What are cryptocurrencies?

To make informed decisions and get the most out of cryptocurrencies, it’s important to understand the industry’s core concepts. With that being the case, you should take some time to learn the phrases below. By doing that, you can get the most out of your experience, however you decide to interact with the top cryptocurrencies.

What are Cryptocurrencies? How to Buy, Sell and Trade Digital Coins

Crypto coins
iLearn how to buy, sell and spend cryptocurrencies. [Wit Olszewsk/Shutterstock.com]
Cryptocurrencies are, as their name suggests, a digital units currency (coins or tokens) that allow you to pay for goods and services. Although the term has evolved, the underlying principles are the same. Indeed, if we dissect the actual word “cryptocurrencies”, we’re left with the following:

Crypto = Taken from the word ‘cryptography’, crypto means something that’s concealed or hidden. In the computer world, you’ll have probably come across the term ‘encrypted’. Encryption is linked with cryptography, i.e. it involves concealing data using complex codes. In other words, encrypted data is information that’s been hidden using a code. This idea helps form the basis of digital coins.

Currencies = From our everyday lives, we know that currency is a term used to describe the money we spend. Depending on your location or environment, monetary values and denominations will change.

When you combine these two words together, you get to the core of what cryptocurrencies are: “units of data that conceal certain information that can be used as money to pay for something.”

Put simply, cryptocurrencies are a new type of money that’s created online using cryptographic methods.

What is Decentralisation?

A traditional currency (known as fiat currency) like the GB pound is centralised. In practice, this means it’s created, distributed and controlled by a single authority. This central authority sets the parameters by which the currency operates. In contrast, cryptocurrencies aren’t created or controlled by a single authority. Instead, cryptos are self-regulating. In fact, it’s this decentralised foundation that makes cryptocurrency a peer-to-peer transactional system i.e. units of value that are created, controlled and exchanged by a network or equal peers.

Cryptographic processes are used to verify transactions and, in turn, create (or ‘mine’) new units of currency. The benefits of this system are that no one can manipulate the system and, more importantly, cryptocurrencies are universal. You can’t spend GBP in South Africa because it’s not the local currency. Bitcoin (BTC), however, isn’t bound by the same rules, which means it can be spent anywhere (in theory).

Using Cryptocurrencies: Buy, Selling and Spending

Hands holding up bitcoin
Crypto is now a lot easier to trade [noppawan09/Shutterstock.com]
In recent years, cryptocurrencies have become tradable assets. Much like the way investors can trade fiat currencies on the forex market, you can now buy and sell cryptos. In many ways, cryptocurrency trading is more important than forex.

Because spending cryptocurrencies isn’t an everyday practice (yet), a coin’s value is determined by how much is being traded. As the technology improves and more people start to use it, this will change. For now, however, trading cryptocurrencies is a major part of the industry. Because of that, you have plenty of opportunities to buy and sell.

How to Get Cryptocurrencies

To buy cryptocurrencies, you’ll need a crypto exchange. Whether you decide to trade your coins (i.e. keep them on the exchange and sell at a later date) or spend them, you’ll need to buy them. The only other way to get some coins is to mine them. However, this can be a lengthy process that requires specialist knowledge and/or equipment.

Therefore, if you want quick and easy access to the top cryptocurrencies, you need an exchange. In general, there are two types of exchange that allow you to buy coins that can be kept or spent. Crypto-to-crypto exchanges are ones that only allow you to deposit, buy, sell and withdraw in a digital currency. Fiat-to-crypto exchanges are ones that allow you to deposit or buy cryptocurrencies using a fiat such as GBP, EUR or USD.

The Top Cryptocurrencies

When it comes to the cryptocurrencies you can buy, sell and spend, there are some that stand out. Although there are hundreds of altcoins, the leading ones you should look out for alongside Bitcoin are:


In summary, cryptocurrencies are digital equivalents of traditional currencies with a few twists. Without a single point of control, cryptos can be used anywhere. What’s more, the technology backing cryptocurrencies means that they are highly secure. Put simply, digital tokens can do everything fiat can and more. Regardless of whether you want to trade cryptocurrencies or use them to pay for goods and services, the opportunities are there. What’s more, as the industry grows, these opportunities are going to increase to the point where cryptocurrencies may soon be on par with GBP and the like.

Featured image source: Wit Olszewsk/Shutterstock.com


Risk Warning: Investing in digital currencies, stocks, shares and other securities, commodities, currencies and other derivative investment products (e.g. contracts for difference (“CFDs”) is speculative and carries a high level of risk. Each investment is unique and involves unique risks.

CFDs and other derivatives are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how an investment works and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Cryptocurrencies can fluctuate widely in prices and are, therefore, not appropriate for all investors. Trading cryptocurrencies is not supervised by any EU regulatory framework. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Any trading history presented is less than 5 years old unless otherwise stated and may not suffice as a basis for investment decisions. Your capital is at risk.

When trading in stocks your capital is at risk.

Past performance is not an indication of future results. Trading history presented is less than 5 years old unless otherwise stated and may not suffice as a basis for investment decisions. Prices may go down as well as up, prices can fluctuate widely, you may be exposed to currency exchange rate fluctuations and you may lose all of or more than the amount you invest. Investing is not suitable for everyone; ensure that you have fully understood the risks and legalities involved. If you are unsure, seek independent financial, legal, tax and/or accounting advice. This website does not provide investment, financial, legal, tax or accounting advice. Some links are affiliate links. For more information please read our full risk warning and disclaimer.