Crypto Exchange Guide: Which Cryptocurrency Exchange Should Someone New to Cryptocurrency Use?
Here is a crypto exchange guide with a list of popular cryptocurrency exchanges that are suitable for beginners. Top picks include Coinbase/Coinbase Pro, Bittrex, Binance, and Kraken.
The exchanges listed below are all popular cryptocurrency exchanges with the highest volume of Bitcoin traded that are either beginner friendly or that beginners should be aware of.
In most cases someone on our team or some close to us has used the exchanges listed below (this is true for everything aside from a few of the global exchanges based in other countries).
TIP: If you want to sort of compare what we think to other lists, check out a top 5 list of cryptocurrency exchanges and the Best Bitcoin Exchanges ranked. You’ll note that there is a general consensus, but that we also take the time to tell you about options others might not think to like GBTC and Square. 😉
IMPORTANT: Use these exchanges at your own risk and down your own research. Most life choices pose risks, trading cryptocurrency is no exception. Anything connected to the internet is potentially subject to hacking or downtime, price movement can be volatile, and all trades are final in most cases (meaning if you accidentally sell your Bitcoin at a bad price, there isn’t much you can do about it).
Our Picks for Beginner Friendly Cryptocurrency Exchanges / Brokers
If I was getting into crypto for the first time, I would start with one or all of the following platforms (the first three are for very casual users, the second two are good choices for actually getting into crypto trading, investing, or use):
- GBTC or ETCG stocks. These aren’t crypto, these are trusts that hold crypto. Please research their premiums before buying.
- Square’s Cash App. Want to make your life really easy, download Square’s Cash App, input your information, and hit the buy Bitcoin button. This app is very limited in what it can do, and it doesn’t offer a true Bitcoin wallet, but it is probably the easiest way to buy/sell Bitcoin. This is our top choice for those who want to own Bitcoin without any of the headaches (if you don’t want to be in cryptocurrency, but want to use or invest in Bitcoin). With this solution you can only buy/sell/send/receive Bitcoin within Square’s ecosystem. If you want to own Bitcoin or other cryptos, you’ll need to move to the next choice.
- Robinhood. Robin Hood allows crypto trading in some states.
- Bakkt. Bakkt plans to launch in December and will offer 1-day physically settled Bitcoin contracts. The bonus here is that you can use a traditional brokerage account to buy crypto via Bakkt.
- Coinbase/Coinbase Pro (formerly known as GDAX). Coinbase is a company, they have two notable platforms for trading 1. Coinbase a broker-wallet hybrid and, 2. Coinbase Pro a more professional exchange. Square’s app aside, Coinbase is arguably easiest way to buy, sell, store, and send Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, and more. This pairing of Coinbase first and Coinbase Pro once you get that down is our top choice for new users who want to start their cryptocurrency journey. TIP: Once a user is a bit more advanced they may also want to check out Coinbase Wallet for Ethereum-based asset trading. OFFER: Sign up for Coinbase by clicking this Coinbase referral link and we both get $10 worth of Bitcoin when you spend $100.
- Kraken. Kraken is a good choice for new users who don’t want to use Coinbase (for whatever reason). As Kraken is an exchange that deals in USD, sells a range of cryptocurrencies, and is based in the U.S. It is a little more heady than Coinbase, but it offers more choices (it offers more alts and margin trading for example).
IMPORTANT: Use a strong password, never share your password, and use two factor authentication. These layers of security are vital for cryptocurrency, as if someone hacks your account and takes your cryptocurrency, you have no recourse. Here one should note, if an exchange is hacked, you generally have recourse, but if your account is hacked (because you didn’t have a secure password or two factor) you don’t. Because of concerns like this, many keep their balances in cryptocurrency wallets not connected to the internet or in a secure online wallet like Coinbase’s vault.
TIP: Unless you use Square’s Cash app or Coinbase’s custodial wallet service, you’ll need a cryptocurrency wallet solution for long term storage. Learn more about cryptocurrency wallets.
TIP: If you just want to invest in cryptocurrency, you can also check out the stock GBTC.
Once you Have Cryptocurrency, These are Our Top Picks for Beginners
After you have Coinbase or Kraken, the following platforms are logical choices:
- Bittrex. Bittrex is currently only a crypto-to-crypto exchange (they are working on adding USD). They are a U.S. based company with a good reputation.
- Binance. If you don’t mind using a global exchange, Binance is a very popular exchange with low fees. Please use our Binance.com referral link to sign up.
NOTE: One could argue that Coinbase Pro and Kraken belong in this category and that Coinbase is essentially the best starting point. However, Coinbase Pro is a Coinbase product and Kraken might be the best first choice for users who want to jump right into owning a range of cryptos. Thus, they made the first category.
