Buying, selling and trading on crypto exchanges has become increasingly popular as digital currencies hit the mainstream and investors look to benefit from the asset class’s potential for high returns. But with so many global cryptocurrency exchanges available, it can be difficult to determine which one is best. Fortunately, our experts have tested and reviewed the top crypto exchanges, looking for the lowest fees, supported coins, investing features, trading volumes, secure wallets, and other safety measures.
This guide will list the largest and highest-ranked international crypto exchanges for traders looking to compare firms, as well as providing a rundown of the pros and cons of these digital investing platforms.
Best Crypto Exchanges
How Do Crypto Exchanges Work?
When cryptocurrency first hit the scene with the release of Bitcoin in 2008, there were only two ways to obtain this digital asset: you could start mining it by dedicating your computer’s processing power to completing calculations on the Bitcoin ledger, or you could buy BTC directly from someone who did.
As interest grew in this new decentralized digital asset, so did the demand for a platform to more easily trade it, and in 2010 the first crypto exchange – the now-defunct bitcoinmarket.com – was launched.
The years since then have seen the rise and fall of many exchanges, and some top, trusted crypto exchanges such as FTX – the second most popular and once considered among the safest – have collapsed into high-profile bankruptcies under market volatility, fraud or management failures.
At the same time, the crypto market has evolved, and exchanges now boast a host of features such as P2P trading, crypto derivatives, fiat-to-crypto trades in many currencies, API compatibility and PayPal deposits. Likewise, the rising popularity of cryptocurrency as a speculative asset has seen an explosion in the number of coins and tokens, with some exchanges listing hundreds.
As a result, crypto exchanges are a vital part of the digital asset market, serving retail and institutional customers alike. Thousands of traders from Canada to Australia look to profit from crypto trades each day, and the global cryptocurrency market is estimated to be worth around $1 trillion.
Decentralized Vs Centralized
You might think of a centralized crypto exchange (CEX) as acting like a digital bank. When you purchase crypto from a CEX, the exchange stores it for you and provides access to its range of financial services. It also allows you to trade digital assets on its platform at the rate it sets, usually charging a commission. And, like a bank, you will normally need to provide identity verification and go through Know Your Customer (KYC) checks.
The downside is that, unlike a crypto wallet, exchange users do not normally directly own the coins and tokens they hold on exchanges – if the company collapses, they risk losing their investments.
One solution for this is the decentralized exchange (DEX), an automated program for crypto trades that is run algorithmically on a network of computers, with no central organization in charge of operations.
These exchanges leave the user in control of their crypto and can be used with no KYC, meaning traders can remain anonymous. However, they are often less flexible and more difficult to use than CEXs, and their fees can also be more expensive.
Exchanges Vs Brokers
The main difference between crypto exchanges and crypto brokers is that while an exchange acts as a platform for users to place orders to buy and sell cryptocurrencies at market rates, a brokerage acts as an intermediary for cryptocurrency transactions at a rate they set themselves.
Crypto brokers like AvaTrade, Vantage and eToro, usually charge a premium and can be more expensive than buying through an exchange. However, many crypto brokerages are huge financial companies that are regulated and trade in numerous asset classes, and many traders feel safer dealing with a broker than an exchange.
Many brokers also offer derivative products, such as CFDs, that allow traders to bet on the price movements of cryptocurrencies without actually owning the asset.
Finally, some cryptocurrency platforms like Uphold act as a cross between a brokerage and a crypto wallet, allowing users to buy, hold, send and receive cryptocurrencies, usually at a fair spread compared to most crypto brokers.
Exchanges Vs Wallets
A crypto wallet is simply a means of storing the user’s private keys, which are required to access your cryptocurrency holdings. If you lose your private keys, you have effectively lost your crypto.
In its most basic form, a crypto wallet is a piece of paper with private keys written on it, but you can also use a thumb drive as a hardware wallet or download an app to use as a software wallet. Crypto wallet apps can be used to buy, trade or sell cryptocurrencies as well as simply store private keys.
