WORLD TRAVEL GUIDE #6 - Relocating to 220/230/240 volt countries with US/Canada appliances
Many people relocate to foreign countries with their household appliances such as blender, food processor, toaster, stereo, VCR, TV, and so forth. If you are considering such a move, please read the information in this world travel guide. There are four issues that may influence your decision: Surge, Voltage, Outlets, and Frequency
If you take a US/Canada 115/120 volt appliance to a 220/230/240, it will have to plug into a properly sized step down transformer. These transformers “step down” the higher voltages to 115/120 volts as needed by the appliance. All AC (alternating current) motors have surges. A surge is an increase in the watts or amps that a motor uses. It is usually for a very short duration usually for just a few cycles. A cycle is 1/60 of a second. The amount of the surge varies depending on the activity of the motor. For example, a blender being used for mixing chocolate milk will have a lower surge than if it is chopping ice but there will be a surge regardless just a difference in magnitude.
If you take that same blender to a 220/230/240 volt country and use it through a step down transformer, the transformer fuse will blow whenever the surge exceeds the transformer watt rating. If the blender is being used in your US/Canada home fuses (circuit breakers) don't blow because they have time delay features built into them that allow for momentary surges. Transformers all have quick-blow fuses that blow the instant that their watt rating is exceeded. They have quick blow fuses to prevent a surge from damaging it.
This knowledge is important to you so you can choose the correct size (watts) step down transformer. Appliances all consume a certain amount power. The amount of power consumed will vary depending on the activity of the appliance. All appliance have their power consumption listed somewhere. The watts you see listed is usually what is referred to as the “running” or normal operating watts. Just turning a motor on, even with no “load”, causes a surge which exceeds the running watts. Again, this is just for a few cycles (1/60 of a second per cycle) but long enough to blow the transformer fuse if it was sized just for the appliance “running” or normal watts.
To avoid the nuisance of a transformer constantly shutting itself off and having to replace the fuse, you need to be sure to get a transformer of sufficient capacity (watts) to handle these surges. For example, if a blender says it consumes 500 watts of power, you would not buy a 500 watt transformer. It would have to be considerably larger. Quite often you can get the manufacturer to make a recommendation on size. There is no formula to determine a size that would accommodate all applications. Conceivably, that 500 watt blender, could need a 3000 watt transformer or larger depending on what you are trying to get it to do...blend milk or chop ice, for example
US/Canada appliances, for the most part, are designed and manufactured to be used at just 115 volts. If one of these is plugged directly (without a voltage converter or transformer) into a foreign 220/230/240 volt outlet. It will probably, at best, be ruined immediately.
The good news is that many appliances are what they call "multi-voltage" or "dual-voltage". If you have an electrical appliance that you want to use in a foreign country (where the voltage can be 220/230/240) and the appliance is multi-voltage (says input 100-240 volts) or dual voltage (says input 125/250 volts) you usually (if in doubt, verify with manufacturer) only need a plug adapter. The input voltage (watts or amps and frequency, also) information can usually be found on a charger but it could be anywhere on the appliance often on the main body of the appliance where it can be difficult to read.
If the appliance is not multi voltage or dual voltage, you will need either a solid state voltage converter or transformer with the appropriate watt capacity rating. You will need to know the watts or amps required by the appliance in order to get the correct transformer or voltage converter
Regardless of whether you need a transformer or voltage converter, you will always need a plug adapter. That is a given. Our World Electric Guide is a list of all the countries in the world. The list shows the voltage and frequency of each country and when you click on the country name, it will show which plug adapters are needed in that country. Many countries have more than one possible configuration, so don't be alarmed to see multiple possibilities.
The list shows both grounded and ungrounded plug adapters. Grounded plug adapters are needed needed for your grounded appliances and ungrounded adapters can be used with your ungrounded appliances. Grounded appliances have 3 pins on their plugs and ungrounded appliances only have 2 pins on their plugs. Ungrounded plugs are often polarized meaning one of the 2 pins is wider than the other. Most countries outside the US and Canada do not have as many grounded and polarized outlets so you may need both in order to be prepared
The outlets in Japan, Mexico, and these countries ** are very similar to the outlets in U.S. however, they do not have as many grounded (3 pin) and polarized (one flat pin bigger than the other) outlets. The voltage in Japan is 100 volts and the frequency is 50 Hz in some areas and 60 Hz in others. Mexico has a voltage of 127 volts in most areas but varies widely (higher or lower). There is no practical solution to this voltage situation so we recommend contacting your destination to find out if you are going to have problems with your appliances or not. They would know for sure and it could save buying something you may not need.
Frequency refers to the alternating current (AC) and is a component of electricity that is created at the generating plant. The US/Canada frequency is 60 Hz. (hertz) while most of the 220/230/240 volt countries have a frequency of 50 Hz. This difference is not generally a big issue for a tourist or business traveler.
Usually frequency is only an issue with AC motors (vacuum cleaners, blenders, and other appliances with rotating components) and some older electronic technology. Some AC motors are dual frequency (50/60 Hz.) and unaffected by the difference. It should say somewhere on the motor.
DC (direct current – doesn't alternate) motors are also not affected by differences in frequency. Many appliances have rotating components but the motors are DC such as many VCR, tape players, high-end turntables, and many others like that.
There is no practical solution to the frequency problem. An AC motor that is strictly 60 Hz. Will rotate 17% slower in a 50 Hz. Country and it will also run a little hotter. The slower rotation will affect performance and the increased heat will shorten the life of the motor by varying degrees depending on the appliance. These AC motor references include compressors on refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, etc.
**List of countries with outlets that are very similar to the outlets in U.S and Canada but they do not have as many grounded (3 pin) and polarized (one flat pin bigger than the other) outlets. It is best to contact your destination to find out for sure if you are going to have problems with your appliances.
Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guam, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Micronesia, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Palau, Puerto Rico, Saba and Saba (St.Eustatius), Taiwan, Trinidad, Tobago, Turks/Caicos Islands, United States of America, Venezuela, and Virgin Islands