Before I left, I had never been to Europe before and therefore had NO idea what I needed as far as adapters or converters (or even what the difference was) or how electricity in Europe differed from electricity in the US. I read a bunch of articles and annoyed the heck out of my friend Jennie with questions, and I still didn’t really understand until I got here.
Basically, besides using different plugs, the electricity in Europe is stronger than the electricity in the US. Europe uses 220 volts, while the US uses 110 volts. Therefore, you not only need to change the plug of your electrical devices, but also change the amount of electricity going to your device. There are two ways to do this: an adapter and a converter.
An adapter simply changes the shape of your plug so you can use it in Europe. Most of Europe uses a round two-prong system, except the UK, which likes to be difficult with its different plugs and its pounds. Humph. It does NOT do anything with the level of electricity. I have two kinds of adapters, one I bought in the US and one (well actually two) that I bought here.
The top one is a universal power adapter that I bought in the US. Different plugs go out or retract, so you can use it in many different countries. I mostly use the round two-prong European one, but I did use the UK plug when I went there. Something really nice about this plug is that many different plugs can be inserted into it, including US and the European two-prong. When I was in London with my parents, I plugged my French power strip (with a European plug) into it, then plugged it into the wall with the UK plug out, so I could plug in multiple things. You can also plug US plugs into it. The bottom one is simpler; I only use it with US plugs.
You use adapters with things that don’t need the electricity converted. Many electrical devices have built-in converters; for example, I don’t need to use converters with my computer cord, phone charger, or camera battery charger. You can tell by looking at the boxy part of the cord or charger. Mine all say “Input: 110-240v” and as we learned above, European electricity is 220 volts, so if it says that you’re good! It might be scary to plug it in without a converter but I’ve been doing it for four months now and it’s fine! Just MAKE SURE it says “110-240v” on the box.
Basically the only thing I need a converter for is my hair stuff, and the only thing my roommate uses it for is charging his electric toothbrush. Trust me on this: if you use two or fewer hair appliances and don’t need a converter for anything else, just buy new hair stuff in France!! It’ll be the same amount of money and will save you some headaches. I’m speaking from experience… since I’ve been here I’ve burned out three different converters, because I’m an idiot. But I know better now and am sharing this information with you!
The first converter I got was a tiny little one that looked more like the black adapter in the picture above. I thought it would be sufficient for me to use my straightener with, but my third night in Paris when I arrived I learned better. I was using it with my straightener and noticed that the light on my straightener was staying red, instead of turning green when it got hot enough, but I didn’t think anything of it. Then the straightener just turned off. Turns out I had burned out my little converter because the wattage on it wasn’t high enough for my straightener. Who knew, you have to take the wattage into account! Luckily, the straightener was fine.
After I arrived in Nice I bought a big legit converter that looked like this.
However, I still didn’t have the wattage thing figured out. I burned out one of these using a hair dryer with it. Before I left, I bought a travel hair dryer that has a little thing you turn to choose whether you’re using US or European electricity. I used it a couple times with just an adapter and it was fine, although the actual dryer was terrible; when it’s on European mode it stays on “low” all the time and isn’t hot at all. So I decided to change it back to the US setting and use it with my converter. Bad idea. Hair dryers take a TON of electricity and I very quickly burned out the converter, although the hair dryer was fine. Moral of the story, just buy a 10 € hair dryer from Carrefour that works AWESOME and be happy. That’s what I eventually did, and I am!
However, I wasn’t done making bad decisions. I have a nice big three-barrel curling iron that I liked to use when my hair was still long. Unfortunately, it takes a whopping 185 watts of electricity! You can find that out by looking at the printed information that’s usually on the bottom part of the straightener or whatever. But I didn’t think about that so while I was using it I burned out another one of the converters above. Cue yet another Amazon purchase…
So I bought my FOURTH converter. Again, I’m an idiot, but I’ve learned my (rather expensive) lesson. That’s why I suggest just buying hair stuff to use in France! You can find it for pretty cheap, it’ll be good enough for the year or whatever you’re here, and you won’t have to mess with converters, unless you have something else you need to use a converter with, which I don’t. I have learned to check the wattage on my appliances before plugging them in. For example, my curling iron takes 80 watts, and my straightener takes 90, so they are fine to use with my converter. You can see in the photo below that this converter is good up to 100 watts, which is the highest I could find on French Amazon. My roommate bought one like that before he left the States that’s good for up to 200 watts; I would buy the highest wattage allowance you can find.
As you can see, on the bottom line it gives guidelines for use. If whatever you’re using uses less than 70 va (volt-ampere, basically the same thing as a watt), you can use it basically however long you want. Like if you decide to plug your phone charger in, you can leave it all night since chargers take almost no electricity. But with things that create heat and use more wattage, you should use them for only less than an hour. I’m PARANOID now (wouldn’t you be, if you were me??) and only use my straightener for about 10 or 15 minutes before unplugging it. Luckily, it doesn’t take me long to do my hair. I spent way too many weeks using NO hair stuff for a lack of a converter; I don’t want to go back to that!
Hopefully this makes the differences between American and European electricity easier to understand, and you learn from my experiences! Don’t make the same mistakes I did. 🙂