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A Buyer's Guide to Different Voltage Converters for Different Appliances

Travel can be a breeze, but not if you can't use your everyday conveniences. If you're traveling overseas and bringing electronic equipment or appliances along, you'll need to be aware of the differences in voltages and the way that electricity is delivered in different countries. There are two basic standards for delivering electricity in various countries. Here in the U.S., standard household current is delivered from the wall outlet at 110 to 120 volts. While the U.S. does have 220-volt outlets, they're specially designed for appliances that need higher voltage, such as clothes dryers and electric ranges. Many other countries, including most European countries, deliver standard household current at 220 volts. In order to use appliances and electronics manufactured to work in the U.S., you'll need a voltage converter or voltage transformer.

How Voltage Converters Work

Voltage converters, sometimes called voltage transformers, do exactly what the name says. The accept voltage from the outlet at one voltage and deliver it to your appliance or electronic device at a different voltage. Step up voltage converters increase the voltage from 110V to 220V so that there is enough power to run the device. Step down voltage converters take in 220V current and feed out 110V current so that the electricity doesn't fry electrical appliances and electronic devices designed to operate at 110V. Some higher-end voltage converters, called step up and down voltage transformer converters, can transform electrical current in either direction. Some of them need to be adjusted to the correct settings, while others automatically detect the voltage of the current and adjust it as needed for your device.

How Do You Know You Need a Voltage Converter?

If you live in the U.S. and use electronics such as cell phone and laptop chargers, iPod chargers, VCRs or DVD players that are meant to be used in the United States and you're planning to travel in Europe, Australia or Asia, you'll probably need a voltage converter. The standards vary from one country to the next, but most of the countries in Europe operate on 220 to 240V current. Australia operates at 240V, and China at 230V, while Japan operates at 100V. You'll find a full listing of electricity standards around the world online, or you can check with your travel agent to find out what you'll need to bring along to run your electronics safely while you're traveling.

Beyond Voltage Converters

In addition to voltage transformers, you will probably also need adapters in order to plug your electrical devices into the wall. There's a far larger range of electrical outlet configurations than there are voltage differences. One country may use a round plug with two pins, while another used rectangular plugs with three pins. The pins may be set at different angles or different widths from each other. While you can purchase individual adapters for each country's plug configuration for just a few dollars each, you'll probably get a much better deal if you buy an entire kit of adapters. Adapter kits generally include adapters for all of the common plug configurations.

Some modern electronics devices like cell phones, iPods and laptop chargers have built-in transformers, but many don't. Check the electrical tag on your device to see what kind of voltage it requires. If the tag reads 110 to 220V, you won't need a separate voltage converter. If the voltage requirements are only 110 to 120V or any voltage below the standards of the country you're visiting, you'd be better off bringing a voltage transformer along than find you can't operate it while you travel.

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