How To Avoid Frying Your Electronics While Studying Abroad with the right travel adapter

Advice on finding the right outlet adapter and power converter

There’s one thing (well actually a lot of things) I forgot to pack which would have made my first night abroad a little easier. While it’s mentioned 17 times in almost every study abroad departure guide, I’m pretty sure most students seem to neglect this little gem when buying supplies to head abroad and while packing their suitcases the night before they leave. I’m talking about an outlet adapter and/or converter, and if you’re not electrically inclined, buying one of these can be a little daunting. That being said, after reading this post you should have enough electrical know-how to tackle it with ease.

Here are the 3 aspects of electricity that will determine the fate of your personal gadgets and appliances (as in if they’ll fry or survive), and what you need to know before you head over to Amazon to do your adapter and converter shopping.

Shape of the plug/prongs:

The are many different plug shapes and types throughout the world, but the 4 most common are the “American” (Type A) plug with two vertical pins, the “European” (Type C) plug with two round pins, the “British” (Type G) plug with three rectangular pins, and the “Chinese/Australian” (Type I) plug with two slanted pins.

Force – Voltage (V):

In the United States, electricity is normally supplied at 110 or 120 volts at a frequency of 60 Hz. Electricity in Europe, and just about the rest of the world, is generally supplied at 220 volts and a frequency of 50 Hz. I believe it’s officially 230 volts, but any device rated between 200 volts and 240 volts will work.

Frequency – Hertz (Hz):

Countries use either 60 Hz (US) or 50 Hz (Europe/Asia). Most electrical devices are not affected by the cycle change, and in a lot of cases, support both cycles. Frequency is likely to affect analog clocks (it won’t keep time correctly) and devices with motors. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about frequency, but know that it’s generally not a problem.

Determining whether or not you need an adapter and/or converter:

1. To determine if you need a converter, start by taking a look at the back of the devices you want to use abroad. If they cover the range of 100 ~ 240V and 50/60 Hz, they will work almost anywhere in the world with the right outlet adapter. Things like your laptop and camcorder battery chargers usually have this dual voltage feature. If the voltage and frequency for your device is the same as where you are traveling, then you only need to worry about the outlet prong adapter. If it reads a single voltage, i.e. 110V or 120V, then you will need a step-down converter.

2. When buying a converter, you’ll need to consider both the voltage, which I mentioned above, and the wattage, which can usually also be found right on the device. If it’s not, just multiply the voltage and amps (listed on the device) and you’ll get the wattage. Make sure the converter corresponds to the correct voltage of the country you’re heading to, and has a rating of at least 10% higher than that of your device.

3. It’s pretty much a guarantee that if you’re studying outside of the U.S., you’ll need an outlet adapter. I suggest getting a universal adapter, especially if you’re going to be in the UK or mainland Europe (they each have a different prong setup, and you’ll probably go from the mainland to the UK and vice versa more than once).

Just keep in mind that these days, most portable electronic products are designed with a battery charger suitable for a voltage range from 100V to 240V, and therefore should work without a converter almost anywhere. While hair dryers and curling irons are the biggest exceptions (you’re probably better off just buying those once you’re abroad anyway), you should still check all of the electric devices you plan on using!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!

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