It’s important to research a wide range of platforms and compare the pros and cons of each option. The best Bitcoin exchange for you depends on what you’re looking for.
Consider the following factors when comparing crypto exchanges.
If you’re a cryptocurrency novice, getting started buying and selling coins and tokens can be complicated and confusing. On the other hand, experienced traders may want a platform with special features like advanced charting and order types as well as the option to trade on margin.
If you’re a crypto-trading beginner, look for a platform with a simple and straightforward user interface that’s easy to understand from the beginning.
Can you deposit funds into your account via bank transfer, credit card and/or PayPal? The more payment options an exchange has, the more convenient it will generally be to use. Make sure your exchange has deposit and withdrawal options that work for you, and remember to check the fees associated with different methods.
First, consider the type of trades you want to place. There are exchanges available that offer the following :
Both fiat-to-crypto and crypto-to-crypto trading
For example, if you want to buy BTC with HKD, you’ll need to find a cryptocurrency broker that allows you to buy coins via bank transfer or credit card. Alternatively, if you want to exchange your BTC or ETH holdings for another cryptocurrency, you’ll want a platform that offers direct crypto-to-crypto trades.
Consider which currencies you want to trade and which platforms list those currencies in one or more trading pairs:
Cryptocurrencies. There are thousands of different digital currencies and crypto-assets in existence, so don’t expect to find them all listed on any single platform. Major cryptos like BTC, ETH, XRP and others in the top 20 coins by market cap are listed on an extensive range of exchanges, but rarer altcoins may be much harder to find.
Fiat currencies. If you want to buy crypto with fiat currency, check which currencies the platform accepts.
From deposit through to trading and then withdrawing funds, how much will it cost you to buy and sell crypto on each platform from start to finish? Remember to consider your payment method, the currencies you want to use and any discounts you may be entitled to when completing these calculations.
Are there any limits on the amount you can deposit into your account or the amount of cryptocurrency you can buy or sell per transaction or per day? Also check whether there are any restrictions on how much you can withdraw from your account.
Remember, minimum and maximum limits may apply, so check the fine print to be sure the platform is a good fit for the size of trades you want to place.
How can you access your trading account? Many platforms offer web browser trading only, but some also offer mobile and even desktop trading apps. If trading on the go is important to you, it’s worth reading up on the user friendliness of the platform’s mobile app.
Is there any way you can access reduced trading fees? Are you entitled to fee discounts simply because you hold an exchange’s native currency or use those tokens to pay transaction fees? Is there a tiered fee structure that rewards high-volume traders with reduced fees?
Some crypto exchange loyalty programs will even offer additional benefits, such as access to exclusive events and even a share of the platform’s trading fee revenue, so this feature is well worth investigating.
There is no such thing as an official Bitcoin price – it’s determined by whatever people are willing to pay. Compare exchange rates across a handful of different crypto exchanges and you might be surprised to find just how much they can differ from one platform to the next. The variation can be as much as 10% in some cases, which can obviously make a big difference to the success of a trade.
The level of liquidity on an exchange affects the ease and speed with which you can complete trades. If there’s a high level of liquidity – in other words, if the exchange has a high trading volume – then trades should be completed quickly and easily.
One of the biggest benefits of trading on larger crypto exchanges is that they get enough orders to be able to match buyers and sellers without any difficulty. However, low liquidity can lead to substantial price fluctuations.
You can check crypto exchange trading volumes by looking at its order books prior to sign up.
If privacy is important to you when trading cryptocurrency, there are some platforms that allow you to transact anonymously. Of course, if it’s too easy to create an account and start trading, consider whether there’s anything to stop a platform from disappearing (hopefully not with your funds) overnight.
Many other platforms will require you to verify your account before allowing you to trade. This step is designed to ensure that the exchange meets its obligations under anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) regulations.
Verification requirements vary between exchanges, but you may need to provide some or all of the following:
Your email address and phone number
Proof of ID (HKID, passport)
Proof of address
A photo of yourself holding a signed declaration
If you need to provide a wide range of personal information, it’s important to be sure you’re dealing with a trusted exchange. It’s also a good idea to research how long you can expect the verification process to take.
Finally, be aware that some exchanges will require you to complete additional verification tasks in order to unlock full account features and higher transaction limits.
How long will it take for your transaction to be completed? How soon are account withdrawals processed?
Being forced to miss out on a trading opportunity because your trading funds took too long to arrive into your exchange account can be a frustrating experience. Spending day after day waiting for a withdrawal to arrive in your bank account or crypto wallet can also be extremely stressful, so check average processing times before you register.
Security is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a crypto exchange. History is littered with many famous examples of exchanges being hacked and unsuspecting users falling victim to theft and fraud, so make sure you do your research into what security measures are in place to protect your funds. Questions you should ask include the following:
Is 2-factor authentication supported?