Crypto exchanges, on the other hand, act as an online marketplace, giving users access to features like spot and margin trading. This is just the tip of the iceberg for the most feature-rich exchanges, which also allow users to earn returns through crypto staking and even provide a platform to invest in projects through DeFi (decentralized finance) or dApps (decentralized applications) and buy NFTs.
How Do Crypto Exchanges Make Money?
Centralized crypto exchanges make their money mainly from investing fees. Many centralized exchanges use what is called a Maker-Taker model, which differentiates between the side of a trade that is ‘making’ liquidity and the side which is ‘taking’ liquidity from the market.
In simple terms, maker orders are not matched immediately with a counterparty – these could be limit orders or sell orders which are placed at a price higher than the highest existing buy order, for example. Taker orders are matched with a counterparty immediately.
The exchange usually takes a higher cut from taker than from maker orders. Coinbase’s price structure, for example, starts at 0.6% for the taker and 0.4% for the maker on transactions up to $10,000, falling to a minimum of 0.4% for takers and 0% for makers for transactions of $500 million or more. The world’s most popular crypto exchange, Binance, charges 0.1% for both taker and maker, falling to a minimum of 0.04% for takers and 0.02% for makers.
Centralized crypto exchanges also make money from a range of other areas, including deposit and withdrawal fees for users, and a commission or fee charged to crypto developers for listing their coins and tokens. Exchanges that facilitate margin trading will also earn money from lending fees on leveraged trades as well as liquidation fees.
Decentralized exchanges also bring in money through fees, but with a different model to their centralized cousins. Decentralized exchanges allow users to make peer-to-peer trades with other users, but to do this they require a large liquidity pool. This is provided by other users, who stake their own tokens and earn a percentage fee akin to interest. The exchange is able to pay this by taking a cut from each transaction.
The largest decentralized exchange, Uniswap, regularly has a daily trading volume of over $1 billion and generates upward of $1 million per day in fees. However, this is revenue, and since the majority is paid to liquidity providers, decentralized exchanges do not currently tend to be profit-making ventures. As a result, there may be significant changes on the way for the decentralized model.
How To Compare Crypto Exchanges
If a crypto exchange is the right fit for your investing needs, you will want to jump in and start comparing different exchanges to find the best one for you. There are several important factors to consider when making your choice:
Range Of Tokens
The crypto world has come a long way since Bitcoin’s launch, and now besides the big names like Ethereum (ETH), Ripple (XRP), and Solana (SOL), there are thousands of smaller tokens competing for a share of the market.
The selection of tokens available on your exchange is of paramount importance to crypto traders for several reasons. In a volatile market, the lesser-known tokens are the most volatile of all, and thus have the most potential for profit – you will want to be able to buy the hottest new digital assets when you identify them, or to be able to short ones that you deem overvalued.
The newer cryptocurrency tokens tend to be built on existing blockchain networks. Of these, Ethereum is by far the most popular, but Solana, Avalanche and others have also made their mark in recent years.
Binance lists some 500 tokens, but even these were only added after a selection process. As a result, some smaller coins that went on to explode in value were initially only available through decentralized exchanges. If you go down this route, be warned – of the thousands of crypto projects announced each year, only a small fraction will be successful and many are scams from the outset.
Trading spot can be lucrative in crypto, where thanks to the extreme volatility some favorable trades can net 100x profits without any leverage involved. But most of the time, traders will use leveraged instruments to boost their purchasing power, particularly when investing in established cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Besides Binance, many exchanges including ByBit, Kucoin and OKX allow users to engage in margin trading. The amount of leverage available depends on traders’ geographical location – in the UK, making leveraged trades on cryptocurrencies with locally-based firms is entirely banned. In the US, meanwhile, some of the largest crypto exchanges cut their leverage from 1:125 to 1:20 in 2021. Whether you’re in Europe, Hong Kong or Dubai, your local jurisdiction will have its own specific rules related to cryptocurrencies, so look into these before researching what’s available on an exchange.
