Cryptocurrency is getting more user-friendly, more accessible, and also much more regulated. This makes it a lot less “wild west” but also means it’s a bit harder to get started in crypto without going through the laborious KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements most exchanges have now been forced into adopting. Luckily, there are still ways to make peer-to-peer crypto purchases. If you’re just looking to remain anonymous (in the true spirit of crypto), you may want to check out these exchanges.
LocalCryptos: peer-to-peer marketplace
As of April 2020, LocalCryptos (formerly LocalEthereum) may be the premier peer-to-peer crypto-fiat marketplace with no KYC requirements. In short, LocalCryptos lets you buy cryptocurrency with national currencies without asking for any form of ID.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up.
- Enter a few basic pieces of information (nothing identifiable required).
- Find an offer in your preferred currency using a payment method you can access (PayPal, CashApp, TransferWise, Zelle, etc.).
- Start a transaction with the seller.
- Wait for them to put funds in escrow.
- Send the payment.
- Get your crypto paid out to your wallet once the seller confirms.
The site is well-designed, the system is fairly good at keeping scams to a minimum, and you can typically find prices that are fairly close to the market. You can chat with the sellers over their encrypted messaging system so you can ask questions and feel out how reliable they may be.
Be aware that some sellers may ask you for ID to be sent over the encrypted messaging system before they fund the escrow. That’s not necessarily a problem – they may just check it and delete it – but that’s a call you will have to make. Even a seller with a good reputation may be selling IDs on the side, after all.
Bisq: decentralized exchange
If LocalCryptos isn’t decentralized enough for you, you may prefer Bisq (formerly BitSquare). This is a fully-automated, decentralized, open-source piece of software run using a Tor peer-to-peer network and governed by a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization).
It has built-in anti-scam and dispute resolution methods, including security deposits, account signing, trade limits that increase over time, multi-signature addresses, and arbitrators/mediators that get paid to resolve disputes from the security deposits paid by the party found to be in the wrong.
The system works quite reliably and well, and the safety mechanisms keep it relatively scam-free. It will require a certain level of comfort with crypto and tech to use, since you have to download software and go through a few steps, but if you’re interested in buying cryptocurrency through a decentralized exchange, chances are that you mostly fulfill those prerequisites.
Here’s how to get started and make your first transaction:
- Download the software (available for most desktop OSes).
- Connect a national/fiat currency account (Zelle, Revolut, SEPA, bank transfer, Uphold, AliPay, Moneygram, face to face, etc.).
- Fund your Bisq wallet with Bitcoin (minimum of .006 to buy .001 BTC, which will be your initial trade limit).
- Find an offer to buy BTC at the quantity and price you want.
- Send the listed security deposit and transaction fees to the trade wallet where they’ll be held in escrow until the trade is complete. (You get them back if there aren’t any problems.)
- Confirm the trade, send the payment before the time limit runs out, and mark the payment as sent.
- When the seller receives your payment, they’ll release the Bitcoin and your security deposit.
The biggest issues you’ll face with Bisq are the relatively-high prices and the limits you’ll initially have on your account. Due to the increased risk, sellers often mark up the market prices by up to 20 percent and find sellers who will sell you the .01 Bitcoin you need to get your account signed and marked as reliable. It can be difficult, especially if you want to pay a reasonable price. You can make your own buyer listing, though, listing the price and quantity of your choice and seeing if a seller bites.
Wall of Coins: bank cash deposit
Wall of Coins is only available in the U.S, though there are other businesses in other countries operating along the same lines. It’s probably the simplest way to buy Bitcoins, Dash, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, and other cryptos with minimal KYC (see the note below), though it does entail physically going to a bank and making a cash deposit.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up with your phone number (not really KYC, since you can get anonymous phone numbers).
- Give the service your location so it can find nearby banks.
- Enter the amount of crypto you want to buy.
- Press the Order button next to the bank location you want to use for your payment.
- Confirm the code you receive on your phone.
- Follow the instructions you’re sent and make a cash deposit for the correct amount at the bank branch you specified.
- Optionally, email a picture of your receipt to the site to make it go faster.
- Wall of Coins will verify your payment and send your coins.
Wall of Coins isn’t as directly P2P as the other options listed, but it’s certainly easier if you’re not confident that your tech skills are up to the job. The rates tend to be above market, as is normal with these systems, but you can typically find at least a few good deals, especially if you’re willing to sort through altcoins.
As for the “minimal KYC,” Wall of Coins can’t accurately be listed as a KYC-free exchange, since there are a few reports that large transactions (starting in the low thousands) have been flagged and required ID to clear, and the existence of at least some form of KYC has been confirmed by the company’s representatives. Buying and selling a few hundred dollars of crypto at a time will probably be fine, but keep in mind that large transactions will look suspicious.
If you live near a major population center, you probably have a Bitcoin ATM somewhere nearby. These are even more straightforward than Wall of Coins, since you just go to them, follow the instructions on the screen, insert cash, and get your Bitcoin (or other crypto). No ID, no wait, just Bitcoins from a machine. These tend to come with a sizeable fee, though. I’ve seen them go as high as 20%, which makes them less of an option if you’re looking for a good deal. Always check the market price before using a crypto ATM so that you know if they’re charging you fairly.
You can find a fairly comprehensive map at Coin ATM Radar.
- HodlHodl: No KYC, fairly well-known and trustworthy. It seems to work partially like LocalCryptos and partially like Bisq. May not support U.S. trades.
- LocalCoinSwap: KYC is purely optional (i.e., it’s there if you want the extra layer of protection). LocalCoinSwap is pretty popular and supports a lot of countries, cryptocurrencies, and payment options.
- LocalMonero/AgoraDesk: No KYC. Like LocalCryptos but just with Bitcoin and Monero. Generally well-regarded.
- LocalBitcoins: The elephant in the room and probably the exchange you’ve heard of most often in connection with P2P crypto transactions. It’s still a good exchange, and you can trade up to 1000 euros a year with your email, name, phone, and country listed, but anything more requires ID. LocalCryptos is essentially the new LocalBitcoins.
- Paxful: Another popular P2P exchange that, like LocalBitcoins, now requires ID for trade volumes of $1,500 and for anyone who wants to post an offer or make a bank transfer.
- BitQuick: Like Wall of Coins but with KYC starting at $400 USD.
To KYC or not to KYC
Cryptocurrency exchanges don’t want to make life harder for legitimate crypto enthusiasts, but the regulations that many of them have to comply with typically result in some pretty onerous sign-up and verification processes.
If you don’t mind providing ID and going through some bureaucratic hassle, conventional exchanges with KYC are a fine way to get into crypto. If getting that stuff together is a challenge for you or you have a philosophical aversion to it, you’ll have to deal with a slight learning curve to use a no-KYC exchange. No matter what, it is always best to keep your cryptocurrency safe as they are often unrecoverable.