As the country becomes one of the world’s strictest crypto regulators, companies are exploring plans to expand internationally and possibly leave entirely.
The wave of government enforcement against cryptocurrency companies is beginning to remake the industry.
Coinbase, the largest crypto exchange in the United States, has opened a business in Bermuda. Gemini, a rival firm based in New York, is seeking a license in the United Arab Emirates. And Bittrex, an exchange in Seattle, has shut down its U.S. operations.
After years of trying to shape federal regulation in the United States, a growing number of American crypto companies — particularly the exchanges where customers buy and sell digital tokens — are exploring plans to build their businesses abroad. They are expanding into new markets and weighing the possibility of leaving the country entirely.
The moves are a response to a growing law enforcement crackdown that has made the United States one of the strictest regulators of crypto in the world. On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a long-anticipated lawsuit against Coinbase, arguing that the exchange was marketing securities without the proper registration. A day earlier, the S.E.C. sued the international crypto exchange Binance, seeking to bar its founder from the U.S. securities market.
That effort has largely failed. Last year, a series of crypto meltdowns created widespread suspicion of the industry. Congress, regulators and the public have become increasingly hostile.
These days, the possibility of leaving the United States is “the No. 1 thing that crypto start-ups are talking and thinking about,” said Nic Carter, a founder of Castle Island Ventures, a crypto venture capital firm. “You can move to the Caymans or London or Bermuda, or have a significant faction of your executives there, or Hong Kong or Dubai.”
In theory, a large exodus from the United States could eventually make it harder for Americans to trade digital currencies and experiment with new crypto products. But not all American crypto companies are seeking to relocate: Firms that specialize in Bitcoin mining, an energy-intensive process, have flocked to the United States in pursuit of cheap power. And even crypto companies that are expanding internationally plan to fight for more favorable rules in Washington.