On the decentralized front, there are some innovative projects that provide users with leveraged crypto trades on an exchange, including DyDx, Hegic, and Lyra.
Fees & Prices
Fees are usually charged per trade, but you may also have to fork out when you deposit and withdraw money or if you transfer tokens to another address.
Different crypto exchanges will have different pricing structures, and the cheapest exchange for you may well depend on the value of the trades you intend to make – fees tend to decrease as the cash sums go up.
Once very much the Wild West of trading, the crypto market in just a few years has taken some strides toward mainstream respectability – in spite of numerous high-profile setbacks.
Large crypto exchanges are now regulated in many countries. In the USA, crypto exchanges fall under the Bank Secrecy Act and must register with FinCEN, implement an AML/CFT program, keep records, and file reports with the relevant authorities. In the UK, crypto exchanges have to register with the FCA for anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism purposes. Similar regulations are in place in diverse countries and regions around the world.
Even so, cryptocurrencies themselves are largely unregulated, meaning that even with oversight from a respected regulator, risks associated with crypto exchanges are higher than with similar platforms in other markets. And, since the regulation that does exist makes KYC checks necessary, many traders prefer to stick with decentralized exchanges.
Safety & Security
This is a sore subject for the many crypto traders who have found themselves burned by the collapse of seemingly safe crypto exchanges over the years. Most recently, the 2022 collapse of the world’s second-largest exchange, FTX, set alarm bells ringing around the crypto world and led some to opine that it meant the death of Bitcoin and other cryptos.
In fact, rumours of the death of crypto have abounded over the years, but are – so far – exaggerated. They began in 2014 when the largest (and one of the oldest) exchanges at the time, the Japanese firm Mt Gox, collapsed amid news of the theft of Bitcoin worth 100s of millions of dollars. This carried an important lesson for traders, who should always keep a close eye on market news and never take the safety of their funds for granted on an exchange.
Nevertheless, crypto markets have proven to be relatively resilient, and the best exchanges do take measures to protect client funds. One exchange, Gemini, is insured by the major insurer Aon, and US users of Binance and Coinbase can be assured their balances of up to $250,000 are protected by the FDIC.
Look for crypto exchanges that are transparent about how they take custody of their customers’ assets – some provide proof of reserves, and this is a good place to start. Other important safety measures to look out for include two-factor authentication, secure storage of user data, and a clear process for reporting and recovering stolen funds.
DeFi & Other Features
For many, one of the main draws of cryptocurrencies is the innovative field of decentralized finance, which allows users to directly enter financial contracts without any intermediaries. As such, DeFi is not generally fully supported as a feature on centralized exchanges.
Deposits & Withdrawals
Many large crypto exchanges accept a wide range of payment methods, including debit card, credit card, wire transfer, PayPal, or digital payment apps like Skrill. Many also allow you to fund your account by transferring in cryptocurrency from a wallet, including Bitcoin payments.
However, don’t take this for granted – major crypto exchange Kraken, for example, only accepts payments through bank cards, Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Research each crypto exchange carefully before signing up to avoid disappointment.
Also, bear in mind that different exchanges’ fees may vary by country, meaning that a crypto trader in Dubai might pay more to deposit and withdraw funds than one in India.
Finally, check different exchanges’ minimum and maximum deposit limits, as they can vary greatly between exchanges and geographic locations. For example, Kraken’s deposit limit of $5,000 per week in the USA is low compared to Binance’s $7.5 million daily wire transfer limit.
It is important to have quick and responsive customer support services on your crypto exchange – if you have an issue with a trade or have trouble transferring funds to your account, you will want to deal with the issue as quickly as possible.
