Investing or trading in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies can be intimidating at first. There is frequent news about scams and people losing money. While this is true, and many scams have happened and continue to happen, it has never been so simple to invest in and safely trade in cryptocurrency as it is today.
The foremost concern when trading and purchasing Bitcoin, or other cryptocurrencies, is safety and security. Whether you intend to purchase and hold long term, want to trade frequently, are interested in anonymity or privacy, or simply want ease of use, the following exchanges are the best for any use case you may have.
This list covers the best exchanges for certain types of traders as well as the best exchanges within each type of exchange. There are a number of ways to go about investing in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. To learn more about how the exchange types differ, please read on after the list of exchanges. Once you have decided on an exchange, it is important to also practice safe storage. You can read more about the best storage methods in our best Bitcoin wallets article.
Best Overall : Coinbase and Coinbase Pro
Fees: Between $0.99 and $2.99 depending on the dollar value of the purchase.
The most widely known and used cryptocurrency exchange in the United States is Coinbase. Coinbase was founded in 2012, not long after the release of Bitcoin’s code in 2009, and is a fully regulated and licensed cryptocurrency exchange. Coinbase currently has licenses to operate in over 40 U.S. states and territories.
Solid variety of altcoin choices
Extremely simple user interface
Very high liquidity
High fees when not using Coinbase Pro
User does not control wallet keys
Fewer altcoin trading options than some other exchanges
While the cryptocurrency industry has been fraught with fraudulent coins and shady exchanges, Coinbase has largely avoided any controversy. Coinbase offers an extremely easy-to-use exchange, greatly lowering the barrier to entry for cryptocurrency investment, which is typically seen as confusing and convoluted.
Coinbase also offers insured custodial wallets for investors and traders to store their investments. It is important to note that, should your account be compromised from your own doing, this insurance does not apply. These custodial accounts are very convenient for newer users just getting their feet wet, but the private keys to the coins within them are owned by Coinbase, and not the investor.
Additionally, Coinbase also offers the free Coinbase Pro version that has a different, but cheaper, fee structure and significantly more options in terms of charts and indicators. Coinbase Pro is a perfect next step for those who have learned the ropes using Coinbase, and it helps round out the overall offering by adding features that the more advanced user would want.
Best for Beginners : Cash App
Fees: Cash App charges a service fee for each transaction. It also charges a fee determined by price volatility. These fees change depending on the market’s activity.
Cash App is a peer-to-peer money transfer system much like Venmo. This type of service allows users to split food, pay rent to a roommate, or even shop online at a retailer that supports Cash App. Cash App can essentially act as a bank account and users can have their own Cash App debit cards. This service is very convenient by itself, but Cash App has even more features.
Peer-to-peer money transfer like Venmo or Zelle
Ability to withdraw Bitcoin
Extremely simple user interface
Only allows Bitcoin investment at this time and no other cyrpto currencies
3% charge when sending money via a linked credit card
Withdrawal limit of $2,000 worth of Bitcoin every 24 hours and $5,000 every 7 days
Cash App also allows its users to invest in stocks, ETFs, and cryptocurrency in a similar fashion that Robinhood does. The mobile-first interface that this exchange uses is very easy to figure out and use, making it ideal for a first-time investor.
While it offers a payment system like Venmo and an investment platform like Robinhood, Cash App differs in that it allows the user to withdraw cryptocurrency investments to your own wallet. This is the main reason that we chose Cash App over Robinhood as the best option for beginners looking to buy Bitcoin.
The ability to withdraw cryptocurrency from an exchange is extremely important in the cryptocurrency community. With Robinhood, you can invest and trade cryptocurrency, but you cannot withdraw and spend it how you wish. Many in the crypto-community refer to this concept as “not your keys, not your coin.” This means that if you do not hold the private keys to the wallet the coins are stored in, they are effectively not owned by you.
Best for Altcoins : Binance
Fees: 0.1% for the taker side and 0.1% for the maker side. This scales down with trade volume to 0.02% for both sides of the trade. Using Binance’s native cryptocurrency, BNB, lowers fees by 25%.
The Binance exchange is an exchange founded in 2017 with a strong focus on altcoin trading. Binance offers over 100 different trading pairs between different cryptocurrencies. It does offer some fiat-crypto pairs, but most of its pairs are between cryptocurrencies.
Lower fees than other commonly used exchanges
Large variety of cryptocurrencies and trading pairs
More advanced charting
Geared for more advanced users
Binance US has fewer trading pairs than its international counterpart, though it still has over 100 trading pairs
22 U.S. states, like New York, are not supported by Binance US
As of April 2021, Binance dominates the global exchange space, making up a significant portion of crypto trading volume daily. The exchange only allows for U.S. Dollar deposits by global users via SWIFT, but it does allow you to directly purchase a select number of cryptocurrencies with a credit or debit card. Deposits using 12 other fiat currencies are allowed, including the Euro.
