The number of bitcoin merchants surpassed the 100,000 mark in 2015 and has grown across Europe and Asia due to the expansion of well-established bitcoin startups like Coinbase, Bitpay and Coinify. BitPay alone has processed over 800,000 transactions totaling around US$260 million between 2013 and 2015.
Such growth has led to an increase of global bitcoin usage enabling cryptocurrencies to reach some of the most remote and unexpected parts of the world, including North Korea, Tenerife, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Siberia, and the Sahara.
On a national tour with a bitcoin-friendly travel agency, Koryo Tours, the anonymous reddit user BitcoinDPRK sent US$100 in bitcoin from North Korea to Sean’s Outpost, a homeless outreach center in Florida.
A tourist who visited North Korea to watch a Dennis Rodman basketball game in January 2014 said:
"I believe that this is the first time a transaction on the blockchain has been broadcast from this country."
During his trip, the tourist gave out paper wallets with a few mBTC to the Korean guides on the tour.
In 2015, a bar and two restaurants in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, were listed on Coinmap.org as BTC accepting merchants.
However, since only a selected few are allowed Internet access, most of which are government officials and their relatives, bitcoin’s prospects in North Korea seem rather slim at the moment, particularly when compared to its southern neighbor.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see a decentralized, P2P currency permeating its way into the world’s most secluded country.
Tenerife, the most populated island of Spain is located in the center of the Canary Islands, 300 km from the African Coast. The island, famous for its five-star hotels and luxurious lifestyles, currently has more than 12 bitcoin merchants, including hair salons, apartments, clothes stores and hotels.
As a hotspot for the riches, The Island of Tenerife has been influenced by European travelers seeking bitcoin payment outlets or stores.
Not too far from Tenerife is a kite camp located on Western Sahara’s shores called Dakhla Lagoon, a beautiful tourist spot where tourists can windsurf, swim and watch dolphins. The camp accepts bitcoin through an online booking platform called Adormo.
When has asked to confirm through their live chat if bitcoin is accepted, Adormo replied: “Yes, in fact we do.”
The republic of Kazakhstan, the world's largest landlocked country, surprisingly has quite a few bitcoin merchants in the country’s largest city of Almaty. Apart from the BTC-accepting law firms and rental stores, Kazakhstan’s major electronics retailer, Satam, accepts bitcoin.
Satam offers deals for phones, computers, cameras and air conditioners with discounts up to 30%.
Sudan, the third largest country in Africa has one bitcoin merchant in the whole country. The bitcoin business called Visa4Sudan creates Visa and Mastercard debit cards for its customers and also operates as a local bitcoin exchange.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a country with over 180 million inhabitants, has three bitcoin businesses across the nation. The Pakistanis bitcoin merchants are Ishraqi (a clothes shop), D.I.T Planet (an information technology Company) and a local technology research center in Karachi, the largest and most popular metropolitan city of Pakistan.
A car repair shop called “Voltage" located in the Siberian city of Norilsk accepts bitcoin. While Russia does have a few other bitcoin merchants scattered across its vast territory, this will be the only business where you will be able to spend you bitcoins for thousands of miles in any direction. It is also the only such place located above the arctic circle.
Iran, the 18th largest country in the world with more than 78 million inhabitants has one bitcoin-only merchant in the country. Persian Shoes, a fine handmade shoe maker located in Isfahan has been in the footwear industry for more than 70 years and does not accept any other forms of payment except bitcoin.
The company states:
“The problem is we operate in Iran and most payment systems either are not willing to serve us at all or impose a huge risk on our business. We’d love to accept other forms of payment but we just can’t.”
Bitcoin’s global reach
Through the increase of global adoption and awareness, bitcoin is being introduced and accepted in remote parts of the world and bitcoin enthusiasts are actively trying to promote digital currencies and its benefits for merchants.
Although bitcoin usage will probably not be legitimized in countries like Kazakhstan or North Korea anytime soon, it seems that some business owners are already beginning to understand the benefits bitcoin particularly in tourism-focused economies and countries with other relevant use-cases.