Purchasing Adaptors to Compensate for Changes in Voltage and Plug Configuration

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Purchasing Adaptors to Compensate for Changes in Voltage and Plug Configuration

Domestic electricity supply has been commonplace for a hundred years. However, there are still no international standards for plug socket format and voltage. Socket configuration and voltage can vary considerably from one country to the next. Therefore, it is essential that travellers carry adaptors with them when they travel to compensate for changes in voltage and plug configuration.

There are two principal types of travel adaptor: the plug adaptor and the voltage adaptor. The first, and by far the most essential, is the sort that allows the use of the British three point plug, abroad. Most travellers these days travel with gadgets like mobile phones and tablet computers. Without a plug adaptor, a British traveller would not be able to charge their personal electronics while abroad. The voltage adaptor can be categorised as more 'desirable' than 'essential', as many electrical devices today are dual-voltage and can cope with variations in voltage. However, devices manufactured for the North American market (the U.S. and Canada) risk serious damage if plugged into mains power in Britain, Europe, or Australia. This is because the voltage in Europe is almost twice as high as it is in North America.

Travel adaptors can be found in stores that specialise in travel accessories, but their stocks can be limited. For this reason, many consumers look online for voltage and plug adaptors. eBayoffers thousands of listings for a variety of travel accessories, including travel adaptors.

Plug Configuration Adaptors

Britain has an unusual plug socket format that consists of three squared pins. Other countries generally use a two point plug that varies in design from country to country. In order to ensure that British electrical equipment works abroad, it is essential that the traveller be equipped with a plug adaptor for each gadget or appliance they are carrying. The plug adaptor is a simple piece of equipment. It looks very similar to a plug in that on one side it has a three pin socket to receive the British plug, and on the other, it has a plug configuration for the destination country.

Types of Plug Adaptors

Quite apart from the question of which country the travel adaptor is for, the traveller needs to consider the types of plug adaptors available. A standard plug adaptor takes just one plug. Other plug adaptors are available that can take two plugs at the same time. There are also some plug adaptors available that act as extension cables. This type of adaptor come with a bar, or power strip, with three or four British plug sockets attached.

Reverse Plug Adaptors

There are occassions when a traveler from the United Kingdom needs to buy a reverse adaptor. This is to say an adaptor that converts European plugs for use in British sockets. This need can arise when a traveller buys electronics abroad for use back home in the U.K., or when buying items in the United Kingdom that are are designed for an overseas market. These adaptors are available, although they are usually only available to travellers who intend to visit the United Kingdom.

Universal Plug Adaptors

Universal plug adaptors can be used to convert either a British or foreign plug into virtually any plug configuration. They work by having a variety of different shaped pins and prongs contained within the one unit. These can be slid in or out as necessary, to form the required configuration. Although these adaptors can initially look rather complicated, they are simple to use and can be very useful, especially for the British traveller taking a gap year and travelling around the world.

The Different Plug Configurations

Almost every country in the world appears to have its own plug configuration. There are formats that have two pins, three pins, two prongs, or three prongs. And the pins and prongs come in various shapes. There are flat prongs, round pins, and square pin plug sockets. The table below highlights the configurations for some of the world's top travel destinations.




The Middle East


Dual, flat prongs.

Three flat prongs

Two round pins

Mostly two, round pins

Two round pins

Before travelling, it is essential to determine the socket configuration in the destination country. To be on the safe side, it is best to invest in a universal plug adaptor.

Voltage Travel Adaptors

Voltage adaptors are not essential for British travellers. Most electronics manufactured for the UK market are compatible with voltages between 220 and 240 volts. Most countries in the world have supplies that operate on 220 and 240 volts. However, if a traveller is carrying a device they purchased in the U.S., Canada, or Japan, and the gadget is not marked as 'dual-voltage', then the traveller needs to ensure that they have a voltage adaptor handy. Without one, they could end up frying the gadget when they plug it in.

