What Is a Bitcoin ATM and How Do These Crypto Machines Work?
Buying Bitcoin does not require jumping through a ton of hoops and giving over all of your personal information. In fact, you can purchase Bitcoin and deposit it directly into your own digital wallet without ever having to sign up for an account.
Bitcoin ATMs have become popular over the past few years, with over 35,000 of them available globally. A majority are located in the United States. Users can quickly buy or sell Bitcoin with cash, without the need for a lengthy sign-up process and identity verification.
In the article, we’ll cover the details of how Bitcoin ATMs work, how to buy and sell Bitcoin using an ATM, the fees associated with them, and where to find Bitcoin ATMs near you.
What Is a Bitcoin ATM?
A Bitcoin ATM is a physical kiosk that allows you to buy Bitcoin with cash, and some even allow you to sell your Bitcoin to withdraw cash as well. Transactions are typically handled through the use of a QR code to connect the ATM to your digital wallet.
Bitcoin ATMs are distributed throughout the U.S. and the world, and are typically owned by private companies.
Bitcoin ATMs do not connect to your bank account, but rather a cryptocurrency exchange, allowing you to transact on the blockchain and transfer Bitcoin into your digital wallet. Most Bitcoin ATMs allow users to exchange cash for Bitcoin, but not many allow users to access cash by selling their Bitcoin.
How Bitcoin ATMs Work
Bitcoin ATMs are similar to a cryptocurrency exchange, allowing you to buy Bitcoin — and sometimes other cryptocurrencies — using fiat currency. The difference is that you don’t need to sign up for an account, and typically only need to provide a phone number and your digital wallet address to process a transaction.
Buying Bitcoin at a Bitcoin ATM
To purchase Bitcoin through a Bitcoin ATM, you use the on-screen instructions to get started. Here are the steps needed to make a purchase at a Bitcoin ATM:
- Provide Your Mobile Phone Number. This allows the ATM to text you a verification code to confirm your identity. Although most exchanges require a lengthy know-your-customer (KYC) identification process, Bitcoin ATMs offer simple two-factor authentication (2FA) to get started.
- Choose How Much to Buy. ATMs typically have a purchase minimum, and there are associate fees as well. Make sure to understand the total cost before proceeding.
- Insert Cash. Once you place the order, you must deposit the cash needed for the transaction. Most Bitcoin ATMs do not provide change, so you need to insert the exact denomination needed for the transaction.
- Generate QR Code From Your Bitcoin Wallet. You need to generate a deposit code from your digital wallet to receive the Bitcoin purchased. This can usually be done through your hot wallet mobile app. Simply scan the QR code and the transaction will begin processing.
- Wait a While. Bitcoin ATMs take a few minutes or longer to complete the transaction and deposit the Bitcoin into your wallet.
Selling Bitcoin at a Bitcoin ATM
Some Bitcoin ATMs allow you to sell Bitcoin (or other crypto) and receive cash, similar to a withdrawal from a traditional ATM. Here are the steps needed to sell your Bitcoin and withdraw cash:
- Provide a Mobile Phone Number. The same verification process is needed to sell Bitcoin, inputting your phone number and receiving a verification code.
- Select How Much to Sell. There may be a minimum amount you can sell, as well as specific denominations available, such as multiples of $20.
- Scan the QR Code. The Bitcoin ATM will generate a QR code you can scan with your digital wallet app on your phone. This is the ATM’s digital wallet address to transfer your Bitcoin to.
- Complete the Transfer, Receive your Cash. Complete the transaction and the funds will be transferred from your wallet to the ATM’s wallet. The equivalent amount of cash will be dispensed.
Pros & Cons of Bitcoin ATMs
Bitcoin ATMs make it easy to buy Bitcoin without the hassle of signing up for an exchange, verifying your identity, transferring funds to the exchange, making a purchase, and transferring the Bitcoin to your wallet. But Bitcoin ATMs tend to carry high fees, and some locations don’t have access to them.
