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Phone & Electrical Connections: World Electrical and Phone Adaptation

Content provided by Magellanís, Americaís Leading Source of Travel Supplies

Just as every country has its own culture, language, and currency, each country has its own solution to electrical and phone line access. Fortunately for the business or pleasure traveler, Magellan's has everything needed to get "up and running" worldwide.

Electrical Adaptor Plugs

The two most important considerations when you are planning to use electrical appliances overseas are socket shape and voltage.

Socket Shape

Electrical socket shapes differ from country to country, and some countries use more than one socket shape. Even if you have a dual-voltage appliance, you may not be able to the plug into the wall socket. Most seasoned travelers tuck a soft pouch of adaptor plugs in a corner of their luggage to be prepared for any socket they might encounter. Be sure the adaptors you take accept polarized-blade appliance plugs (Magellan's plugs do) and fit down into the recessed sockets you'll find around the world. (Magellan's plugs do this, too!)

Magellan's carries two types of adaptor plugs, non-grounded and grounded. Magellanís Destination Pages will advise you as to what sockets are found in each country, and which adaptor plugs are recommended.

  • Non-grounded adaptor plugs are chosen when the appliance is non-grounded or when non-grounded sockets may be the only sockets available. (Please refer to Magellanís Destination Pages). The adaptor "A" plug, (item # EA235A) is also very useful in adapting a polarized plug (one prong is wider than the other) to a non-polarized socket, or a grounded plug to a non-grounded socket where North American style sockets are found. Our non-grounded adaptor plugs accept both the North American ("A" pattern) and European ("D" pattern) plugs, valuable when needing to plug in a round-pin step down transformer.
  • Grounded adaptor plugs should be used when the appliance has a grounding plug. (Grounding is a safety feature that protects the user when the appliance is damaged.) In the event of a short, grounding creates a path of least resistance to the wall, rather than the user, protecting the user from shock. The appliance MUST be grounded ALL THE WAY TO THE WALL for this path of least resistance to exist. Our grounded adaptor plugs accept ANY plug pattern except the South African plug. They are, therefore, very useful in adapting one FOREIGN country to another.

Transformers and Converters

There are two basic standard wall currents in the world, 100-125 volts, and 220-250 volts. Please refer to the Destination Pages to determine the standard wall current utilized by your destination country.

Some appliances are "dual-voltage"; they are designed to operate on voltage between 100-250 volts without damage to the components. These appliances do not require transformers. Many North American-made appliances, however, are designed to operate only within the 100-125 volt range. These appliances will suffer damage if plugged into 220-250 volts. Magellan's carries a complete line of step-down converters that will plug into the 220-250 volts, and step the voltage down to a safe level for appliances designed to operate at 110-125 volts.

Many appliances made for use outside North America are designed to operate within the 220-250 volt range, and, in most cases will not function properly on a 110-125 volt power source. Magellan's also carries a complete line of step-up transformers that plug into 110-125 volts, and step the voltage up the 220-250 volt range that these appliances require.

Our 0-50 watt transformer is perfect for short-term use with non-grounded, electronic and motorized appliances rated at 40 watts or under (the lower the wattage, the longer the usage period). Typically, this transformer is used with razors, radios, CD players, and other small, non-heating appliances. Should the transformer start to overheat as a result of extended use, there is an internal circuit breaker that will interrupt the electricity until the transformer cools down. Just unplug the transformer for 20 minutes or so and the breaker will reset.

For long-term use, higher wattage, or grounded appliances, we carry a wide range of heavy-duty transformers. These transformers are designed to work continuously (although we do recommend that they be unplugged when not in use) and are fused and grounded for safety. A grounding pin, which is included with the transformer, will be needed to ground the transformer when an adaptor plug is required. These transformers reduce the voltage using a series of wire wraps around a metal core (the higher the wattage rating, the more the wraps). This method, while increasing the weight, preserves the sine wave that electronic and motorized appliances require to operate.

Heating appliances such as hairdryers, curling irons, etc. do not need the same sine wave quality that electronic and motorized appliances require to operate (which is fortunate, as they often pull fairly high wattage). It is possible, therefore, to operate these appliances safely overseas with the use of a 0-1600 watt heating converter. Heating converters reduce the voltage with the use of capacitors that literally "squish" the 220 voltage down to 110 voltage. In so doing, the capacitors also flatten the sine wave. This is fine for heating appliances that rely solely on resistance to operate. Like the 0-50 watt transformer, the heating converter is designed for short-term use. It is also equipped with an internal breaker to guard against overheating.

Because heating converters do not use wire wraps to reduce the voltage, they are much lighter (4 oz as opposed to the 20 lb 1500 watt heavy-duty transformer). Heating converters are not capable of grounding, and please remember, heating converters are designed for use with heating appliances ONLY. They must never be used with motorized or electronic appliances as damage may occur.

For those who travel with small motorized AND heating appliances, the Combination Converter is the perfect answer. It incorporates both the 0-50 watt transformer and the 1600-watt heating converter, as well as the internal breaker for safety. The user need only flip a switch to select the appropriate converter type.


