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This is a question many people ask when they're introduced to Bitcoin.

Bitcoin sounds interesting, but if I want to use this system I will need to get some coins, otherwise there's no way I can spend them! How can I start?

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This question is too localized (the answers will change over time), a magnet for noise in the form of affiliate link spam, and nowhere near expert level (which is what this site is supposed to be about). –  HedgeMage Sep 19 '11 at 17:33
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I don't agree that answers will change over time: exchange, selling good/services, mining. As for the level, I didn't know that this website shouldn't address basic questions. Is this an elite resource? –  davux Sep 19 '11 at 21:18
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It's not even dynamic: you can obtain bitcoins by charging, changing (just like any currency) or mining. This may sound obvious but everybody I've presented Bitcoin to has asked about it. –  davux Nov 15 '11 at 17:46
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Reopened after this meta discussion. –  D.H. Jan 4 '12 at 22:41
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@StephenGornick - this question is more than a year old - the other question might be a dup of this question. –  ripper234 Nov 13 '12 at 9:57

11 Answers 11

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Exchanges

You can use an online exchange such as the following for US dollars

(As well as many others for dollars, and other currencies.)

See the wiki for a full list of ways to buy bitcoins.

Local / In Person

You can use tools such as localbitcoins.com to find people near you who will trade cash for bitcoins. (Note, however, that localbitcoins strongly encourages you to use their service despite the fact bitcoin does not require using a 3rd party to do in person transactions)

IRC and Remote Trades

You can use bitcoin-otc's web of trust system to improve the likelihood of a successful long distance trade. This could help you do trades with people you find on IRC channels or Bitcoin Forum.

Hardware Mining

Mining bitcoins is very technical, and not for many people. Unless you already have the hardware and technical skill to set it up I would not recommend mining as a way to get bitcoins.

Cloud Mining

It may be worth investigating cloud mining options such as provided by CEX.io. This type of market provides a trade platform for buying and trading hashing power in terms of GHS/BTC (Giga hashes per second per bitcoin).

Accept Bitcoin

I believe by far the best way to get bitcoins is to provide goods and services for bitcoin. This stimulates the bitcoin economy which in turn makes the bitcoins you receive more valuable.

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"By far the best way ... to provide goods and service" - best for whom? For the newcomer to bitcoin, IMO the best way for himself is to buy some. Can you edit your answer to reflect this? –  ripper234 Aug 30 '11 at 22:45
    
I think by mentioning the exchanges first that is clear. I still believe that providing goods and services is the "best way." Thanks for the edits. –  Joshua Kolden Aug 30 '11 at 22:58
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I still think that "best" is not well defined in your answer. You can use the term, but I think it deserves a little refinement, that's all. –  ripper234 Aug 30 '11 at 23:04
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You could say I recommend you to..., in order to reflect the fact that it's a personal opinion. –  davux Aug 30 '11 at 23:06
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if "trading goods or services for bitcoins", is the best way, then why don't any of the answers on this page link to where we can do this effectively? –  Brad Parks Jun 22 '13 at 0:41

Basically there are four main ways of getting bitcoins:

  1. Mining
  2. Buying
  3. Offering goods and services for Bitcoin
  4. Obtaining for free through micro payment
  5. Asking a friend who already has them to give a tiny fraction for free

Let's start with mining:

first of all I have to warn that currently there is almost impossible to mine by your own. You need to have a dedicated hardware (you can see hashrate comparison here) which is really costly. Even with this dedicated software it is really a small chance (current total hashrate is > 850 Thash/s) that you will create a block.

So most probably you have to mine as a part of the pool. There are quite a lot of mining pools available, but mostly you would like to join some big pool to have a high percentage of guaranteed small payoff. Pools hashrate distribution you can find here. I by myself have tried to mine on two different mining pools : BTC Guild and bitMinter. Just my own opinion, that it is easier to start with bitminter, because they provide you with easy to use software for mining and detailed instruction.

One last word of warning: most probably if you will start mining right now with your GPU, you will spend more money on electricity than you will gain from mining. But if you are going to do this just for curiosity, it might give you some micro part of a bitcoin.

The second option is to buy bitcoins

As with mining, you have plenty of options as well. The only problem is that right now you are dealing with your own real money. So you have to be careful what to select. At some period of time there were a lot of fake bitcoins selling sites, so if I were you, I would rather go with bullet proof places:

It is mostly irrelevant, buy I by myself is trading on mtgox. Before selecting the place, it is also nice to read about terms and conditions and withdrawal to know what to expect from this place.
[Update: Mt. Gox has since then gone insolvent.]

It is also possible to find local trading partners through services such as localbitcoins.com or at Bitcoin meetups.

Offering goods and services for Bitcoin

If you already have a shop or are planning to start selling something in the near future, it is pretty easy to accept Bitcoin as payment, in fact easier than to accept Credit Cards for example. If you are worried about Bitcoin's volatility, there are different payment processors, which will convert your Bitcoin payments into your national fiat currency for a fee, usually lower than Credit Card Companies. – You can opt to keep a percentage in Bitcoin.

Obtaining for free through micro payment

Not surprisingly, but there is a lot of web-sites, where you can get bitcoins for free. Do not be overexcited by this - you can not make a fortune out of this :-). Most probably they will give you 0.000001 bitcoin for free. On most of such websites you have to watch some stuff or to other useless things. So you are exchanging your time for micro payment. In my own question on bitcoin beta, there is a list of many of such places. If you know any other place - feel free to add it.

And the last thing is to ask a friend.