Here are a few things we like about Bitcoin ATMs, and some downsides to them.
Bitcoin ATMs are convenient, and offer a simple way to purchase Bitcoin. Here are some pros to using a Bitcoin ATM:
- Convenience. Bitcoin ATMs offer a quick and easy way to buy Bitcoin. No time-consuming sign-up process, no identity verification, no transfers needed.
- Privacy. While most crypto exchanges require passing KYC identity verification protocols, including providing your personal information and identity card, Bitcoin ATMs quickly verify through your phone number and don’t require any additional information.
- Direct Custody. Using many crypto exchange platforms means the platform owns your Bitcoin and the private keys used to store it. With a Bitcoin ATM, you take directy custody of your crypto by transferring it to your own Bitcoin wallet.
Bitcoin ATMs can be costly and slow. Here are a few factors we don’t like about using Bitcoin ATMs:
- High Fees. Bitcoin ATMs can be pricey. Average fees hover between 9% and 15% of the total transaction, which is 10x the transaction costs of most modern crypto exchanges.
- Transaction Limits. Due to anti-money-laundering (AML) regulations, there may be low transaction limits on Bitcoin ATMs, capping your purchase amount.
- Availability. Although Bitcoin ATMs are available globally, there may not be one near you.
Should You Use a Bitcoin ATM?
Bitcoin ATMs are a fast and convenient way to quickly purchase Bitcoin without the need to provide a ton of your personal information. They offer direct custody of your crypto, and may even offer cash withdrawal services to sell your crypto. But the high fees and slow transaction times may make them too costly and time consuming for some users.
If you value anonymity when purchasing Bitcoin, a Bitcoin ATM may be a good option. But if you want a quick and low-cost option, it may be better to use a major cryptocurrency exchange instead.
Bitcoin ATM FAQs
Bitcoin ATMs offer an alternative to the ever-popular cryptocurrency exchanges, with a simpler onboarding process and access to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Here are the answers to the most common questions about Bitcoin ATMs:
How Much Are Bitcoin ATM Fees?
Instead of charging a flat rate, most Bitcoin ATM fees range from 9% to 15% of the transaction total. There are a few ATMs that charge as low as 2% to 4%, and some that charge 20% or more.
Contrast those fees with most crypto exchanges, which charges less than 4% in most instances, with some charging less than 0.5% for crypto trading.
Bottom line: Bitcoin ATM fees are high.
Where Are Bitcoin ATM Locations?
There are over 38,000 Bitcoin ATMs available worldwide, with a majority of them located in the U.S. and Canada, although there are thousands available worldwide as well. Many are located in gas stations, convenience stores, or airport terminals.
There are several Bitcoin ATM locator apps and websites available, although Coin ATM Radar seems to have the most up-to-date location data available.
How Long Do Bitcoin ATM Transactions Take?
Bitcoin ATM transactions may process within a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on the network traffic. Bitcoin ATM transfers take place on the Bitcoin blockchain and require several confirmations to complete the transaction. This process is managed by the decentralized Bitcoin network, which may take a while.
Typically, this process happens within a few minutes.
Can You Send Money to Someone Else Through a Bitcoin ATM?
Yes. Bitcoin ATMs allow you to input any wallet address to send the purchased Bitcoin to. If the recipient has a Bitcoin wallet, they can send you a screenshot of the QR code, and you can scan that QR code when purchasing Bitcoin. Once the transactions processes, the Bitcoin will end up in their digital wallet.
Bitcoin ATMs have become popular in the past few years, and offer a fast, convenient way to buy and sell Bitcoin without the need to provide your personal information.
The fees are high on most Bitcoin ATMs — much higher than traditional crypto exchanges, and may not be worth it for larger transactions.
Overall, Bitcoin ATMs are ideal for users who want quick access to purchasing or selling Bitcoin without the hassle of verifying their identity. But be prepared to pay for it.