If you are an international worker, expat, or frequent traveler like me, you will no doubt at some point be bringing your electronic devices with you. I thought I would write a quick write up on things you should be aware of when bringing devices from one country to another. It seems this is one of those things that is misunderstood by a majority of people. It’s actually quite simple to understand and you can easily get your devices to work in pretty much any country you are visiting with little to no cost.
The common misunderstanding is that you need a step-up or step-down transformer to use your devices. I can’t believe how many people spend upwards of 50-100 dollars to buy a transformer to use with their electronic devices which is absolutely unnecessary.
In most cases, all that is needed is a simple plug adapter. Basically a piece of plastic with some metal that allows you to change the shape of your plug to fit the local electrical outlets. Here are some examples: https://www.google.com/search?q=plug+adapter&rlz=1C1SKPL_enJP401JP441&aq=f&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=ZfOEUcSVAYT60gXHhIEI&biw=1366&bih=643&sei=Z_OEUZPJEYLX0QXc3oGADA
Some countries actually share the same plug style. For example, any 2 prong plug from a US device will work without the need of a plug adapter in Japan. The only time you run into a problem is with 3 prong US plugs. in that case, you just need a simple 3 prong to 2 prong adapter, which is really cheap (less than 1USD). The 3rd prong is simply a ground anyways, so if you wanted to get by without spending a penny, you could just cut or break it off so that you can plug the device in. You just won’t have ground, but you won’t with an adapter anyway.
Most hotels also come with multi-plug adapters which pretty much support all of the world’s common plug types. So no need to purchase an adapter. Let’s say you have a US plug and want to use that device in HK, all you would need to do is purchase a US to HK plug adapter (like one of these: https://www.google.com/search?q=plug+adapter&rlz=1C1SKPL_enJP401JP441&aq=f&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=ZfOEUcSVAYT60gXHhIEI&biw=1366&bih=643&sei=Z_OEUZPJEYLX0QXc3oGADA#um=1&safe=off&rlz=1C1SKPL_enJP401JP441&hl=en&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=plug+adapter+US+to+HK&oq=plug+adapter+US+to+HK&gs_l=img.3…289512.291286.0.2917188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.447.4j2.6.0…0.0…1c.1.12.img.TZbd57lnk_4&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45960087,d.d2k&fp=84c25f36ff99131d&biw=1366&bih=643)
This plug adapter is pretty handy to have as it can be used in a lot of countries. For example, this is the same plug type for the United Kingdom!
Wattage, Voltage, and Amperage
Okay, enough about plug adapters, that’s the easy part, what about voltage, wattage, and amperage. So this is the part that everyone gets confused on…so let’s get into the details here. Basically, your plug and power supply do two things, it takes in power (input) and gives power (output) to your devices. Simple concept right? Now…the OUTPUT is what your electronic device needs, this doesn’t change depending on where you are, it’s always the same, but the INPUT does change.
For example, the power coming out of the wall in the US is rated at 110volt and 60HZ, in Japan it’s either 100volt/60hz (West Japan) or 100volt/50hz (East Japan), and in the United Kingdom, it’s 220volts/50hz. Now one should note that these are rough numbers somewhat. For example, the power in the UK really ranges from 220-240volts and the US and Japan quite similar. This is precisely why, for the most part, you can plug in any US device in Japan and it works without any issues. I lived in Japan for 8 years and used my PC, audio electronics, etc, and they are still working just fine (NOW being used in the UK). All without the need of a transformer.
The only problem I did run into was with my professional grade hair shaver. It was from the US and it was only rated for 110volt at 60hz. Now, this is rare, as most devices are typically rated to operate with 110volts and either 50hz or 60hz or running in 50hz mode doesn’t display any noticeable issues. The manufacturer obviously wanted to save a few pennies by not adding support for 50hz as he figured this model is only being sold for use in the United States and there would be no need for the user to use it elsewhere. So basically when I lived in Osaka, Japan which ran on 60hz it worked just fine for the 1-2 years I lived there. Then once I tried to use it in Tokyo I noticed the shaver would hum REALLY loud! It still worked, but it made such a horrible noise I had to just toss it in the end. The reason was the motor inside the shaver wasn’t designed to operate at 50hz. So there you go!
How do I check if my device will work?
Okay, thanks for the educational spiel, so enough with the facts and background, I just want to know if and how I can use my device abroad? Okay, simple! Just have a look at the power information. This information should be written either on the power supply (the big brick looking thing) or if there is no power supply, there should be a sticker or tab wrapped around the power cord which has this information written. Now as I mentioned, in most cases all you will need is a plug adapter. The reason being, most manufacturers of devices create their products for the global market, so the days of making power adapters unique for each country is no longer a thing. These power supplies or devices (where there is no power supply and just a plug) are engineered to handle the full range of power in the world. A good example is Apple’s iPhone/iPad device or Samsung’s Android phone or tablet. Take a look at your power supply now. You will see it has INPUT rated as 100-240V, 0.45A, and 50-60hz. So what does this mean? It means this device will basically work in ANY electrical socket in the world’s most populated cities. I’m fairly certain there are no countries running power outside of this range of power, but can’t be certain, but you should be safe. This power supply is able to adjust and take in any amount of voltage between 100 and 240volts, which means you are good in the US, Japan, the UK, and any country. You may notice that the amperage rating changes from device to device. So there you have it, all you will need is a plug adapter for your device and you are good to go. Go ahead and look around your house, I would guess that a good 80% of your devices have the INPUT rating of 100-240V which means you are good to just take them as is and plug them in.
