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Taking a European Trip? Tips for Choosing the Right Voltage Converters

If you're on your way to Europe from the United States, you're probably planning to bring your own electronics or personal electrical appliances such as your favorite shaver or coffee maker. If so, you'll probably need to pack one or more voltage converters to make sure you can use them in your destination country. Voltage converters and voltage transformers allow you to operate your U.S. consumer electronics on European electrical currents.

Why Voltage converters Are Necessary

While electricity is the same the world over, the method of delivering it so that your appliances and electronics can use it varies from one country to the next. In the United States, electrical current is delivered to your household outlets at the rate of 110 to 120 volts. While there are 220v outlets, they're generally heavy-duty outlets meant to power major appliances. Since that's the voltage used in the U.S., electrical items used in the U.S. are made to operate on an electrical current delivered at that voltage.

In Europe, the standard electrical output of a household outlet is 220 volts, double the U.S. standard. European consumer electronics and electrical appliances are designed to operate at that higher current. If you attempt to plug a European appliance into an outlet in the U.S. without a voltage converter, it won't operate properly - or at all. If, on the other hand, you plug your U.S. hair dryer or curling iron into a European outlet, the consequences are likely to be far more dire. At the least, you'll short out your hair dryer, possibly frying it irretrievably. At worst, you might end up causing a fire or injuring yourself.

Types of Voltage Converters

There are three basic types of voltage converters. There are those that convert 220v current to usable 110v current, usually called step down converters; those that cycle 110v current up to 220v current, called step up converters; and those that can do both, often called step up and step down voltage converter transformers. If you're traveling from the U.S. to Europe, you'll need either a step up converter or a step up and step down converter.

The term voltage converters is often used interchangeably with voltage transformers. There is a technical difference, and you should be careful which you are buying. Voltage converters are appropriate for your personal electrical appliances such as hair dryers, curling irons, hot pots and coffee makers, for example. If you're planning to plug in consumer electronics, such as a television, DVD player or television, you'll need a voltage transformer.

Other Factors to Consider

In addition to supplying the right voltage current for your 110 to 220 volt consumer electronics, voltage converters also have to supply enough wattage to power your electrical items. To figure out how much wattage your voltage converter needs to supply, you'll have to figure out how many watts your electrical appliances need in order to operate. You'll usually find that information on a label attached to your electrical item.

Look for a number followed by a W to determine the wattage your appliance needs. In some cases, you'll find instead a listing for the amperage, denoted by a number followed by an A. To determine the wattage when you know the amperage, multiply the amps by the voltage to come up with the wattage rating.

Choose voltage converters or voltage transformers that supply at least 50 percent more wattage than your appliances require. If the item is a microwave, laser printer or power tool, you'll need a voltage transformer or converter that supplies at least 3 times the wattage listed on your electrical item because they draw a big burst of power when they first start up.

Choosing the right voltage converters and voltage transformers can ensure that you get to enjoy your own electrical appliances while you travel in Europe. Take the time to make the needed calculations to be sure you get the right transformers/converters for your needs.

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