Power outlets around the world can differ in two ways: First, the shape of the plug can be different. No matter what, if the outlets your plugs are expecting are not the same kind as in the country you are visitng, you’ll need an adapter.
Second, the, um, power of the power coming out can be different. This may or may not be a problem. But make sure you understand what types of power your device can accept– it’s dangerous to both you and your device to send it power it can’t use.
Step 1: Figure out the shape of the plug in the country you are visiting
Find your county on the list here, and compare it to your home country. If it’s the same, then you might get to skip the rest of this post! Well, read step 2 first, please. But if the plug shapes are the same, often the voltages are also the same.
Step 2: Figure out the voltage in the country you are visiting
Use that same list to see the voltage in the country you are visiting. Here’s a map, but please only use it for a rough idea of voltage around the world:
The 1s mean voltage is around 110 to 120 volts, and the 2s mean that voltage is around 220 to 240 volts. (The power coming out of your 120 volt socket may not be exactly 120 volts anyway, so 110 vs. 120 isn’t a huge deal.)
Compare the plug shapes and voltage to your home country. If both are the same, you’re done! Don’t forget your chargers, and have a great trip.
If there are differences, move on to:
Step 3: Figure out the voltage your device can handle
Most devices with a “wall wart” AC adapter can handle any voltage you throw at it. You’ve likely never looked, but take a look now at the fine print on your phone or laptop charger. It will almost definitely say it can handle 120 volts and 240 volts. If you can’t read the print, take a picture of it on your phone and zoom in.
Here’s an example:
Note the “Input” line of my 5 port USB charging station: Any input between 110 volts and 240 volts is fine. And 50 or 60 hertz are also fine. Go back and take a look at the country list: Literally every single country listed falls in that range.
If your devices can handle the voltage, all you need is a power adapter. These are simple and inexpensive devices that do nothing more than change the shape of the plug. No batteries, no moving parts, no nothing.
You may have trouble reading the fine print on your device’s adapter, but I have never seen a modern cell phone, tablet, or laptop that doesn’t look similar to the above: able to handle any voltage anywhere in the world.
Step 4: [Most devices] Buy a few inexpensive power adapters.
If your devices can handle the voltage, all you need is a power adapter. These are simple and inexpensive devices that do nothing more than change the shape of the plug. No batteries, no moving parts, no nothing. Just find the right plug type for the country you are visiting and order a few adapters. I think these Ceptics adapters are cheap and (mostly) reliable. For $10 or less, you get 3. (The wires inside can break if you drop them, so it’s nice to bring more than one.)
If all of your devices can handle the voltage, you’re done! Stop reading.
Step 5: [Specialized devices] Make absolutely sure you can use a voltage converter safely.
If you have a device that can’t handle the different voltage, you may be able to convert the voltage to what your device is expecting. What devices are we talking about here? Hair dryers, hair curlers, plug-in shavers that don’t have a battery, CPAP machines, laser printers, and more. Try not to bring your laser printer on vacation?
But, please please please pay attention. This is where things get dangerous. Really. Here’s an article that lists cases where people sent a high voltage to devices that couldn’t handle it. Sample sentence:
“There was a pop, sparks and a burning smell. The power strip got scorched. And we blew out the power to all our neighboring rooms.”How to find the right adapters and converters for your next trip abroad, Washington Post, October 4, 2018
The simple power adapters, the ones that changed the shape of the plug, don’t do much. They just have wires that bend to get your plug into a differently shaped outlet. The ones I linked to above claim they can handle up to 3000 watts. (The charger on your new iPhone might ask for 12 of those watts.)
But these converters do more. And they aren’t built to handle 3000 watts, or anywhere near it. Here’s a nice voltage converter that is rated to 200 watts. Two hundred vs. three thousand.
Okay, but that iPhone isn’t drawing anywhere near 200 watts. So what is? Your hair dryer. A typical hair dryer can draw 1500 watts, or even more. (For an approximation of watts used, multiply Volts (110 in the US) times Amps of current your device draw. Amps are usually listed on the device somewhere: “12A”. (Volts times Amps doesn’t equal watts exactly, but it’s close enough.)
Step 6: Instead of a voltage converter, consider a new device.
I don’t really like voltage converters. They scare me, though if you’ve read this far you’ll probably be fine. When I wanted to bring an electric shaver with me, I bought a new one that was meant for 220 Volts. (That one has the right plugs for much of Europe [type C] so you don’t even need an adapter!)
Many dual voltage hair dryers will have a way to tell them which voltage you are sending to them. Make sure you set this before (and after!) your trip. See the example at right.
Step 7: Buy the right voltage converter.
If you do decide to buy a power converter, make sure you get one that meets the wattage demands of your device. I linked to one above that can handle 200 watts. Don’t use that with a hair curler or a hair dryer. (Yes, hair care devices use a lot of energy!)
Still, I would first try to avoid needing a voltage converter at all: Leave a device at home if you can survive without it, or buy one that works with the voltage in the country you are heading to. Only consider a voltage converter if you truly need one.
Bring lots of those little cheap adapters, though! And leave any questions or comment below.