Electrical Conversions When Traveling Over Seas

One thing all travelers need to keep in mind is that different countries use different electrical currents. Using the wrong adapter or power converter might have expensive—or even explosive—results.

Understanding electrical current around the globe is fairly straightforward. There are primarily two standard systems in use today. North America, Central America, and much of Japan, use a 60 Hertz cycle at about 120 volts. The rest of the world, with a few minor exceptions, operates under a 50 Hertz, 220 volt system.

Check the power guidelines for your device. Anything in the range of 110-120 will work for a 110 or 120 volt device. Similarly, 220 volts applies to anything in the 220 to 240 volt range. If your device accepts the local current, but doesn’t have the plug for it, adapters are cheap and should be freely available.

You’ll run into problems, though, if you try to run a 110 device on a 220 circuit, or vice versa. A 220 device fed 110 volts probably won’t work. A 110 device plugged into a 220 volt outlet could blow a fuse or burn out. A simple adapter won’t work, and you’re going to need a transformer.

A transformer is a block of iron wrapped with copper wire that “steps up” or “steps down” the voltage that’s fed into it. You can use a step-down transformer to reduce the local 220 volt circuit to the 110 volts your device is expecting. There are two things to watch out for, though.

  1. Transformers have limits. If you exceed the wattage restrictions on a transformer, it can catch fire!
  2. If your device counts on the Hertz cycle, then it won’t work properly. American alarm clocks, for example, will lose ten minutes every hour if they’re plugged into a British electrical system and transformer.

Pay particular attention to hair dryers, because when the voltage isn’t matched, they can overheat, melt, or even catch fire.