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Foreign Travel Converter Tips for Guaranteed Electricity

Electrical Conversion
Allianz - Electrical Conversion

You’ve heard the story before: a less-than-seasoned American traveler attempts to plug a hairdryer into a bathroom wall outlet. Maybe, miraculously, the plug and outlet fit. Maybe they didn’t. And if the traveler attempts to shove the plug in without the use of a travel converter, the result at best could be nothing, and at worst could be shockingly bad for the hairdryer and the traveler. And the entire hotel, for that matter.

As much as technology has tremendously evolved the foreign travel experience, from currency conversion apps to language translation software, the way to bridge domestic appliances with foreign electrical grids is still fairly antiquated.

There are more than 15 types of electrical outlet plugs in use today, from those accommodating the familiar two- and three-prong plugs we’re used to (type ‘A’ and ‘B’) to the awkward-looking three-pinned type ‘L’ variety common in Chile and Italy. While it may seem daunting to mix and match the right equipment as you’re jet setting around the world, making the right connection is actually easier than it may appear with the right travel converter equipment and knowledge.1

Getting and Staying Connected Around the Globe

When it comes to electrical appliances and domestic travel, we’re spoiled. That’s because our wall outlets are designed to deliver 110 to 120 volts, and our electrical plugs are built to match. Even when we travel to our neighbors to the north and south, Canada and Mexico, those standards stay intact.

This issue occurs when you leave North America for Europe, Asia or other destinations. Most of Europe, Africa, Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand run at 220 to 240 volts. Meanwhile, Japan uses 100 volts and South America runs the gamut of standards from country to country, and even within the same nation in Brazil.3

Knowing Your Travel Converter Equipment

In order to make sure you have everything you’ll potentially need to harness juice from a foreign grid, the most convenient option is to pick up a complete travel converter set, which includes adapter plugs, a voltage converter, and some sort of storage bag or pouch to easily stow the kit.

You may only need to use the adapter plugs. If you’ve purchased a universal smart phone charger before, then this will be a familiar concept. Similarly to how you need to match your brand and model of phone to the correct interface before plugging in, you’ll need to find the right adapter plug to connect your electric device to the wall outlet.

Here is a cheat sheet that can help you make sure you have the right adapter plug packed in your travel converter kit for wherever your travels take you:

  • South and Central America, Japan and Taiwan, and the Caribbean: ‘A’ and ‘B’ outlets/adapters
  • Europe, Israel, Asia (some nations), Africa (some nations) and the Mid-East: ‘C,’ ‘E,’ and ‘F’ outlets/adapters
  • Africa (select nations), United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore: ‘G’ outlet/adapter
  • China, Australia and New Zealand: ‘I’ outlet/adapter3

Voltage Conversion Basics

As stated, the adapter plug may be the only piece of your travel converter arsenal that you need to use. However, if your equipment doesn’t match the voltage and frequency provided in the nation you’re visiting -- or your hair dryer or laptop is what’s known as “single voltage” – then you may need to also use a voltage converter, also known as a transformer or power converter.

Depending on whether you’re stepping up from 110 volts to 220 volts or down from 220 volts to 110 volts, the most common conversion scenarios, this piece of equipment may also be called a “step-down voltage converter” or “step-up voltage converter.” In the past, separate converters were needed to step up or down, but newer travel converter equipment will likely allow you to perform both functions. 4

A Word About Wattage

One more piece of information you’ll want to have for your various electric devices before plugging them in on the other side of the globe is wattage. Travel converters are actually based on wattage, which means you’ll need to know the wattage of the primary electric devices you’ll be seeking to connect. From there, the general rule of thumb around wattage and converters goes as follows: purchase a converter that is about two or three times greater than the device you plan on connected to it. You can never have too much wattage, so always err on the side of getting a converter capable of higher output.

Travel Converter Safety Tips

Exercising careful decision-making when it comes to choosing the right travel converter equipment for your trip isn’t just a case of whether or not you’ll be able to supply electricity to your appliances. Attempting to connect equipment without the right conversion equipment can burn out devices and even cause injury, especially when plugging in high-wattage devices to outlets designed for low-wattage.5

This article serves as a solid guide for getting you started down the path toward choosing the right travel converter equipment, but you’ll want to carefully review the manufacturer’s label or consult a device’s owner’s manual to determine or confirm the specific wattage and specific voltage converter you’ll need.4

Make a list of all the electric appliances and devices you plan to tote around the world: hairdryers, curling irons, razors, laptops, tablets, smart phones, cameras, battery chargers and so on. With the right travel converter equipment, you’ll be able to use all of these safely and soundly. But if you simply guess or leave it to chance, you could be walking around unfamiliar streets with wet hair and a dead phone.

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