Cryptocurrency for digital nomads – update

The quest continues

My search for a way to buy crypto that doesn’t suck continues apace. Here’s an update of where I landed with the platforms I tried, and the degree to which each of them sucks:

*NB: 0/10 shall denote the suckiest and least useful.

 

Coinbase

Never replied to my most recent customer service query, 1 week ago. Did send me annoying auto-emails talking about what I should do with my shiny new (utterly non-functional) account.

Rating: 0/10,  maximal sucking, minimal utility.

 

Kraken

Never replied to my most recent customer service query, also exactly 1 week ago. Not trynna chase you guys to give you my business, bros. I get that their volumes are probably especially high lately, but still.

Rating: 1/10, account is equally useless but at least I didn’t get any annoyingly chirpy auto-emails about a service I can’t use.

 

Gemini

So, these guys actually verified me to the point where I could see about making a purchase. Exciting! Then it turns out they only accept fiat currency transfers via bank wire, which is prohibitively expensive for small purchases (my US bank charges me USD$25 per outgoing wire transfer).

Also, I dislike having to use a North American phone number every damn time I log in to my account. But I’d have overlooked that if they allowed a better option for funds transfer. I didn’t proceed with making a purchase.

Rating: 5/10, significantly less sucky than Coinbase or Kraken, but still not allowing me to do what I want, which is make purchases easily, with minimal hassles and minimal fees.

 

Bit Panda

The newcomer! I added these guys to my experiment following a suggestion from someone on one of the digital nomad communities I’m part of. They are more Europe-friendly, so yay! But, alas, their verification also sucks, so boo.

They offered this video-verification service, which was in German, but fine, Google Translate to the rescue. Only I waited on the other side of the video call for at least 10 minutes, and pinged a message to their help chat, before giving up altogether. Haven’t heard back from them since.

This was a disappointment, because it appears as though they allow normal funds transfers from euro-denominated accounts. And given that online transfers in Europe just generally suck a lot less than in the US, I was hopeful about that.

Rating: 4/10, I have to rank Bit Panda as sucking a bit more than Gemini, because at least I could get verified there. But I suspect for those who can get past that hurdle (surely some people have had better luck with their weird video service?) the payment options are a lot better. For those of us with euro banks, at least.

Bitstamp

Another new addition to the list, on the suggestion of a friendly commenter on the previous post. Want to send me any other suggestions? I’m clearly highly suggestible in this area.

I just submitted my verification documents, in a relatively pain-free process. Fingers crossed!

Rating: 5/10, tentatively hopeful. This is like going on an even marginally promising first date after a string of disasters. It’s not gonna take that much to be better than the last bunch, so use that to your advantage, Bitstamp. (“Well, it seems like he isn’t a racist, so there’s that!” Basically, don’t be a racist and you’re in with a chance, Bitstamp.)

 

So far, no purchases made

As I write this, Bitcoin has had a very bullish (and yet tumultuous) few days, looking to surpass $10,000 USD/BTC. But, as with all my investments, I don’t try to time the market. If/when I do make a purchase, it will be a small % of my net worth, and I’ll add to it over time as part of my overall portfolio.

And especially, as always, nothing here even remotely constitutes investment or tax advice. Do your due diligence and follow your own bright star. 

Cryptocurrency for the uninitiated

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. 

via GIPHY

 

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.

Unhelpful and overly wordy

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:

Again with the not-helpful

 

Um, ok, cool. Back to emailing support. When they got back to me, the reply was as puzzling as the strange loop of Coinbase:

By not resolving your issue, thereby your issue shall be resolved.

 

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.

 

Thoughts

 

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?

via GIPHY

 

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?

 

From Coinbase’s FAQs

 

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.

 

Damn the man. Start investing.

When you hear the word “investing”, what comes to mind? Do you think about old, rich, white guys talking about mysterious (and possibly shady) things involving acronyms? Or does it start to sound like the grownups on Charlie Brown are droning on again? Hold that thought.

Now, what happens when you think about socially aware, even radical, ideas and causes? Does an image of the noble, penniless activist pop into your head? The idealistic dreamer who has far loftier things to think about than something as unpleasant as money?

Money occupies an uneasy place in our culture. The oft-cited cliché that money isn’t the most important thing is, of course, true. But it’s still a major factor in how our lives play out. It dictates, to a large extent, the amount of time we have to dedicate to the areas that truly are the most important things to each of us. Things like family, travel, community service, political activism, art, creativity, and personal development. All of these are best served when we have the bandwidth to focus on them, both financially and in terms of our most valuable resource: our time.

