Part 1: Coinbase vs. Kraken vs. Gemini
what sucks the least for digital nomads?
Google search: How do I buy Bitcoin?
Depending on the definition of the range of birth years, I may be considered a slightly ‘older’ Millennial (yuck and ugh to each of those terms, in that order). However, when I decided it was time to get into cryptocurrency investing, any questions I may have had about my membership in the oft-over-analysed generation were dispelled, as I turned to my perennial favourite solution to any unknown problem: the all-knowing oracle of Google.
Obviously cryptocurrencies are being talked to death right now, and I feel late to the party. But after hearing about crypto from yet another savvy client, I decided to jump in and get some firsthand experience myself. Digital nomads seem like we should be the ideal demographic for a borderless currency, and yet, as I would soon find out, the current platforms aren’t very nomad-friendly. And my go-to solution for all life’s mysteries wasn’t giving me any concrete answers.
As a Bitcoin newbie, who considers herself passably tech-literate but is far from a programmer, I actually found the current resources on crypto to be a bit lacklustre. What I found were mostly either overly skeptical or dumbed-down mainstream media articles seemingly aimed at an (*ahem* even) older generation, Subreddits getting way too far into the weeds, or overly enthusiastic guys selling something. Where was the nice, normal, “here’s how to do this” guide?
We the nomadic are used to things not really being designed for us, but I wasn’t even finding good resources for normal, settled people. This Business Insider piece was actually the closest to useful that I could find, and they seem to have A) decided not to write about the hassle-ridden identity verification step for some reason, and B) been doing it mostly for the lulz. Not all that helpful, tbh.
And they didn’t even mention the difference between a trading platform, like Coinbase, needed to buy crypto, and a wallet, which you need to store it! To a n00b like myself, it would have been useful to have a breakdown of exactly what one needs, and why.
So that’s what I’ll attempt here. I also didn’t set out to test so many trading platform options, but as fate would have it, many of them are painfully un-user-friendly, so necessity became the mother of experimentation. If Coinbase had sucked less, I might have just gone with them, and never thought to write about it at all.
As I blunder my way through this little experiment, I’ll note what I think nomads need to know and what to expect. As always, nothing written here is intended as nor should be interpreted as investment or tax advice. I am simply documenting my experience.
STEP ONE: How to buy crypto?
First attempt: Coinbase
The platform I’d heard the most about was Coinbase, so I started there. What they, and most other resources I found, didn’t spell out very well, is that you need a platform to purchase and/or trade crypto, and you need a wallet to safely store it. Coinbase is only the former.
But before I tackled the question of what kind of crypto wallet to use, I had to actually get my (digital) hands on some. I’d looked at the Coinbase app a few months ago, and decided it wasn’t robust enough to get started on, so I went to the desktop site.
And that’s where my problems began.
In retrospect, I wonder if the wifi on the train I was on when I signed up was using a UK IP address, since it was a train that goes from Dublin to Belfast (even though I was staying in the Republic). In any case, Coinbase somehow decided, without any input or prompting from me, that I was signing up for a UK account.
You’d think that, as it was a brand new account, it would be easy enough to update the country from the wrong one they’d decided on, to one of my very own choosing. Let’s table for now the issue of which country even applies to the nomadic, but for better or worse, of all the possible countries theoretically available to me, the UK isn’t currently one of them.
Unfortunately, Coinbase requires you to use a form of ID to update the country on your account. But then when you use a form of ID not associated with the current country, it disallows that ID. I found myself stuck in a strange loop. It’s been as fun trying to explain that to their customer support team as you’d imagine.
I tried to troubleshoot on my own for an hour on Sunday, before contacting their customer support and getting an unhelpful word-vomit standard email reply restating all the things that also weren’t helpful on their FAQ section.
After a few more back and forth emails, they said they’d get back to me 3 days ago and I haven’t heard anything since.
Second attempt: Kraken
While holding out a glimmer of hope for Coinbase, I turned to potential alternatives. Back to Google:
How to buy bitcoin not on Coinbase?
One of the first alternatives I saw pop up was Kraken. The initial signup process was much less shit than Coinbase, until I tried to verify there:
Um, ok, cool. Back to emailing support. When they got back to me, the reply was as puzzling as the strange loop of Coinbase:
So, you’re aware this is an issue, and that this issue renders your service utterly unusable, and yet you’ve marked it as Solved? Explain. Show your work.
Third attempt: Gemini
Back to the Google hivemind. This time, Gemini bubbled up to the surface. It’s owned by the Winklevii, but I’ll try not to hold that against it.
Signup was ok. They needed a North American phone number, which I happen to have, even though it’s not convenient to use it when I’m outside North America. But they actually let me submit myself and my various bits and bobs for verification/scrutiny, and that’s where my saga currently lies.
So, to summarise, it’s taken nearly a week, 3 attempts, probably a dozen total emails back and forth with the various Zendesk support teams, and nary a bitcoin purchased.
One of the things these sites all had in common was an unquenchable need to know what country the user was tied to. Like, why are you so obsessed with me?
But seriously, I personally have at least 3 countries I could theoretically choose from. All with valid forms of ID, active bank accounts, etc. Which one did they want me to pick? It actually wasn’t entirely clear at any point. I went with the approach of choosing the one that seemed the most expedient for each site.
None of them really explained in any satisfactory detail what the country association would be used for. Taxes, maybe? Payment options? But surely they can imagine a world in which a person has more payment options available to them than 1 debit card in 1 country?
And what about someone who doesn’t happen to have a passport that matches a verifiable address? Can they buy bitcoin at all?
Maybe there are better sites out there that suck less. I’d be delighted to hear about them. For now, it seems like Gemini is my best bet, so I will post again if/when they verify my realness (status: realer than real) and allow me to make a purchase.
How about you? Have you ventured into cryptocurrency? I’d love to hear about how other location independent people have tackled the country/verification issue.