The Shocking Truth About Foreign Electricity

Ceptics International Worldwide Travel Adapter Plug 5pc Set with Pouch
The one issue you can’t dodge when traveling is how to deal with foreign electricity. Especially in this day and age when everyone, even your Granny, travels with a laptop, an iphone, or a tablet. Not to mention battery chargers, hair dryers, and all of the other nifty electric and electronic gadgets that make our life easier when traveling abroad.

There are two ways to educate you about this…the simple way (better for simple minds with short attention spans, like mine) and the complicated way (better for those of you who want to know things down to the molecular level). So I’ll cover the most important points that will suffice to let 95% of you manage your electricity needs successfully, then I’ll refer you to a nifty website that will not only give you unlimited detail (including info about sine waves and 60-cycle hertz…and many other types of exciting minutiae), but will even provide a place to purchase any gadgets and adapters you might need.

Here’s what you need to know, simple version…

There are two areas you need to be familiar with…Voltage and Plugs.

Let’s talk voltage first….In the old days, due to the differences in electrical systems in many foreign countries, in order to plug in your US appliance you needed a converter/transformer the size of a small brick (and just as heavy) . This was because the US uses a 110-120 volt system, and many foreign countries use a 220-240 volt system. You don’t need to be a math major to understand the problem here.

The good news is that for over a decade nearly all US electronic devices (notice I said ELECTRONIC, not ELECTRIC) have universal chargers, capable of handling all voltages.   You can check yours by reading the fine print on the charger. It will say 110-240v, or something similar. That means the transformer is built in to the charging mechanism. Only very old computers or electronic devices do not have this feature, in which case you will need the aforementioned brick-like transformer. It’s been many years since I’ve seen any of my clients have to use one of those, however, so unless you’re dragging your vintage Macintosh on your trip, you’ll probably be OK.

With electric devices such as hair dryers, curling irons, and sleep apnea machines, it’s not quite as simple. These devices may or may not accept universal voltage, check them carefully. I’ve found that appliances with a heating element often don’t work well, even when using an electricity converter…in fact I’ve often seen them burn up. If possible, I recommend simply purchasing a hair dryer, curling iron, (or whatever) in the country as soon as you arrive. They’re relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and if they make you that much more comfortable, it’s money well spent. Many foreign hotels have built-in hair dryers, check before you go.

So, in summary, the vast majority of travelers no longer need any special electricity converter…Hooray!

Now let’s talk pin adapters…when I say “pins” I’m referring to the pins or plug on the end of the appliance cord. The US uses a two or three pin system, most foreign countries have a different arrangement, which of course makes it impossible to plug in your appliance.   Unfortunately there are no good “universal” pin adapters, mainly because there are simply too many different pin configurations across the globe. The good news is that this problem is easily and inexpensively handled. Just go to a website (like the one at the end of this article) and look up which pin configuration you need based on the country you’re to which you’re traveling. Then buy a couple. Most of them are between $3-$5. Sometimes the front desk at your hotel will have a small supply of them, but don’t count on it. Or simply pick up a complete set at for about $10.

For those of you with a thirst for more knowledge…

For the pocket-protector and slide-rule crowd, I promised I’d point you toward it, and here it is:

So thanks to the plethora of universal voltage chargers and pin adapters, it’s now very easy to keep all of your gadgets charged and working when abroad…wouldn’t want to miss our daily Facebook post!