Money is something we all grapple with; it flows around us and weaves its way through our lives. And I’m going to make the case that one of the most radical, woke things you can do, dear reader, is more than just get your finances together. And no, it’s not only to get out of debt and start saving, which everyone (correctly) advises we all do. But instead, it’s to start investing, doggedly and with determination, both for your freedom and to advance the freedom of others. And in dedication of your loftiest ideals. Here’s why.

Breaking down mental barriers:

To many people, perhaps especially millennials, investing can seem not only out of reach, but somehow perhaps even incongruent with our values and beliefs. But the image we may have of being broke as some kind of noble condition is unnecessary and outdated. A more accurate picture would be to conceptualize that the forces that many of us oppose want us to stay broke, stay in debt, stay mindlessly consuming. And that our act of educating ourselves and taking control of our financial future is an act of rebellion against the status quo.

Getting rid of the taboos and breaking down our limiting beliefs about money is a necessary first step. Not talking about money doesn’t serve us. And buying into the false belief that investing is for the elite and the privileged, doesn’t make us any freer. Depending on the backgrounds we come from, we’re all carrying around different inherited and received ideas about money. And for those of us coming from less economically privileged backgrounds, the very idea of increasing our wealth can make us feel like class traitors. We need to validate and acknowledge that feeling as normal, and then systematically dismantle it.

Self-education:

Historically, one of the biggest barriers to financial literacy would have been access to information. But we no longer need to belong to a wealthy family in order to learn about investing, nor do we need an expensive financial advisor to get us started. There’s more and better information online, and a plethora of low-cost options out there. The barriers to entry have become all but nonexistent, with the exception of our own (totally normal and understandable) fear of getting started.

I’m not a financial advisor, but low-cost index funds seem like a reasonable place to start, for example. We should all do our due diligence and read about why they’re a good option, and then actually take the steps to open the account and contribute to it. Once you do, you’ll be doing the same thing Warren Buffett has instructed be done with his own estate. What could be more democratic than your money sitting there alongside the money of one of the richest men in the world?

If you are living within your means and building up a surplus, you’ll eventually need to put it somewhere. Interest rates on savings accounts are essentially zero, and that’s no way to build real, life-changing wealth. To do that we need to invest, and whether that takes the form of simple index investing, real estate, or otherwise, we need to do more with our money to allow it the chance to really grow. Investing is for everyone. You deserve to benefit from economic growth as much as anyone else. Don’t shortchange yourself.

The benefits of financial freedom:

Once we’ve tackled our limiting beliefs, and taken the steps to educate ourselves and take action, how is investing going to impact us in a way that really matters? We all care about more than the bottom line, or on numbers on a spreadsheet. I think there are three ways that increased financial freedom benefits us as individuals, in ways that we can align with our values and beliefs.

Firstly, when we choose to save and invest our money, we are necessarily making a choice that involves less reliance on consumer culture. Every dollar we earn has potential and possibilities. It could be spent on consumer goods, and with that the attending questionable labour practices, environmental waste, and dodgy ad campaigns we may not subscribe to. Or it could be invested in our future wellbeing, and that of our loved ones and communities.

Secondly, increased financial freedom means less reliance on jobs that may not align with our beliefs, or at the very least take our time away from the things we truly value. If we’re going to be trading our time for money, as the vast majority of us do, we should demand a better return on investment. If we don’t invest a portion of our earnings, we’re not getting any closer to free with each passing year. No matter how much you may like your job, think about what an impact buying an extra year of your freedom could have.

Finally, when we are financially secure, we have increased ability to make a positive impact on our communities and spheres of influence. Similar to putting on your own air-mask first on a plane, the idea is to get ourselves right so we can more effectively help others. That doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about, talking about, and organising around the systemic issues contributing to inequality and injustice. Far from it. But as individuals, taking concrete, deliberate action towards our own financial freedom is powerful. Think about the positive impact it can have on generations when the first person in a family goes to college. I think the same can be true of opening the first investment account.

The knowledge and ability to invest no longer needs to be shrouded in mystery, or the province of elites. It can and should be for everyone, and is a powerful way to better serve our communities and our goals. We now have unprecedented access to information that allows us to democratize and de-mystify investing, to normalize it so it’s no longer solely the inherited, protected knowledge of the wealthy and privileged. So if you’re progressive and pissed off, take the radical, counter-cultural step towards freedom. Damn the man, start investing.