What if my device’s power supply can only take 110V or 220V?
So you have found a device that has a power supply for only 110V or 220V and you are moving to a country that operates on the other end of the scale. What can you do? Do you need to buy a transformer? no…well maybe. Some manufacturers sell their devices with power supplies for that given market, but they do have both. For example, my Japanese Xbox 360 came with a power supply that only operates via 100-110volts. So when I got to the UK, obviously I couldn’t plug it in unless I wanted to fry the power supply and perhaps damage my XBOX. So the solution was to purchase a new/used UK version of the XBOX 360 power adapter which takes an input of 220volts. 15 GBP later I had my UK Xbox power supply and my Xbox was up and running. I saw a lot of articles out on the web telling Xbox users that they couldn’t use their device from outside the UK. Also being told to spend 100 plus dollars to buy a transformer to step up the power. One guy even sold his US Xbox on eBay to get money to then buy a UK Xbox. All silly and a waste of time and money. After seeing how confused people were, I decided to write this informative guide to help others.
So the manufacturer of my devices doesn’t sell power adapters for that power rating, what do I do know? You may still be able to find a power supply that works with your device through an electronics supplier. This is tricky though as you will need to make sure the OUTPUT, INPUT, and plug connector all work with your device. The input will need to be rated for the country you will use the device in, the output rating will need to match your current power supply’s output wattage, voltage, hertz, and the connector that mates with your electronic device will need to be the same. This may be a bit of a challenge. The amps don’t need to be the same, but they will need to be at least higher than what is needed.
So for example, I had a Cisco Linksys router with a power supply with Input 110volt /50hz with an output of 12volt/0.5amp. Luckily the Cisco Linksys router uses a fairly standard 2.1mm plug which is used by many small computer electronic appliances. In this case, I was able to purchase an aftermarket UK 3 prong plug and power supply that took input of 220v with an output of 12volts and 1amp. It’s okay that the amperage is higher, as the device will only pull what it needs, in this case, that’s 0.5amps.
Okay, I talked to the manufacturer, I looked online for an aftermarket power supply with no luck of either. What should I do? Well, you have now come to the point where you need to buy a transformer if you want to use this thing in the country you are traveling/moving to. The question here is, will it be worth it. Transformers are not cheap and the higher wattage you need the more costly the transformer. For example, we didn’t bother to bring our rice cooker from Japan as it sucks a whopping 1400 watts!! To buy a power transformer that could handle 1400 watts and wouldn’t break down after a few months of using it would be several hundred dollars. For example, a quick search on Amazon showed this (http://www.amazon.com/Goldsource%C2%AE-Voltage-Converter-Transformer-ST1500/dp/B0022TW550/ref=sr_1_7?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1367672109&sr=1-7&keywords=1500+watt+transformer&tag=xunjiacom0e-20) transformer for 70 USD. I have no idea how good this device is and how long it will last. But would you really want this sitting on your kitchen shelf next to your rice cooker? It’s massive! In this case, I would recommend selling your rice cooker on the used market and buying another rice cooker that is sold in the local market using the local power requirements.
Now if your device requires a small number of watts then it may be in your best interest to purchase a transformer. Especially if your device is expensive and can only be purchased in the country you are from. For example, we LOVE our Sharp Plasmacluster air purifier. They are quite uncommon outside of Japan, but they are fantastic and really amazing little devices. They are also quite expensive. But since this little guy only consumes about 14watts. We went ahead and purchase a 20 dollar small transformer. Something like this one: (http://www.amazon.com/Simran-SMF-200-Converter-International-Countries/dp/B000W9DJ1Q/ref=sr_1_3?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1367672269&sr=1-3&keywords=50+watt+transformer&tag=xunjiacom0e-20)
So it all depends on the device. I recommend to try to avoid using power transformers when possible, but sometimes you just want to have that device and a transformer is your only option. Well, what started as a quick write up quickly turned into a long detailed article. Well, I hope you enjoyed! One other thing I want to quickly mention regarding the Xbox and TV for the gamers out there. The Xbox 360 is tied to the region you bought it, so games from the UK won’t work on the US or Japanese XBOX. Your US and J games will still work but you cannot buy region locked UK games for it. The games list the NTSC and PAL logos on them, but this doesn’t affect your UK TV. Most modern TVs now made can operate in both NTSC and PAL mode, it just switches based on the source media. So don’t stress about that either. Hope you enjoyed reading through this very long post!