Bitcoin is intrinsically linked to the Internet. Therefore, it's rather counterintuitive that so many people opt to trade bitcoins face-to-face, out there in the real world. All around the world, there are meetups for enthusiasts and traders to get together, chat, and exchange currencies. Where can you find them and what can you expect?
Why should you trade for bitcoins in person?
Just as with online shopping, it's far more convenient to order something from home than to make a trip out to somewhere. However, here in the UK, the options to purchase bitcoins aren't always straight forward. For instance, buying through Mt. Gox involves an expensive transfer to its Japanese bank, and other US-based exchanges don't operate within the UK. Fortunately there is Bittylicious, which allows for fast transfers. However, there is a small premium to pay for the convenience.
The flip side of dealing online is that it's impersonal and there isn't always someone there to explain and educate. That's the value of meeting up with like-minded individuals. You might even be able to negotiate a better price for your bitcoin.
Where can you meet?
There are two places you should start your search for a meeting place: Localbitcoins and Meetup.com. Meetup.com currently shows 134 bitcoin related meetups, just six of which are in the UK and four of those are for altcurrencies (non-bitcoin digital currencies). There's a greater spread of people selling bitcoin in the UK and a concentration in London on Localbitcoins.
However, as Bitcoin Magazine wrote, you need to take great care over your personal security when meeting up to trade bitcoins. There's the possibility of being mugged or scammed. You can protect yourself by attending an arranged meetup of enthusiasts and by having separate bitcoin wallets for spending and saving money.
A somewhat dubious aspect of real-life bitcoin meetups is people who are obtaining bitcoin for illicit purposes (e.g. purchasing Silk Road items). Realistically, if you sell bitcoin to someone, you have no idea what it will be spent on. However, the good thing about a meetup, as opposed to a one-to-one meet, is that you can spend time getting to know the people you're trading with, or at least get to know their names. Ultimately, this has to be one of those instances where "trust your instincts" is the best advice. You want to avoid being linked to illegal activities, but without being paranoid. After all, one of the benefits of bitcoin is that it isn't intimately linked to your identity.
How can you create your own meetup?
If you're interested in starting your own bitcoin (or other altcurrency) trade meet, you can follow some fairly easy steps. Firstly you'll need some bitcoin if you don't have any already. Currently, BTC-e.com seems to have the lowest trading average, but you'll need to set up an international bank transfer to fund your account. Fortunately, you can use an international bank wire transfer if any of the other payment methods don’t suit you.
The next step would be to find a venue, so either have a word with the proprietor of a venue or check your local area's laws regarding public gatherings if you want to get together in an open space.
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