Live chat and forums are useful features for solving problems, but a 24/7 customer care hotline is ideal. The best crypto exchanges also provide assistance via popular social media channels.
Scams & Risks Explained
Crypto exchanges and the market as a whole are still relatively new, and, unfortunately, some unscrupulous actors have gotten involved in the cryptocurrency space. Common scams involving crypto exchanges might direct traders to a website hosting a fake exchange, which can be used to obtain the user’s password or other sensitive information. Always thoroughly check the address when you follow a link to a website. Alternatively, click through to firms using our list of the most reputable and trusted crypto exchanges.
Phishing scams are another risk – fraudsters send users a message or email posing as an exchange with a link directing them to input their personal information. This is a common occurrence so always take care when you receive an email from a crypto exchange.
Another risk that is more prevalent among decentralized exchanges comes from hackers. A hacked exchange can lead to millions of dollars worth of lost funds and tokens; it can also lead to users’ information being acquired and used in further scams.
Final Word On Crypto Exchanges
More than just a convenient way to trade fiat for cryptocurrencies, crypto exchanges are the predominant way to trade, hold and even invest in digital assets today. With features such as margin trading and DeFi support, many exchanges aim to be your one-stop shop for crypto, allowing you to use your tokens the way you want and to get the most out of them. However, the power of a crypto exchange makes it more suited to seasoned traders, and it does come with some added risks and potential pitfalls.
To start investing today, use our ranking of the world’s top cryptocurrency exchanges.
What Is A Crypto Exchange?
Crypto exchanges are international companies that provide a marketplace for traders and investors to buy and sell digital assets. Users tend to prefer the more convenient and streamlined experience of trading on centralized crypto exchanges, but they are exposed to slightly more risk as the exchange takes custody of their funds. Decentralized exchanges act as a P2P network between traders, with no central body in control of the funds.
Which Are The Best Crypto Exchanges?
There is no single ‘best’ cryptocurrency exchange – the best for you will depend on what assets and products you want to trade and various other factors. Geographical location can also play a big role, as different exchanges may have different pricing structures and features in different countries – crypto exchanges in the UK generally offer no leverage, while US exchanges do, for example.
Whether you’re in Australia, Canada, the USA, the UAE or Dubai, the regulator in your local jurisdiction is likely to have placed some form of controls on centralized exchanges, so it’s wise to search for the top-ranking exchanges according to the country where you’re based. At the same time, you may be able to trade without KYC and other restrictions on a decentralized exchange.
Do your own research to find out the best crypto exchange for you. You can start with our list of the top 5 best-rated crypto exchanges by country. A little effort can go a long way – you might find a new exchange in Singapore with zero or low fees, a small exchange in Russia that specializes in the type of investing you want to do, or the best FCA-approved and FDIC-insured exchange in the UK and America.
Which Are The Best Crypto Exchanges With No KYC?
Most centralized exchanges are overseen in some capacity by local regulators, and that means that in many countries you will need to go through a know-your-customer (KYC) check – though that doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to report everything you do on the exchange to the IRS or similar agency.
If you aren’t keen on completing KYC documentation, it is easier to find a decentralized exchange that allows you to trade anonymously.
How Many Crypto Exchanges Are There?
The number of crypto exchanges in operation is in constant flux as old exchanges go out of business and newcomers hit the scene. For a rundown of the biggest crypto exchanges ranked by various criteria, check out our experts’ reviews along with the latest news.
Are Crypto Exchanges Regulated?
The crypto market has come on leaps since Bitcoin dropped in 2008, and part of that involves regulators. Some of the measures taken by regulators, such as insuring client funds on some US-based crypto exchanges, are beneficial to clients. Others, like tight ID verification and KYC requirements, imposed on European, UK and US exchanges, can be a hassle.
However, remember that most of the time, cryptocurrencies and exchanges do not have the same kind of regulatory oversight as other forms of online trading, meaning that users will be exposed to more risk than from a typical brokerage.