Electronics devices play an important role in our everyday lives, facilitating communication, entertainment, and the ability to work productively. It’s little wonder that when we travel overseas, we want to be able to bring our smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices with us.
Unfortunately, many U.S. residents traveling overseas are in for a rude awakening when they try to charge their devices. In many countries, electrical outlets are physically different from American outlets, meaning that American devices simply won’t plug into them. Overseas outlets also deliver a higher voltage than U.S. outlets, and American electronics cannot handle the higher voltages, necessitating the use of 110 to 220 volt converters and transformers.
People traveling overseas for vacation or business purposes need to be aware of the differences between American and international electronics so they can avoid property damage and injury that could occur.
Why Different Voltages?
Voltage refers to the pressure from the power source of an electrical circuit that forces charged electrons through a conducting loop. The voltage expresses how much potential energy exists to push electrons from one point to another. A useful analogy to help understand this concept involves a water tank. The bigger the tank and the greater its height, the better its ability to generate an impact when a tap is opened and the water can flow.
Commercial use of electricity developed along different tracks in the U.S. and Europe, resulting in the voltage difference. In the U.S., the collaboration and rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla shaped commercial electric use here. Edison developed the direct current standard for electricity distribution. This standard produced 110 volt electricity. Edison’s company became a leading supplier of electricity, but it quickly became obvious that Edison’s DC system was not appropriate for distributing electricity via large power grids.
Tesla developed the alternating current system – a system using three alternating currents – that allowed electricity to be distributed over larger distances than direct current. Tesla’s system started out using 240 volts, but eventually adapted to use 110 volts. Most U.S. electronics and electrical appliances use 110 volt current, although some heavy-duty appliances like stoves and clothes dryers use 220 volts.
In Europe, commercial electricity developed differently. At first, the standard of 110 volts appeared to be triumphant, but after World War II Europe switched to 220 volts. Much of the world followed Europe’s example, although some nations, like Japan, stuck to the American standard of 110 volts.
If you’re traveling overseas, keep these tips in mind to enjoy safe use of your electronic devices:
- Check your electronics – Although most electronics manufactured for use in the United States are set to run at between 110 and 120 volts, some are made as dual voltage devices, meaning they can also run at 220 volts. Typically, there will be a switch on the device that allows users to alternate between 110 and 220 volts. Before using dual voltage American electronic devices overseas, make sure that the switch is set to the appropriate voltage. Don’t use a voltage adapter with a dual voltage device, as it may fry the device.
- Know about frequency – Voltage isn’t the only thing that will vary among American electronics and international electronics. Frequency may also differ. U.S. electronics operate at 60 Hz, while frequencies in many other countries may operate at 50 Hz. In general, frequency will not matter unless you are operating a device with an electric motor. Electric motors being supplied with power at the wrong frequency may not run as efficiently as they would at the right frequency.
- Get a plug adapter – Learn about the electrical outlets in the country you’re visiting to determine whether you’ll need a plug adapter. In many cases you will, but these adapters are inexpensive and easily available from places such as 110220Volts.
- Avoid connecting your device to an outlet with higher voltage – Whatever you do, do not plug a device that runs on 110 volt current into a 220 volt outlet. Doing this will almost certainly fry the device and may also shock or electrocute you. Plugging a device into an inappropriate outlet can also result in a fire. Before plugging a device into an outlet, even if you have an adapter, be sure the outlet will supply appropriate current to the device. Remember, an adapter only makes your device physically compatible with a different outlet; a converter or transformer are needed to handle voltage compatibility issues.
- Choose a converter or transformer – Depending on your needs, you will have to choose between a 110 to 220 converter or a transformer. A converter works well for casual charging and use, but if your device is going to need to be plugged in for a long period, you’ll likely need a transformer. Transformers are the best solution for electronics gear like computers, although they are larger and more expensive than converters.
A Quick Cheat Sheet
If you need to know what the voltage and frequency are for the country you’re visiting, this cheat sheet can help you quickly determine whether you’ll need a converter or transformer when traveling abroad.
For consumers seeking 220 to 110 converters or 110 to 220 converters or transformers, electrical adapters, and other international electrical and electronics gear, 110220Volts can help. A trusted provider of reliable electronics gear, 110220Volts has a wide variety of products that will help international travelers use their favorite devices while abroad.