Getting Started, Wallets, Security

How to Recover Your Old Ethereum Wallet with MEW

Crypto prices are up, and for some early investors, it finally looks like the ‘moon’ is within reach. If you have an old wallet that you haven’t looked at in years, MEW is a great place to restore access to your funds, and then dive right back into all the latest and best developments on Ethereum.

Whatever your access method, MEW supports it, though you may have to take a few extra steps to keep your access secure. Once you’ve located your coins, we can help you get them to a safer, better wallet, and catch you up on all the news in the space since you were gone.

What to do if you have an old:

Paper wallet

  1. Do you have a printout of a public address, a private key, and/or a QR code? This is usually what a ‘paper wallet’ looks like. Here, the private key will be your method of access, but we don’t recommend entering your key directly online. Here’s why: the private key gives full and permanent access to your wallet’s contents, so accidentally entering it on a fake site or having it exposed to malware can lead to the immediate theft of your funds.
  2. Search your public address on an Ethereum block explorer like EthVM or Etherscan. Note which cryptocurrencies you hold and their balances. If you are seeing unexpected balances, review your transaction history. A transaction that you don’t recognize could mean that, unfortunately, your wallet was compromised.
  3. If your coin balances are as expected, you will need to access them and move them as soon as possible to a new, more secure wallet. We recommend creating a wallet with MEW wallet app. Don’t forget to back it up and write down your recovery phrase before sending funds to the wallet.
  4. You will see that MEW web does support access by private key under ‘Software’ methods on the Access Wallet page, but again, you shoudn’t do it online. You will have to download MEW and install it on a computer that’s not connected to the internet, then access with your private key while still offline. Follow our Help Center guide and video instructions to do this and send a transaction from your old wallet to a new one. If you hold multiple currencies, you will need to send multiple transactions, and remember that you need to have some ETH in the wallet for gas to send out tokens. We know this seems like a hassle, but we promise, it’s worth the safety of your funds. You just need to do this once, and then continue your crypto journey with a more secure setup.

Private key, phrase, or keystore file

  1. Even if you didn’t print out a paper wallet, you might have the private key or phrase written down. An Ethereum private key has 64 hexadecimal characters (meaning numbers and letters a-f), not counting an ‘0x’ in the beginning. A recovery or mnemonic phrase will have 12 or 24 words (rarely, 13 or 25 words if it features a passphrase).
  2. Alternatively, you may have saved a keystore/JSON file on your computer and written down a password for it. The file only works together with the password chosen when the file was created. If you have only the file or only the password, unfortunately, we can’t restore access for you.
  3. For these three types of wallet access — the ones we call ‘Software’ on our Access Wallet page — the same advice applies as to the ‘Paper wallet’ above: check your public address balance on a block explorer, set up a new secure wallet, and follow the instructions for offline access to transfer your funds.

I think I created an account…

  1. MEW is a client-side wallet, which means we don’t collect or store any user information, and don’t manage accounts. Giving us your email or phone number won’t help — we never had that information, and it was not tied to any account. If you remember generating a wallet, you will need to find the access information: a private key, a phrase, or a keystore file plus password. Check your files and notes from the time when you remember creating the wallet. You are looking for a list of 12 or 24 words, a 64-character string of letters and numbers, or a file that has a name beginning with ‘UTC’. Once you locate your keys, see the ‘Paper wallet’ and ‘Private key, keystore file, or phrase’ sections above.
  2. Another possibility is that you were actually using a centralized service, like Coinbase or Binance. In that case, you would have made an account and used an email/password type of login rather than getting your keys. Centralized exchanges and wallets might be able to restore your access through your email address, so if you think this applies to you, contact their support.
  3. If you can’t find anything that looks like your keys, unfortunately, we can’t help you recover the wallet. We never collected your information and you are the only one who had access to your crypto.

Hardware wallet

  1. The most common issue with accessing funds on an old hardware wallet is that users can’t find the  address they were using before. Most likely, this has to do with the wrong derivation path.  These paths are like branches on a tree – one wallet seed phrase will generate a different set of addresses for every derivation path. When you access the MEW web interface, you may be able to select different paths from a dropdown. Try as many as possible to see if you can spot your address.
  2. Another reason for wrong addresses with a hardware wallet is that you were using a passphrase before, and aren’t using it now, or vice versa. When a seed phrase is used with an additional passphrase – an extra 13th/25th word – it will lead to a different set of addresses, just like a different derivation path.
  3. Or perhaps you reset your wallet since you used it last and generated a new seed phrase? In this case, all your addresses will be different than before. To regain access to old addresses, you should reset the wallet again and restore using your old phrase (if you have it written down, of course).
  4. For more information and tips on troubleshooting wrong addresses, see this MEWtopia article.
  5. If you tried everything and still can’t find the right address, you might need to contact the hardware wallet company for additional support, or resort to third-party tools that cycle through many possible paths to look for your address. If you must, only use such programs in an offline setting. Never enter your seed phrase directly into a website! This can compromise your wallet and lead to immediate loss of funds.

Found and secured my funds! What now?

  1. Hopefully, you have located your funds and transferred them either to a hardware wallet or to MEW wallet app.
  2. With a hardware wallet, access the MEW web interface and look around. Explore decentralized swaps to see if you are ready to invest in some new tokens or exchange the ones you have for ETH. Check out the DApps page for DeFi instruments like Maker and Aave, set yourself up with a decentralized domain, get Bitcoin exposure, or consider Staking on Eth2.
  3. The MEW wallet app allows you to do many of these things right from your phone. You can buy ETH, swap tokens via decentralized exchanges, stake on Eth2, move your Bitcoin to Ethereum, create multiple accounts, and review price graphs/sparklines (some features may only be available in Android or on iOS).
  4. If you’ve been out of the loop for a while, it’s probably a good idea to refresh your memory and read up on the recent developments. Visit our Medium page and the MEWtopia blog for news, beginner guides, and fresh ideas to get the most value out of your Ethereum assets.

We hope you found this guide helpful, but if you are still struggling, let us know at support@myetherwallet.com and we’ll do our best to help you recover your wallet. A lot has changed in crypto in the last few years, and you may feel lost, but we are so glad to see you again! From the oldest forgotten wallet, to the latest and best in Ethereum — MEW is here for you.

More help

If you are regaining access to a mnemonic phrase or hardware wallet and seeing wrong addresses, see some troubleshooting tips: https://www.mewtopia.com/dear-mew-i-dont-see-the-right-address-when-using-mnemonic-phrase/

Confused why you can't just restore wallet access with your email, phone number, or id, as you would with a social media platform or bank? See our explanation of how crypto wallets are different: https://www.mewtopia.com/why-we-are-not-a-bank/

Author image

About Katya Michaels

Community Advocate at MEW. Writer, editor and educator focusing on disruptive technology and the way it changes society.
  • Los Angeles

Buy, hold and swap Ether and tokens. Explore Ethereum with MEW.