Digital currency

From Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Note:

This page is about cryptocurrencies, which are not issued or governed by a government or central bank.

Digital currency is electronic money. It's not available as bills or coins.

Cryptocurrencies are a type of digital currency created using computer algorithms. The most popular cryptocurrency is Bitcoin.

No single organization, such as a central bank, creates digital currencies. Digital currencies are based on a decentralized, peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The “peers” in this network are the people that take part in digital currency transactions, and their computers make up the network.

Using digital currencies

You can use digital currencies to buy goods and services on the Internet and in stores that accept digital currencies. You may also buy and sell digital currency on open exchanges, called digital currency or cryptocurrency exchanges. An open exchange is similar to a stock market. 

To use digital currencies, you need to create a digital currency wallet to store and transfer digital currencies. You can store your wallet yourself or have a wallet provider manage your digital currency for you.

You need a “public key” and a “private key” to use your wallet. Keys are made up of a random sequence of numbers and letters.

Public keys are used to identify your wallet.

Private keys are used to unlock your wallet and access your money. Private keys should be kept secret.

All transactions are recorded to a public ledger or “blockchain” that everyone can see.

Digital currencies are not a legal tender

Digital currencies, such as Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, are not legal tender in Canada. Only the Canadian dollar is considered official currency in Canada.

The Currency Act defines legal tender.

Legal tender is defined as:

  • bank notes issued by the Bank of Canada under the Bank of Canada Act
  • coins issued under the Royal Canadian Mint Act

Digital currencies are not supported by any government or central authority, such as the Bank of Canada.

Financial institutions, such as banks or credit unions, don't manage or oversee digital currency.

Automated exchangers (Bitcoin ATMs)

Automated exchangers are commonly referred to as Bitcoin ATMs. They are vending machines that allow you to insert cash in exchange for bitcoins, and in some cases bitcoins for cash.

Unlike traditional ATMs, they are not connected to your bank, credit union or the Interac network. You may be charged a transaction fee for using a Bitcoin ATM. Shop around as exchange fees vary and you may be able to get lower rates elsewhere.

Generally, when you use a Bitcoin ATM, the machine:

  • reads the bills you insert
  • converts the amount into an amount of bitcoins
  • sends the equivalent of bitcoins to the Bitcoin address you enter

How tax rules apply to digital currency

Tax rules apply to digital currency transactions, including those made with cryptocurrencies. Using digital currency does not exempt consumers from Canadian tax obligations.

This means digital currencies are subject to the Income Tax Act.

Buying goods or services using digital currency

Goods purchased using digital currency must be included in the seller’s income for tax purposes. GST/HST also applies on the fair market value of any goods or services you buy using digital currency.

Buying and selling digital currency like a commodity

When you file your taxes you must report any gains or losses from selling or buying digital currencies.

Digital currencies are considered a commodity and are subject to the barter rules of the Income Tax Act. Not reporting income from such transactions is illegal.

Learn more about the Canada Revenue Agency’s reporting requirements for digital currencies.​

Risks of using digital currency

Using digital currency has certain risks.

You may have fewer protections

You may not have access to a complaint-handling process like you would with other payment methods, such as debit and credit cards.

Even if you use a wallet provider to help you manage your digital currency, the provider does not have to help you get your funds back if something goes wrong with your transaction.

Your deposit is not insured

It's your responsibility to protect your digital currency wallet.

Federal or provincial deposit insurance plans don't cover digital currency.

For example, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation only covers eligible deposits in Canadian dollars at member financial institutions if the institution fails.

If the currency exchange or wallet provider that has your digital currency fails or goes bankrupt, your funds won't be protected.

Your investment may be high risk

Digital currencies can be risky investments because their value can change quickly. The value of a digital currency can increase or decrease over a very short period of time. Such changes in value can be difficult to predict.

When you exchange your digital currency for traditional currency, such as the Canadian dollar, it may be worth less than when you bought it.

You may have a hard time exchanging your digital currency

Digital currencies can be difficult to buy and use. You may not be able to exchange them easily for cash or to purchase goods and services.

Merchants don't have to accept digital currencies as payment. They don't have to exchange digital currencies for traditional currencies, such as the Canadian dollar.

You may be exposed to fraud

Digital currencies may be vulnerable to fraud, theft and hackers.

All transactions are recorded to a public ledger or “blockchain”. The blockchain may include information such as transaction amounts, wallet addresses and the public keys of the sender and recipient.

Digital currencies are also sometimes used to support illegal activities.

Transactions are not reversible

Purchases and transactions made with digital currencies are not reversible.

This means:

  • you can’t reverse the charges if you didn’t receive the product
  • you can’t get your money back unless the seller agrees
  • you might not be able to stop a payment

Tips for using digital currency

Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself when using digital currency.

Protect your wallet

Take steps to protect your wallet:

  • keep your wallet, and any backups, in a safe place
  • encrypt your wallet using encryption software
  • encrypt any copies you make or online backups
  • set a password to help prevent thieves from withdrawing your funds
  • use a strong password that contains letters, numbers and symbols

Know the merchant’s refund, return and dispute policies

Before you make a purchase, find out:

  • what the exchange rate will be
  • if refunds are available
  • if refunds will be processed in digital currency, Canadian dollars or store credit
  • how to contact someone if there’s a problem

Wait for multiple confirmations before completing a transaction

It can take 10 minutes or more for a digital currency transaction to be confirmed. Confirmation happens when users on the network verify the transaction. During that time, a transaction could be reversed and you could lose your funds to a dishonest user.

Understand what the actual costs will be

Find out if there are any mark-ups or other fees. Find out what will happen if the rate changes before the exchange is completed.

Think about the future

Consider what will happen if you fall ill or die and can no longer access your wallet.

If no one knows the locations and passwords of your wallets when you are gone, the funds can’t be recovered.

Consider having a backup plan for your peers and family.

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