Are customer funds stored in online or offline wallets?
Do I control my private key or does the exchange? If it’s the latter, where and how is my private key stored?
What level of verification is required to open an account?
Is there 24/7 security monitoring?
Will you receive email and SMS alerts regarding account activity?
Does the exchange use email encryption?
Does the exchange provide proof of reserve?
Though authorities around the world are starting to catch up to the rapid growth of crypto exchanges, the industry as a whole is still lightly regulated. How an exchange is regulated depends on where it is based, so do your research to find out whatever information you can about the platform operators.
Hong Kong based cryptocurrency exchange operators must be registered with Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and meet the government’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) compliance and reporting obligations.
It’s also worth noting that due to regulatory requirements, users from certain countries will not be allowed to access some exchanges. As always, check the fine print to find out whether any of these geographical restrictions apply to you.
This is a crucial but often overlooked factor when comparing crypto exchanges. If you ever have a problem with an individual transaction or with your account, how will you be able to access a platform’s customer support team?
You’ll need to consider the following:
How can you contact customer support? Are they available through email, phone and live chat?
Is there an online support centre where you can submit a support ticket?
Is support available 24/7 or only during specific hours?
How quickly does the support team respond to enquiries?
If the exchange is based overseas in a country where English isn’t the first language, will you be able to access English-language support whenever you need?
Does the site’s support centre feature answers to a range of frequently asked questions, and perhaps instructional guides and/or videos that explain how to trade?
In short, does the platform have a good reputation for providing prompt and helpful support to users?
Does the exchange have a reputation as a secure and reliable platform? Read independent online reviews from other users to find out all about their experiences, both positive and negative, with the platform. Where does it excel and where does it fall short? Would they recommend the exchange to friends and family?
It’s also a good idea to consider how long an exchange has been operating before deciding which platform is right for you.
How to use a cryptocurrency exchange
For the sake of our example, let’s assume that you have HKD$500 that you want to use to buy Bitcoin.
Register for an account on the platform, including providing any personal details and proof of ID required.
Navigate your way to the “Buy” screen.
Select Bitcoin as the cryptocurrency you want to buy.
Select your payment currency, which in this case is HKD, and specify the amount you want to spend as $500.
Select your payment method, such as a credit card payment or bank transfer.
Enter your payment details, such as your bank account number if sending a bank transfer or your card number and CVV if paying by credit card.
Review the full details of your transaction, including the fees that will apply and the amount of BTC you are purchasing.
If you’re happy to proceed, click “Buy BTC”.
Once the transaction has been processed, the BTC will be deposited into your exchange wallet. However, please note that some brokers will automatically send your purchased BTC to an external wallet address nominated by you.
The term “exchange” can be used to refer to a variety of cryptocurrency brokers, trading platforms and other services. Different types of exchange are often more geared towards beginners or experienced users.
For beginners – cryptocurrency brokers. Buy directly from cryptocurrency dealers for simple, quick and easy purchases. Many beginners use brokers for their first purchase.
For intermediates – cryptocurrency trading platforms. Buy and sell cryptocurrency on an open market for competitive fees, a wide selection of cryptocurrencies and optional extra features like margin trading. While a bit trickier than brokers, these platforms can still be quite beginner-friendly. Binance is an example of a cryptocurrency trading platform.
For advanced users – cryptocurrency derivatives platform. These trading platforms don’t sell cryptocurrency outright. Instead, they let you trade cryptocurrency derivatives. They’re for advanced traders who want high speed, high leverage, deeply liquid platforms with a full range of features.
Is it safe to store your cryptocurrency on an exchange?
Cryptocurrency is held in digital wallets. Some exchanges will give you your own wallet, which lets you hold cryptocurrency in your exchange account and then transfer it anywhere as desired, while others will require you to have your own wallet at the time of purchase.
However, using an exchange for long-term storage is not recommended. As the exchange controls the private key to your wallet, you don’t have total control of your funds. And with exchanges regularly (and sometimes successfully) targeted by hackers, storing crypto on an exchange long-term is very risky.
Not all crypto exchanges are created equal, and not all crypto buyers and sellers have the same trading needs. The best exchange for one person might not necessarily be the right choice for someone else, so it’s essential that you do your own research.
Check out our reviews on a range of leading cryptocurrency exchanges in Hong Kong and around the world. Compare the features, fees and pros and cons of each Bitcoin exchange and consider how they align with your trading requirements.
The best Bitcoin exchange is cheap, easy and fast, with a wide range of payment options. It doesn’t need to have a wide selection or any advanced trading features. It’s for people who just want to buy Bitcoin. Generally, the most important factor is whether you’re using a local exchange, as this typically means you can pay with the local currency, and enjoy faster, cheaper transactions.
