Most people want to take an electric shaver, hair dryer, flat iron, or other electrical appliance with them when they travel overseas. Laptop computers, camera chargers, and cell phones especially, are often ‘must have’ items for vacations and business trips.

Yet most people have only vague notions about the differences in electric current around the world. Or about the difference in configuration of wall plugs in the countries they plan to visit.

 

  1. Before you Plug in, what should you know?

While Mexico, Canada and the United States use the same 110 volt current and wall outlet plug configuration, a great majority of countries around the world are powered by 220 volt current. Europe, China, and India, to name a few, all are powered by 220 v.

Most of these countries, as well, do not share the same wall plug configuration as our standard parallel two prong outlets.

This means that you will likely need an adaptor and a converter/ transformer for many of your electrical units when you travel overseas. If not they will most likely fry, the term most commonly used to describe permanent damage from overheating as a result of plugging into a different power supply than America’s.

2. How many different wall plugs are there in the world anyway?

There are at least six other wall plug configurations around the world. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. An appropriate adapter is a simple device which on one end will allow the prongs of your North American device to slide easily into it. At the other end, the prongs of the country you are visiting fit nicely into the wall outlet as they should.

Below you can see most of the adapter options by country and the approximate price you can expect to pay. Click on the image for more information.

3.  What’s the difference between an adapter and a converter or transformer?

Converters and transformers actually change the power coming to your electrical or electronic device from 220v. to 110v. by ‘stepping it down’.

Converters are designed to work with electrical appliances like your iron, tooth brush or hair dryer. Electronic appliances that have a chip or circuit usually require a transformer.

While transformers can also be used for electric appliances, they are heavier than the converter units, not so desirable in today’s airline weight restrictive environment.

4. Are there electrical appliances or devices that don’t require a transformer or converter?

You can purchase hair dryers and other electrical units with a switch built into them that allow you to flip from one current to the other. Most laptops, battery charters, and CPAP machines have automatic built in converters in them so you can use these anywhere without concern.

These dual voltage appliances, as they are called, will indicate that fact with a ‘dual’ symbol, most often on the bottom of the unit. The numbers displayed will be either 110v.-220v., or 125v-250v or numbers close to these.

Dual voltage units will still require an adapter if you are travelling to any of the countries outside North America that do not share our wall outlet configuration.

5.  Are there any appliances that cannot be accommodated by a transformer or converter?

Ceramic appliances, because of the heat generated by them, are not compatible with either of the two conversion options. Hair straighteners are the most common of these ceramic based electrical appliances. They can only be used overseas if they are dual voltage. Of all the products, this is the one that will almost surely burn out if you attempt to use it in a 220 v. country, even with a converter.

The good thing about all the adapters and converter units required for wide world travel is that, not only are they relatively inexpensive, but they are completely reusable and are likely to last many years.

But there can be dramatic ranges in price depending upon the quality and amount of heat the unit is able to supply.