Transform, Convert or Adapt?

No, I’m not talking about politics or religion. This is about providing the right power for your devices when you travel outside the US!

This is a confusing issue for many people when traveling. I’ve had more than one friend take a hair appliance to Europe only to have it blow up on it’s first use. They thought it was just fine since they used the thingy (adapter) to make it fit in the wall plug. So what happened?

Around the world, different countries supply their power at different voltages and frequencies. They also use different plugs. And these are two different things, both of which must be accounted for.

It might seem like the plug’s the big deal – and when you’re ready to do your hair, or charge your phone, it’s no small thing! But the really big factor is, is the appliance compatible with the electrical system?

To determine this, check the appliance itself, the plug, or the charging block you use to charge the device. Usually, either on a label, or molded into the item (this is sometimes a bit more difficult to read without really good lighting), it should give the INPUT voltage and frequency rating of the device. Here’s where you have to pay attention.

Single-voltage items have a really small voltage range. Here in the US, that’s likely to be 100-120V. If you supply one of these items with 220 or 240V, that’s twice what it’s able to use, and she’s gonna blow! These items require the incoming power to be converted or transformed to the right range for the appliance to operate.

Dual-voltage items are designed to work at two voltages, and those two levels are separated with a slash, like the following: 120V/240V. With this type of device, the converter is built in, though you may need to switch it. For example, I have a travel hairdryer that works at both 120 and 240V, but to work at 240V I have to rotate a small button into the 240V position (and then back to 120 for use in the US).

Multi-voltage items work over a wide range of voltage, and the range is indicated with a dash, for example, 120V-240V. Many (but not all – check yours to be sure) electronic devices – items with a circuit board in them – such as mobile phones, MP3 players, laptops, tablets, and cameras are designed with multi-voltage input which work no matter where in that range the input power lies.

The frequency rating is similar. Most countries operate on 50 or 60 Hz, and many devices will work on either (50/60 Hz), or over that range (50-60 Hz). For electrical items – like things with a heating element or blowing fan, the difference between 50 and 60 Hz won’t make a difference. But electronic devices may or may not operate properly if not at the right frequency. It’s best to check yours to see if it’s dual- or multi- frequency.

So when do you need a transformer, converter, or adapter?

First, find out what kind of power is supplied in the country you’re going to – and if you’re going to multiple countries, check them all. There’s a handy link on the Resources tab, or you can CLICK HERE. While you’re there, also take note of what kind of plugs are used.

Next, check the devices you plan to take with you, and determine if they’re single- dual- or multi- voltage and/or frequency.

Generally, single-voltage/frequency devices are the ones that need the power to be changed using a transformer or converter. The difference between the two is subtle, and it’s based on the way the the current gets changed. Without getting technical, if an electronic device requires a change of power to operate, it needs to be operated with a transformer. Electric devices can be operated using either a transformer or converter.

It might seem easiest just to get a transformer, but these are usually larger, heavier, and more expensive than converters. So it’s generally best to get these only if you have to. If you plan to travel often, you might want to consider replacing older equipment with new dual- or multi- voltage models.

An adapter doesn’t do anything to alter the voltage or frequency of the power going into the device; it just makes the US plug fit into the foreign socket. It’s adapting the plug for use. You’re going to need adapters pretty much anywhere you go outside of North America, in fact, be sure you have several, as you and your companions are likely to have multiple devices that will need to be used simultaneously. CLICK HERE for a table showing the different plug types. This is also available on the Resources tab.

A note about cruising: most cruise ships, especially those that cater to an American and European market, offer both types of voltages and plugs standard on the ship, so you may not need anything – even adapters. Be sure to check with your travel agent or cruise line before leaving. Don’t forget to check, though, if you are including a land based pre- or post- stay where you would need to protect your devices.

Device and INPUT Power in destination Use Converter Use Transformer Use Adapter (unless        same as US)
Electrical, single 110, 115, 120, 125V 220, 230, 240V yes, or transformer yes, or converter yes
Electronic, single 110, 115, 120, 125V 220, 230, 240V no yes yes
Electronic single 50 Hz 60 Hz no yes yes
Electronic single 60 Hz 50 Hz no yes yes
Electrical, dual neither  device spec yes, or transformer yes, or converter yes
Electronic, dual neither  device spec no yes yes
Electrical or electronic, multi within range on device no no yes

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