Bitcoin Transaction Time: How long does a Transfer take?

A Bitcoin transaction theoretically might take as little as ten minutes, which is the duration for a new block to be produced in the blockchain. Sometimes, however, transactions can take as long as hours, days, and even weeks. Here’s what you need to know about Bitcoin transaction times.

Overview for Fast-Readers

  • The average confirmation time for a BTC payment is about ten minutes. Transaction times and costs, however, can vary.
  • It could take weeks for a Bitcoin transaction to be completed. At any given time, a high number of transaction throughput on the Bitcoin network can create congestion.
  • Bitcoin transactions take several confirmations on the blockchain before being considered fully cleared.
  • If you submit a Bitcoin transaction with low fees, you run the risk of your transaction being rejected by miners in favor of transactions with higher fees.

How Long Does a Transaction Confirmation Take?

Two things influence Bitcoin transaction times: network activity and transaction fees. The network activity can generally be considered the number of transactions conducted per day. The more Bitcoin transactions, the more network activity.

Blockchain.com and Statista have created tools to estimate the average time of completion for a BTC transaction or transfer at any given time. A low fee Bitcoin transaction might be rejected by miners.

A Brief History Of The Transaction Fee Debate

At certain times, Bitcoin transaction fees become so high, the system fails to act as the “electronic peer to peer cash system” envisaged by Satoshi, who titled the Bitcoin white paper “Bitcoin: A Electronic Peer To Peer Cash System”.

In essence, certain critics of Bitcoin cite the fact the peer-to-peer electronic cash no longer functions as cash as it is stated to be in Satoshi’s white paper. They say the Bitcoin version is slow, expensive, and unreliable when it comes to transactions. If you don’t pay a high enough fee, a transaction can be stuck in Bitcoin’s mempool, where information about unconfirmed transactions (those not yet contained in a block) is stored.

For this reason, Roger Ver, once known as “Bitcoin Jesus,” left the Bitcoin community and created a new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash with certain design attributes meant to make it act more like cash.

When Ver and Tone Vays debated Bitcoin transactions, Vays sent Ver a Bitcoin transaction. Ver bet $10,000 it wouldn’t go through that day. It didn’t. “It looks like because the fee was so low, it looks like the network didn’t even detect the transaction… It looks like it didn’t even get relayed by the node. It hasn’t even arrived in my wallet yet,” Ver said about the unconfirmed transaction while still on stage.

Ver and Vays were debating in 2019, years after the so-called Bitcoin Civil War in which the Bitcoin Block Size debate heated up. In the aftermath, one Bitcoin Core developer ended up leaving. That developer is Mike Hearn.

Hearn declared the Bitcoin experiment concluded after the community failed to enact updates to increase the amount of throughput Bitcoin can handle. He argued that the 1MB bitcoin block cap was arbitrary and cumbersome. Many supported enactment of SegWit, which would remove signature data from bitcoin transactions to speed up transactions and lower fees. The common price point for a transaction is considered one to ten Satoshis per byte on the Bitcoin network. Segwit would have lowered transaction costs on Bitcoin.

Mike Hearn Leaves Bitcoin

“The block chain is full,” Hearn, who was a former Bitcoin core developer, wrote in his post The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment. He explained how it had come to be full: “The answer is that an entirely artificial capacity cap of one megabyte per block, put in place as a temporary kludge a long time ago, has not been removed and as a result the network’s capacity is now almost completely exhausted.”

Hearn estimated that about “700 kilobytes of transactions (or less than 3 payments per second), is probably about the limit of what Bitcoin can actually achieve in practice.” It was common knowledge in the early years of Bitcoin that the limit is 7 payments per second, however, that figure became outdated after 2011.

“Not surprisingly then, there are frequent periods in which Bitcoin can’t keep up with the transaction load being placed upon it and almost all blocks are the maximum size, even when there is a long queue of transactions waiting,” wrote Hearn.

Bitcoin Mempool Queue Chart

What Determines A Bitcoin Transaction Time? 

Three data points compose a Bitcoin transaction.

  • Input – Shows the history of the Bitcoin in your public key, as well as the coin source.
  • Amount – The number of Bitcoins being transacted.
  • Output – Public key or address of the transaction.

Upon receiving the transaction message containing these three parts, the miners validate/verify the transaction.

When is a Transaction Confirmed?

Only once the miners process a block containing a particular transaction is that transaction confirmed. If you set relatively high fees, the miner will likely process your transaction quickly. If you’re using an exchange, rest assured: you’ve likely paid a fee ensuring your transaction gets processed within a reasonable time limit on your behalf.

How Can I Make My Bitcoin Transactions Faster?

Lighting Network has been developed to alleviate congestion on the Bitcoin network. Proponents of Lightning believe transactions under certain dollar amounts should be conducted off-chain—that is, no on the Bitcoin blockchain—but instead on the Lightning Network, which is a second layer protocol designed to relieve congestion on the Bitcoin network and boasts transactions between milliseconds and one minute. (In anticipation of potential future clogs on the Bitcoin network, Charlie Lee designed Litecoin in such a way that it was cheaper and easier to send transactions.

Periodically,  in a miner’s  “mempool” a backlog might form, similar to a “transaction queue.” Picking the transactions that pay the most fees, miners priorities lead to some transactions being included in blocks quicker than others. To make your Bitcoin transactions faster, pay more than other people. That, however, is not the only way.

Earn.com monitors the networks and suggests bitcoin transaction fee settings, and estimated confirmation times. Due to the variability of Bitcoin transaction fees, bitcoin wallets generally offer dynamic fees, automatically setting a fee for the user.