Other Completely Valid and For Some Even Preferable Exchanges
These are some exchanges that could have been in the above two categories, but aren’t to keep things simple:
- Poloniex. A popular crypto-to-crypto exchange with competitive fees.
- KuCoin: A solid choice for an altcoin exchange. A valid alternative to Binance. Please use our KuCoin.com referral link to sign up.
- Gemini. A simple U.S.-based exchange that deals USD, the Winklevoss twins are major investors. Limited choices, but geared toward non-crypto users.
- Changelly. Changelly lets you swap one coin for another by filling out a form. Like the Cash app and Coinbase it isn’t a traditional exchange, but it is simple and gets the job done. The caveat here is that you need to have your own wallet… and you’ll need a cryptocurrency to swap. To get your first tokens you can buy Bitcoin and Ethereum at Changelly using a credit card. Please use our Changelly.com referral link to sign up.
- Shapeshift. A platform that preforms the same functions as Changelly essentially.
- Bitstamp. Bitstamp is the other go-to for popular U.S.-based exchanges that deal in USD.
TIP: These aren’t the only additional exchanges worth mentioning, but going further down the list of popular exchanges would require me discussing exchanges I haven’t used or don’t have a direct relationship with someone who uses them regularly.
NOTE: I wouldn’t pick an exchange based on fees unless you are day trading (as they all essentially have the same general fee structure; most exchanges charge a .25% fee, it is almost the industry standard). That said, Coinbase Pro offers 0% fees on limit orders and a few other exchanges have competitive fees (like Binance mentioned below).
Want to automate trading? Sign up for a free trial using our Cryptohopper.com referral link. CryptoHopper makes using a trading bot easy for anyone via their online platform and user friendly interface
Moving Beyond the U.S. and Beyond the Beginner Friendly Exchanges
The following exchanges that aren’t beginner friendly, but are good to know about:
- Any DEX, including EtherDelta. A DEX is a decentralized exchange. There are many useful DEXs, some of which list tokens before any other exchange. EtherDelta is one very useful token exchange for trading newly released ethereum-based tokens (this is as far from beginner friendly as it gets; but very useful). That said, newcomers need to be very careful using DEX exchanges!
- Bitfinex. A very popular longstanding exchange with a mixed reputation. It is especially useful and popular for margin trading (which is not beginner friendly whatsoever).
- Bitmex. A derivatives exchange that isn’t supposed to be used by U.S. citizens… but is the number one exchange by volume.
Global Exchanges: This list above mostly revolves around top U.S.-based exchanges. If we were going to recommend a non-U.S. exchange (for example to users outside the U.S. or those simply want more options): Binance (popular with U.S. users) would be a good choice, OKEx (a South Korean exchange) is insanely popular, Bithumb (a South Korean exchange) is also a popular, and bitFlyer (a Japanese exchange) is popular as well. Please note not all countries allow foreigners to access exchanges. Huobi (Beijing), KuCoin (global), and UpBit (South Korea) are probably are worth noting as well.
Consider staying away from exchanges I didn’t mention until you know what you are doing. There are many more exchanges, some are not beginner friendly, some are risky, some are scammy. Not every exchange I didn’t mention is a bad choice, especially if the top exchange in your country wasn’t mentioned here ( did leave off some good ones), but still… it generally doesn’t make a ton of sense to avoid the top exchanges in favor of a more questionable one somewhere down the list right when you are getting started. Once you no longer need this list, you may find some cool exchanges that work for you that I didn’t add.
Should I not use exchanges that aren’t on this list? You can use any exchange you want, but if you live in the U.S. and you want to start trading crypto, it makes very little sense to not start with a popular broker or exchange with a good reputation that is beginner friendly. If that is your criteria, then the above is the list you are looking for. If you want to verify what I’m saying, simply go to CoinMarketCap.com and look at the list of exchanges that the most Bitcoin/USD (or USDT) is moved on. Now note that Coinbase, Square, Changelly, and Shapeshift don’t make that list because they are brokers, not exchanges. Thus, what you have above is me translating that list into a more readable format with some bonus information thrown in. 😀
The bottomline: I strongly suggest starting with Coinbase, then pairing that with Coinbase Pro when you are ready, and then pairing that with Bittrex or Binance when you are ready to get into a range of cryptos. If you don’t want to go that route, try the Bitcoin trust for some exposure, Square’s Cash app for super simple Bitcoin buying and selling, or try Kraken for a slightly more advanced alternative to Coinbase/Coinbase Pro/Bittrex/Binance. After you get crypto down, you can explore all the choices above and find the right choice for you. In other words, start with the most popular and simplest solutions, then work your way through the rest.
NOTE: If you think I should add an exchange above, make your case below.
- World’s Top 5 Cryptocurrency Exchanges With The Lowest Fees. Medium.com. <— Good article, I question their choice of CEX.io a bit, but worth comparing their notes to ours.