Power Adapters and Converters: What You Need to Know Before Your Next International Trip

Headed overseas? Discover the difference between power adapters and converters and choose the right one for you.

Travel has a way of making you rethink every little thing, even electricity (i.e. power adapters and converters). What hardly ever requires a second thought while at home in the United States, becomes a deep rabbit hole of voltage, plug types, and burned up hair dryers when it comes to traveling internationally. 

It all sounds confusing, but it doesn’t have to be! We break it down for you here.

 

The Basics — Different Volts for Different Folks

There are three basic things you need to know before plugging in to foreign outlets. 

First, Voltage is Different Everywhere

Outlets in different countries deliver different amounts of electricity — measured in volts. Your average U.S. outlet delivers 110 volts of electricity. In Europe it’s most often 220 volts. In Israel, it’s 230. Which means you are going to need to convert the 220 volts down to 110 volts, hence the need for a converter. 

Second, Plugs are Different Everywhere 

The world never got together to agree on outlet design, so you’re going to encounter differently-shaped outlets where you travel. They are easily identified by different letters. Type A (two-prong) and B (three-prong) are what we’ve got here in the U.S. Most of Europe operates on type C plugs (two round prongs). If you’re headed to the Holy Land you’ll see type H plugs. For the full list, head here. So, you also need an adapter to go from the country’s native plug to the type A plug you’re used to. 

Third, Your Electrical Products Have Different Needs

Some products are built for different voltages. Devices like your phone or computer are likely “dual-voltage,” which means they run on both 110 and 220 volts. This comes in handy when traveling and ensures they don’t blow when receiving double the voltage of U.S. outlets. But there’s one other thing to consider besides voltage, which is wattage. If volts are how much power is flowing through the outlet, then wattage is how fast. Products can need as little as 50 watts (such as an electric razor), to as much as 2,000 watts (such as a hair dryer).  This means your converter will need to work with a broad range of wattage requirements. 

So you need options. 

 

Power Adapters, Converters, and Combos

Part of the reason it’s hard to decide what to buy is that there are seemingly limitless options of what’s available for purchase online or in stores. 

Start by asking yourself these basic questions:

  1. What products am I bringing and what voltage/wattage do they accept? 
  2. What’s the voltage where I’m traveling?
  3. What plug types exist where I’m traveling?
  4. Is international travel a one-time event or am I going to travel abroad again? 

Once you answer these questions, you can decide whether you need a very specific converter and/or adapter, or something to handle whatever situation you’re in. 

Voltage Converter

These take a range of voltages (such as 100-240) and turn them all into your desired 110V. Since they’re doing more work than adapters, they tend to be bulkier and heavier. Of course, you’ll also want to check the wattage they support to make sure they can handle all of your electronics. You may want surge protection with these as well. 

Plug Adapter

Plug adapters don’t convert, they simply make sure that your plug fits. Some products only need adapters (such as some phone/tablet/laptop chargers which both convert power and have surge protection) but many of your products will need power conversion as well. To make sure you’re getting the right adapter, check the type of plug you need to adapt to, as well as whether you need a two- or three-prong plug to match your device.

Combos

When it comes to combos it’s helpful to start with converters. Voltage converters are most often plug adapters, but plug adapters are not necessarily voltage converters. Options abound with converter/adapter combos so double check that what you’re buying has everything you need. 

We recommend getting a universal power adapter and converter (like this one) that will suit your needs no matter where you are and just about whatever you’re powering. Many often also come with other perks such as surge protection and USB ports. A word to the wise, read the fine print and carefully read what’s included. Some may say “universal,” but not have the exact adapter you need or deliver the right wattages.

 

Buy Before You Leave

Like most everything you pack, you’ll want to purchase your power adapters and converters before you travel. Foreign stores are more likely to sell ones that convert and adapt electricity to their devices, rather than your American ones. Online retailers like Amazon have a ton of options, but you can also check out different options in stores like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. 

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