Is Bitcoin legal or illegal? How are cryptocurrencies regulated?

Is Bitcoin unlawful or legal? If you want to know the legal status of Bitcoin cryptocurrency around the world, please read this guide.

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The legal status of Bitcoin

The legality of Bitcoin (BTC) was always going to be a contentious issue. How does a government approach a decentralized global digital asset that was never intended to be controlled by a single party or organization? A censorship-resistant, community-focused new form of currency? Is Bitcoin, however, regulated?

As a result, the US government has had a difficult time regulating Bitcoin, and not just for the reasons stated above. The world's first cryptocurrency has many layers that go beyond traditional investments like mining and trading. Each activity necessitates its own set of rules, given that most people are unaware of how Bitcoin works, how it is regulated, and how profits can be taxed. This governmental conflict is felt throughout the country.

Legal parties, for example, cannot allow unauthorized parties to manage crypto, just as they cannot allow anyone to manage traditional fiat currencies. Regulators intend to create new guidelines for businesses that provide crypto custody or manage digital assets in other ways. This task is made more difficult by the fact that some assets are classified as securities while others are classified as property. Then there are derivatives and other aspects of the investment process to consider.

Should an airdrop profit be taxed differently than an investment gain from cryptocurrency trading? What role do hard forks play? Do governments allow mining profits to be taxed, and if so, how is the process monitored? And where is Bitcoin legally accepted?

Regulations may differ simply because of how mining works for each network and whether an entity is mining for personal or commercial reasons, or even for their yearly income levels. Some companies may pay employees from mining earnings as well, which would necessitate a variety of policies to regulate.

There are numerous types of revenue in crypto, the majority of which the average citizen is unaware of. In some ways, technology is advancing faster than mainstream crypto knowledge, and government regulations take time to comprehend and flesh out.

Finally, there is the issue of globalization and freedom of movement to consider. Citizens can store and earn cryptocurrency from anywhere in the world. So, how do governments deal with this? It's understandable that regulation takes time, but is it safe to use and invest in Bitcoin? Here's a look at how some countries around the world are attempting to regulate cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Is Bitcoin legal in the US?

Buying and holding Bitcoin has never been "illegal" in the United States, at least not on a federal level. So, the United States is one of those countries where Bitcoin is legal, but policies vary depending on where you live.

However, the asset's regulatory status has shifted from time to time, with federal parties unable to agree on a single policy and approach. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are just a few of the organizations looking to crack down on Bitcoin, and their perspectives differ.

For example, the SEC stated that Bitcoin cannot be classified as a security under the Howey test. Similarly, FinCen does not consider cryptocurrencies to be legal tender, and the CFTC regards crypto assets as binary options based on the price of an underlying, similar to commodity swaps and options.

Securities and Exchange Commission

The SEC has been discussing Bitcoin since 2014, when it issued an investor alert warning citizens about the risks of Bitcoin. Potential fraud, volatility, and scams were among the risks. Former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton stated publicly in 2018 that Bitcoin is a property, not a security, and that it should be taxed as such.

While most cryptocurrencies are considered securities, Bitcoin is not because the investment contract has no benefiting party. Instead, the network is autonomous, and the SEC regards Bitcoin as a traditional currency similar to the US dollar. In fact, Clayton stated that cryptocurrencies "replace sovereign currencies, such as the dollar, euro, and yen," which contributed to his final decision.

Otherwise, the SEC focuses on initial coin offerings (ICOs), which are more similar to tech startups raising capital. Other organizations have had more to say about Bitcoin regulation.

Internal Revenue Service

The IRS issued Notice 2014-21 in 2014, classifying Bitcoin as a property. This means that investors must pay capital gains tax on all cryptocurrency transactions and report the proceeds to the IRS in USD each year. Profits from Bitcoin mining, as well as payments for goods and services, are examples of such policies.

The IRS did not add an official ticker to Form 1040 until 2020, requiring taxpayers to disclose any virtual currency activity. While many Bitcoin traders used the asset's decentralized nature to avoid paying taxes, the IRS formed a task force in 2018 to track down such evaders.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission

The CFTC regards Bitcoin as a commodity, much like gold and other precious metals. In 2017, the commission issued a Primer outlining their positions for clarity's sake. Furthermore, as the group gains knowledge of the industry, its control over derivatives will expand to include insider trading, pump-and-dump schemes, and other similar activities.

Institutional investors interested in investing in cryptocurrency may find the CFTC appealing. After all, the commission recently published an official 2020-2024 Strategic Plan aimed at Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The plan focuses on clear cryptocurrency regulation for all Americans while also encouraging innovation in the space. Nonetheless, it intends to "be tough" on those who "break the rules."

The CFTC has also kept its word, going after the BitMEX exchange for failing to register the platform. Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts are excited because regulation could lead to the creation of a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF), which the SEC has been reluctant to implement for some time but has now approved Bitcoin futures ETFs.

