Where to buy bitcoins is one of those chicken-and-egg issues that has slowed the broader adoption of the digital currency.
Physical locations where you can buy bitcoins have been scarce as relatively few people use them. At the same time, many new Bitcoin users may be reluctant to jump in while places to buy bitcoins remain few in number.
For Bitcoin to catch on in a major way, it needs to be more widely available.
At this point, Bitcoin enthusiasts can only buy the cryptocurrency from online Bitcoin exchanges, still-rare Bitcoin ATMs (there are only 412 Bitcoin ATMs on the entire planet), or from other fans of the currency by meeting up with them in person.
Now imagine if places where you can buy bitcoins were as common as bank ATMs or convenience stores.
In some countries, that's already happening.
Earlier this year a company called CoinPlug started selling its okBitcards at more than 24,000 convenience stores in South Korea.
For now, the okBitcard is actually a paper receipt that's purchased at the register for a set amount of South Korean won (10,000, 20,000, or 30,000). The receipt contains a code to be typed into the CoinPlug smartphone app, which transfers the purchased bitcoins to the user's account.
CoinPlug is ramping up to a system in which it will sell physical cards in the convenience stores.
The company expanded the idea further in March through a partnership with the bank ATM maker, Nautilus Hyosung. Modified ATMs will have okBitcard as an option to buy Bitcoin with a credit card. These machines also spit out a paper receipt with a code.
CoinPlug plans to extend the service to nearby countries, starting with major cities.
But South Korea isn't the only country with innovative answers to the question of where to buy bitcoins...
Where to Buy Bitcoins Around the World
BTCPoint has partnered with four major banks in Spain to allow users to get fiat cash in exchange for their bitcoins, a task just as important as being able to buy bitcoins with fiat.
BTCPoint's service is available at 10,000 bank-owned ATMs in Spain. The company is working on adding the ability to buy bitcoins as well.
Meanwhile, a company called Chip Chap has contributed heavily to the global list of where to buy bitcoins. Chip Chap's service also is available on 10,000 bank ATMs in Spain. In April the company expanded the service to 4,000 bank ATMs in Poland.
Chip Chap could soon offer its full service in England and France.
The Chip Chap system is similar to the CoinPlug system. Users turn fiat cash into vouchers that get converted into Bitcoin via a smartphone app. But Chip Chap's vouchers can also be converted back to fiat.
The company has already branched out beyond Europe to Mexico.
In Mexico, the Chip Chap service is available not through ATMs but 5,000 merchants, including 7-Eleven. Because many Spanish banks operate in Latin America, the company hopes bring the service to many more countries in that region.
Other corners of the world have also added such services. Two companies in tiny Taiwan, BitoEX and Maicoin, allow users to buy bitcoins at 10,000 convenience stores.
This kind of Bitcoin-buying revolution has also landed in the United States, but on a smaller scale. LibertyX offers the ability to buy bitcoins at 2,500 locations in 33 states.
To find the locations near you, just visit the company website and type your zip code into the interactive map. (This works with the LibertyX iPhone app as well.)
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Like many of the others, the LibertyX system uses a printed receipt with a code you can input at the company website or via the iPhone app. Users can't buy any amount of Bitcoin, but must chose a preset amount of $50, $100, $200, or $300.
In addition to expanding this network, LibertyX has hopes of being the company that brings Bitcoin to bank-owned ATMs in the United States.
"I think that Bitcoin is a great add-on and should be integrated into all ATMs. It doesn't make sense to have a new machine when all that's required is additional lines of code," LibertyX co-founder Chris Yim told CoinDesk last December. "I for one would love to work with any ATM or banking partners that are looking to deploy this."
As demand for Bitcoin grows over the next few years, expect to see an explosion of new places to buy the digital currency. Before too long, where to buy bitcoins will cease to be an issue.
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About the Author
David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.