Will your power adapter work overseas?

If you’re planning a trip out of the country, you know that you’d better pack light. Most international flights charge you extra if you bring more than 50 pounds of luggage. That may seem like a lot but if you’re bringing everything you need for a week or more, that 50-pound limit doesn’t go as far as you’d think it does.

This is especially true if you’re traveling outside North America. If you’re staying in Canada or Mexico, all your chargers and gear will work just fine. If you’re going to Europe, Asia, Australia, or Africa, you have quite a different problem.

See, outlets in other countries don’t even look like ours. Travel to Europe and you’ll see sockets that look like this:

Yes, things get confusing as you get further from home. You’ll see other plug types throughout the world too.

As you travel, you’ll need some sort of travel adapter to let all your stuff work with the plugs you’ll find over there. It’s mandatory, since our plugs won’t even fit in their sockets.

There are two possibilities. You could need a travel converter, or just a travel adapter.

A travel converter

A travel converter will actually convert the 220 volt current used in most of the world into 110 volt current expected by our appliances. These can be pretty expensive and also very heavy depending on how many watts they can accommodate. That extra size and weight is your absolute enemy if you’re trying to get across the world.

A travel adapter

A travel adapter is a much simpler affair. It just changes the shape of the plug so it fits in the outlet. A kit like this one from Ultralast will make it easy to fit your gear into some other country’s sockets. There’s only one problem…

You have to choose carefully.

Many power supplies for home electronics and appliances can use different voltages. They will automatically adapt between 100 volt, 240 volt, and every system in between. If the power supply for your device can do this, you just need an adapter to make sure the plug fits. If it doesn’t, you risk destroying your device or at least its power adapter by plugging it in using just an adapter.

You can tell because every device must have its power rating somewhere on it. You’ll see a listing that says what its voltage input level is. If it’s listed as only one voltage, somewhere between 100 and 120 volts (100V, 110V, 120V for example) then you will absolutely damage it by using it in another country without an adapter. Take a look at this iPad power adapter:

The writing’s pretty small but you can see the input is listed as “100-240V.” This little wall wart will work fine anywhere from Australia to Zanzibar as long as you have the right adapter. That’s good news because you can use it to charge your phone or tablet anywhere on the planet with just a tiny bit of plastic added to the end.

When in doubt…

Don’t risk your sensitive electronics if you’re not 100% sure. If you can’t find a power rating on your hairdryer, phone, or razor, then use a travel adapter instead. Look for one that says “converts 220V to 110V’ or something like that. If you don’t see the word “convert” then don’t choose it. Choose something that will keep your sensitive electronics safe. The last thing you want to do is fry something while you’re on vacation.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.