DEALING WITH ELECTRICITY IN EUROPE

Nothing seems to be more confusing or frustrating than trying to figure out what is needed to deal with electricity in Europe. I think we all make it more difficult than it needs to be. I don’t claim to understand it fully, but will try to explain a little about it in the simplest terms possible.

First, in the U.S. we are supplied electricity by our local power company at 110 or 120 volts and 60 Hz (or Hertz). European electricity is generally supplied at 220 volts with a frequency of 50 Hz. Some localities have 110 volts, but don’t let that fool you. They still use a 50 Hz frequency, which could cause you problems. So, to use our electrical appliances in Europe, some hardware is needed in order to plug in without electrocuting your machine, and maybe yourself.

Hair dryers and irons (the most common culprits), run at high wattage, so a converter may be needed. I say ‘may be needed’ because some of the appliances have a dual voltage switch. Check yours to see if it has such a switch. If not, a converter will reduce the 220 volts to 110. Other common appliances include razors and battery chargers. Many of them will work without a converter, but you should check that it is marked 50/60 Hz, and not 60 Hz, or you can run the risk of burning it up even when using a converter.

Chargers for many modern tech devices accommodate both U.S. and foreign currencies. Check the small print on the back of your charger. Most now say, "Input: 100-240V 50/60Hz". If it doesn't, check the paperwork for your cell phone, SmartPhone, iPod, iPad, Wolverine, Palm Pilot or other personal equipment to see if this is the case. If not, you will need a converter.

You will also need plug adapters (even for the above-mentioned tech devices) because European plugs are different than ours. And they vary from country to country. For instance, the British and Irish use a three pronged plug, and most of the continent's outlets only accept a plug with 2 round prongs – but that varies, too. And it even varies within the same country depending upon the age of the building. I know it sounds crude, but a general rule of thumb in old buildings is that if your appliance starts smelling hot or smoke starts coming out, turn it off immediately.

Still confused? Me too. But you can solve the problem two ways. 1. Get a ‘kit’ that contains a converter and several plug adapters. The converter has a little switch on it that indicates high or low voltage (lo for 0-25 watt appliances; hi for 26-1875 watt appliances), and each plug is labeled with the countries in which it can be used. You can find these at K-Mart, most luggage stores, or on-line at travelsmith.com or magellans.com. 2. If you travel a lot, you might consider a universal adapter which contains all the various plugs in one unit. The one I have is a Starblitz that I purchased in Spain. Another brand that might be easier to find in the States is put out by Kensington. You will probably have to search for it on-line, using “Kensington international travel plug adapter” for your search words.

A good site to learn more about this, and many other useful topics, is www.enjoy-europe.com. From the home page, click on Chapter 11, Electricity.