Try to ask your high tech friend. There is a high chance that he already knows about bitcoin and may be have a couple of coins. He might give you a small micropayment just to try. But do not try to abuse this: there is no point of asking people in places like this to give you 0.00001 bitcoin.

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Thanks, this is close to what I imagined! Perhaps you could add something about offering services or goods for bitcoin, and about buying locally. Another sentence about what to look for when evaluating an exchange (e.g. differences in payments, fees and prices) would be great, too. –  Murch Sep 18 '13 at 14:20
    
Surely I will add it. –  Salvador Dali Sep 18 '13 at 15:10
    
Since you picked up the gauntlet I threw and wrote the most generic answer on this question I am awarding the bounty to you. Would be grand if you took another look at it though, otherwise I might manage to do so in the next few days. :) –  Murch Sep 20 '13 at 14:52

This is from my answer on Money.SE:

You can set up your computer to mine for Bitcoins, you can exchange goods and services for Bitcoins, or you can purchase Bitcoins on an exchange. Some people will trade their programming or web design services for Bitcoins; others sell goods like alpaca socks in exchange for Bitcoins. The exchanges operate similarly to forex in that someone can trade say USD for Bitcoins (instead of trading USD for Euros or British pounds). According to Bitcoin Charts, the Mt. Gox exchange has by far the highest volume, but in recent months Trade Hill has gained some ground.

As for mining, computer performance matters as well as the "difficulty." The difficulty in mining fluctuates so that it becomes harder as the collective mining power increases. Mining is set up so that someone earns a block of 50 Bitcoins on average several times an hour (but this reward will decrease with time such that only 21 million are ever created). You can't ever make progress towards mining a block of 50; mining is an inherently random process. It's possible to successfully mine two blocks in short succession only to have a huge gap before successfully mining another block.

I should note that CPU mining is essentially pointless right now. On average it would take several years even for top-end CPUs to successfully mine a block. GPU mining (where the processor built into graphics cards is used) is what is popular now. Even so, it would take on average a long time to generate a block even with several GPUs. As such, many miners join mining pools where everyone shares credit when anyone successfully mines a block. This serves to decrease the variance and is will lead to a more regular flow of Bitcoins instead of long gaps followed by blocks of 50.

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Would the downvoter care to explain what was wrong with this answer? –  Michael McGowan Sep 14 '11 at 16:03
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I don't think it is reasonable to suggest new users get into mining. It is not a cost effective way to obtain bitcoins, and it is also technically challenging. –  RobKohr Jan 12 '13 at 15:26
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@RobKohr I think that, if there were proper tutorials, mining would actually be a great way to get started with Bitcoin. You don't have to worry about being ripped off on the Internet trying to get your first Bitcoins, and it's also quite motivating for a beginner to be able to generate money with his own computer. It may not be the best way to get Bitcoins, but, as a learning experience, it's a fantastic idea. –  JamesTheAwesomeDude Apr 1 '13 at 14:25
    
I agree completely that mining is the way to get started. It will give an introduction to cryptography, software & networking if you are not the CS type, and cryptographic currencies in general. It may not be possible to be profitable without ASICS or high-end GPUs, but it will give soem insights to the miners role in the ecosystem, which is not what many believe to create more bitcoins –  Filip Sep 13 '13 at 17:37
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Tradehill was closed for a period in Feb 2012 and temporary closed again on Aug 30, 21013. –  Filip Sep 13 '13 at 17:55

LocalBitcoins.com is my favorite. I don't like dealing with banks and providing all of my information. Also it promotes the local economy and rewards people in your area for dealing with bitcoins.

I have bought and sold off of bitcoin users using this site, and it is great to meet them in person and get to hear about their involvement.

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I feel most comfortable with localbitcoins. For the exchanges, there are fees for every direction you move the money in which really cuts into the exchange rate. Trading with a specific person through localbitcoins has an escrow service built into the posted rate and you get the bitcoins immediately without any further % taken out at different times. –  amer Sep 20 '13 at 14:38

You can buy or sell bitcoins by connecting any U.S. bank account on Coinbase.com

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EDIT:

All of the below is now obsolete. I keep this answer in place to show the ongoing changing nature of "Bitcoinland".


In the UK I used Britcoin.co.uk

It's run by an established member of the Bitcoin forums (genjix). Trading is very light in comparison to the other exchanges, but it does accept GBP via direct bank transfer.

Of course the best way to obtain Bitcoins is to earn them in exchange for goods and services. Perhaps by offering your skills on forbitcoin.com

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  1. Mining Bitcoin : You can mine bitcoins with your PC. (GPU Required)
  2. Localbitcoins.com : Here you can find buyers / seller nearby your location.
  3. Mtgox.com : World's biggest bitcoin exchange.
  4. Virwox : Another bitcoin exchange, they also accept Paypal and Credit Cards.
  5. Bitstamp.net : Second biggest exchange after MtGox.
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Made this guide: www.bitcoinUK.blogspot.com

So far the cheapest way that I found to buy btc from UK..

Hope it helps.

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You can sell gift cards for bitcoin on https://cardforcoin.com/.

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This is a relatively obscure way to get Bitcoins. –  Turbo Feb 3 at 2:33
    
This isn't a wiki, so I figured it was best to add my own answer- despite that it's a little obscure. The upside to this approach is that it's fast and easy for newbies. –  Matt Luongo Feb 3 at 6:16

Coinbase makes it very easy to buy bitcoins. They have a nice user interface, and secure protocols. The downside is their customer service is always flooded with inquiries which results in your messages for help being delayed about a week or so.

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For Australian Buyers, please visit http://quick-btc.co/ We have very easy payment methods and Live chat if you need any help.

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