The easiest way to get your hands on some Bitcoins is through a Bitcoin exchange such as Coinbase or MtGox. This article will focus on Coinbase because the price of Bitcoin in US dollars is typically cheaper through Coinbase than through MtGox. Also, I am only familiar with Coinbase and I have had absolutely no problems using their service to purchase Bitcoins.
Bitcoin exchanges allow you to spend US dollars or other currency forms to trade for Bitcoins at the current market price (seen in the upper right above the donation button on this website). The concept is simple, but there are a number of nuances to be aware of for the person new to Bitcoin.
First of all, acquiring Bitcoins is not always instant. Second, the market price is constantly fluctuating and different exchanges have different market prices. A nice thing about Coinbase is that no matter how long it takes to deliver your Bitcoins, the price is locked in at the moment you make your purchase.
Before I ever purchased any Bitcoins, I acquired them by selling products or accepting them from a friend as a form of payment for work. Once I began investing and experimenting with my first Bitcoins, I came to an unfortunate situation one day at 4 am.
I had just learned about CEX.IO and wanted to put a small amount of Bitcoin into their commodity exchange to try mining. Most of my Bitcoins were tied up in BTC-E since my email was newly verified and they couldn’t be transferred out of the exchange. I decided it was time to make a small purchase through Coinbase, but to my disappointment the Bitcoins did not arrive right away – I had to wait at least 4 business days!
A large part of the reason for waiting was that I had not fully set up my Coinbase account. Since I had been using it only to instantly accept Bitcoins, I had no need to enter some of the information that Coinbase requires for instant purchase. This was my fault and I appreciate the secure job Coinbase does with their exchange service. Moral of the story: if you are even thinking about purchasing Bitcoins in the future and you are setting up a Coinbase account, input as much identifying information (credit card, bank account, identity verification) into Coinbase as soon as possible. Coinbase requires confirmation of your US bank account which is actually a fairly painless process. I was able to see the transfer from both ends of the transaction, very similar to Paypal.
After filling out the rest of my information and waiting for my Bitcoins to arrive, I now have Coinbase set up to provide instant purchase which is very nice. There are other services that allow you to buy Bitcoins, but Coinbase hasn’t let me down and it is used by every Bitcoin enthusiast I know.