What you need to know about traveling abroad with electrical appliances
Before you plug in an appliance overseas, there are three things you need to know: 1)What voltage does that country use?; 2) Can your devices operate on that voltage?; and 3) What kind of outlets will you find?
First, consult our handy Electricity Around the World chart to find out what voltage you'll encounter where you're going. Appliances built for use in North America are designed to operate on 110-120VAC (Volts Alternating Current). Most of the world, however, operates on 220-240VAC. To find out whether your device can use 220 voltage without a spectacular meltdown, check the UL statement. You'll find it on a part of the device that plugs into the wall--on the handle of your hair dryer, for example, or the back of your battery charger. If the input listed mentions both a number in the "100" range and in the "200" range, your device is dual voltage. (See example on the left, below.) If this is you, skip to the adapter plug question!
If the input is only in the "100" range, you'll need a converter. Read on...
If your device will only work on "100 range" voltage, and the country you're going to works on "200 range" voltage, you'll need to convert the electricity from "200" voltage to "100" voltage. The kind of converter you need depends on what kind of device it is, and what its wattage output is. (See the example on the right, above--this device's output is 60 watts.)
There are 2 types of voltage converters available: Transformers and Solid State Converters. The one you need depends on the appliance you plan to use.
Electronic and Motorized Appliances must be used with a transformer-type converter. Transformers are sized by their wattage capacity and the wattage requirement of your appliance MUST be below the transformer’s maximum wattage rating. As transformers are heavy, those designed for travel are usually limited to 50 watts, although heavy-duty transformers are available when more wattage is needed. The 50-watt transformer is most often used for items like battery chargers that aren't dual voltage, and for small grooming appliances like electric shavers, toothbrushes, and so on--those that don't produce a lot of heat.
Heating Appliances can also be used with transformers but their wattage demands are high and the appropriate transformer would usually be too heavy for travel. Most travel appliances that aren't dual voltage--and produce heat--use lightweight solid state converters that can provide up to 2,000 watts of power.
Electrical Outlets also vary from one country to another. In fact, some countries use more than one! If you're traveling outside of North and Central America, odds are you'll need an adapter plug to fit your North American plug into the other country's wall socket. Luckily for you, we've put together a handy chart to show you each country's voltage, and what types of plug(s) they use! Before you click, though, take a look at the plug for each of your devices. If it just has two flat blades, you need a polarized plug. If it's grounded (with the third, round prong), you need a grounded plug.
In North America many ungrounded appliances are required to have plugs with one blade wider than the other. This type of plug is called a “polarized plug.” All the adapter plugs, converters and transformers we sell accept polarized plugs. IMPORTANT NOTE: You may find some countries (parts of Central America, Japan, Mexico, etc.) that use the North American-style plug without polarized outlets. Our “A” adaptor plug will allow your polarized appliance to operate in those locations. (In our chart and on our website, polarized plugs have a single-letter code, like "A").
If you're taking something with a grounded plug (most often, this is a laptop, a CPAP machine or similar), you'll be excited to know that there are even more types of grounded plugs than polarized plugs! On our Electricity Around the World chart, grounded plugs have a 3-letter code that starts with "G."
Recessed European Electrical Outlets
Many countries in Europe use electrical outlets that are recessed into the wall. Because they're a big square, and the outlet is a small circle, if you're using a converter or transformer, and you encounter a recessed outlet, you'll most likely need to use an extra "B" type adapter plug to plug the converter/transformer into the wall.
European Shaver Sockets
Very tempting, those. Labeled right there, for 120 volts, and often with an opening that will accept a North American plug! Sure, they say "for shavers only," but do they really mean it? BEWARE: The 120–240 volt AC electrical "shaver" outlets found in many foreign bathrooms are only for use with low wattage appliances rated at 5 to 10 watts maximum: e.g., electric shavers and electric toothbrushes. Using your hair dryer or other high-wattage appliance on this outlet, even with a voltage converter, will blow the main fuse or circuit breaker and may damage your converter and appliance. Use a regular outlet instead, sometimes not available in bathrooms.
Geeky but Important Stuff
What's the difference between a transformer and a solid state converter? The important difference is how the device converts voltage.
The household electricity our North American appliances use is delivered at 120VAC (volts alternating current) 60 Hz (60 cycles/second). When the electric current flows it rises from 0 volts to 120 volts back to 0 volts and then it falls to negative 120 volts and rises back to 0 volts. This rise and fall completes one cycle (1 Hz) and is called a "sine wave." To convert 240VAC to 120VAC, for example, a transformer reduces the height of the 240 volt sine wave in half, creating a 120 volt sine wave that can be safely used by all types of 120VAC appliances, a solid state converter, however, chops the sine wave at its positive and negative 240 volt peak, reducing the power in half but creating a chopped waveform that can ONLY be used by NON-ELECTRONIC heating appliances.
Cycles: 50 Hz vs. 60 Hz
North American 120 volt electricity is generated at 60 Hz Alternating Current (AC). Most foreign 220–240 volt electricity is generated at 50 Hz Alternating Current (AC). This difference in cycles may cause the motor in your 60 Hz North American appliance to operate slightly slower when used on 50 Hz foreign electricity.
As a rule of thumb, the appliances that are most affected by cycle differences are those with motors such as turntables, clocks, kitchen appliances, medical equipment and power tools. They will run faster or slower than they should depending upon the cycle difference and may be damaged in the long run as a result. As with any rule of thumb, however, there are many exceptions. The only way to be sure is to consult the appliance's technical documentation or contact the manufacturer.
Most modern electronic equipment, including battery chargers, computers, printers, stereos, MP3 and CD players, VCR/DVD players, etc., will not be affected by the difference in cycles.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Transformers and solid state converters do not convert cycles.
Surge Protectors, UPS Systems
WARNING: Do not use North American 120 volt surge protectors or UPS Systems (Uninterruptible Power Supplies) with overseas 220–240 volt AC electrical systems, even with a step down voltage transformer. North American electrical systems are not wired the same way as overseas electrical systems and damage could result when using these devices.
Japan uses 100 VAC and special Japan/North America voltage transformers may be required when traveling to and from Japan.
A Few Reminders
Voltage converters and North American appliances will not operate on Direct Current voltage (volts DC).
In a foreign country or on a cruise ship, always check the type of electrical current (AC or DC) and voltage (100, 120, 220, 230 or 240 volts AC) before using your converter or dual voltage appliance.
Read all instructions and always check the appliance you plan to use with a converter for voltage requirement, wattage rating, and type (motorized, electronic, heating, etc.). Also, be sure that the appliance is operating properly before you leave.