How Long Does a Bitcoin Transaction Take? Bitcoin Unconfirmed Transactions
in Bitcoin (BTC)
The number one concern that cryptocurrency enthusiasts have about Bitcoin is that it’s too slow. In the Bitcoin white paper Satoshi describes Bitcoin as a, “peer-to-peer version of electronic cash,” yet BTC is too slow to use as an everyday payment mechanism.
So how long does a Bitcoin transaction take?
In this article, we’ll dig down into exactly how long a Bitcoin transaction takes, and how you can speed a BTC transaction up by ensuring that it gets processed immediately.
How Long Does a Bitcoin Transaction Take? (Bitcoin Transaction Speed)
Asking how long a Bitcoin transaction takes is like asking how large is a car? There are a lot of different answers.
Before going into different scenarios for transaction speeds, Bitcoin transactions generally take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. The reason for the range in time is that different situations require different amounts of confirmations (1 confirmation takes ~10 minutes) for a transaction.
Are Bitcoin transactions instant?
A zero-confirmation transaction occurs when a merchant accepts payment as soon as the transaction is broadcast to the network. This can happen in as little as five or ten seconds.
The problem is that zero-confirmation transactions are insecure and can make the merchant vulnerable to a double spend. Thus not many people accept zero-confirmation transactions even though they’re very fast.
For the most part merchants require at least two confirmations. How long does it take to confirm a Bitcoin transaction? Well, each confirmation is equivalent to the Bitcoin transaction being included in one block (grouping of Bitcoin transactions), and each block takes about 10 minutes.
So two confirmations equal approximately 20 minutes.
Bitcoin exchanges that allow you to buy and sell BTC typically (although not always) require even more confirmations. For example, Kraken requires six confirmations on a BTC deposit (this lovely chart shows the number of confirmations required for all assets on Kraken). Coinbase also requires six confirmations.
So in this case a transaction takes about 60 minutes before the funds show up in your account. Six confirmations is a very common requirement for high-value transactions I.e. buying gold or electronics with Bitcoin. By the time a transaction has six confirmations, it’s essentially guaranteed to be safe (not a double spend).
In summary, although a zero-confirmation transaction can clear in seconds, very few merchants accept this. Generally, a transaction will take around 10minutes for the funds to clear and be spendable by the receiving party.
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Bitcoin Transaction Fee
The Bitcoin network follows the law of supply and demand. There is a constant demand for transactions but only so many can be included in each block. Bitcoin can only clear about 7 transactions per second, so approximately 3,500 to 4,000 transactions per block.
Unconfirmed transactions wait in the mempool, or queue of confirmed transactions, waiting to be cleared. Usually a transaction gets stuck in the mempool when the transaction fee included with the transaction is too low.
In simplest terms, transactions in the mempool are just like buyers waiting to purchase a product once the price is low enough.
If demand goes down, prices will fall and these confirmations from the mempool will begin to be included in the blocks. If demand rises, then Bitcoin transaction fees rise and the number of transactions in the mempool will increase.
There is a constant battle between supply and demand on the Bitcoin network and it’s this battle that determines the transaction fee.
During the height of the 2017 bull market the demand for a Bitcoin transaction was so great that a transaction fee could cost as much as $50.
At times of low demand the fee can be as low as $0.20 or $0.30 (when Bitcoin was first released and nobody was using it the fee was essentially $0).
How does the fee affect transaction times? If you don’t pay a high enough fee your transaction may not be included in the next block. You might need to wait for just a few blocks, or maybe for longer depending on how low of a fee you’ve agreed to pay. So if you need your transaction to go through ASAP you should consider paying a higher fee.
As of publication, the Bitcoin fee is quite high, at $3.43 per transaction. However as you can see from the graph above, this is a spike in prices. For the last several months before the run up in prices the average fee was about $0.40. You can check Bitcoin transaction fees here.
Bitcoin Unconfirmed Transactions: How Long Can a Bitcoin Transaction Stay Unconfirmed?
The short answer is: a long time. If you look at the graph above you’ll see that in the six months of data that it shows, the Bitcoin fee never dropped below $0.25. So if you sent a Bitcoin unconfirmed transaction with a fee of just $0.10 it could have stayed unconfirmed for days or weeks.
A real world example is the 2017 bull market, when traders and investors were forced to wait days for their Bitcoin transactions to clear.
Bitcoin Transaction Unconfirmed for Hours (Why is My Bitcoin Transaction Taking So Long?)
If your Bitcoin transaction has been unconfirmed for hours, there is something that you can do to solve the problem. You can agree to pay a higher fee so that the transaction will get confirmed.
Essentially what you can do is to send a second transaction with a higher fee and this transaction picks up the first one so they both get cleared. An analogy, it’s like sending out a truck to pick up a broken down car, then the truck with the car on the back can keep going down the highway.
Many (but not all) Bitcoin wallets now have this functionality, to increase the fee to get the transaction included. Many wallets also let you pick a custom fee. For example, if the transaction speed is unimportant you can elect to pay a lower fee and wait for it to clear. Or if it’s important you can adjust the fee higher so that the transaction clears quickly.
How Long Does It Take to Send Bitcoins from Coinbase?
Generally sending Bitcoin from Coinbase to your crypto wallet doesn’t take that long, often just 10 minutes as transactions are typically included in the next block.
If you’re having problems sending your Bitcoin from Coinbase to your Exodus wallet you can check out this handy guide that we’ve put together. The guide is fully illustrated to make it as easy as possible for you to transfer your BTC off of Coinbase and to your wallet for safe keeping.
How to Send BTC Faster Next Time
If you need to get a Bitcoin transaction to go through as fast as possible you’ll need to use a Bitcoin wallet that lets you set the fee. There are basically two kinds of Bitcoin wallets.
- Automatic fee - This type of wallet automatically decides what the fee for the transaction will be, based on historical transaction fee rates. The user does not have control over the fee.
- Manual fee - This type of wallet allows the user to specify what fee they want to pay. The wallet will typically suggest various fees but ultimately it is up to the trader how much they want to pay.
While a wallet like Electrum does allow the trader to specify the fee, Electrum’s UI is extremely basic and has changed very little since the wallet was created nearly a decade ago. A much more user friendly option is the Exodus Bitcoin wallet.
Exodus guarantees that your transaction gets included in the next block by finding the current BTC transaction fee and adding an additional percentage to it to account for any increases in transaction fees. This additional percentage also makes sure that miners, who confirm new BTC transactions, pick up and confirm your transaction.
Some other Exodus features include,
- Support for 100+ crypto assets
- Focus on premium design and ease of use
- Is the only wallet to support desktop, mobile, and hardware wallet (Trezor) integration
- Gives you the ability to exchange cryptos for other cryptos right from your wallet - without creating an account! (desktop guide, mobile guide)
- Supports the best decentralized applications like Compound Finance
- Allows you to stake some of the hottest cryptos for crypto passive income
- Lets you sync your wallet between desktop and mobile
- and has 24/7, fast human support if you ever need help
So while you might not yet have thought about how important it is to get your Bitcoin transaction cleared as soon as possible, this should definitely be a consideration going forward. During the next big market move you definitely don’t want your Bitcoin to be trapped in a wallet where you can’t pay a higher fee to get the transaction through.
This content is for informational purposes only and is not investment advice. You should consult a qualified licensed advisor before engaging in any transaction.