In brief

  • Bitcoin ATMs are a convenient way to buy and sell small amounts of the cryptocurrency.
  • For small transactions, they don't require KYC, making them easier to use than setting up an account at an exchange.
  • Before transacting with a Bitcoin ATM you'll need a cryptocurrency wallet, though some ATMs can set up a paper walllet for you.

Bitcoin ATMs are proliferating around the world—particularly in North America, where, according to Statista, the overwhelming majority are located. 

Bitcoin ATMs behave much like regular ATMs; they can be used to buy (and in some cases, sell) Bitcoin. Some ATMs enable you to buy other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash, but for our guide we'll be sticking to the granddaddy of cryptocurrencies. For the most part, the instructions are the same across all cryptocurrency ATMs. 

Why use a Bitcoin ATM?

Bitcoin ATMs provide a quick, easy way to buy (and sell) small amounts of Bitcoin.

When the first Bitcoin ATMs launched, they enabled users to buy Bitcoin anonymouslyIn the intervening years, regulators have intervened to ensure compliance with anti-money-laundering (AML) laws, enforcing know-your-customer (KYC) requirements; for example, in the United States, Bitcoin ATMs are regulated by the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN.

However, for small purchases, Bitcoin ATMs still usually enable BTC purchases to be made without requiring KYC. Even for larger purchases within their limits, KYC requirements are generally limited to scanning an ID document.

That makes Bitcoin ATMs a more convenient way of buying and selling Bitcoin than many cryptocurrency exchanges, which are obliged to have more complicated procedures for setting up an account.

How To Buy Bitcoin with a Bitcoin ATM

First up, you’ll need to find a Bitcoin ATM, using one of the various websites and apps that provide maps or lists of Bitcoin ATMs around the world.

Once you’ve tracked down a Bitcoin ATM, interacting with it is fairly simple—unsurprisingly, since they’re designed to mimic the user experience of a regular ATM. 

One thing you will need is a Bitcoin address; there are many options for acquiring one, including software wallets or hardware wallets. If you don’t have a wallet, don’t worry: many Bitcoin ATMs can generate a brand new paper wallet for you. A word of warning, though: keep your paper wallet safe, as anyone who gets access to the private key written on it will have access to your Bitcoin. To be extra safe, some software wallets allow you to import your paper wallet. Jaxx offered this solution in this blog post.

If you already have a Bitcoin wallet, you can tell the Bitcoin ATM where to send your funds by scanning a QR code that will be available in your mobile phone app.

To buy Bitcoin using a Bitcoin ATM, you’ll usually need to enter your phone number to receive a verification code by SMS. Once you’ve entered this, you simply need to scan the QR code of the wallet you’d like to receive your Bitcoin, using the ATM’s scanner. You can also double-check the receiving address at this point. 

Depending on how much Bitcoin you want to buy, you may also be required to scan your identification for KYC purposes.  Next, insert your cash into the ATM’s bill feeder, and your Bitcoin should arrive in your wallet. You’ll also have the option of printing off a paper receipt or receiving one by SMS.

How To Sell Bitcoin with a Bitcoin ATM

Selling Bitcoin using a Bitcoin ATM is a simple process. Once you’ve navigated through the options menu to “sell Bitcoin,” you’ll need to enter your phone number and, depending on the amount you want to withdraw, scan your ID for KYC.

Select the amount of Bitcoin you’d like to sell and the ATM should present you with a QR code on a paper ticket. You’ll then need to scan the QR code using your Bitcoin wallet in order to send Bitcoin to the address in question; this should pre-populate with the value you’ve selected using the ATM, but do double-check to make sure that the amount is accurate.

You’ll then receive a text message letting you know that your funds have been received by the ATM. Head back to the ATM, hit “redeem ticket” and scan the QR code from your ticket using the ATM’s scanner. The ATM should then spit out your crisp bills of paper money.

Sounds easy? That’s the idea: Bitcoin ATMs are ideally suited to novice users looking to purchase small amounts of Bitcoin.