Can you live in London for 24hrs using only bitcoin?

·7-min read

Watch: Can you live exclusively off bitcoin?

On a foggy Monday morning in December, I stepped out of my suburban house on the edge of London intent on living exclusively on bitcoin (BTC-USD) for the next 24 hours.

I emptied my wallet of all credit cards and cash because for this experiment I would only need my mobile phone and a series of payment applications that are specifically suited to transacting in cryptocurrencies.

The mechanics of buying bitcoin are more straightforward these days than when the world's preeminent cryptocurrency first emerged. In those early days users needed to move money through a labyrinth of offshore intermediaries to purchase bitcoin on exchanges such as Mt. Gox in Japan.

Now there is a swathe of user-friendly payment applications such as Revolut, Paypal (PYPL), and Coinbase (COIN) that give retail users access to bitcoin within a few clicks of a mobile phone screen.

For my ventures throughout London, I would rely on the Revolut payment application and I first topped up my account with $150 (£110) worth of bitcoin or approximately 0.004 BTC at mid-December 2021 prices.

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My mission was to only use bitcoin to purchase food and to pay for all my travel and the services I required.

The first thing was to try and purchase breakfast in Sainsbury's before setting off into London. The major supermarket chains in the UK are not bitcoin-friendly, but there is a way to transact using gift cards that can be paid for in bitcoin using the Bitrefill mobile application.

So, I downloaded the Bitrefill app and topped it up with bitcoin from my Revolut cryptocurrency wallet. I purchased $10 worth of bitcoin or 0.00028 BTC for breakfast ingredients.

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My next port of call was the opticians. However, I had dredged the internet in an attempt to find an optician in London that would accept the world's largest cryptocurrency, but was unable to find any.

So, I reached out to one of London's crypto-experts, the entrepreneur and founder of the Financial Fox YouTube channel, Stefania Barbaglio. She directed me to one optician that does accept bitcoin as payment for goods and services, Adam Simmons Opticians on Regent's Park Rd, near the Chalk Farm tube, London.

To get there I needed transport. After brief research I found I could not use my car to travel to destinations throughout London as no filling station in the land was going to compromise the primacy of the petro-dollar and accept bitcoin in exchange for fuel.

After trawling online forums, I came across the only taxi service in London that would take bitcoin as a means of payment, the Bitcoin Black Cab.

The Bitcoin Black Cab is a taxi service operated by the pseudonymous Dave Jenkins, who is also known as the Crypto Cabbie. It is a one-man company run since 2017.

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Dave took me to Adam Simmonds opticians for 0.00056 BTC, or £20. Adam Simmonds has a bitcoin sign in the window and all products within can be purchased using the cryptocurrency, including eye tests, which is what I had booked. It cost £75 and Adam took payment in bitcoin, costing 0.0021 BTC.

Adam told me he has been accepting bitcoin as a means of payment for the last 6 months. He initially became interested in making his business bitcoin-friendly because he "wanted to be involved in this new wave of forward thinkers". He does not cash out the bitcoin he receives immediately as he is a "hodler" — someone who believes crypto will appreciate significantly in the long-term.

I used Revolut but the transaction took almost 30 minutes, which was a problem as I didn't want to leave without making sure the payment had gone through and I was concerned it would also be an issue when paying for my second taxi journey with the Crypto Cabbie. The transaction delay was not due to my antiquated phone.

UK taxis detail
The Bitcoin Black Cab takes bitcoin as a means of payment in London. Photo: Getty

Finally, the payment went through, leaving the amount of funds in my wallet at $45, or 0.0012 BTC.

While waiting for the transaction to complete, a cryptocurrency investor came into Adam's opticians and told me about a pizzeria close-by that accepted bitcoin. The investor, who chose to remain anonymous, took me to the Cinquecento Neapolitan Pizzeria on Portobello Road that has recently started taking bitcoin as a means of payment. There, I met the CEO, Emanuele Tagliarina, and enjoyed a Napoli pizza, costing £12, or 0.00034 BTC.

Leaving the pizzeria I had to get across London to meet Brian Rose, the host and founder of the London Real YouTube channel, who I wanted to chat with about the use of bitcoin as a means of day-to-day transaction.

I contacted Dave Jenkins, the Crypto Cabbie, again, who took me to Old Street for a further £20, or 0.00056 BTC.

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Brian and I discussed the slow transaction speeds I had experienced when using bitcoin in London, as well as the slow rate of adoption. Many of the companies that claimed to accept bitcoin on the internet in reality would not accept it when I phoned them to double-check.

The former Wall Street veteran told me that "bitcoin is an amazing digital asset, although it is a terrible digital currency".

"It is built to store value as digital property, but is not built for people to transact with. We are going to need new innovations for that for you to properly survive using bitcoin. We are still twelve months out for that."

I still had £14 left in my digital wallet which I transferred to Bitrefill for a takeaway, ordered through Just Eat, that was delivered to my house when I arrived home.

Bitcoin in the world's largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation. Photo: Getty
Bitcoin in the world's largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation. Photo: Getty

Bitcoin was born amid the 2008 financial crisis. Anonymous founder Satoshi Nakamoto referenced the bailout of global banking in the first block in the bitcoin blockchain, now called the "Genesis Block". Within the code of the Genesis Block is a secret message that reads "the Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks".

Throughout 2021, the fall-out from COVID-19 lockdowns has done little to dent bitcoin's consistent value appreciation. Except for a major Elon Musk related dip in early June, a prolonged July trough, and an early December flash crash, the price of bitcoin has risen in value by 94.29% from the start of January 2021.

However, on the week I conducted my bitcoin experiment the price of the digital currency had fallen to a monthly low of $47,000. This collapse in the price of the world's leading cryptocurrency was made all the more dramatic after bitcoin had reached a record high of more than $69,000 earlier in November.

There were three key takeaways from my experiment in living in London using bitcoin — the slow transaction speed is a major inconvenience, bitcoin is still unsuited for transactions at scale and the adoption rate by retail outlets across the capital has not increased in any significant way since its creation in 2009.

The vast majority of retail outlets are still unwilling to accept bitcoin as a form of payment. So, the only way to successfully live exclusively on crypto is through third-party applications such as Bitrefill.

To paraphrase Brian Rose, bitcoin is built to store value as digital property, it's not built for people to transact with on a daily basis.

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