The Wheaton Blog

International Moves: Dealing with Differences in Electricity

September 9, 2015 | International Moves, Moving Guides & Tips

You’ve likely heard mention of how electrical power differs from country to country. Why do such differences exist in the first place, and how can you adjust when you have to use them? This post focuses on preparing yourself and your appliances for international moves and for differences in the voltage and outlet shapes in your new home.

The History on Why Electricity Differs

Electricity didn’t used to involve outlets. Early electricians wired devices and appliances directly into the building’s electrical system. Then, as electricity evolved, people created connectors to simplify the link to power.

In the early 1900’s, a man named Harvey Hubbell created the separable attachment plug. This invention had a two-prong plug and socket for simpler electrical connection. Years later, countless plug types and counterpart sockets came, and there was little hope for standardization.

At the time of the first socket, few people traveled overseas, let alone with the living room lamp. So countries had little reason to standardize. However, in 1986, The International Electrotechnical Commission created a “universal plug.” Brazil and South Africa are currently the only countries to adopt it.

Because plugs and sockets differ, so does the frequency and voltage of household electricity across different countries.

Which Appliances and Devices Matter

Below is a basic list of which items you’ll need to consider buying for your new home:

  • Kitchen appliances
    • Refrigerator
    • Oven/stovetop
    • Microwave
    • Dishwasher
    • Blender
    • Coffee maker
    • Toaster
  • Household appliances
    • Washer
    • Dryer
    • Vacuum
  • Electronic devices
    • Electronic toothbrush
    • Electronic shaver
    • DVD player
    • TV
    • Stereo system
    • Phone
    • Laptop
    • Corresponding chargers

With this list in mind, take an inventory of which items you will want immediate solutions for. The last thing you want to worry about upon arrival is how you will cook your food or wash your clothes.

Short-Term Solutions

Converters work for small electric appliances, such as hair dryers, irons, and toothbrushes. Adapters (also called transformers) are the best option, since they work with all appliances. These appliances also include radios, camcorder rechargers, and computers.

Unfortunately, adapters and converters can only take you so far because the voltage and hertz differ.

Electrical Terms

American-made appliances function at 110 force, or voltage. Japan, parts of South American, the Caribbean, and most of North America use voltage in the 100-125 range. However, the rest of the world powers their appliances with a range of 220-240 volts.

Frequency, or hertz (Hz) has less of an effect on devices, since most support both 60 and 50 Hz cycles. Frequency will affect devices with motors, such as analog clocks. No device adjusts for frequency since it’s usually not a problem, unlike large voltage differences.

Only when voltage remains in the same range will an adapter plug work. Even then, the outlet may still not accept the shape of your plug. So to make an appliance work, you’ll need the same voltage and adapter shape to match the outlet.

Travel DocumentsWhat to Keep and What to Buy

First, prioritize which appliances or devices you must bring with you. And because dealing with the voltage differences uses time and energy, you may be better off starting out fresh.

Consider that most North American appliances are too large for a European environment. Taking your current refrigerator, washer/dryer, or oven is not feasible or convenient. Consider investing in new household appliances to simplify your move.

If you have specific appliances that you cannot part with, check or get international warranties. These warranties will guarantee that your appliance can receive service and repair anywhere in the world.

You may also purchase your appliances from a provider with international voltage options. Look for appliances in the 220-240 range before purchasing them for shipment.

In the end, most people prefer to invest in new appliances for their new location. Investigate buying options now to ensure service and repair options, not to mention proper appliance connection and function in your new home.

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