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A Growing Expatriate Community

Staying Connected: Using American Electronics Overseas

Americans have a love affair with their electronics, purchasing home entertainment centers, tablets, smart phones, and other gear by the millions each year. When U.S. residents take extended trips overseas or take up permanent residence there, many run into a big problem regarding their favorite electronics’ compatibility with foreign outlets. 

Inland angle crowded beach day on a blue sky sunny day

Differences in voltages have fried many a visiting American’s favorite electronic device, as many expatriates from the U.S. are unaware of the voltage difference. Understanding the need for voltage converters and other quirks of international electronics usage can help Americans traveling or relocating overseas avoid frustration and potential harm.

Male schuko CEE7/16 plug european power cord cable

A Growing Expatriate Community

Nailing down exactly how many Americans live overseas is a difficult task, but, according to the Migration Policy Institute, between 2.8 million and 6.8 million Americans live overseas. The Federal Voting Assistance Program estimates that between 4.5 million and 6.5 million Americans live overseas.  The institute reports that overseas Americans are dispersed among more than 100 other nations worldwide, a larger range of nations than expatriates from any other home country. About 66 percent of expatriate Americans live in 10 countries:

  • Mexico – Estimated 738,100 to 1 million American expatriates.
  • Canada – Estimated 316,350 to 1 million American expatriates.
  • Philippines – Estimated 300,000 to 600,000 American expatriates.
  • Israel – Estimated 200,000 American expatriates.
  • United Kingdom – Estimated 139,000 to 197,143 American expatriates.
  • Costa Rica – Estimated 130,000 American expatriates.
  • South Korea – Estimated 120,000 to 158,000 American expatriates.
  • Germany –  Estimated 108,845 American expatriates.
  • France –  Estimated 100,000 American expatriates.
  • China – Estimated  71,493 American expatriates.

Expatriates’ reasons for moving overseas vary greatly from person to person.  A large contingent of Americans living overseas are military personnel who have been stationed at overseas postings. Others move overseas for business or employment reasons. A growing contingent of expatriates are retirees who have found that their pensions and retirement savings stretch further in nations with lower costs of living than the U.S. Some other expatriates are “love exiles” who have moved overseas because their romantic partner was unable or unwilling to obtain a visa or citizenship in the U.S.

In addition to expatriates, there is also a large number of Americans who travel abroad for extended business or vacation stays each year. According to the International Business Times, about 68 million Americans traveled abroad in 2014.

Preparing to Make the Move

When getting ready to relocate overseas, Americans need to be aware of the compatibility issue regarding U.S. electronics and overseas power outlets. American electronics and power outlets use the 110 or 120 volt standard. Most other nations use 220 or 240 volt electricity. If a 110/120 volt device is plugged into a 220/240 outlet, a number of bad things can happen.

The voltage difference can cause the device to instantly fail and fry its internal components. That’s the least bad consequence of plugging a 110/120 volt device into a 220/240 volt outlet. At the other end of the spectrum, the voltage difference could spark a fire or severely shock or electrocute the person plugging in the device.

In addition to differences in voltage, some American devices can’t even plug into foreign outlets, because these outlets are designed differently than American outlets, with prong configurations that are drastically different than those of American devices. Adapters can help American devices safely connect to these outlets.

For American expatriates, purchasing voltage converters and other appropriate adapters can help them safely use their favorite electronics while residing overseas. These adapters are less expensive than purchasing new electronics, and can help U.S. residents avoid the inconvenience of having to set up new electronic devices. Converters even exist for major appliances that American expatriates wish to take with them on their overseas sojourns.

Other Overseas Electronics Issues

Voltage and outlet compatibility aren’t the only electronic-related issues Americans face when moving overseas. Many U.S. natives who move overseas experience sticker shock when pricing new electronic devices. Many countries, particularly European nations, have high taxes on consumer goods, making them much more expensive than those sold in the U.S. Bringing your own electronics when moving overseas often is the smart move from a cost savings standpoint.

Many Americans have also been disappointed to learn that their U.S.-made DVD players won’t work with local DVDs that they purchase in their new host country. DVD players are sold by region, meaning players sold in certain parts of the world won’t be compatible with DVDs sold in other parts of the world. The region scheme helps entertainment companies curtail piracy and keep a tighter grip on release dates for new content. Americans moving overseas can overcome this problem by purchasing a multi-region player or by selling off their device before they move, and then purchasing a local DVD player.

Phone issues for new expatriates are also common. Unfortunately, phone service providers do not charge a worldwide universal rate for service, and people using an American phone in a foreign country can be in for a nasty surprise when their bill arrives. When relocating to a new country, it’s best to purchase a local phone or a special international phone to ensure affordable telecommunications.

More Advice for Soon-to-Be Expatriates

Electronics compatibility isn’t the only issue that U.S. citizens considering taking up residence overseas should consider before committing to a move. Tax issues, currency conversion, political stability, and health care concerns all need to be addressed by potential expatriates before they leave. However, by getting these issues and lifestyle issues like electronics compatibility settled before the big move, expatriates can experience an easier transition to living in their new country. sells voltage converters, multi-region DVD players, and other electronic devices and accessories that American expatriates will need to enjoy their favorite electronics. Relocating overseas doesn’t have to mean giving up your favorite gear and settling for high-priced foreign electronics. Purchasing voltage converters and other equipment from will help you keep your favorite devices and buy dependable gear that will work wherever your path may take you.


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