How Long Does It Take to Send Bitcoin

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So, you’ve sent Bitcoin to your friend. When you check the transaction status in an hour, it says “Pending”. You check it a few hours later—it is still “Pending.” On the third day, you are desperate. You are starting to believe that your coins are lost forever somewhere in this huge network. Then, suddenly, when the hope has almost left you, the status of the transaction changes to “Confirmed”. And that is the moment you realize you should have learned more about how long does it take to send Bitcoin.

What is a Bitcoin transaction?

Every Bitcoin is a unique token, used as a currency unit. Blockchain is a ledger (like a notebook) where all transactions and balances are recorded. To put a new transaction into blockchain the confirmation of other users (so called miners) is necessary.

You may have heard that miners are people who earn Bitcoins with special software. Yes, it’s their main source of revenue, but also they get additional money by confirming transactions. Miners choose themselves what transactions to confirm. Usually they pick the ones with the highest fee first. When the network is overloaded, transaction are pending until some miner confirms it.

It’s the simplest explanation of blockchain transactions possible. In reality it’s more complicated: transaction are not waiting in a line, but are added in blocks, miners are competing to confirm them and so on. But if you read this article, you most likely want to know why your transactions take so long, but not the technical details of the system (and if you want to know them, read this great blog post by Michele D’Aliessi).

All transactions are recorded in the blocks, and miners are competing against each other to solve mathematical problems and find a block. They prove that they are working and ready to confirm transactions. Now they get 12.5 Bitcoin per block. Every 210,000 blocks, block reward is cut in half. So in about two years miners will get 6.25 BTC.

One more way for miners to earn money is confirming transactions. After finding a block, they can choose transactions to confirm. A new block is set on the top of the blockchain. Once the transaction is validated, it can’t be changed or cancelled. Now miners can build a new block on top of this one. Once the transaction appears on the blockchain, the receiver can be sure that he has got coins now.

How long does it take to send Bitcoin?

Each time new block is added, it means the old one is confirmed again. Commonly 6 confirmations are required, so 6 blocks must be added. The average time to mine a block is 10 minutes, so one transaction takes 6 blocks*10 min=around one hour on average.

Block can hold a limited number of transactions, so if there are many transactions waiting for being confirmed, it will take time before miner will be able to pick it among others. The more transactions there are in the network, the longer it takes to be approved. The transaction will be pending until some miner won’t pick and confirm it. Unconfirmed Bitcoin transactions get inside the pool of unapproved transactions—mempool.

Why sending Bitcoin can take hours?

Overloaded network

A transaction must be confirmed and added to the block by miners. But there is a finite number of miners and a finite number of transactions per block. So the more transactions there are in the mempool, the more time it takes for each of them to get confirmed.

Low fees

Fees are voluntary. You determine how much you want to pay or if you want to pay at all. There is no obligation for you to add a transaction fee, but also there is no obligation for miners to confirm your transaction. So if you set zero fees, a transaction can take a lifetime to confirm.

The higher is the fee, the more chances are that some miner would like to process your transaction. There are mutual benefits in attaching a fee. So, if you want to reduce Bitcoin transaction time, just don’t be greedy and set a higher fee.

Nowadays, a transaction takes around 10 minutes to be approved, but in January 2018, when the crypto boom reached its peak, one single transaction took 3-4 days. You can check the graph of average transaction time for today and all previous days at blockchain.info.

Causes of unconfirmed transactions

Sometimes transaction may be rejected for some unknown reasons. Mostly this error happens when users make a transfer via some third-party service provider. To avoid such situation, send Bitcoin to the network directly or use a reliable cryptocurrency wallet.

If your transaction is unconfirmed for a long time and you want to cancel it, you may use replace-by-fee or double spending method.

If you use wallet that support replace by fee (RBF) function, you can replace the original transaction with a new one with a higher transaction fee. That will unstick your transaction.

If your wallet doesn’t have RBF option, try double spending with a higher fee. To do this, you need to make a new transaction with the the amount of Bitcoin as the previous one and send it to yourself. Set a higher transaction fee than the original transaction. Hopefully, one of these methods will work for you.

But transaction rejected by the network is an exception. Usually every Bitcoin transaction will be confirmed sooner or later. And even if your transaction status is “pending” for few days, don’t worry. The network is overloaded, and you just have to wait, or the transaction fee you have set is too low, so you better set a higher one.

How can you tell how much is the right fee?

The transaction fee is calculated not per satoshi or Bitcoin, but per bytes in a transaction. You can calculate transaction fee yourself using special formula, but non tech-savvy people would more probably summon the devil with all that digits and figures than get a proper result.

But there are wonderful alternatives to use free services to calculate it:

  • estimatefee.co—simple calculator for transaction fee:
  • bitcoinfees.info demonstrates current average fees for slow, medium and fast transactions;
  • satoshitobitcoin.co—as fees are often displayed in satoshis per byte, here is a convenient tool for converting satoshis into USD.

Conclusion

Bitcoin network has a scalability problem: transactions are limited by block creation time and block size. In its current state it can only handle few transactions per second, while Visa, for example, is capable of performing 24 000.

There is no clear answer to the question: “How long does it take to send Bitcoin?”.  You can’t know for sure how much time Bitcoin transaction will take. But you can search a little bit about average confirmation time and current situation on the market to see if the network is overloaded, and get an approximate image of how long it takes to send Bitcoin now.

Bitcoin transaction time is still the weak point of the cryptocurrency, but let’s hope that the scalability problem will be overcome soon and users will enjoy high-speed and low-fee transactions. The value of cryptocurrency is determined by whether you can use Bitcoin to buy a coffee in the nearest coffee-shop or not, and problemless transactions are the first step towards such acceptance.

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