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How to choose a travel adapter

Like cultures and cuisines, plugs and voltages vary from place to place around the world. At home you don’t think twice about charging your devices, but what do you do if you’re travelling and the plug is just 2 round holes? Learn how to keep your electronics charged up when you travel, and see why it pays to do a little research into plug types and voltage before you leave.

When you’re planning your trip, here’s what to think about:

  • What electronics are you bringing?: Simplify your power solutions when you go abroad.
  • Know the plug types you need: Then figure out if you can plug them in where you’re going.
  • Know the voltage you need: So you know where in the world your devices will work.
  • Voltage converters and transformers: Your solutions for single-input devices.

What electronics are you bringing?

Think about what devices will make your trip better. Your smartphone? Absolutely. Your hairdryer? Probably not (and many places will have one you could use in a hair emergency). If you’re on the fence about a device, think about whether it’s something you could easily purchase or borrow when you get to where you’re going. If so, you probably don’t need to take it. When you simplify the electronics you bring, you simply the power solutions you’ll need to sort out.

Know the plug types you need

Once you know what electronics you’re bringing, it’s time to figure out if you can plug them in on your adventure. There are 14 different plug types in common use around the globe. North America uses plug types A and B, so if you’re going somewhere where A and B aren’t used, you’ll need to bring an adapter plug to plug things in (and as long as the voltage is okay – more on that below). Take a look at your device’s plug to see if it matches the plug type where you’re going.

If you’re exploring a single country or region, you can often get away with 1 or 2 adapter plugs. But do your research – while a trip to Australia and New Zealand only needs 1 adapter, the Maldives requires 7 (there aren’t really universal adapters, but there are handy multi-adapters for these situations).

Some plug types you’ll see around the world:

Types of plugs around the world

A quick plug type chart for some favourite travel spots for Canadians:

DestinationPlug type
Mexico, Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Jamaica, BahamasA, B
United KingdomG
France, MoroccoC, E
ChinaA, C, I
Hong KongG, D
Spain, Iceland, Germany, NetherlandsC, F
ItalyC, F, L
BrazilC, N
PhilippinesA, B, C
IndiaC, D, M
Australia, New ZealandI

If you don’t see your destination listed above, you can find a comprehensive plug type list from the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Know the voltage you need

The next step in travel-proofing your tech is knowing your device’s voltage requirements. This is important because North America operates on 110/125V, while most places around the globe operate on a much higher 220/240V.

Almost all smartphones, tablets, digital cameras and laptops made in the last decade accept a range of voltage. To check the voltage, look on your device’s charger, power brick or plug; get out your glasses – the type you’re looking for is usually tiny. If you see a range printed (e.g., 110-240V) or two voltages listed (120V/240V), then your device can accept power all over the world. That means all you need bring is a physical travel adapter to make your plug type fit to your destination’s plug type.

If your electronics only have a single voltage listed, then you must bring a travel converter or a transformer. Without one, your lower single voltage device will fry when you plug it into a higher voltage system.

Voltage converters and transformers

If you can’t live without a beloved single voltage device on your trip, then you need to figure out if you need a converter or a transformer. Converters and transformers take higher voltage from the outlet and step it down to a safe level for your device.

Converters vs. transformers

Converters are designed for electric devices. Electric products are simple heating devices or things that have mechanical motors. Hairdryers, irons, shavers and toothbrushes are electric products. Converters aren’t designed for continuous duty and you should only use them for short periods (max 1–2 hours). Converters typically only work with ungrounded appliances (2 pins on the plug). When you’re not using them, you should unplug converters from the wall.

Transformers are designed for electronic devices. Electronic devices have chips or circuitry. Tablets, smartphones and laptops are electronic products. You can use transformers with both electronic and electric appliances, and you can use them for long periods (days). Transformers typically work with grounded plugs. When looking at transformers, voltage and wattage must be taken into consideration. You always want a transformer that can handle at least 25% more wattage than your device requires. Transformers are larger and heavier than converters, and not very travel friendly.

Once you know what you need, make sure your transformer or converter of choice has the right plug type for your destination.

Keep in mind that converters and transformers are larger, heavier and much more expensive than plug adapters. It’s worth it to ask yourself if you really need to take any single voltage devices with you.

Other things to consider:

  • Fuses: Some travel adapters, converters or transformers have fuses incorporated in them. The fuse acts like a safety net for single voltage devices. If there’s a spike in the voltage (or if you plug a 110–120V appliance into a 220–240V outlet), the fuse will blow, which stops the higher power from wrecking your device. Better a simple fuse blowing than your device.

  • USB ports: Some multi-adapters have built in USB ports. These integrated ports put out the same voltage your device needs, regardless of location. This gives you an alternative to taking your device’s charger plus a physical plug type adapter.

  • Packability: Single plug type adapters are your lightest and smallest option. Multi-adapters add bulk and weight, but add versatility. Converters and transformers add even more weight and bulk, and are costly. Make sure you know what you need on your trip before you decide on your power solution.