Guide to Bitcoin ATMs: A Brief Primer on Buying BTC On the Go

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In order for digital currencies like Bitcoin to me adopted by mainstream users in the years ahead, it’ll need to be easily accessible; just like paper, fiat currencies are today. And that’s precisely where Bitcoin ATMs come in.

These automatic teller machines dispense (or facilitate the selling of) their namesake: bitcoins. And while these adoption-minded machines are still far from ubiquitous at present, they certainly point to the brave new crypto-driven world that is to come. Soon, the citizens of the world may go paperless, shifting to crypto instead thanks to Bitcoin and Bitcoin ATMs.

Bitcoin ATM

But before that future is potentially realized, let’s walk you through the landscape of Bitcoin ATMs today.

The First Bitcoin ATM Ever

Waves Coffee House earned the distinction of being the first-ever facility to offer a Bitcoin ATM, with the shop’s ATM going live back in October 2013. On that day, $10,000 USD worth of bitcoins (which were worth approximately $200 at the time) were transacted through that inaugural machine.

The First Bitcoin ATM Machine

That same amount of bitcoins would be worth roughly $400,000 today. How time flies, right? Waves Coffee House’s ATM was the result of a collaboration between Vancouver’s Bitcoiniacs and Las Vegas’ Robocoin.

Note: Bitcoin ATMs Are NOT Linked to Bank Accounts

To this end, Bitcoin ATMs aren’t literally automatic teller machines, as traditional ATMs connect with users’ actual bank accounts.

Instead, Bitcoin “ATMs” are linked up to just two things:

Accordingly, Bitcoin ATMs are really kiosks — they either provide you with a printed-out “paper wallet” receipt of your transaction, of shift over the purchased amount of bitcoins to a public key address. Thus instead of punching in your pin to access your checking or savings accounts, you’re really just using a Bitcoin ATM to interact with a given Bitcoin exchange. And, likewise, user verification standards will vary from machine to machine and company to company.

In the case of the aforementioned first Robocoin ATM, users need to scan their palm and their ID cards, thereafter letting the machines camera match users’ faces to their ID cards. After this initial set-up process, users needed only their palm print to use the BTC ATM.

Again, though, each ATM is different. Some will let you buy bitcoins in seconds, others in minutes.

Want to Find an ATM Near You?

So it all sounds very interesting, but how do you find the nearest Bitcoin ATM to you? No worries – check out anytime you want.

This excellent tracking service lets you find the nearest Bitcoin ATMs to you, no matter where you’re at. Plug in your location and plot out your next buy with convenience. Depending on where you live, there may no ATMs within several hundred miles of you. Your best bet is if you live in or nearby a major city — particularly in Europe or the U.S.

Bitcoin ATM Map

Major crypto hubs like London and San Francisco have numerous Bitcoin ATMs for users to choose from. Smaller towns, not so much yet. Though that dynamic could certainly equalize in the coming years if Bitcoin can continue to penetrate into mainstream society.

How Many Bitcoin ATMs Are There, Anyways

Per’s ATM tracking dashboard, a few notable facts can be garnered:

  • there’s currently 1,857 Bitcoin ATMs across the world
  • 59 countries have at least on BTC ATM
  • there are 24 manufacturers of these ATMs at present
  • over 300 operators offering these ATMs to the general public

These stats are already impressive, especially for a digital asset that’s only just beginning to accrue mainstream and institutional respect.

And if you think you happen to know of an ATM that hasn’t been reported yet, you can file a listing report here.

Not All BTC ATMs Are Bidirectional

By bidirectional, we mean that users are able to both buy bitcoins with cash and sell bitcoins for cash. At the moment, most Bitcoin ATMs aren’t bidirectional — they only allow you to buy BTC with your dollars, euros, pounds, what have you.

Though there are a decent segment of these ATMs that are bidirectional, letting users sell their BTC right then and there.

If you’re wanting to try selling your bitcoins through a Bitcoin ATM, just remember to double check that your target ATM is in fact bidirectional before you head out. You’ll save yourself the trouble of being turned away later.

The Fees Can Be Terrible, Just Like With Regular ATMs

Cash ATMs are already generally despised for the gouging fees most of them place on users’ transactions. And Bitcoin ATMs are no different.

If you’re the kind of person that’s new to crypto and just wants to get in without really caring about the price, an ATM is probably ideal for you. If the price of BTC does end up mooning later, it won’t matter if you paid a few pounds or euros extra way back when.

If you’re a price hawk, though, then these Bitcoin ATMs clearly won’t be right for you. You’ll be better off sticking with whatever online exchange has the lowest fees you’re willing to bear.

For each their own — yet in the future, if BTC becomes ubiquitous, perhaps it’ll become considerably less consequential dealing with these ATM fees. Some can be as high as 16 percent per transaction right now, if you can believe that. You’ll definitely save money on exchanges, but there’s an added level of convenience to ATMs that is unmistakable.

Can Be a Steady Source of Income for Shop Owners

Getting a BTC ATM into a store is straightforward: you ask a shopowner if they’d be willing to host an ATM at their location in exchange for a monthly “rent” payment — usually around $300 per ATM.

So not only can shopowners nab a few hundred extra bucks of month for a very small amount of rented space, but they’ll also drive foot traffic to their location as the novelty factor of Bitcoin ATMs drives new business. It’s a win-win dynamic for everyone. And it’s a model that could increase in popularity as the Bitcoin boom continues to bloom, too. In the United States alone, nearly 900 Bitcoin ATMs have sprung up in line with these types of agreements.

Know Your Customer Laws Can Come Into Play

Know-Your-Customer (KYC) laws are serious business that are used to prevent money laundering crimes in regions across the world. Thus, depending on where you live and your nearest Bitcoin ATM provider, you and the ATM’s operator may need to submit to more stringent identification measures.

Don’t be daunted by the sound of that though – you shouldn’t need more than four minutes to get your identity and account verified for ATMs that use stricter verification protocols.

All In All, Lots of Opportunity For Growth In This Field

To think there’s less than 2,000 BTC ATMs on earth today is mind-blowing when you consider how many there many be in five, 10, or 20 years. The digital revolution is upon humanity, and digital assets like cryptocurrencies are going to be major players in driving this revolution forward.

That’s why it’s not unreasonable to think Bitcoin could continue exploding in popularity in the years ahead. And if it does, you can guarantee that Bitcoin ATMs will become as popular and dominant as regular ATMs are today.

Not a bad time to become an operator, we say!

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William M. Peaster is a professional writer and editor who specializes in the Ethereum, Dai, and Bitcoin beats in the cryptoeconomy. He's appeared in Blockonomi, Binance Academy, Bitsonline, and more. He enjoys tracking smart contracts, DAOs, dApps, and the Lightning Network. He's learning Solidity, too! Contact him on Telegram at @wmpeaster

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