When it comes to international travel and your electrical gadgets, it can be confusing and scary.  Do I need a converter or an adaptor?  What’s the difference?

Electrical circuits vary throughout the world.  110-120 volts is the standard for most electrical outlets in the United States, Canada and Mexico.  Parts of South America, the Caribbean and Japan use 100-125 volt circuits.  Most of the world, however, uses 220-240 volts.

American-made electrical devices usually operate on 110-120 volts.  When using them outside of North America, you’ll need to use a voltage converter or transformer to step down the voltage going to your electrical device or you’ll likely damage it.

Check the owner’s manual or label on your device to verify the operating voltage.  Some devices are rated for dual voltage, so they’ll work at both 110/120 and 220/240 volts.  Many newer electronics are made for travel and are designed to operate on dual voltage.  When in doubt, though, use a voltage converter.

Small electronics and non-heating appliances will need a 50-watt converter.  Heating appliances, such as hairdryers, will need a 1600-watt converter.

Here’s where it gets really confusing.  Some electronics are designed to operate on 60-hertz, but many countries have voltage at only 50-hertz.  Most new devices will operate on 50 hertz, but check the label to be sure or you could ruin your appliance or blow a fuse in the hotel.

But wait, there’s more.  You must adapt, as well as transform.  Countries have different electrical outlet/plug patterns.  You’ll need to use an adaptor when plugging in a device purchased in North America because your device’s plug pattern will not fit.

Additionally, the voltage in a country you visit may be the 110-120 you use at home, but the plug pattern may be different.  There are also grounded and non-grounded plug patterns to deal with.

Here are two helpful guides to steer you through this maze of voltage and plug patterns.  Current Solutions has a comprehensive chart with a list of voltage and adaptor requirements by country.  REI also offers a voltage and adaptor specifications chart by country.

You can buy adaptor plugs for each individual country you want to visit, but if you plan to travel abroad more than once, you’d be smart to invest in a kit with multiple adaptors.

Ceptics GP-5PK International Travel Worldwide Plug Adapter Set is a collection of adaptors that comes in a handy pouch.  It includes both grounded and ungrounded adaptors for the following countries:

  • Australia/China-Type I
  • Germany/France(SCHUKO)-Type E/F
  • India-Type D
  • Israel-Type H
  • Italy-Type L
  • Most Europe-Type C
  • South Africa-Type M
  • Switzerland-Type J
  • UK/Hong Kong-Type G
  • USA/Japan-Type B
  • Type E/Type F plug, European “Schuko” plug, CEE 7/17 (7/4, 7/7) (GP-9)
  • Standard: Type G plug, UK, Dubai, Honking CEE 7/16. Grounded 3-Prong plug. (GP-7)
  • Standard: Type B plug, US, Japan, Canada CEE 7/16. Grounded 3-Prong plug. (GP-5)
  • Standard: Type C plug, CEE 7/16. Grounded 2-Prong plug with round pins diameter 4.0mm.
  • Standard: Type I plug, Australia CEE 7/16. Grounded 3-Prong plug.

To conserve space in your luggage, it’s best to find a voltage converter that covers all your needs.  The Travelon 3-in-1 Adaptor, Converter, Charger is perfect for charging your electronics.

I love this device.  It’s a compact and versatile adaptor and voltage converter in one, has both grounded and ungrounded plugs and a built-in USB port.  It can be used in over 150 countries in Europe, the UK, Pacific Rim and North America.  It automatically converts electrical current from 220 volts to 110 volts and has a step-down converter for short-term use to 1875W with heating appliances.  NOTE: It does not provide surge protection.

When packing for an international trip, determine what devices you’ll bring with you.  Are they heating or non-heating?  Dual voltage?  What electronics will you take?  Smart phone?  iPad?  Camera?  Laptop?  Chargers?  Are any of them multi-voltage?  Does it require a USB cable to charge it?  Don’t forget to pack that.

Identify the plug pattern you’ll need to use in the country/countries you’ll visit, and bring both grounded and non-grounded adaptors for those countries.  With this basic knowledge and these essential tools, you’ll simplify your travel life and take the worry out of using your electrical devices.