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

FinCEN issued guidance in 2013, stating that while virtual currency is a medium of exchange, it lacks all of the characteristics of actual currency, so it is not considered legal tender. However, they state that anyone can use Bitcoin to purchase goods and services as long as a client is willing to accept it.

It's also worth noting that those who use cryptocurrencies to buy goods and services are not considered money services businesses, which means they are subject to different regulatory policies than traditional businesses.

Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stated in March 2021 that Bitcoin is more of a "speculative asset" similar to gold than a currency or store of value. Powell also claimed that due to its volatility, Bitcoin isn't a particularly useful store of value, hence the speculative moniker.

Indeed, the Federal Reserve has frequently declared the risks of Bitcoin and other digital assets, advising citizens not to invest in them. Randal K Quarles, a key member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, has stated that Bitcoin will never be a "revolutionary means of payment."

However, and somewhat ironically, the Federal Reserve intends to continue developing its own digital currency, which will most likely resemble a hybrid of Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

To deal with such securities as Bitcoin, FINRA requires cryptocurrency brokers to be certified. If, for example, a so-called cryptocurrency broker provides incorrect information, FINRA can assist by providing a lawyer. If that broker is not licensed, they will have difficulty continuing their practice and will most likely have to close their doors.

Otherwise, FINRA does its best to educate citizens about the risks of cryptocurrencies, offering informative podcasts and digital asset guides.

Office of the Controller of the Currency

In terms of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency legislation, the OCC has been one of the most progressive government groups. As the major bank regulator, the office allowed national banks to legally begin offering crypto custody services and working with stablecoins in 2020 before naming the United States' first "digital asset bank" the following year.

Since then, Michael Hsu, acting comptroller of the OCC, has outlined plans to review its crypto guidance in order to foster "responsible innovation." He wants crypto startups to feel welcome in the US, as long as they keep citizens safe.

The history of Bitcoin regulation in the United States

Governments did not like Bitcoin when it first appeared in 2009, assuming they even knew about it. However, once word got out that citizens were using it on the dark web, regulators took notice. When the FBI shut down The Silk Road, a leading dark web platform that only accepted Bitcoin, in 2013, the situation took a dramatic turn.

The Silk Road had made over $1.3 billion in Bitcoin in just two years. The FBI feared that much of that revenue was the result of money laundering, which sparked the Bitcoin debate about anonymity. The same year, FinCEN declared Bitcoin to be illegal tender. The United States Senate also issued letters warning law enforcement of digital threats.

However, it wasn't until 2015 that a state attempted to regulate cryptocurrency use. This state was New York, which had been looking into the sector publicly for two years. Then came BitLicense, a mandate that a business must pass in order to mediate the buying and selling of cryptocurrency, store or offer cryptocurrency custody, operate a cryptocurrency exchange, and so on.

Implementing Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies, among other requirements, is required for BitLicense approval. Many states have followed suit in regulating Bitcoin, but none have anything resembling a BitLicense.

The Conference of State Bank Supervisors helped to streamline the regulation even further in 2020. This made it easier for PayPal and other payment companies to provide digital assets.

Wyoming is a crypto-friendly state in that cryptocurrencies are legally recognized as money. The state allows crypto firms to become Special Purpose Depository Institutions, which are similar to banks in that they can lend out digital assets, provide crypto custody, and provide other services.

The state of Texas, like Wyoming, recognizes cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange. It's also one of the most welcoming states to cryptocurrency mining. Texas intends to establish itself as a major cryptocurrency mining center.

Finally, Miami's mayor spent 2021 working to establish progressive crypto laws throughout the state of Florida. Among other significant developments that recognize cryptocurrencies as a means of value transfer, the city is attempting to allow citizens to pay taxes in Bitcoin.

Is Bitcoin legal in China?

China is one of the countries where Bitcoin is prohibited. China banned cryptocurrency and restricted financial institutions from providing Bitcoin-related services in May 2021. While the country had previously prohibited cryptocurrency exchanges and crypto-related fundraising methods, this ban targeted traditional businesses involved in crypto services, such as banks and other financial institutions. The country cited cryptocurrency volatility as the reason for the cryptocurrency ban.

Despite the fact that Bitcoin has been banned, citizens who already own cryptocurrency are legally permitted to keep it.

The history of Bitcoin regulation in China

Overall, China does not intend to actively regulate cryptocurrency, but this was not always the case. Until late 2017, Chinese citizens were able to use cryptocurrency without much government intervention. The government eventually learned enough about crypto to crack down on high-risk businesses.

As a result, the People's Bank of China prohibited ICOs, preventing projects from raising funds in the country. This should come as no surprise, given the Chinese government's interest in all kinds of international transactions, crypto and otherwise. These regulations had a negative impact on cryptocurrency trading in China, forcing many companies to relocate away from the country.

