Tips for Using Your Electronics Internationally

Moving internationally can be an exciting time. Whether you’re moving abroad for school, work or retirement, there are things that may slip your mind when you’re preparing yourself for your move. One of those things may be how you’ll use your electronics. Yes, it may seem obvious that in this day and age the hair dryers and computers you use in your home town should work internationally, but the truth is they may not. With some tips and a few minutes of time, you’ll save yourself the frustration of not being able to plug in after your move.

Learn About Electric Systems

Travelers who plan to use electrical devices from home while they’re traveling should learn about the different electrical systems – plug configurations, voltage and alternating cycles – in the countries they’re visiting.

The easiest aspect to deal with is the plug configurations. The standard two-prong plug used in the United States is common throughout Canada, Mexico, most of the Caribbean and some of South America and Asia. However, in some places, wall outlets don’t have a third hole to fit the grounding prong, in which case you’ll need an adapter or an add-on plug with openings to fit your appliance plug on one side and prongs to fit the outlet on the other. These are generally available at most hardware stores or the travel sections of big box stores.

For most of Continental Europe, you’ll need an adapter. In that area, most outlets need plugs with two round prongs. Great Britain, Ireland, Singapore and some former British colonies will need plugs with three flat prongs.

Visiting or moving to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji or China? Sockets there require plugs with three flat prongs but in a different configuration than the former.


The voltage is the pressure under which the current flows through the electrical system. Most U.S. appliances work at 110 volts, many foreign companies generate electricity at 220 volts. Some appliances have a toggle switch that allows them to work with both voltages but for non-dual voltage appliances, you’ll need to use a converter that will lower the 220 current to 110 so your appliances don’t burn out.

There are two different kinds of converters, one for running heating appliances (hair dryers, clothes steamers, etc.). Those appliances require a lot of power. The second converter is one for motorized and electronic appliances (razors, laptops, radios and battery chargers) that run on less power.

Power consumption, measured in watts, is usually indicated either on its AC adapter unit or the appliance itself. Appliances that use 50 watts or more require the high-heating converters. Ones using 50 watts or less require transformer converters.

The third system difference is the number of times an electrical current changes directions each second (its alternating cycle). The U.S. cycle is 60 but many countries use a 50-cycle system. Heating appliances are not affected by the disparity, however electronics like laptops, video and camera equipment may be damaged from overheating.

Carry a Transformer or Voltage Converter

Carrying a transformer, in addition to an adapter, that allows 60-cycle electronic items to work with a 50-cycle system will help guard against damage. First you should learn how to read your device’s power supply label:

The INPUT line contains the key information whether the voltage (V) is single, dual or multi.

  • Single-voltage device: INPUT AC120V 60Hz 200W
  • Dual-voltage device: INPUT AC120/240V 50-60Hz 1300W
  • Multi-voltage device: INPUT AC100 – 240V 50-60Hz 14W OUTPUT DC 1.2V 2.3A

A single-voltage device may require a voltage converter or a transformer in addition to an adapter plug. Dual-voltage devices use a slash to separate the two voltages, in this case the device listed above can be used with 120 or 240 volts. Multi-voltage devices use a dash to indicate the range of voltages it can e used with (100-240 volts).

Websites that sell adapters, transformers or converters like REI and Magellan have more information on specific brands and can offer more detailed help about which to use in different situations. 

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