When I tell people about bitcoin and I want to give an example of something bitcoins are good for today I usually use the example of international money transfers. Recently I successfully transferred some money to my sister (about $50), who is currently living in South Korea. It was not exactly the smoothest experience ever but I think it demonstrates a real opportunity.
Here’s how we did it.
About a month and half ago I asked my sister if she’d be willing to give this a try. Using CoinMap.org I found a bitcoin ATM in Seoul. It was kinda far away from where she lived but she said she goes to that part of the city every so often. We figured it was worth a shot.
My sister has an iPhone, so I showed her ¢oinpunk which is a web based online wallet that works on iPhones. As of the writing of this post Apple has not been allowing cryptocurrency wallets in their App Store but there’s hope that this will change soon. Coinpunk is really well designed and it even lets you use the phone’s camera to scan QR codes, which is a pretty key feature. I sent her about $50 worth of bitcoins.
Over the next month in a half she tried to use the ATM once on a Sunday, and the coffee shop where the ATM is, was closed. She tried again, and it was down for the day because the people who were running the ATM were updating the software. During this visit she asked around at the coffee shop and got the contact information for the group that was running the ATM. They had a phone number, she called and they were pretty helpful and explained what was going on. The ATM is operated by a company called Coin Plug.
Third time was the charm, she finally made it on a day when the coffee shop was open and she said the ATM worked really well. She was able to exchange the Bitcoins I sent her for South Korean Won.
Given the volatility of bitcoin holding on to them for a month was a risky move on our part. If we really did not want to be exposed to the risks of a big price change we could have arranged a time in advance where she would be at the ATM. I’d buy some BTC using credit card on CoinBase (or many other such services). I’d transfer her some Bitcoins, she’d order a coffee, a couple minutes later she’d have the Bitcoins and be able to sell them through the ATM for KRW before she was done with her drink. I’ll bet we could complete a transfer in 15 minutes or less.
I did a quick (back of the envelope) calculation on how much we were charged in fees. I don’t think it was very much (less then $4, maybe less then $2). If I had used a credit card to buy Bitcoins immediately that would have costed a bit more.
Obviously this would be a lot easier if there were many Bitcoins ATM’s everywhere. Or even better, if regular ATMs supported buying and selling Bitcoins. If that days comes this will be pretty easy for anyone.