In the summer of 2021, the Chinese government imposes additional restrictions on mining, and it is one of the countries where Bitcoin is illegal. Given that the country accounted for a sizable portion of the world's miners — an estimated 50 percent to 70 percent — Bitcoin's price fell precipitously as a result. China blamed Bitcoin miners for the country's failure to meet its climate targets. In the same year, China prohibited financial institutions from providing cryptocurrency services, as well as large corporations such as Alipay from doing so.

The government's interest in blockchain technology and central bank digital currencies is on the other side of China's major crackdown (CBDC). The country is known to be developing its own CBDC, which is a stablecoin cryptocurrency tied to the yen at a one-to-one ratio. Once released, the technology would allow China to digitize the yen.

Bitcoin regulation in the rest of the world

As one might expect, there is no global regulatory framework in place for cryptocurrencies. Almost every country has laws that are distinct from one another. Let's start with the most noticeable.


Bitcoin was unregulated in Russia for a time. However, in 2020, the country passed legislation prohibiting federal employees and their families from holding cryptocurrency in any form. Although the Russian government legalized Bitcoin trading, it prohibited the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in exchange for goods and services.

Some officials have attempted to argue against the crypto legislation, and there is even a group of lobbyists who claim the Russian government is impeding the crypto industry. A new bill that would require citizens to declare their holdings is also being discussed.


Japan's government declared Bitcoin legal tender in 2016 and requires cryptocurrency exchanges to follow AML and KYC policies. This decision is the result of years of government investigation following the Mt. Gox incident.

Further attacks hit Japanese cryptocurrency exchanges, prompting officials to demand stronger security procedures and put future exchanges on hold for now. However, in 2019, Japan began legalizing new crypto exchanges and enacting legislation aimed at boosting the security token offering (STO) and initial coin offering (ICO) sectors.


In 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) made it illegal for local firms to service cryptocurrencies, claiming that they were not legal cash and that no organization could have a "relationship" with them. This ban was in place for two years until March 2020, when the RBI lifted it and India became one of the world's most crypto-friendly countries. So, while Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading are now allowed, initial coin offerings (ICOs) and asset funds remain prohibited.


Although Europe's countries are generally progressive, the European Union is still failing to reach a regulatory consensus. The European Court of Justice determined in 2015 that cryptocurrency trading is a service provision. This declaration signifies that digital assets are exempt from VAT. Individual countries, like states in the United States, can still set their own regulations.

However, the European Union has signed the 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which applies to all countries. In order to combat terrorism and money laundering, this directive will compile a list of all cryptocurrency traders and holders.


In 2019, France regulated initial coin offerings (ICOs) and groups that provide crypto services. Since then, all KYC and AML procedures for French exchanges have been drastically tightened, and they have been compelled to register with the federal government. However, as of 2021, the country is still working on establishing a comprehensive regulatory framework. Francois Villeroy de Galhau, the governor of the Bank of France, argued that the EU only has one or two years to do so before digital assets threaten its financial sovereignty.


Coinbase received an official license from the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) in 2021, allowing it to continue serving customers in Germany. Coinbase is the first crypto-related company to get this license, which became mandatory in November 2019. BaFin intends to distribute the license to a variety of other organizations.

United Kingdom 

Despite the fact that Bitcoin is not regarded legal cash in the United Kingdom, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is enthusiastic about it. The asset will be considered property in the United Kingdom as of 2020, which means it will be liable to capital gains tax. Because cryptocurrencies are not a standard asset class, the tax can vary depending on the parties involved.

Due to an operations evaluation, the FCA barred Binance from engaging in regulated business in the United Kingdom in 2021. Customers cannot "reliably value" cryptocurrency derivatives, so the country made it a point to prohibit them.

Bitcoin regulation in South and Central America

El Salvador

El Salvador is the first country in the world to make Bitcoin legal tender. A regulation forcing businesses to accept Bitcoin for products and services went into effect in Summer 2021. Citizens can also use the digital asset to pay for housing, as it is not subject to capital gains tax when sold. El Salvador's president put $30 in Bitcoin into the personal wallets of any adult resident who wanted to use the new currency.


Many people thought Paraguay would be the next country to follow El Salvador's lead. Paraguay's Congress passed a measure on July 14, 2021, that would "control the activities of production and sale of virtual or crypto-active assets." Essentially, there will be three governmental parties in charge of various areas of cryptography, each fighting to maintain control.

Otherwise, the country will impose crypto transaction monitoring on all citizens, and miners would be required to obtain a Virtual Asset Mining License in order to continue mining. It's worth noting, however, that virtual assets in Paraguay are not regarded legal money. Rather, they're seen as security tokens from which the general public has a right to profit.


Finally, legislators in Panama planned to regulate Bitcoin in July 2021. The country will introduce legislation that will establish clear standards and allow access to digital currencies. Panama, according to Congressman Gabriel Silva, will become an incubator for financial technology and entrepreneurial development as a result of this support. Later, in September 2021, he proposed laws allowing cryptocurrency to be used as a method of payment for civil and commercial transactions.

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