So you’ve booked your international vacation but you still have a few questions, like how you can keep your phone charged during your travels. “Do I need a travel adapter?” “Do I need a converter?” “What’s the difference between an adapter and a converter?” These are all important questions, and finding the answer you need can be a bit daunting. That’s why we’ve put together this simple guide to help you understand which adapters or voltage converters you will need to pack for your trip to Europe or anywhere outside of the United States. Read on to learn more!
Can I plug in my devices the same way I do at home?
If you’re traveling within the United States, or to Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, or Japan, then you can plug in your devices as you do now. These countries all use 2-pronged Type A, and 3-pronged Type B plugs on a standard 110V network. If you’re not traveling within those countries, you will need an adapter and/or converter.
You can read about why there are so many types of international plugs and sockets directly from the International Electrotechnical Commission.
What’s an adapter? What’s a converter? What’s the difference?
The simple answer is that a power adapter has to do with shapes; while a voltage converter has to do with energy. A power plug adapter is a small extension that you attach to the plug of your electronic device that allows you to use it in a different type of wall outlet. Simply put, it makes your plug fit into a socket that has different holes.
A voltage converter allows electronics that work on a certain voltage level—the standard in the United States is 110V—to function safely on a different voltage level. They convert the energy that the connected power supply transmits into the correct voltage that your device is designed to handle.
Do I need an adapter?
People from the United States traveling throughout Europe, Australia, Africa, most of South America, and most of Asia will need a power plug adapter. There is a total of 15 plug types, so knowing what they each look like and what countries use them is a must before you set out on your international vacation. Many plug types are interchangeable, similar to how you can use a 2-pronged Type A device in a 3-pronged Type B socket. Because of this, we recommend inquiring about the country’s or region’s adapters, rather than the specific adapter type. For example, look for “European adapters” rather than “type C adapters” online or in stores.
If your international travels take you to more than one region, we highly recommend investing in a universal adapter that can be used throughout your trip and across the world—they also work with either grounded or ungrounded plugs, and grounded or ungrounded outlets. It is important to remember that adapters will not act as power converters—they will only allow you to plug into local outlets.
For a simple visual way to find plug and socket types by country, you can input your destination on the International Electrotechnical Commission’s Word Map.
Do I need a converter?
There are two global standard voltage networks, 110V and 220V. The United States runs on 110V so most of our devices are designed for that system. Consequently, American travelers would need a voltage converter when visiting countries that run on a standard 220V system. That means most of the world except for North and Central America and Japan.
Converters should be used with electric products that are simple heating devices or have mechanical motors – things like hair dryers, shavers, steam irons, or small fans. Converters are not designed to be used for long periods of time, so keep device usage to a maximum of 2 hours. When not in use, converters must be unplugged from the wall.
Electronic devices that have a chip or circuit, like a laptop or TV, would require a transformer. These essentially do the same thing as converters, but are bigger and more expensive since they are designed for longer use with more advanced products. However, today’s fancy electronic devices are designed to be dual voltage, so transformers are not something the average traveler needs to worry about.
What this all means to you is, you will need a converter for devices that are not dual voltage.
How can I tell if my device is dual voltage?
You can identify dual voltage devices by the small print on the device itself, typically at the base or on the charger’s box, that says something like “Input 100/240V.” This means that it works on both 110 and 220V systems. If every device you bring is a dual voltage appliance, you do not need to bring a converter. Otherwise, or if you’re not 100% sure, it is wise to bring a converter. It is possible for a converter to fail, so if you have a device that is not dual voltage and it’s something you can live without, it’s probably best to leave it at home anyways.
What happens if I don’t use a converter?
It is important to ensure that your device can handle the voltage you’re connecting it to. Just because you have an adapter and your plug fits into the socket does not mean you are in the clear. If you input voltage that is higher than what your device can handle, you could fry your device and ruin it.
If your 110V device is plugged into a 220V power supply, it will be forced to operate at power levels higher than it can tolerate. You might see smoke or a flash, or the fuse could melt and your appliance will be damaged and become inoperable.
I need a converter. How do I know what to look for?
If you determine that a converter is necessary, you will need a step-down converter to safely reduce the incoming 220V electricity to the 110V electricity that American devices need to safely function. First, determine the wattage of your device—you will find the number next to a prominent “W” in the label. Once you know the wattage, double or triple it and purchase a converter with that wattage rate. You won’t damage your equipment by using a higher watt converter, but if there are too few watts, the device will not work.
For most electronics, American travelers will only need an adapter for their international tour. But, it’s very important to check your devices as any that are not dual voltage will also require a converter. When you’re planning your trip to Europe or your Asia tour, YMT wants to ensure the experience is as stress-free as possible. We hope this handy guide helps you as you prepare for your international travels! Remember, it’s better to be over prepared when you leave the country, and that traveling with a guided tour provider like YMT Vacations gives you the additional benefit of having an experienced team in the event of an unexpected complication.