Everything You Need to Know About International Power Adapters

Edmund_McGowan
edited September 2023 in Lifestyle

Travel adapters are a must have travel accessory if you are going abroad. Although much of our power charging needs, especially for popular consumer electronics, are now covered by USB connectors, for things like hair dryers and travel irons, a plug adapter is necessary. There’s more to international power adapters than meets the eye!

If you’re curious about choosing the right international power adapter, read on. In this article we will help you to make an informed decision when purchasing an adapter. We will cover the basics of electricity, from voltage to hertz, and of course current, and how these are different in foreign countries. We will also discuss different types of power plugs, and where they are used, as well as the difference between a power converter and an adapter, and much more! 

The shocking truth about voltage explained

Don’t worry, this isn’t a science class, but we need to briefly explain electricity and some related technical terms, before we go on to choose a travel adapter. Firstly, voltage. Voltage, (V) as you will see it written on devices, is the measurement of electrical pressure, or force (also referred to as potential difference) that pushes electric charges through a circuit. The higher the voltage, the more electricity that flows through an electronic device.  

There are two principal voltage ranges worldwide. First of these types of voltage is 110V-120V. This lower voltage is used in electrical networks in the US, Canada, Central America, and parts of South America, as well as Japan and Taiwan. Moving on, 220V-240V is the standard voltage for much of Europe, Asia and Africa. The different voltage ranges used today are the result of several factors, including a spat between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison over alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). 

Hertz (alternating current)

Easily transmitted over long distances, alternating current (AC) is the standard form of electricity used the world over today. In the electrical context, the term Hertz (Hz) refers to the frequency of AC power, correlating to the number of times AC voltage alternates, or changes direction each second. Globally, 50Hz and 60Hz are used, with most countries choosing 50Hz. The USA and a handful of other nations use 60Hz, thanks to our friend Tesla and his electric power station at Niagara Falls.

Hertz and voltage compatibility is needed for optimal operation of electronic devices, running equipment designed for a 50Hz supply on a 60Hz supply and vice versa can cause overheating, and negatively impact performance. Certain appliances are dual-frequency, while others may require an adapter to work efficiently and safely on a different frequency.

A current affair

Current measured in amperes (A) is the flow of electric charge through one section of the electrical circuit in your device to another. This flow needs to be sufficient to power your device, but not excessive, or problems will occur.

To illustrate the difference between current and voltage, let's imagine a common garden hose. The hose can be thought of as an electrical wire, inside the wire, or hose, the pressure of the water is voltage, and the flow of the water is current. Sticking with this useful analogy, correct current is crucial in safe and efficient operation of electronic devices. 

Plugs around the world 

There are 15 domestic plug shapes and socket types worldwide. The plethora of plug shapes and sizes are required to fit different electrical outlets and standards in various countries. This makes choosing the correct power adapter something of a location specific exercise, but more about that later.

Plugs of the world have been assigned a letter by the US Department of International Trade Administration (ITA). So, who uses what plugs? Here, we cover the three most common plug types, A,B, and C:

  • Type A plugs have two flat pins and are used in North and Central America, as well as parts of Asia.
  • Type B plugs are used in the same areas as Type A plugs, and include a grounding pin, for use in three printed outlets.
  • Type C plugs, commonly known as Europlugs, have two round pins and are predominantly used in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

Power adapters vs converters  

Before purchasing an adapter or converter, check the devices that you plan to travel with to find their UL listing. The UL listing can be found on the back of, or underneath most devices, or on the power adapter. The UL listing contains the frequency, current and voltage required to run your device.

If you’re traveling to a destination with the same voltage and frequency, a power adapter will suffice. Power adapters, or travel adapters as they are commonly known, simply allow you to connect your device to a different socket type. Adapters do not change the voltage or frequency of the supply. For this, you will need a converter. A voltage, or power converter changes the voltage level to meet the requirements of your device. For example, a converter is able to convert 220-240V to 110-120V.

Today's devices and dual voltage

The majority of laptops have converters integrated into the power cord/charger. The rectangular box that connects the cords should have information such as 110-240V. Check with your laptop manufacturer if in doubt, but if you are traveling with a laptop computer, you will most likely not need a converter.

If you are traveling with phones, tablets and other devices that charge using USB connections, then an adapter is all that you will require. USB outlet adapters are an increasingly popular charging choice of late, and the charger will convert the voltage to the USB charging standard that your devices require. Some devices are dual voltage, they can be manually switched between 110V and 220V, for example, while others are compatible with a whole range of different standards. Again, devices vary, so check with the original manufacturer to be sure.

Safety and Compliance  

When it comes to electricity, it's better to be safe than sorry. Ensure that you purchase travel chargers and converters from reputable manufacturers that meet the electrical safety standards of your home country. Products certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) guarantee compliance with performance and safety standards. Travel adapters should also meet electromagnetic (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) standards. Finally, read the instructions, and ensure that adapters can handle the voltage range of your destination, to avoid frying your devices.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article, and that you are now able to purchase the correct adapter (or converter) for your travels. If you are in doubt of what adapter or converter to buy for a specific product, please contact the manufacturer for advice. Finally, if you are in need of adapters for your Acer products, please check out our online selection of adapters and power kits, here.

Edmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.

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