Twice the voltage
European power typically comes out of the electrical outlets at 230-240 volts, while 110 volts is the US standard. If your electric shaver is not rated to operate at between 110 volts and 240 volts, it will burn out when you plug it in a French socket.
Should you travel with an electric shaver or a portable CD player, look at the voltage it supports. If it harbors a converter — a small device which converts a 110 volt current into a 9-12 volt current, also called a transformer — verify the input voltage of your device. The label should clearly state which voltage it accepts. If it states ‘110 Volts’, that’s not good enough. You will burn both converter and appliance when you plug them in an electrical outlet overseas.
Therefore pack only those appliances which work in the 110-240 volt power band, or at a low voltage (such as 9-12 volts) when they come with a transformer.
Transformers for laptop computers are often rated to work at 100-240 volts. Still, make sure to check yours beforehand. If your laptop only operates at 110 volts, go to a Radio Shack store, and buy a suitable multi-voltage converter for your specific model.
Likewise with battery chargers for cell phones and digital cameras; they too should be checked. Some battery chargers won’t accept the higher 240-volt current, some will. The labels on your battery charger and on the transformer that often comes with the charger will tell you what you need to know.
Differences in plugs Another difference is that the terminals (electrodes) on a US plug are flat, while in France they are cylindrical. French wall outlets will only accept the latter type.
Consequently you won’t be able to use your flat American plug into a French outlet.
Plug adaptors come in various shapes and forms. The more sophisticated ones allow you to plug your appliances anywhere in the world — the more country options, the more expensive.
You should be able to find cheap adaptors at your nearest hardware store. Call before you go though, not all stores carry these items. As a last resort try the airport shopping area. Stores like The Sharper Image and Brookstone usually offer them.
Transformers are not adaptors
Transformers and converters modify the characteristics of the current which is input in your appliance.
Adaptors are simpler devices which allow you to connect your US plug in a European or French outlet.
Do not confuse one for the other. A converter is heavier because it features a metal coil. An adaptor on the other hand is usually light because it’s all plastic with a few metallic parts.
Sometimes transformers also operate as adaptors. In such a case, their male terminals will be shaped to match the receiving socket.
Hair dryers usually are more power-hungry. You would have to equip yourself with a larger and heavier transformer if your hair dryer does not operate at 110-240 volts. My advice: don’t pack this appliance. Just call your hotel (or check their website) to confirm your room comes equipped with a blow-dryer.
(Article written in collaboration with Vincent Ramelli)
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