Stay charged: Your guide to adapters and converters abroad
Culture shock: That feeling of a normality slightly altered. Charging your phone, for example; a task so automatic, it’s often overlooked in the packing process.
Electric shock: That feeling of 220 volts surging through your body like the wrath of Thor after you overlooked that simple part of the packing process.
Just as you’ll need to convert your money to a local currency, you’ll also need to convert your power to the local voltage. Keep these tips in mind to keep your stuff safe from certain destruction.
Adapters, Converters & Transformers
You will need an adapter 100% of the time for your device to even plug into a foreign wall at all. However, most countries pump out twice the voltage as the States, which means plugging something straight into the outlet is a surefire way to blow it up, unless a converter and/or transformer is in place.
The converter is basically a buffer to change voltage to match that of your device. But is it always necessary? Definitely not.
Choosing an Adapter
The more common of needs, start with this simple guide to find the right adapter for your outlet. It’s also easy to find a universal adapter that conforms to just about all of these configurations in just one purchase.
Converters & Transformers: WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
One rule of thumb for deciding if you need a converter/transformer: Does the cord have a box? Think of your laptop. About halfway down the cord, no matter the brand or model, is a “box”. Even for an iPhone, the USB plugs into a tiny box before you can plug it into the wall.
These boxes are in place to reduce the strength of the current heading toward your machine. With an adapter, they can usually plug into a foreign outlet, no problemo.
Other things like hair dryers, curling irons, lamps etc. often have a simple chord. The label will tell you the maximum voltage, and you’ll need to know your destination’s output to determine if this will require a converter.
Choosing a Transformer or Converter
Converters can be bulky and expensive, but you can get away without them. It might mean air-drying your hair or just not bringing your favorite lamp abroad, but you will survive.
Read the label. It might be on the back, the cord or the box, but this small print could save you from total destruction.
Check the INPUT line for the type of voltage (V)
- Single-voltage: Items (older appliances) with a small range of voltage (100-120V). These are the the ones you definitely will need a converter before plugging into a 220V output.
- Dual–voltage: Items (electric toothbrushes & shavers; newer appliances) have a slash to separate the two voltages (i.e. 120V/240V) and do not require a converter.
- Multi–voltage: A dash indicates the voltage range (i.e. 100-240V). Laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. have this feature, and do not require a converter.
For lower voltage range, you will need a transformer for electronic devices (ones with chips, circuits or electronic motors) as well as electrical devices (ones that use heating elements or mechanical motors). Electrical devices also can use a converter instead.
The Bottom Line
Try to take devices that only require an adapter, and find the most internationally versatile one you can get your hands on. If you’ll need a converter or transformer, read your labels and do your math before trying to plug anything in.
Above all, remember to be present where you are; unplugging can be the best part of your trip.