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Bitcoin platform Coinbase expands to 13 European countries

Bitcoin wallet and exchange says its expansion will increase access and adoption of the digital currency across Europe.

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Coinbase believes that its expansion to Europe is crucial to Bitcoin's growth. Coinbase

Coinbase, a popular San Francisco-based Bitcoin wallet and exchange that lets users buy and sell the digital currency at US market rates, is expanding internationally.

Starting on Thursday, consumers in 13 European countries -- including Italy, Spain, France and Belgium -- can now buy and sell bitcoins through Coinbase's platform, the company announced. In order to get its service off the ground, Coinbase is calling the expansion a beta program and will limit daily transactions to 500 euros per day. The company expects to raise that limit as time goes on. Coinbase was previously only available in the US.

Founded in 2012, Coinbase has become a popular source for consumers and businesses to trade in Bitcoin. Many online retailers that accept Bitcoin payments, including Overstock.com and travel site Expedia, use Coinbase to process transactions and convert the digital currency to US dollars. In total, Coinbase works with 36,000 merchants and has 1.6 million consumer wallets where users can store their bitcoins. It has also been able to attract $31 million in venture backing from prominent Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz, among many others.

Bitcoin, which made a name for itself by allowing for anonymous transactions, has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the last few years. Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox declared bankruptcy earlier this year following the reported theft of almost 750,000 customer bitcoins, leaving millions of dollars in real-world cash unaccounted for and sending the digital currency's value down. As of this writing, one bitcoin is worth around $473.80.

Still, Bitcoin continues to grow in notoriety and popularity. On Thursday, the Bank of England weighed in on the impact of digital currencies, such as bitcoin, on the British economy. While digital currencies don't currently pose a "material risk" to economic stability in the UK, the bank said risks such as a price crash or system-wide fraud could be possible if the use of digital currencies grew significantly. The Bank of England estimates that as few as 20,000 people in the UK currently hold bitcoins and that daily bitcoin transactions number only around 300.

Looking ahead, Coinbase believes that its expansion to Europe is crucial to Bitcoin's growth. The company wrote in a blog post on Thursday that the launch "will accelerate merchant adoption in Europe, now that many more consumers have easy access to bitcoin." Coinbase is now available in: Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia.

CNET has contacted Coinbase for additional comment on the launch. We will update this story when we have more information.