Adapting to Foreign Power

Even the most seasoned traveler is often confused when sorting out global power and adaptor needs and all too often relies on the advice of the sales clerk at a pricey travel gadget store.

I think it's an electric shock hazard sign in Vietnamese

We are all tethered to our electronic devices whether home or abroad and regardless of where we are, those devices run out of power and need to be recharged. That’s where the confusion sets in. A global power standard does not exist, it varies by region and by country. Hong Kong for instance utilizes one type of plug configuration, but if you cross over to mainland China you will find a different plug style. Japan has an east and a west power standard. There are over 13 different plug and socket styles utilized throughout the world. As if that is not complicated enough, the types of power also very in volts from 100 to 240, amps from 2.5 to 32, and hertz between 50 to 60. When the world started powering up households and business the planet was much “larger” than it is today. Each country created their own standard with no thought of the modern traveler needing to charge their digital camera batteries, iPads, laptops, cell phones, etc. British colonialism did the modern traveler a favor by spreading the British standard. Most of their colonies including Hong Kong, Singapore, the Bahamas, India, Kenya to name a few, adopted the British standard or we could be dealing with a significantly larger amount of plug and socket sets.

The Singapore electric chair

As the world gets smaller and electronic devices more prolific, manufacturers have created more universal power adaptors for their devices. Most modern electronic devices utilize much smaller amounts of power than the outlet in the wall provides. For instance the laptop I am typing this on operates on 18.5 volts while my iPad/ iPod charger operates on 5 volts. This is accomplished by the large square ‘thingy” somewhere in line with the cord (please pardon the technical jargon) also known as a power supply. Inscribed or printed on the power supply is the acceptable range of input power i.e  what power comes out of the wall.


Electricity is nothing to monkey with




Currently (pun intended), my Macbook pro power supply states input voltage from 100-240v 1.5A 50-60 Hz this means that it can take power between 100 to 240 volts, utilizes 1.5 amps and will operate with either 50 or 60 hertz so it will work just about anywhere. Now before I get all Apple is cooler than… pretty much any laptop power supply is the same. All of your portable electronic devices have this label and it will let you know if your device can be utilized out of the country you bought it in. All you need to do is get the plug in the outlet which could be literally a square peg in a round hole. This is where plug adaptors come into play. They come in two basic types, ones that are fixed pin designed to work on a particular outlet.  These are typically cheaper and lighter in weight but only work on that type of outlet and the other is more like a robot from Transformers and will adapt to work on a variety of outlets.  This type is pricier and heavier, but if your travels will take you through several countries it is a better option.


So that covers your portable electronics. Devices with motors, fans, or heaters are an entirely different ball of potentially melting plastic. Because of the variances in voltages, amps, and hertz, plugging these appliances into a foreign outlet could be a recipe for disaster from destroying your device to starting an electrical fire or plunging your entire apartment in Singapore into darkness. (Ask my wife about me plugging a US power strip with an internal surge protector into a Singaporean outlet).  Heat from hair dryers, curling irons, and electrical heating devices comes from a controlled short of power this is also how light in produced in incandescent lightbulbs. If you increase the voltage it is no longer a controlled short but a true hazard. Some devices rely on hertz or the speed of the electrical wave to operate, by plugging into a different hertz, damage may result or in the case of electrical clocks they can be slowed or sped up. Once again check the label to see if it says 50 to 60 hertz. Transformers (not the movie characters) can convert power but they are often expensive and heavy. Dual voltage devices are frequently quite a bit more expensive and do not always work as well as their single voltage counterparts.

What not to do with your electronics

We typically recommend leaving blow dryers, curling irons and such at home and if you can’t live without one, purchase one in the country you are visiting or borrow from your hotel. This is even more critical with the airline’s weight and bag restrictions. As always if you have questions contact your particular device’s manufacturer. This was in no way meant to make you a qualified electrician, electricity is a great thing to be cautious around, it hurts and kills and does a great job of melting expensive items. I have used some simplified broad explanations. For more information about plug types click here.


Safe travels,




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