By this measure, the best Bitcoin exchange in Hong Kong might be CoinJar. Its rates and fees are about on par with other top Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchanges, and it doesn’t have an especially wide selection of cryptocurrencies, but its flexibility and Bitcoin-related features go above and beyond.
Some of the things that set CoinJar apart from other Hong Kong Bitcoin exchanges are that it has both a simple brokerage service and a reasonably active trading platform, that it offers a Bitcoin debit card and its wide range of payment options, including cash deposits.
The best altcoin exchanges
The best altcoin exchange has a wide selection first and foremost, ideally with good liquidity across all pairs. Low fees, extra features, fiat payment options and other extras are nice, but sheer selection is more important.
There are two altcoin exchanges that may be considered to be the best, and between them, you can find hundreds upon hundreds of different coins.
The first is CoinSwitch. It’s actually an aggregator that lets you trade across several different partner exchanges at once. Between those partners, CoinSwitch lets you access about 400 different cryptocurrencies all in one place, with trading fees usually ranging from 0% to 0.5%, although there may be other costs in the spread. If you’re looking for a wide selection and low fees, CoinSwitch could be a good place to start.
KuCoin could be a good place to look second. It offers several hundred cryptocurrencies by itself, and it’s not one of CoinSwitch’s partners, which means you can find things on KuCoin that you won’t find on CoinSwitch. KuCoin’s trading fees are 0.1%, and as a proper exchange, it has some features that CoinSwitch doesn’t, such as margin trading.
The cheapest cryptocurrency exchanges
The cheapest cryptocurrency exchange isn’t always the one with the lowest trading fees. It’s also important to look for good spreads, to get good exchange rates and to make sure the deposit or withdrawal fees are reasonable.
The cheapest exchange may depend on whether you’re looking for a place to buy cryptocurrency, or if you want to trade cryptocurrencies instead. It can also depend on whether you’re buying Bitcoin, or a more obscure altcoin.
If you’re just buying Bitcoin with HKD, CoinJar may be the cheapest option. It offers zero fee deposit and withdrawal options, good rates and low fees.
If you want to buy altcoins with HKD, it may be worth checking the prices at Swyftx instead. It charges deposit and withdrawal fees on smaller transfers, and its fees aren’t the lowest, but it will often more-than make up for it with much better spreads on HKD altcoin purchases.
If you want to actively trade cryptocurrencies for each other, Binance could be the cheapest choice. Its trading fees start at 0.1%, with easy avenues to additional discounts. Simply by paying fees with BNB, it’s possible to get an easy 25% discount on trading fees. Importantly, it’s also one of the world’s most liquid cryptocurrency exchanges, which can be key to saving money by avoiding slippage.
The largest cryptocurrency exchanges
There are different ways of measuring “largest”, but the most common is trading volume. More volume is good because it can indicate more popular, responsive and liquid exchanges. Unfortunately, you can’t just take the exchange’s word for it or trust exchange volume rankings from sites like CoinMarketCap. Fake volume and wash trading are common in cryptocurrency.
There are some exchanges which, after heavy scrutiny, are believed to show entirely genuine volume though.
The world’s highest real-volume exchange is consistently Binance, according to reports from the Blockchain Transparency Institute, Bitwise and others.
The most popular cryptocurrency exchanges
If someone wants to find a reliable and all-around good cryptocurrency exchange without spending too much time sifting through the options, it can be helpful to beeline right for the most popular.
Popularity can be tricky to measure though, and many exchanges don’t disclose their total number of user accounts, and this figure will often be very different to the number of active users.
However, according to Similarweb, the most-visited cryptocurrency exchange website in the world between November 2019 and January 2020 was Coinbase, with over 57 million website visits worldwide. The second most-visited cryptocurrency exchange was Binance, with 53 million visits.
This echoes findings from the Blockchain Transparency Institute, which reported in December 2018 that Coinbase was the world’s most popular cryptocurrency exchange.
The best cryptocurrency trading platforms
The best cryptocurrency trading platforms are very liquid, very fast and offer a full range of features such as margin trading with up to 100x leverage, cryptocurrency derivatives such as futures and options, and good integration with third-party trading tools such as cryptocurrency trading bots. Ideally, they will also be well-regulated, popular and have a good reputation.
There are no exchanges which fit all of the above criteria, so the best cryptocurrency trading platform for you may depend on which of these criteria is most important to you. There are a number of options to consider.
Binance offers the highest leverage of any exchange (125x) and a wide selection of crypto derivatives, but it’s been known to experience technical issues.
Kraken only offers up to 5x leverage on a comparatively small range of coins, but it’s got a good reputation and offers both futures and options contracts.
Cryptocurrency exchanges that don’t require ID
As a general rule of thumb, crypto-to-crypto trading doesn’t always require user verification, and people can do it without ID. Exchanging fiat currency for cryptocurrency typically does require ID.
