Sending a Bitcoin transaction brings users many questions, including the popular one: how long does a Bitcoin transaction take? We know that when we make a debit or credit card payment, transactions are processed immediately (settlement takes place at a later date). At the same time, sending a bank transfer could be immediate or take just a few hours or days.
But how long does a Bitcoin transaction take? This is a fair question that a large number of users ask considering that there is no centralized authority processing and confirming transactions. In this post, we will tell you the answer to the question of how long does a Bitcoin transaction take, and many other things related to it.
A Bitcoin transaction is the transfer of BTC (satoshis) from one blockchain address to another one. A transaction includes information about all previous transactions to confirm the validity of the BTC sent.
Every single time that a Bitcoin transaction is processed, there are different steps that have to be taken by the network. When you press the “send” button different mechanisms will get activated. Due to the fact that your transaction will require miners to add it to a block, you should pay network fees.
The fees you pay are variable, and they depend on how fast you want your transaction to be processed and the network congestion. In some cases, if the network is congested and you don’t pay enough transaction fees, your funds could take some time to be processed. But we will get into the details in further sections.
A Bitcoin transaction means that you transfer an “x” amount of BTC from wallet “A” to wallet “B.” But when you process this transfer, you are also giving the power to control these funds to the person that holds the private keys of wallet “B” (you can also be the owner of wallet “B”).
When the transaction gets processed, the funds get settled. In some cases, there will be a need to wait for more confirmations for the funds to be considered settled. But the risk of settling the funds with just one transaction is quite low.
The time to process a Bitcoin transaction varies greatly from 5 minutes in the best case to 4 hours or more in the worst-case scenario. However, most transactions take between 10 to 60 minutes to get processed by miners.
So which are the things that we should take into consideration when sending or receiving a transaction on the Bitcoin network? The time will highly depend on two main factors: the fees that you pay to process the transfer, and the network congestion at that time.
The lower the fee that you pay, the lower the possibilities are that your transaction will be taken by a miner and added to the next block. Instead, the higher the fees that you pay when processing a transfer, the faster a miner will pick this transaction up. However, make sure that you don’t overpay. In some cases, a standard fee would be enough for your transaction to be added in the next block.
When the network is congested, that means that thousands of transactions are processed per minute. Therefore, depending on the fee level that you pay, you will get your transaction processed faster or slower. If congestion does not get better, then you will have to pay a higher fee for your transaction to be processed.
In summary, a Bitcoin transaction can get processed in 5 minutes if you are lucky enough for miners to pick it in the next block. However, most transactions get processed between 10 and 60 minutes, depending on the level of congestion of the blockchain.
Despite the fact that a transaction can get settled in close to 10 minutes, some wallets and systems would not consider the transaction settled if the network does not confirm your transaction many times. This is a process that involves adding more blocks of transactions to the blockchain after your transaction was processed.
Network confirmation is a key concept that would help us answer the question of how long does a Bitcoin transaction take to be processed.
A network confirmation means that your transaction has been added to a block, and was processed by miners. However, due to the fact that the Bitcoin network could experience an attack (a 51% attack), it is much more secure if your transaction receives more confirmations.
Each confirmation is represented by the number of blocks added on top of your transaction. If your transaction was just processed and no more blocks were added to the Bitcoin network, then your BTC transaction has one network confirmation. Now, if your transaction has been added to a block (confirmation 1), and another block has been mined after it, then, your Bitcoin transaction will have 2 confirmations. If another block gets added after the second block, then your Bitcoin transaction will get 3 confirmations, and so on.
Most wallets, exchanges, and commerce sites accept between 3 to 6 network confirmations. In some cases and for transfers that need to have more protection, there could be required 12 or 24 network confirmations. Nowadays, even with one confirmation, most transactions would already be considered settled.
Therefore, network confirmations would then determine the settlement time for some payment processors, wallets or exchanges.
The Bitcoin network difficulty is a very important term that would help us answer the question of how long does a Bitcoin transaction take to be processed. Bitcoin blocks containing transactions are processed on a daily basis with an average that is close to ten minutes. However, there could be some issues that could make finding a block more difficult or easier.
