Ask Gadling: International power and how to use appliances and gadgets abroad

Just fifteen years ago, the worries of international power outlets would really only concern you if you needed to charge your shaver, or plug in a curling iron. Nowadays, power is what keeps our phones, laptops, MP3 players and portable gaming consoles working. When you travel within North America, things are simple – all the outlets are the same, and no matter where you are, you’ll get the same 120V AC from every outlet you run into.

Taking a foreign trip is trickier – not only will you encounter different power systems, you’ll find a variety of different outlets and plugs. Someone clearly put some effort into making this as complicated as they could. Even within bastions of conformity, like Europe, there are a variety of different power systems in use.

So – how do you power your gadgets, and make sure you won’t blow anything up, or plunge an entire floor of your hotel into the dark ages? We have the tips you need to stay powered, and more importantly – stay safe.
Step 1. Determine the power system and plugs in your destination

When it comes to global power, there is no better resource than Kropla’s global electric and phone directory. Every nation in the world is listed, along with its power system and outlets. For each country, you get a convenient link to a photo of the kind of plug you’ll need. Find your destination, and make a note of what to expect from its power grid.

Step 2. Determine the power requirements of your products

This one is trickier, because you’ll need to check out the label on each and every product you plan to take abroad with you. Thankfully, by law, all gadgets and appliances need a safety label. When you check the label, you are going to see one of two things – it’ll either be designed to only work on 120V (the power system in North America) or it’ll be designed to work on various international power standards.

Lets take a look at what you’ll see on these labels:

These photos are from 2 very simple chargers you’ll find in any gadget arsenal. The top one is rated for 110V-240V, the bottom one is for 120V only.

Put simply – if you plug the top one into a European outlet, it’ll work perfectly. Plug the bottom one into the same outlet and it will blow up. And I’m not kidding here – the protection systems in many cheap power bricks are not sufficient to tackle being fed twice the voltage it is designed for. In the worst case, you won’t only blow up the charger, you’ll also blow up what it is plugged into.

Bottom line – check every single adapter before you leave, and compare with the power system at your destination. You’ll find that most of your more modern gadgets will come with a universal power supply capable of being used on 110V-240V, but in every collection, you will find a few cheap adapters that will not.

Step 3. The right physical plug

(Image from

Now you know the power requirements, the next step is to determine the physical plug you’ll need in order to use your device. This is the “fun” part – there are about 15 different plugs in use around the world. Thankfully, some continents (like Western Europe) stick to the same plug, but other places (like Bangladesh) have as many as five different systems in use.

Once again, go back to and determine the plug in use at your destination(s).

The easiest way to find a suitable plug is to invest in a universal worldwide plug adapter. I travel with a Kensington plug adapter, which features sliding prongs for North America, Asia, Western Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia.

With this single adapter, I can use my gadgets almost anywhere I go. Obviously, if my travels take me beyond the supported countries, I’ll need to invest in a different version. The best part of this specific adapter is that it is fused – which means I’ll blow the fuse in the adapter before I blow up anything else.

If you need to power more than one device abroad, consider investing in the Monster Power Outlet To Go Laptop. This three-in-one power brick turns one outlet into three, and adds two powered USB ports. The outlet is rated for 100V-240V, which means you’ll only need one plug adapter to power up to three of your devices. As always – make sure the device you plug in is indeed rated for the voltage you are using it on.

Step 5. What to do with non-international power adapters?

When checking the power ratings of your power adapter, you’ll run into some that will not work abroad (see the example above). The easy solution to this is to find an alternative charger – in some cases, the plug and output power may be the same as one of your other power adapters that is rated for worldwide usage. Sadly, this won’t always be possible – which is why someone invented the step-down transformer. Step down transformers turn higher power systems into the 120V you need for your gadget or appliance.

These step down transformers are usually only designed for low power gadgets up to 150 watts. You can forget finding a travel friendly step down transformer capable of powering a hair dryer or water heater.

A good power kit comes from Travelon. Their 3-in-1 adapter features a variety of power plugs, a step-down adapter and a USB port. You’ll find this adapter at Magellan’s.

Step 6. Enjoy your trip!

With these basic tips, you’ll know all you need to know about international power. The basics are pretty simple, and with a minimal investment, you’ll be able to power all your gadgetry abroad.

As with anything electric – please do try to be safe. Power in countries like Europe is twice as potent as what the U.S. uses, and messing with poor quality chargers or adapters could result in serious injury or death.