Binance is best suited to people who would like to trade or invest in lesser-known altcoins. Binance offers over 50 different cryptocurrencies to trade while Coinbase is slightly behind them with 46. It may seem like a small difference, but each coin offers users more opportunity. Binance is the ideal exchange for anyone who would like to trade altcoins or anyone who wants more advanced charting than most other exchanges.
Best Decentralized Exchange : Bisq
Fees: Trading fees are payable in BTC or BSQ (the network’s native cryptocurrency). When paying for the fees using Bitcoin, the cost to trade one Bitcoin is 0.10% on the maker side and 0.70% on the taker side. When paying the fees in BSQ, the fee to trade one Bitcoin is 0.05% on the maker side and 0.35% on the taker side.
The premise of Bitcoin itself is that it grants open and free access to a unit of account. Banking products, like a checking or savings account, are only accessible if you have a legally provable government-issued identification. With Bitcoin, this isn’t necessary. It can be accessed regardless of nationality or location, and without any identification.
Decentralized, non-KYC platform
30 different payment options, including Zelle
Mobile app for both Android and iOS
Transaction speed can be slow, depending on payment method
Trading volumes can be low
Not designed for active trading
While many argue that this accessibility opens up possibilities for criminal activity (the same could be said about using cash), it also immediately grants units of account to individuals in countries with less-developed banking systems. There are millions of people in the world who do not have access to bank accounts or means to trade because their countries may not have the proper financial infrastructure, or the individuals may not have government-issued identification. Bitcoin, used in tandem with a decentralized exchange like Bisq, can be a good solution in these cases.
Bisq is a downloadable software and peer-to-peer decentralized Bitcoin and crypto exchange. This means that Bisq has no central point of failure and cannot be taken down, much like Bitcoin itself. Bisq is non-custodial, which means that no one other than the user touches or controls the user’s funds. This differs from centralized exchanges, like Coinbase, as Coinbase controls the user’s funds in a custodial account to which the user does not have the private keys. In that scenario, Coinbase holds the right to seize your funds if it deems your account activity suspicious, whether or not the activity is actually illegal in your location.
Bisq is instantly accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone as there is no registration process or KYC (Know Your Customer) rule. This makes it ideal for those looking for privacy, dissidents living within an oppressive regime, or anyone who does not have any government-issued identification.
Bisq offers trading of several different fiat currencies including USD, as well as Bitcoin and a number of other cryptocurrencies. Its decentralized and peer-to-peer characteristics can mean low trading volumes and slower transactions, but for some, this is well worth it.
Understanding the Types of Crypto Exchanges
To choose the best exchange for your needs, it is important to fully understand the types of exchanges.
The first and most common type of exchange is the centralized exchange. Popular exchanges that fall into this category are Coinbase, Binance, Kraken, and Gemini. These exchanges are private companies that offer platforms to trade cryptocurrency. These exchanges require registration and identification, also known as the Know Your Customer, or Know Your Client, rule.
The exchanges listed above all have active trading, high volumes, and liquidity. That said, centralized exchanges are not in line with the philosophy of Bitcoin. They run on their own private servers which creates a vector of attack. If the servers of the company were to be compromised, the whole system could be shut down for some time. Worse, sensitive data about its users could be released.
The larger, more popular centralized exchanges are by far the easiest on-ramp for new users and they even provide some level of insurance should their systems fail. While this is true, when cryptocurrency is purchased on these exchanges it is stored within their custodial wallets and not in your own wallet that you own the keys to. The insurance that is provided is only applicable if the exchange is at fault. Should your computer and your Coinbase account, for example, become compromised, your funds would be lost and you would not likely have the ability to claim insurance. This is why it is important to withdraw any large sums and practice safe storage.
Decentralized exchanges work in the same manner that Bitcoin does. A decentralized exchange has no central point of control. Instead, think of it as a server, except that each computer within the server is spread out across the world and each computer that makes up one part of that server is controlled by an individual. If one of these computers turns off, it has no effect on the network as a whole because there are plenty of other computers that will continue running the network.
This is drastically different from one company controlling a server in a single location. Attacking something that is spread out and decentralized in this manner is significantly more difficult, making any such attacks unrealistic and likely unsuccessful.
Due to this decentralization, these types of exchanges cannot be subject to the rules of any regulatory body, as there is no specific person or group running the system. The individuals who participate come and go, so there is no one individual or group that a government or regulatory body can realistically pursue. This means that those trading on the platform do not have to declare their identification and are free to use the platform in any manner they choose, whether legal or not.
How We Chose the Best Crypto Exchanges
Investopedia is dedicated to helping those interested in cryptocurrency investment make informed and safe decisions. We are committed to providing our readers with unbiased reviews of the top Bitcoin exchanges for investors of all levels. The landscape of cryptocurrency can be quite intimidating. We have chosen exchanges that we believe are trustworthy, secure, easy to use, and have had a long-standing and proven level of quality.