Everything You Need to Know About Voltages, Plugs, and Adapters Worldwide

Are you someone who travels a lot? You may be in the habit of just putting in a plug adaptor on your charger and plugging in wherever you go, but this has made many of us forget that there are actually a few different things that you absolutely need to keep in mind when plugging any device into a wall socket. Whether you’re a frequent flier, or someone getting ready for their first trip out of the country, there are some useful tips that you need to keep in mind — ideally before you start your travel. This is also important if you’ve imported any electronics — a lot of audio products in particular that are imported from the US, for example, will short out if you just plug them in without a proper converter.

The two main things that you need to be aware of are plug shape (obvious), and voltages and frequencies (less obvious). You see, many of us have gotten into the habit of plugging in our devices anywhere in the world because they support multiple voltages, and so it’s safe, but for the love of God, check before you plug in your expensive international purchase, or you might end up frying it by mistake, like this man did.

Plug shapes — the layout of prongs on your plug — vary around the world, and so in the USA, for example, they use Type A, which has two vertical prongs, or Type B, which is the same with a single rounded prong. You’ll find these in Japan as well, while most of Europe uses two round prongs, with subtle differences, which fall into types C, E, and F. Good news for Indians, since nearly all two-pronged plugs you get here are Type C, they will fit into any of these sockets as well (though it’s not a perfect fit).

An American Type-B socket


The UK, and some countries like Singapore use Type G, which has two flat prongs laid horizontally, and one vertical prong, all of which have a squared shape. However, in some parts of Singapore you’ll also find Type C, which is convenient for Indians traveling. Australia meanwhile uses a Type I socket, which is similar to the US plug, but the prongs aren’t vertical but rather angled obliquely, and there is an additional vertical prongs. If you go to China meanwhile, you can’t be sure about what sockets you’ll find, as it has a mix of Types A, C, and I.

In India, we use Type-C as mentioned above, for two-pin plugs, while larger devices come with a three-pin Type-D which is mostly only used on the subcontinent, or the 15A Type-M, again generally found only in the neighbourhood, and some African countries, including South Africa.

Different plug sockets around the world
Photo Credit: International Electrotechnical Commission


Looking at this, you already know that you will need to buy an adaptor if you’re importing something, or traveling to a country that uses a different socket. As an Indian, it’s easiest to travel to countries in the sub-continent, or to go to South Africa. Next comes the EU — you’ll need an adaptor for the three pin plugs, but most of your two pin devices will fit. The spacing of an EU plug is ever so slightly different from what we get in India, which means that the grip in the socket might be a little loose but that’s okay.

How about bending the plug? Well, the short answer is that you probably shouldn’t. That’s because the prongs aren’t exactly made to withstand huge amounts of pressure, and if you bend too hard, they may snap. The is more likely with the thicker round ones than with the slim American style prongs, but in both cases, it’s easier to get an adaptor, than to replace an entire plug or charger in case you accidentally snapped it. Still, if you can do it carefully, then you could conceivably turn an American plug into an Australian one, for example.

But wait, there’s more! Just because your device’s plug fits into the socket doesn’t mean that you can power it up just anywhere. Aside from different shapes of sockets, different countries around the world also have different standards for electricity delivery. Going back to the YouTube video that inspired this piece, the different electricity standards in the US and Australia are why just bending the cord wasn’t good enough.

In India, the standard is 220V, which is the same as in China, while it’s 120V in the US. Most of the EU is on 220v-230V, as is the UK, Australia, and Singapore. Japan however uses 100V outlets.

This means that if you’re from India, and you take your gadgets to China or the EU, and get a plug adaptor, you’ll be able to use them right away. If you take your device to the US, you’re going to give it too little voltage, and you’ll need a voltage adaptor apart from the plug adaptor. The good thing is that most chargers can accommodate a range of voltages, so you will only need to worry about fitting into the socket but remember to always check this before plugging in. If you’re delivering too little voltage (taking an Indian device to the US), it could simply not function properly. On the other hand, bring an American device to India without an appropriate adaptor for the voltage, could cause it to fry completely.

The input and output ranges will usually be written on your chargers


So how can you tell whether or not the gadget you’re holding is safe to plug in? First, check the local electricity standards using a resource like this one. You can see plug types, and voltage by country. Next, check the plug, or near the spot the power cord leaves the body of your device and see if anything is written about the power range. If it’s not, check the documentation.

You’re looking for the Input listed on the charger — most phone and laptop chargers should say something like Input: 100-240V~ 1A 50-60Hz.

Here, the first figure is the voltage, which as we explained above, is really, really important. A charger that says 100-240V can be safely used anywhere, and you should check this figure whenever you plug in any device in a new country. The second number is the amperage which shows you how much current is being drawn. In India, we have 5A and 15A sockets, but most of the rest of the world will use a single socket, of between 10A and 16A. Unless you’re plugging in something with a heavy draw like a radiator or an air conditioner, you probably don’t have to worry about this figure. The last number is the frequency, but since it’s related to voltage, it’s really unlikely that you’ll be somewhere that has voltage you can use, but not at a suitable frequency.

There are — as we mentioned — two types of adaptors; one simply compensates for the shape of the socket, while the other will also adjust the voltage. By checking your devices, you can figure out whether or not you need the latter at all (there’s a price difference and if all your gadgets can be safely plugged in, why waste money on a voltage converter?) and then safely plug in wherever you go, or plug in your imported electronics safely.

Typical travel adaptors start from around Rs. 180 online, but remember, these do not convert the electrical output. For that, you need a voltage convertor, such as this one you can get in India for Rs. 400, or this cool powerstrip that’s also a step down transformer, available on Amazon.com for $39.99 (roughly Rs. 2,571).

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