AC (alternating current) flows in a set number of cycles per second, or "hertz". 60 hertz is most common in countries that operate on 110 volts, and 50 hertz in those countries that operate on 220 volts. Although voltage converters do not alter the frequency, most modern appliances are capable of operating on both 50 and 60 hertz. Exceptions include gear-driven appliances that are calibrated to the frequency, such as electric clocks and older turntables, and appliances that utilize a timer, such as microwave ovens and bread makers. These appliances are designed exclusively for 60 hertz if sold in North America.

How do we know which transformer to recommend for non-heating appliances?

Transformers are rated by wattage, and can be loaded up to 90% of their wattage rating. For example, a 100 watt step-down transformer can handle appliances pulling anywhere from 1 to 90 watts. If the appliance requires a full 100 watts, it is necessary to purchase a larger transformer.

The power requirements will be listed on the appliance, often on the bottom, or the back where the power cord is attached. In the case of laptops, it is often found on a box in the middle of the recharging cord.

Input requirements are usually listed in one of the following formats:

120V            120V          120VAC          Volts
50/60HZ       50/60HZ    60HZ               Frequency
60W             .5A             60VA              Watts/Amps

The top figure in each example indicates the voltage that the appliance is designed to utilize.

The second figure indicates the cycles per second (or hertz) on which the appliance is designed to operate.

The bottom figure in each example indicates the power consumption of the appliance. In the first example, it is expressed in watts. This figure tells you that you will need a transformer that can handle at least 60 watts.

In the second example, the power consumption is listed in amps. To calculate watts from amps, use the following formula.

.5 A X 120V = 60W

In the final example, the power consumption is expressed in VA, or volt amps. Volt amps are the same as watts--the manufacturer is merely pointing out that they have done the multiplication for us as shown in the above equation.

If you choose to operate several appliances on one transformer, simply add up the total wattage of the appliances, and select the transformer accordingly. Plug the appliances into a power strip (preferably surge protected) or a multi-outlet extension cord, and plug the power strip or cord into the 110-volt socket on the transformer.

Surge Protection

What is a Power Event?

Surge: A short-term increase in voltage, usually lasting at least 1/120 of a second. Surges are caused when high-wattage appliances are turned off, and the extra voltage is dissipated through the power line or when power is restored after a brownout or blackout. Computers and other sensitive electronics are designed to operate within a certain range of voltage. Anything outside of this range will stress the components and cause premature failure.

Spike: An instantaneous, dramatic increase in voltage. A spike can reach electronic equipment through power lines, network, serial or phone lines and can damage or destroy components. Spikes are often caused by a nearby lightning strike, and can also occur when power is restored after an outage.

Power events can happen without warning. Most of us use a surge protector at home, but what can we do to protect our valuable electronics while overseas? The Euro Surge is the best 220-volt protection we have found! It plugs into common grounded European "Schuko"/French-Belgian sockets and provides complete three-line power AND modem line protection. The Euro Surge also features an internal pulse filter that eliminates unwanted metering signals that can interrupt your modem transmission in many European countries (please see the "Tax Metering Signals" section below).

Surge protectors require a grounded electrical connection to operate correctly. Surge protectors use the ground as a reference point in determining how far from "normal" the current may have surged. Therefore, even if the appliance is NOT grounded, a grounded adaptor plug is needed between the wall outlet and the surge protector.

Aboard the Plane

Some aircraft now offer plug-in power at your seat, usually in Business or First Class. (The electricity is DC, or Direct Current, the type found in your automobile, as opposed to household AC, or Alternating Current.) Take advantage of this unlimited, battery-free power source--especially on a 10-hour flight, when your battery would run down or you'd have to lug extra batteries. To hook your computer up to the little four-pin socket on an aircraft, you need an EmPower Socket Connector. You also need a standard socket adaptor (the type that goes into an automobile cigarette lighter) to fit between the computer and the EmPower unit.

Telephone Adaptors

There are 35 different phone socket patterns in common use in the world today. Fortunately for those who travel with laptops, Magellan.s carries modular telephone adaptors to allow access to all of them! The Country Database will advise you as to what phone jacks are found in each country, and which telephone adaptors are recommended. There are also areas in the world where the phone systems are hard-wired (there is no phone jack at all, just a wire that disappears into the wall). In these areas we recommend the Patch Cord Kit.

The Patch Cord Kit has everything you need to make connections when no jack is available. The alligator clips hook on to the wires and offer an RJ-11 jack. Simply connect the RJ-11 coupler, test with the Digital Phone Line Tester (included), and plug your phone line in.

Digital vs. Analog Phone Systems

There are two different types of telephone systems in the world today.

  • Analog phone systems are found in most homes and small businesses.
  • Digital phone systems are found in many businesses, hotels, and anywhere that one central PBX controls multiple extensions. Digital phone systems operate on a higher voltage than analog systems, and this higher voltage can cause serious damage to sensitive modem components.

Our Digital Phone Line Tester tests for dangerous over current and other phone conditions (e.g., reversed polarity, no signal). Simply plug it into the phone jack (or telephone adaptor). The green light indicates a safe analog line, the red light indicates over current, and the yellow light indicates reversed polarity. Our Digital Phone Line Tester also provides phone line surge protection.

Tax Metering Signals

Some European telephone exchanges generate high frequency/high pulse signals at regular intervals to meter phone usage (please refer to the Destination Pages for countries affected). These signals sound very similar to our call-waiting "beep", and can seriously interfere with modem transmissions. Our Euro Surge is equipped with a tax meter filter that filters out the beeps.