Many of the exceptions to the rule are peer-to-peer exchanges, such as Paxful, where users can arrange fiat-to-crypto trades directly with each other that don’t always require ID.
However, there are often strict purchase limits and other downsides when using exchanges that don’t require ID.
Cryptocurrency exchanges that let you pay with cash
There are two main types of exchange that let you pay with cash, or three if you include Bitcoin ATMs.
You can check the map of Bitcoin ATM locations in Hong Kong to see if there’s a Bitcoin ATM near you.
The other exchanges that let you buy crypto with cash include those such as CoinSpot, which let users pay with cash via cash vouchers, and peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchanges such as Paxful where traders can find sellers who are willing to accept cash.
The safest cryptocurrency exchange
Most exchanges will claim to be perfectly safe and secure right up until they get hacked, so you can’t just take their word for it. Instead, you can find the safest exchanges by looking at their security history, their security policies and any additional measures they take to protect their exchanges.
Internationally, the safest cryptocurrency exchange might be Gemini. It was founded in 2014, it’s never been hacked, it was one of the world’s first exchanges to get ISO27001 certified and it’s also created its own captive insurance company specifically to ensure coverage for digital assets.
As safe as Gemini is, non-custodial or decentralised cryptocurrency exchanges are arguably even safer. Non-custodial exchanges send funds directly to your personal wallet when you make a purchase, while decentralised exchanges allow direct peer-to-peer cryptocurrency swaps.
In both cases, the exchanges don’t hold user funds, which means there’s no risk of losing your money to an exchange hack.
Non-custodial and decentralised exchanges put you in personal control of your security.
If you have a secure hardware wallet and know how to use it, non-custodial exchanges are arguably as safe as cryptocurrency exchanges can ever get. Decentralised exchanges are theoretically just as safe, but they’re also more experimental so bugs and unforeseen vulnerabilities may pose problems.
The best non-custodial cryptocurrency exchange
Non-custodial cryptocurrency exchanges send your cryptocurrency directly to your personal wallet after you make a purchase. This can be convenient, and it’s also perceived to be safer than entrusting funds to centralised exchanges.
The best non-custodial exchanges are characterised by variety, a wide range of payment options and fast delivery.
Coinmama is a well-known non-custodial exchange. It doesn’t hold your funds or cryptocurrency. Instead, it simply takes payment and then sends cryptocurrency directly to your wallet address as soon as payment is received and your wallet address is confirmed.
The best decentralised cryptocurrency exchange
All decentralised exchanges (DEXs) struggle to a certain extent with liquidity problems, complex user interfaces and slow trading, and you can expect to find combinations of these issues on any DEX.
No decentralised exchanges are without problems, and the best might depend on which ecosystem you’re trying to access.
The Waves platform is a relatively well-known general-purpose DEX, while more Ethereum-specific DEX protocols include 0x and Kyber Network. Elsewhere, DEXs such as Stellarport offer access to the Stellar Lumens ecosystem, while the Binance DEX serves as a token swap system in the Binance Chain ecosystem.
Frequently asked questions
Does every exchange list every possible cryptocurrency?
No. The list of currencies available varies widely from one exchange to the next. Some Bitcoin exchanges will only offer Bitcoin or a select few currencies while others support hundreds, but there’s no guarantee that all the cryptos you want to buy and sell will be available on any one platform.
How do I avoid scams on cryptocurrency exchanges?
While regulators are gradually implementing laws and guidelines to help protect consumers against fraud, there are still plenty of dodgy exchange operators out there. Falling victim to theft is a major concern for any crypto buyer.
What if I want to place large-volume crypto trades, for example trades worth $50,000 or more?
You may want to consider using the services of an over-the-counter (OTC) broker in order to avoid slippage. Check out our guide to OTC services for more details.
Are there any exchanges that allow leverage trading of cryptocurrencies?
Yes. Take a look at our cryptocurrency margin trading guide for more information.
Where can I find a list of the world’s biggest crypto exchanges?
You can view 24-hour trading volume for crypto exchanges on sites like CoinMarketCap, but be aware that the information is not always correct, and many unscrupulous exchanges try to cheat the rankings with fake trading volume.
You can find a more in-depth selection of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges here.
Why do some crypto exchanges ask me to verify my identity?
Exchanges in Hong Kong and several other countries are subject to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) regulations. In order to comply with these regulations, exchange operators must gather certain details about their customers – which is why you may be asked to provide proof of ID. This process is typically referred to as “know your customer” or KYC.
Disclaimer: Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly
volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of
future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information.
You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory
requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may
have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.
Andrew Munro is the cryptocurrency editor at Finder. He was initially writing about insurance, when he accidentally fell in love with digital currency and distributed ledger technology (aka “the blockchain”). Andrew has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales, and has written guides about everything from industrial pigments to cosmetic surgery.
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