Variations in Voltage

The United Kingdom's domestic electrical supply operates on 220 to 240 volts at 50 Hz. This is true of most countries in the world. However, Canada, the United States, much of South America, and parts of the Pacific, including Japan, operate on 110 to 120 volts, at 60Hz. Their electrical appliances are compatible to supplies of 110 to 120 volts.

Dual-Voltage Devices

Confusingly, many countries use 110 volts in some places and 220 volts in others. This variation in voltage does not really matter, as most devices are manufactured to be compatible with both. In other words, they are compatible with a voltage range from 110 to 240 volts, and so are marked as '100~240V 50/60Hz'. However, this is not true for all devices and appliances. And this is why it is very important to check the specifications for each device. For those items not marked as being 'dual-voltage', a voltage adaptor, or transformer, is required to convert the voltage. This allows a device from a low voltage country, such as the United States, to be used in a high voltage country like the UK, or Australia.

Choosing a Voltage Adaptor

Voltage adaptors, or transformers, normally work in both directions, being capable of converting 110 to 120 volts to 220 to 240 volts, and vice versa. However, before buying a voltage adaptor, it is wise to check.


As well as the voltage, it is important to consider the wattage when choosing a transformer. Many units 'spike' when switched on, so it is best to choose a transformer capable of handling at least 50 percent more power than the maximum power as specified by the manufacturer.

How to Buy a Travel Adaptor

In theory, buying a travel adaptor to convert United Kingdom plugs for use abroad is very simple. One simply needs to research the voltage used at that destination and what type of plug is common to the country. Choosing a voltage transformer is also simple, in theory. Since it is likely that the equipment the traveller travels with is compatible with power supplies that operate on 220 to 240 volts, the transformer needs only convert devices compatible with 110 to 120 volts to 220 to 40 volts. Then the buyer simply has to multiply the maximum wattage of the equipment by 150 percent, and look for a transformer that meets all these specifications.

Unfortunately, plug adaptors are often difficult to find in the high street. Three pin to European two pin plug adaptors are easy to come by, but plug adaptors for more exotic locations may prove elusive. For transformers, the story is even more dismal, and short of specialist electronic component stores, they are virtually invisible on the high street.

It is for these reasons that many people planning to travel abroad go online to look for travel adaptors, where eBay offers a far better selection, and at much better prices.

Finding Travel Adaptors on eBay

It is easy to find travel plug adaptors on eBay. Begin by typing in 'travel plug adaptors' into the search bar on the eBay homepage. This returns pages full of current listings for travel plug adaptors capable of converting British plugs for use in a variety of countries. You can narrow the listings down, so that the local search engine only shows the types of plug adaptor you would be interested in.

For example, if you need a plug adaptor that fits a two pin European plug, you can specify that by selecting and deselecting various search filters. If you need a plug adaptor suitable for a travel to a specific country, for example India, simply tick the box next to 'India' under the 'Country' on the results page. In this way you can quickly and easily find a travel plug adaptor to suit your travel needs.

For  travel adaptors to convert voltage, just type in 'travel voltage transformer', into the search bar. If you know that you need a transformer to use a Japanese hair dryer in Australia, enter a search query like 'transformer 110 to 220 volts'. If you have any concerns about the about the suitability of a particular adaptor for your needs, you can always contact the seller by going into the seller's profile page and clicking on the contact link.


Different countries not only have different plug sockets, but also have different voltages and cycles, too. To enable international travellers to use their devices and appliances abroad, it is necessary to buy travel plug adaptors that replicate the local country's socket, allowing a device with a U.K plug to be fit sockets abroad. While most electronic devices are dual-voltage, and so are able to adapt to any voltage, adaptors that convert voltage are essential for devices manufactured for use in low voltage countries, like the U.S. and Canada. If a British traveller brings home a device from a low voltage country, they must attach a voltage adaptor before plugging it in at home.

It can be challenging to track down travel adaptors on the high street. Many shops sell one or two plug adaptors, but very few, bar a travel shop, offers a comprehensive range. Voltage adaptors are even more difficult to find, as they are manufactured more for American and Canadian travellers. A traveller is more likely to find a wide range of travel accessories, including travel adaptors, at better prices, on eBay.

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