A Practical Guide to Travel Adapters

Estimated reading time 7 min

Travel adapters and converters are a necessity when traveling internationally with electronic devices. However, voltage and outlet type vary from destination to destination, and the differences between the various converters, transformers, and adapters can confuse even the most seasoned international travelers. This guide to travel adapters will help you determine which types you need for your next trip abroad.

Travel AdapterWhat is a Travel Adapter?

Countries around the world use different electrical outlets, and the exact configuration of these outlets varies by country. If you’re traveling abroad, chances are high that you will need an adapter to plug in your electronic devices. However, these travel adapters oftentimes do not convert the power supply coming from the outlet; they simply allow you to plug your device into the configuration of that specific foreign electrical outlet.

What are Voltage Converters and Transformers?

Just like outlets, the voltage used by countries also varies, and many of our electronic devices are not made to withstand these different voltages. For example, in the United States, electricity runs on 110-120 volts, while much of the rest of the world runs on 220-240 volts. If your device is not dual-voltage or multi-voltage, you will need either a travel converter or transformer.

To determine if you need a converter, check your device. The voltage should be listed. Older hair dryers are generally single voltage, while newer hair dryers are dual voltage. For dual-voltage devices, you may only need to flip a switch to a higher or lower voltage. Multi-voltage items, such as new laptop computers and and smartphones, automatically detect and switch voltages. Dual-voltage and multi-voltage devices do not require a converter. However, single-voltage items do require a converter or transformer to function properly. If you plug in one of these items to a simple travel adapter, it may cause the device to break or even worse.

To complicate things a bit more, different single-voltage devices require either a converter or a transformer. Electric devices that use heating elements, such as a hair dryer or curling iron, require a converter. Electronic devices that use circuits, chips, or a motor require a transformer.

Luckily, to help simplify things, there are travel adapters that also convert voltages. Simply check the adapter for the various voltages it can safely handle.

Simple Power Outlet Guide

Currently, there are 15 different electrical outlet configurations used around the world. Some plug types are used throughout entire continents, while others are confined to a single country. There are many universal adapters available for sale that are compatible with multiple outlet configurations, but they do often leave multiple plug types out. This guide will help familiarize you with some of the most common outlet types abroad and help you determine what travel adapter best fits your needs. The most common socket types will be found on most universal adapters.

Travel Adapters - Electrical Sockets Around the World

Outlet Type A

Used mainly in North America, Central America, Venezuela, the Caribbean and Japan, a Type A outlet is the typical flat, two-pronged, ungrounded outlet Americans are familiar with. This outlet almost always runs on 110-127V. However, two-pronged American devices and Japanese devices do vary slightly. The American version has one prong that is slightly wider than the parallel prong. The two prongs on Japanese plugs are the same size. Therefore, Japanese devices work in American outlets, but American devices often don’t work in Japanese outlets.

Outlet Type B

Like Type A, outlet Type B is also mainly used in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Japan. This outlet is the grounded version of Type A and includes a third round prong below the two flat parallel prongs. Most American outlets are Type B, while American devices have either Type A or B plug-ins. Type A devices work in both Type A and B outlets, but Type B devices only work in Type B outlets. Type B outlets are almost always 110-127V.

Outlet Type C

Type C outlets are common throughout Europe, with the exception of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Malta and Cyprus. They are also widely used in South America. These outlets feature two round openings for prongs. Type C outlets generally run on 220-240V and are only usable for devices that use 2.5 amps or less. However, devices with Type C plug-ins also work in type E, F, J, K and N outlets.

Outlet Type E

Type E outlets are mainly used in the Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Poland, Slovakia and parts of Africa. Like Type C, these outlets feature two round openings for prongs and run on 220-240V. However, Type E outlets are rated up to 16 amps, and the socket has a round protruding pin. Devices with types C, E or F plug-ins work in Type E outlets.

Outlet Type F

Used throughout Europe and Russia, Type F outlets are similar to Type E outlets. However, the socket lacks the round, protruding earthing prong. Type F sockets run on 220-240V and are rated up to 16 amps. These outlets generally work with devices with types C, E and F plug-ins.

Outlet Type G

Largely used in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, Type G is a three-pronged outlet with all rectangular slots in a triangular pattern. Type G outlets run on 220-240V and are usable by devices up to 13 amps. Type G outlets only work with Type G plug-ins.

Outlet Type I

Type I outlets are found in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and China. Type I plugs features two narrow, flat prongs in the shape of a V. Some Type I outlets and devices also have a third grounding prong. In Australia, Type I sockets are rated 10 amps, but some others are rated up to 15 amps. A 15-amp device has a wider grounding prong. A device with a 10-amp plug-in will work in a 15-amp outlet but not vice versa. Australian and Chinese outlets and devices are generally compatible with each other. All Type I outlets run on 220-240V.

Outlet Type J

Used mainly in Switzerland and Lichtenstein, Type J plug-ins feature two round prongs and a third grounding prong in the shape of a wide triangle. Type J sockets are rated up to 10 amps and are also perfectly compatible with Type C plug-ins.

Outlet Compatibilities

Some uncommon outlet types are compatible with common plug-ins. However, it is important to note which devices will work and which devices will not, since so many plug-ins look similar. Outlets Type D (India), Type H (Israel), Type K (Denmark and Greenland) and Type O (Thailand) are all compatible with Type C devices. However, they are incompatible with devices with types E and F plug-ins. Type L sockets (Chile and Italy) are rated to either 10 or 16 amps. Type C plug-ins will work in 10-amp Type L outlets, but they will not work with 16-amp Type L sockets. Type N outlets (Brazil) are also compatible with Type C plug-ins. Type M outlets (South Africa) are only compatible with Type M plug-ins. Type M adapters are some of the most difficult to find and are generally not featured on universal adapters.

When traveling abroad, electronic devices are a necessity to document the incredible sights and to stay in contact with friends and family members back home. Phones, laptop computers and hair tools do not come cheap, and a simple error can render your equipment useless. It’s incredibly important to make sure your device is compatible with various outlets around the globe. However, this guide to travel adapters should have you on your way to a successful vacation, with camera and hair straightener in tow.

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