Power and Plug Adaptors: Voltage and Plug Configuration

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Power and Plug Adaptors: Voltage and Plug Configuration

When travelling to a new country, bringing along some electronic devices may make the trip much more comfortable and fulfilling. Cameras, cellular phones, laptops, tablets, and many other devices can make communicating with family and friends easier, or enable travellers to share their experiences. But these items need to be charged if they are going to be of any use. Because power sockets and plugs are not the same around the world, travellers should invest in one or more adaptors to ensure device/outlet compatibility. Power adaptors are usually inexpensive, and purchasing one before a trip saves the traveller from having to search for an adapter in a foreign and unfamiliar country.

Because sockets and plugs vary so widely amongst countries, there are a lot of different types for buyers to choose from. When shopping for an adaptor, buyers should first know the plug and socket shape used in the destination country. They should also be aware of the their devices' voltage requirements.

Power and plug adaptors are available in travel stores, electronics outlets, as well as online. eBay has a large selection of adaptors that are compatible with a variety of different countries.

Power Voltage

Energy supplied by power companies varies from country to country, but electricity is typically 110 to 120 volts or 220 to 240 volts. The United States uses 120 volts, while the United Kingdom uses 230 volts. This means that when travelling to another country, a converter may be necessary to alter both voltage and frequency. Some electronics may be able to handle both 120 volts and 230 volts. Check the device to see if it is capable of charging at multiple voltages. If it is can handle higher or lower voltages, buyers need only worry about finding a plug adapter.

The frequency of an electrical system is measured in Hertz. Most countries use either 50 or 60 Hz. The United States uses a 60 Hz frequency, while the United Kingdom uses 50 Hz. Both have pros and cons. A 60 Hz frequency is more efficient because it sends more electricity down a wire. However, this also makes it more dangerous. A plug adaptor alters the frequency sent through the cable.

Buyers can check if they need a plug adaptor by visually comparing the plug and the socket.

Plug Adaptor vs. Voltage Converters

Once buyers understand the difference between power frequency and power voltage, the next step is to decide whether to purchase a plug adaptor or a voltage converter. Simple, low voltage electronics usually only need a plug adaptor. Such low voltage devices include hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, coffee makes, and nearly every electronic device featuring heating elements or mechanical motors.

Other devices, such as portable music players, digital readers, cameras, cell phones, and chargers, are more likely to need both a plug adaptor and a voltage converter.

To determine the device's voltage and power adaptor requirements, users should first read the device information. It is also important to research the destination country to determine what electrical voltages and frequencies are in use there. This helps buyers decide which adaptor or converter to purchase.

Devices are marked as single voltage, dual voltage, or multiple voltage. Single voltage devices have only one number listed on it (e.g. 230 volts). Single voltage devices do not work in a foreign country that uses a different voltage, so travellers need to purchase a voltage converter. Dual voltage devices are listed as being compatible with two voltages. If the destination country provides power in one of these voltages, only a plug adaptor is necessary. A multiple voltage device is compatible with a range of voltages. For example, a device with 100 - 240 volts listed in its description can be used in countries whose voltage supplies fall within that range. Thus, travellers need only buy a plug adaptor.

Types of Plug Adaptors

Knowing which adapter to get is determined by the voltage and plug/socket type used in the traveler's destination country. The table below provides basic information on voltage and frequency for several countries that are frequent destinations of UK travellers. It also lists the type of plug or socket used in each country.

Country or Continent

Voltage and Frequency

Basic Description and Type


240 volts

50 Hz

Two, sometimes three flat pins

Type G, H


220 volts

50 Hz

Three flat pins

Type A, I


220 volts

50 Hz

Two round pins

Type C


230 volts

50 Hz

Two round pins

Type C


220 volts

50 Hz

Round pins

Type C

North America

120 volts

60 Hz

Two flat pins, sometimes third round pin

Type A, B


220 volts

50 Hz

Two round pins

Type C, F

United Kingdom

230 volts

50 Hz

Three flat pins

Type G

Reviewing the table above can give travellers a general idea of the voltage, frequencies, and types of plugs used in some countries and continents. For destinations not listed above, be sure to check the power requirements for those countries. Also, do not forget to check the device for frequency information. The above provides general guidelines, but travellers should conduct some basic research to find out more detailed country information before travelling.

Another option is to purchase a universal adaptor. Universal adaptors allow the user to convert the outlet to match the outlet and power requirements of nearly every country in the world. A universal adapter is a good option for those who travel to lots of different countries all over the world.

Types of Voltage Converters

There are two general types of voltage converters: 1) the step up converter, and 2) the step down converter. Step up converters increase the voltage from the power outlet. For example, if a device runs off 230 volts, but the electrical outlet is only 110 volts, a step up converter produces 230 volts from a 110 volt outlet. Step down converters decrease the voltage from the power outlet. If a device runs off of 110 volts, but the outlet produces 230 volts, the step down converter is plugged in to produce 110 volts out of a 230 volt outlet.

Whether a step up or a step down converter is necessary depends entirely on the voltage of the destination country. Compare the voltage of the current country with the destination country's voltage before buying. Some converters are also designed to fit the outlets of the destination country, in which case buyers need not purchase a separate adaptor.

How to Buy Power and Plug Adaptors on eBay

To find and buy power and plug adaptors on eBay, first figure out the voltage and frequency of the country you are travelling to. If the voltage is the same as it is in the UK, and is therefore compatible with the devices you are brining, then a voltage converter is unnecessary. However, a plug adaptor may still be required to run the device, because outlet shapes vary by country. eBay has many styles of both converters and adaptors for sale.

Use the plug information provided above (and any additional research you have performed on the destination country) to decide if a plug adaptor necessary, and if so, which type. Enter "plug adaptor" into the search box on the eBay homepage. This returns a wide variety of listings. Browse through the search result to get an idea of what kind of adaptors are available. You can then narrow down the search results by entering more descriptive and specific search terms. Try entering the name of both the country you are from and the country you are travelling to, for items that work in those specific locations.

It is a good idea to buy multiple adaptors if you plan to power multiple devices. Check to see if the seller has multiple adaptors listed for sale. Perhaps they have a variety pack or bundle available for purchase. Buying items in a bundle often decreases the cost of postage. Check the feedback sellers have received from previous buyers to see how well they have satisfied customers in the past. The feedback provides information on how the seller has done business in the previous 12 months.


Travelling or moving to a new country is a very exciting process. Being able to power all the devices you have grown dependent on is important, and it can cause stress, inconvenience, and other problems if the wrong adaptor or converter is purchased. However, choosing the right converter or adaptor is not as complicated as it initially appears. First, check the device itself or the packaging to find out the voltage and frequency it requires. Check the plug types and voltage of the destination country. Plugs vary from country to country, so it is important to be sure you have the right plug adapter. Universal plug adaptors, which work in nearly every location around the globe, are also available. They are extremely convenient.

 If the voltage is different in the destination country, either a "step up" or "step down" converter is necessary. If the outlet voltage is higher than the device, buyers need to buy a step down converter. If the outlet voltage is lower than the device voltage, a step up converter is required. Sometimes a power converter has a built-in plug adaptor as well.

Power adaptors and converters are available in travel and electronic stores as well as online. eBay has a large selection of adaptors available, of every imaginable type.

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