of hackers stealing Bitcoin from Internet-connected computers. Worried? Here’s how to avoid bitcoin theft.)
Picked your wallet and your marketplace of choice? Good. Now that you have all the ingredients ready, here’s how to complete the recipe.
Step one. Create your wallet. The easiest way to do this is through a third-party like Coinbase, Exodus, MyCelium, or blockchain.info. Go to the site of the wallet provider you’ve chosen and sign up. This step requires name, email address, and password.
Step Two. If you’ve chosen a software wallet, you will be asked to download the app. Download it through the Apple app store or Google Play, depending on whether you have the iOS or Android operating system. Some wallets are designed for desktops; others are better for mobile devices.
Step Three. Visit the exchange you’ve picked out. Maybe it’s Coinbase, Poloniex, CEX.io, Kraken, Bitfinex, BitPanda, or BitStamp. Register with the exchange. Again, you’ll need your name, email address, password. Most exchanges require you to connect with your bank account to pay for your Bitcoin purchase.
Some exchanges like Coinbase offer an app that acts as an exchange and a wallet. Through the app, you can both buy and trade Bitcoins as well as store them. That’s fine, but remember that just because you use the Coinbase exchange doesn’t mean you have to use the Coinbase digital wallet. There are many other digital wallets out there. (And exchanges, for that matter.)
Step four: Go to the exchange’s “buy” section. Select the amount of bitcoin you want to buy. Given the recent high price of Bitcoin, you can buy less than one Bitcoin on these exchanges. Bitcoin can be divided up to eight decimal points. This means you can buy 0.5 Bitcoins, 0.02 Bitcoins, or even 0.00000001 Bitcoin, if it suits your budget. Depending on the exchange, you can buy Bitcoins with a credit card, bank transfer, or even cash.
Happy Bitcoin trading!