How to plug in while traveling
When people travel abroad, they’re often looking to “unplug” from the stress of daily life. But if you’re not leaving your smartphone, tablet, hair dryer, and other electric devices at home, you’ll need to literally plug in wherever you’re staying. Since most foreign countries have different-shaped plugs from the U.S., and many provide electricity at different voltages, it’s important to understand what kind of connectors and converters you’ll need to bring along.
Broadly speaking, electricity comes in two varieties: In the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and a few other countries, electricity is in the 100-120 volt range. Everywhere else, it’s 220-240 volts. Devices designed to run solely on 100/120V power will not work on 220/240V electricity, and vice versa. Attempting to do so may destroy the appliance.
Luckily, many devices today are able to use both 100/120V and 220/240V electricity. It’s easy to check which of your electronics fall into this category—it will be listed on the serial number label. (For smartphones, laptops, cameras, and other battery-powered devices, this is usually located on the charger rather than the device itself.)
Can only accept power in one of the 100/120V or 220/240V ranges. To use one in an area that has a different voltage, you MUST use a converter or transformer. The label will say something like “110V AC” or “120V AC.”
Common among: Older hair dryers, razors, and other appliances. More common for devices that weren’t designed for travel.
Can accept power from either of the 100/120V or 220/240V ranges. They’ll work in any region, but you might need an adapter to plug in to a socket. Look for labels that say something like “100/240V AC” or “110~220V AC.”
Common among: Chargers for phones, tablets, laptops, and cameras. New hair dryers and other appliances are increasingly of this variety.
An adapter takes a plug of one shape and allows it to fit into a wall socket of a different shape. Remember that an adapter does not convert or transform the voltage of the electricity; simply putting an adapter on a single-voltage 100/120V device will not allow it to operate in a 220/240V country.
Pros: Lightweight and cheap, perfect for common dual- and multi-voltage battery chargers.
Cons: Doesn’t convert electricity, so of limited use for single-voltage devices.
Common in: The U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, Taiwan, Central America, and some South American countries.
Note: Keep in mind that some countries have Type A plugs but use 220/240V power—always check beforehand.
Common in: Europe (important exceptions are the U.K. and Ireland) and South America. Some African and Asian countries, such as South Africa and India.
Note: Also known as the Europlug. Type C plugs work in Type E and Type F sockets, but not the other way around.
Common in: United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and some African countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya.
Common in: Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific islands. Widespread in China, though you’ll find Type A and Type C sockets there as well.
Converters and transformers
As their names suggest, converters and transformers change the voltage of the power that runs through them. With the right converter or transformer, you can run a 100/120V single-voltage appliance in a 220/240V country, and vice versa.
Converters and transformers are appropriate for different kinds of devices. A converter provides high-wattage power (usually up to 2,000 watts) for electric items like hair dryers, room fans, and shaving razors, whereas a transformer provides low-wattage power (usually up to 50 watts) for electronics like cameras and digital clocks. Luckily, many products are two-in-ones that can be switched between high-wattage converting and low-wattage transforming as necessary. Be careful not to power electronics on high-wattage converters—since most electronics are dual- or multi-voltage, you’re better off simply getting an adapter for those.
Pros: Converts power to the right voltage, allowing the use of any appliance in any country.
Cons: Larger, heavier, and more expensive than an adapter. Unnecessary if all your devices are dual- or multi-voltage.
Before going abroad, check the devices you’re planning to bring with you to see what kinds of accessories you’ll need.
1. If all your devices are dual- or multi-voltage, you’ll only need the appropriate plug adapters.
2. Consider leaving single-voltage devices behind if your destination doesn’t provide the necessary voltage.
3. If you do bring single-voltage devices, pack a converter or transformer with sufficient wattage and the correct plug type (or an adapter).