- Adapters change the physical shape of your plug so it fits into the hole.
- Converters change the actual voltage, usually from 220/240v to 110/120v.
When traveling, you will need one of these setups:
- Electric item--->Converter--->Adapter--->Wall Outlet
- Electric item--->Adapter--->Wall Outlet
- Electric item--->Converter--->Wall Outlet
- Electric item--->Wall Outlet
With many modern electronics, you might be able to get by with adapters only; you will need to read each item's label.
Adapters allow you to plug your appliance into a different shape foreign electrical wall outlet. Adapters do not change voltage.
There are over a dozen different wall outlet shapes and configurations, depending on the country. Many countries routinely use two or more shapes. Try these web sites to determine the type of outlet in the country where you are going (different sources sometimes have conflicting advice):
Be prepared; take a variety of adapters. They don't take up much room, and can be organized in a small clear Ziploc bag. It can be very frustrating to be in need of a phone or camera charge, but have no way to do it.
Consider packing the adapters in your carry-on luggage. If your suitcase is lost, you will still be able to charge your cell phone and camera.
Adapter Kits come with a variety of adapters, but don't always contain the ones you need. Research this well ahead of time, so you have time to purchase the right ones.
More and more business traveler hotels around the world are installing outlets that will accept US-style plugs. If your items work with dual/multi voltage, this means you don't need anything else.
Converters change the voltage from one level to another. Some electrical items are made to operate at one voltage only. For those items to work safely in another country, they might need to be plugged into a converter (to change voltage), which is then plugged into the outlet. The converter might need an adapter plug to get it to fit into the foreign wall outlet.
Converters are meant to change electrical voltage for small electric items. They are meant for travelers, and not for long-term use.
Power converters may be classified into two categories, low wattage (0 - 50w) and high wattage (50 - 1500w or so). For travelers, these are frequently combined into one single unit with a Hi-Low switch.
Make sure the highest wattage on your converter is enough to cover your power needs. Many hair dryers are well over 1000 watts, but some converters only go up to 1000w or 1250w.
Single vs dual (Multi) voltage
Nowadays, most items that have their own charger are dual voltage, meaning they are manufactured to be used anywhere, and simply need a plug adapter. To confirm this for each item, you must read the label on the item or it's charger. It will say something like "120v/240v", or give a range of voltage like "110v - 240v"
Where To Buy Adapters and Converters
- Eagle Creek
- Local stores - larger department stores; specialty travel stores; recreation and outdoor stores
- Airport stores
Examples of Labels (click to see image)
- Apple iPod, iPhone
- Nikon D200 camera battery charger
- Canon SD950IS camera battery charger
- Motorola cell phone charger
- Palm Tx PDA charger
- Franzus Converter, Model 1650
Links for more reading
More Electricity Information For Travelers
Voltage converters are meant to be used for short periods only. When using large appliances or power tools, you need to use a step-up or step-down transformer instead. These are heavier and bulkier. Most people on pleasure travel will not need these.
Electrical Appliances vs. Electronics
Some converter manufacturers make a distinction between the two.
- Electrical appliances - usually made to operate with one specific voltage
- Low wattage
(0 to 50 watts; non-heating items)
- some battery chargers
- electric toothbrush
- contact lens sterilizer
- High wattage (over 50 watts; items that heat up)
- hair dryer
- curling iron
- coffee makers
- Low wattage (0 to 50 watts; non-heating items)
- contain circuitry; often are made to operate with dual voltage
- notebook/laptop computer
- cell phone
- iPod, iPhone, mp3 devices
- CD players
- digital camera
- video camera
- some battery chargers
Surge Protectors and Stabilizers
In some areas, the power fluctuates significantly. These fluctuations can damage electronics. You can get voltage converters that also have built-in stabilizers. However, they are much larger in size and price. Most pleasure travelers don't use these. They are good for business travelers, areas that use generators, poor remote areas, and people traveling with sensitive or expensive electronics. Many multiple-outlet power strips have built-in surge protectors.
Cycles and Hertz
Most American appliances run at 60 cycles per second (also called 60 cps, 60 Hertz, or 60Hz). Most foreign electricity is at 50 cycles. This might cause your clock to run slightly slower than normal, or motorized appliances might sound different when running. The difference in cycles, however, will not harm the appliance. On electronics, you can read the label to see if it is safe to use in either situation. Most electronics will state something like "50/60Hz", "50hz - 60hz", or "50/60cps".
Amps and Watts
Some labels don't indicate wattage, but indicate amps. To calculate your watts, multiply [Volts going in] times [Amps]. For example, 110v x 0.5A = 55w.
- Some countries use 110 volts; others use 220 Volts. Several use both.
- 110v usually means 110 - 120; 220v usually means 220 - 240.
- 110v is more common in North America, Central America, Caribbean, parts of South America, Japan.
- 220v is more common in the European Union countries, and the rest of the world.