Bitcoin ATMs have been considered a sort of a novelty since crypto’s early days. Imagine walking to a kiosk to buy some Bitcoin while at the mall or heading home from work! The idea was undoubtedly ambitious, but quickly became irrelevant as smartphones became mainstream. Even so, a number of Bitcoin ATMs cropped up around India’s tech hubs, only to disappear after the RBI’s notification in 2018. Today, only one remains in all of India. Last weekend, we found it.
A Bitcoin ATM is a kiosk that allows a person to buy Bitcoin and other crypto using cash or a debit card. There are typically two kinds of ATMs available globally. Unidirectional ATMs allow users only to purchase crypto, and account for ~70% of all crypto ATMs. On the other hand, using a bidirectional ATMs means you can buy and sell different cryptos.
Transaction fees on a Bitcoin ATM typically fall between 10% and 20%, but have been known to go as high as 25%. Compare that to an exchange like ZebPay, where trading fees are as low as 0.10% and one major limitation of these kiosks becomes clear.
The story of India’s first Bitcoin ATM is quite a rollercoaster.
In October 2018, India’s first Bitcoin ATM was installed in Bangalore’s Kempfort Mall by Unocoin, a blockchain solution provider. This was done after the RBI’s notification forbidding banks to deal with digital currencies.
Unocoin claimed that the notification had disrupted relationships with their banking partners. The ATMs were meant to be a replacement. Customers would be able to deposit and withdraw cash from the kiosk, but with conditions attached:
- The kiosk did not accept debit or credit cards,
- A minimum deposit of ₹1,000 was required, and
- Deposits could only be made in ₹500 banknotes.
Just one week later, the kiosk was seized by Bangalore’s Cyber Crime Police. The ATM wasn’t yet operational, and was only seized after media reports emerged, equally criticizing and applauding it. At the time, Unocoin was planning to install similar ATMs in Mumbai and Delhi.
In a statement to the media, the police stated:
“The ATM kiosk installed by Unocoin in Bengaluru’s Kempfort Mall has not taken any permission from the state government and is dealing in cryptocurrency outside the remit of the law.”
An FIR was filed against Unocoin’s founders Sathvik Vishwanath and Harish BV. The case was later thrown out by the Karnataka High Court and Justice HP Sandesh.
Fast Forward to 2021
Isn’t it interesting how a string of Google searches can take you from one subject to another? That’s exactly how I found myself looking for Bitcoin ATMs still in India on a Thursday afternoon.
Interestingly, this one was installed almost exactly a year ago at a co-working space in Gurgaon. Even better – it was only a 15 minute drive away from where I lived.
I had to go check it out. Who wouldn’t?
One quick drive later, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only was the kiosk still there, but it looked recently serviced.
So first off, the name Bitcoin ATM is a bit of a misnomer in this case. The kiosk I found worked closer to a vending machine than an ATM, allowing me to carefully feed it a ₹500 before asking me to scan the QR code for the wallet I wanted to send my newly bought Bitcoin to. All in all, the process took less than two minutes. I was blown away.
Once home, I learned that the ATM was operated by a company called Digital Assets LLP, which imported the kiosk directly from Portugal. Digital Assets’ blog claims this unit is India’s first Lamassu Douro cryptocurrency vending machine and went live to public access on April 28th, 2018 – several months before Unocoin’s did. I’ve reached out to the company’s email, and look forward to a response soon.
So what do you think? Did we find not only India’s last Bitcoin ATM but perhaps also its first?