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Electrical Outlet and Adapter Plug International Summary

Electrical Outlet and Adapter Plug Introduction

This is a guide to some important issues when deciding to use your electrical appliances in another country. It includes a table describing electrical systems worldwide, illustrations of electrical plugs you may run across, advice on using your computer and other general advice that you may find helpful. Finally, there is a list of sources for electrical travel accessories.

General Considerations for Foreign Electrical Outlets

If you are going to use electrical appliances in another country, you need to know what type of electrical voltage is used in the country you're traveling to and the type(s) of plugs and outlets used there. To learn this, consult the Table of Electrical Systems used worldwide.

If the voltage is the same, or if you're using a universal power supply (see below), all you may need is a plug adaptor. Converters are available to change line voltage from one amount to another. However, there are different types of converters for different types of appliances. Small electronics, razors and non-heating appliances can operate with a 50-watt converter. Heating appliances such as hair dryers, irons, coffee makers and other high-power electrical appliances need a 1600-watt converter. You can also purchase combination converters for both types. Check the label on your electrical appliance to find its wattage. Some places that supply adaptors and converters are listed on the sources page. These generally work for those from the US traveling to destinations that use higher voltages to "step down" from 230V to 120V.

On the other hand, those who travel from a good portion of the world to the US will likely need a transformer to convert the lower line voltage into the higher voltage required by their appliances. Many of these devices (sometimes of higher quality and thus higher-priced) also function as step-down converters.

Also, since the quality of electrical power might be an issue, a Universal Surge Suppressor might be a goody buy, especially one that includes plug adaptors that will work in most of the world.

In addition to voltage, the frequency at which the power is generated may also differ, usually from 50 Hz to 60 Hz. Does this matter? Yes, it might. Click this link to read more on this issue. While it is possible to convert voltage, it is not possible to convert frequency, though some devices are built to handle these differences as discussed below.

Given the complexities of safely using your electrical appliances overseas, you may want to consider some alternatives. If you plan on staying in one country for awhile, you might want to buy a hair dryer or electric razor there. Battery operated appliances are another option if you don't mind replacing the batteries.

If you are interested in converting electrical units or sizing a generator try these Power Generator Calculators (for calculating generator size in kW, converting kW to kVA, kVA to kW, Volts, Amps, and more).

Electrical Information for Computers, Cameras, iPods, Etc.

Fortunately, many portable devices today -- from computers to MP3 players to mobile phones -- come with power supplies that can be used in almost any part of the world. Check the manufacturer's label to see what type of input it can handle. This applies to many digital cameras, VCRs, video games and other electronic devices as well.

Those designed for use just about anywhere have a section on the label that looks something like this:

INPUT:   AC 100V- 240V~ 1.0A 50 / 60 Hz

This shows that the device was designed to be used over a wide range of voltage levels and at different electrical frequencies. In this particular example, the device can accept "nominal" voltage anywhere from 100 volts to 240 volts and can operate on either a 50 Hz or 60 Hz system. It is designed for alternating current (AC). (Like most appliances, it should not be used on a direct current, or DC system -- DC electrical systems are not common, but some may still exist.) If your device has a label with these parameters, it can be used pretty much anywhere. In that case, all you need is a plug adaptor.

If you must take other types of electrical appliances with you abroad, your best bet is to buy travel-size dual-voltage appliances that can run on both 110 and 220-volt currents. Make sure the switch is on the proper voltage for the country you are in before using the appliance. You will also need to carry adaptor plugs with you to fit the outlets in the countries you're visiting.

Table of Electrical Outlets and Adapter Plugs

The main types of electrical plugs that are used around the world are listed below. You can click on the illustration to view a larger picture and a listing of countries where that type of plug is used. Note: the illustrations below are not to scale. Also, the labels (type A, B, etc.) used by my principal source listed below are not any type of standard nomenclature; labels and descriptions used by various vendors may differ.

Type Description Picture Type Description Picture
A (North American/Japanese 2-blade)
Flat blade attachment plug
B (American 3-pin) Flat blades (same as type A), but with round grounding pin
C (European 2-pin) Round pin attachment plug D (Old British plug) Round pins with ground
E (French 2-pin) Round pin plug and receptacle E F ("Schuko" plug) Round pins with side ground contacts F
G (British 3-pin) Rectangular blade plug G H (Israeli 3-pin) Oblique blades/pins with ground H
I (Australian plug) Oblique flat blades (inverted V-shape) with ground I J (Swiss 3-pin) Round pins with offset ground J
K (Danish 3-pin) Round pins with spade ground K L (Italian 3-pin) Round pins with ground (in-line) L
M (South African plug) Round pins similar to type D but larger and with one oversized pin M      

Electrical Adapter Plug And Electric Converter Information

An adaptor will allow you to plug an appliance designed for one type of outlet into another type of outlet. Despite the fact that more than a dozen different types of plugs are in use, a typical travel adaptor kit usually contains about five adaptors which are capable of dealing with most of the outlets shown here. Adaptors often manage this versatility by bypassing the ground/earth wire.

Is this a good idea? Maybe, but not necessarily. Not all appliances need to be grounded/earthed, and for short-term activities like running a portable computer and recharging batteries, the adaptor's convenience usually outweighs any potential safety concerns that might be caused by not using the ground/earth connection. For appliances that require grounding/earthing, and for long-term hookups, you should obtain an adaptor that allows you to use the ground/earth wire. Grounding adaptors could be more expensive and may be more difficult to find prior to reaching your destination, but should be available locally (at your destination) at hardware or electronics stores.

Remember: an adaptor by itself will not change the electrical voltage. You must be sure that your appliance can handle different voltages (either automatically or through a voltage switch). If it can't, you will need a voltage converter.

Converters and sets of adaptor plugs are available at travel & luggage stores and at Radio Shack/Tandy and other electronic stores. They can often be found in airport shops and duty free stores. A set of adaptor plugs costs around $10 to $15US and in some stores you can buy an individual adaptor for only a few dollars. Other places that sell these items are listed on the sources page.

Follow the link below to see a table showing the types of electrical systems you will find in the various countries of the world.

More -- Electric Power Around the World -- A Plug and Voltage Guide

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