As you’re about to head off on holiday, electrical safety is probably the last thing on your mind. But it should be something you take very seriously, for we here in the UK are used to a relatively high standard of electrical safety regulations. These rules do not apply to all other countries, whose laws may be far more lenient.
There will be many differences regarding appliances you might bring abroad, for instance, the voltage. Standard UK electrical equipment uses 230V (volts) and 50 Hz (Hertz); however, abroad it may vary from anywhere between 100V to 240V.
We Sparks will advise you on precautions and general advice, to consider while travelling abroad with electronics.
Are my UK devices compatible abroad? What should I bring?
A standard 3-pin UK charger will not plug into most sockets in other countries, so it is important you research the type of sockets used globally. The World Standards state that there are 15 different types of sockets (arranged alphabetically A-O). They allow for varying levels of voltage and may be used with either one or several plug types.
It is likely you’ll need a travel adaptor if you wish to use your UK electronics. This is a simple device that enables you to plug your appliance into a foreign socket.
Next on the list of handy electrical items to bring are voltage converters. In most cases you will need to use a ‘step up’ converter that bolsters a lower voltage (for instance, the standard US voltage is 120V). They will bring the voltage level up to 230V, which is the required amount to operate UK electrical devices.
The different frequency levels may also affect appliances. For instance, a European 50Hz clock may run faster on a US 60Hz electricity supply and gain 10 minutes every hour – this could very well cause delays or confusion!
If you are departing on a cross-country travel expedition, it is important that you check what type of sockets, and the voltage supply, are provided during transport. For instance, the type of socket used on a cruise liner may not be the standard type used in the country it departed from. Check with your cruise/tour operator or travel agent.
You will most likely need to purchase a travel adaptor and/or voltage converter before you go on holiday. They can easily be bought online, at a Post Office or here at Sparks.
Here is a bite-sized guide of what to consider when packing your electrics for an overseas trip.
It would be wise to buy these items in the UK, as the products available abroad are not subject to British safety standards.
Will it be safe using my UK electrical equipment abroad? Under-voltage and over-voltage
There are three simple rules for staying safe when plugging in your appliances abroad:
- Check if the appliance uses the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country you are in.
- Check to see that the appliance is double-insulated. If it is, and one of the metal cases becomes live, then only a minimal amount of voltage will pass between the contacts and you will not receive a shock.
- If the appliance uses a different voltage level and is not double-insulated, then you must use a voltage converter or transformer. This will prevent under-voltage or over-voltage accidents.
As stated above, we strongly advise that you research the socket outlet types and voltage supplies of the country that you are visiting.
One of the most dangerous aspects of using devices abroad is seen when people change the power supply to suit the one that they are used to at home. Supplying a computer with 110V in a country that uses 230V mains power is risky, for instance.
Doing this may cause an alarming humming sound to come from your computer followed by smoke. This can effectively destroy your computer, as it will damage the motor. It can cause components to melt down and appliances to malfunction.
With ‘over-voltage’ the appliance will draw in far too much current, causing it to run ‘too fast and too high’ which once again could result in breakage.
Earthed connections and double-insulated devices
It is also of paramount importance you check that your travel adaptor is suited for appliances that require an earthed connection. If it is not suited for an earthed connection, then it must be used with double-insulated equipment to avoid electrical shocks.
Double-insulated appliances are easy to identify with their typical symbol being two overlapped squares (“a square in a square”). Before you plug any appliance in, ensure that it does not exceed the maximum power rating which will be displayed in AMPS or WATTS on the adaptor.
Many countries use 100-127V, so if your device is not double-insulated it is essential that you use a voltage converter or transformer to ‘step up’ the voltage.
However, not all UK electrical items are compatible with converters. If you are unsure, make certain that you check with the manufacturer.
Will I be personally safe using my UK electrical equipment abroad?
As stated above, the risks of under-voltage or over-voltage will affect mainly your electrical equipment and should be noticeable immediately. These incidents are not to taken lightly, but are unlikely to physically harm you.
This widget was brought to you by Electrical Safety First
However, there are other dangers posed by using electrics abroad and some basic steps to avoid these dangers, and here are some precautions to do this:
- Never touch electrical equipment with wet hands.
- Never touch light switches that are cracked or show any signs of wear-and-tear.
- Don’t plug equipment into a socket which looks damaged or has its cover missing.
- Never take a mains powered electrical device into the bathroom.
- Double check your travel adaptor is correct for the country you going to. Do not try and jam it in to the socket if it does not fit with ease.
- Be aware of any burning smells, sounds of ‘arcing’ (buzzing and crackling), fuses blowing or scorch marks on plugs and sockets.
- In locations such as campsites, check there is Residual Current Device (RCD) protection or a similar device that will cut off the supply in case of an electrical fault.
Staying safe abroad
Our electronics have become such an integral part of our lives that practically all of us will bring some form of handheld device on holiday. If you do so, ensure that you follow our advice and be certain that you have the right plug adaptor and a voltage converter (if necessary).
Remember that some travel adaptors are not suited for appliances that require an earthed connection and should only be used with double-insulated equipment.
Also, make sure that you do not damage your electrical devices by using the wrong plug adaptor or by not using a voltage converter when needed. Nothing is worse than the sight of smoke rising from your laptop when you were just planning on getting in touch with friends back home!
Above all else, we hope you and your family have a fun holiday, safe in the knowledge you understand the importance of electrical safety abroad.