For example, if half of the miners operating on the Bitcoin network shut their machines down (for example if the Bitcoin price massively falls), then blocks might take more than 10 minutes on average to be processed. This would make Bitcoin transactions slower.
Now, if a new mining machine is invented (with twice as much the hash rate of the most powerful ASIC miner) and it starts mining Bitcoin, then blocks will likely be processed faster. It can also happen that due to a massive price increase of Bitcoin (for example 200% in 3 days), a large number of miners that were not profitable at previous prices become profitable. This would mean that blocks will be found, on average, faster than 10 minutes.
But this is not Bitcoin’s goal. Indeed, if there is a change in this average, the BTC issuance will change. For example, if Bitcoin is mined faster (an increase in the hash rate), there will be more BTC in the market than what the market expected. Now, if the hash rate massively drops, there will be fewer BTC than what the market expected.
This is why the Bitcoin network has been created with a mechanism that is called network difficulty. If it becomes more difficult for miners to mine Bitcoin (there is a fall in the hash rate), then mining difficulty will fall, allowing for new miners to enter the market and reaching an average block time of 10 minutes.
If new miners enter the market and Bitcoin blocks are processed in less than 10 minutes, then the Bitcoin network difficulty will grow so as to reach the expected 10 minutes average per block.
The Bitcoin mempool is one of the most important aspects of transactions. These are all the transactions that are waiting to be confirmed by miners and added to a block. At UseTheBitcoin, we have created a unique guide about the Bitcoin Mempool that will help you understand what the Bitcoin Mempool is and how it works.
So how is the mempool related to our main question: how long does a Bitcoin transaction take?
Considering that the Bitcoin mempool is a database of transactions that are waiting to be added to a block, it will give us an idea of what to expect about our transaction. The larger the Bitcoin mempool size, the larger the number of transactions that have not been confirmed.
This is something that we want to avoid if we want to process our transaction faster or include it in the next block. A positive thing about the mempool is that it also shares information about the fee that these transactions are paying to be prioritized on the network.
Hence, it can give you valuable data on the level of fee that you can use if you want your funds to be sent faster. Nowadays, you can run your own Bitcoin node and get detailed information about the mempool.
With all the information that we shared in this post, you should already know how to avoid your transaction getting stuck. As we have seen, the answer to “how long does a Bitcoin transaction take to be processed” requires you to know how fees are used to incentivize miners and how to analyze the Bitcoin Mempool to avoid overpaying for transactions.
But there might be a case in which your transaction does not get processed. Let’s say that you sent a payment to a friend and you added a very low fee at a moment in which congestion was very high. This could create a situation in which you would need to speed up your transaction.
Depending on the wallet and processing service that you use, you can find functionality that would let you add more fees to a specific Bitcoin transaction. This would let you speed it up and get processed in a shorter period of time by miners. This should be something that you can consider if you did not take into consideration the fee level and the congestion of the Bitcoin network when you sent the transaction.
In order to process a Bitcoin transaction faster, you can analyse the Mempool and get valuable information about what is happening with the Bitcoin network. The Mempool will not only let you know which is the current congestion of the Bitcoin network, but it will also give you data about the fee at a particular time.
With this information, you know which are the best times to send a transaction. You can send a transfer when congestion is lower (usually at night), or when fees are lower. At the same time, you can also add a larger fee to your transaction and process a Bitcoin transaction faster.
Another thing that you should take into consideration if you want your Bitcoin transaction to be sent faster, is to add some more fees using a Bitcoin transaction speed-up service. Some wallets and exchanges offer that option to users.
In order for you to check the status of your Bitcoin transaction, you can simply open a block explorer and search for your wallet or the recipient’s wallet. The transaction will be broadcasted there, with all the information you should know about it. It is quite easy to do so and many block explorers offer this option to investors.
However, you should take into account that it might not be quite safe to search for a Bitcoin transaction using a public block explorer. These block explorers share information from their own Bitcoin nodes. They might be tempted to lie and share false information or simply gather data from the person that is visiting the website and searching for specific wallets or transactions.
Therefore, one of the best ways to check the status of a Bitcoin transaction is by using your own Bitcoin node. This would give you the ultimate privacy and let you protect your private information. Nowadays, it is possible to use services such as Umbrel that make it easier for you to manage your Bitcoin node.