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What are the Electrical Voltage Differences Between the US and Europe?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Many travelers to Europe have had difficulties with their electronics, because European and American power systems are run differently. Most of the world, including Europe, uses a 220 volt/50 hertz system. A handful of other countries, including the United States, have 110 volt/60 hertz electricity, which is believed to be safer. As a result, appliances in these nations are designed to connect to a specific type of power source, and using American devices in European outlets and vice versa can result in havoc.

Many nations also use different plugs, and a number of plug adapter kits are available for connecting to foreign plugs. However, use of these plugs without a transformer or voltage converter can result in fireworks. The voltage in Europe is twice that of the voltage in the United States, and while many electronics are designed to adapt to voltage changes, it is crucial to check. If the device is not capable of handling 220 volts of electricity, it will fail. In addition, some electrical devices cannot handle the lower 50 hertz cycle found in much of the world, and may experience difficulties.

To see if a voltage converter is needed, look at the informational panel on the back of the electrical device in question. Many manufacturers design equipment with varying voltages in mind, and may list an ability to handle input ranging from 110-240 volts, indicating that it will work in Europe and the United States. In addition, the equipment is usually rated at 50/60 hertz, and will function on either cycle. However, some devices, especially hair dryers, are designed to function at either 110/60 or 220/50. If this is the case, a voltage converter is necessary.

If this is the case, look at the wattage requirement of the device, which should also be listed. When buying a voltage converter, be certain to get one with a wattage which has a higher rating than the device you are plugging in, to prevent electrical malfunction. Some electronics also require more energy at start up than in a running or standby mode, and if this is the case the wattage rating of the voltage converter should account for 120% or more of the listed wattage need of the device.

Travelers are cautioned to be especially cautious with hair dryers, which have very high wattage requirements. In general, it is safer to purchase a hair dryer in the country where it will be used, or to purchase a voltage converter which can handle at least 2000 watts to avoid damage to the hair dryer, operator, and electrical system it is plugged into.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon999831 — On Mar 24, 2018

I just bought a French Sailboat that has a 220 shore power system. How do I convert the the 110 volt system in the USA?

By jamesrudoy — On Apr 14, 2014

An electrical device is labeled, for example, "Input AC 100-240V 200mA Output DC4.5V-6.5V Max 800mA." Does it consume 20 watts per hour at 100 volts (100*200/1000), 48 watts per hour at 240 volts (240*200/1000), or whatever pro-rata value would compute from any voltage between 100 and 240? If so, what becomes of the energy consumed in excess of those 20 watts? What determines what voltage within the stated 4.5V-6.5V range is actually output? 4.5V and 800mA computes an hourly wattage work output of 3.6 watts. Does the device output more watts at voltages higher than 4.5?

By anon923872 — On Dec 31, 2013

I have a US treadmill (specs are 120V/60Hz/20A/3.5HP) in Malaysia and need help determining the type of stepdown transfomer needed. I think I only need a 3000W (120V * 20A plus safety factor of 20 percent = 2880W). Can you please explain if/why my calculations are wrong and provide correct calculations if necessary? I specifically question whether I need to factor in the equipment HP for these calculations. Thanks a lot for your help!

By anon323396 — On Mar 05, 2013

I am going to buy a BBQ smoker made in America and use it in China. Is it possible to re-wire the machine to work using china's 220V 50HZ current?

By anon322846 — On Mar 01, 2013

How can I buy an item from the USA and fit it with an Australian plug without using an adapter?

By anon320442 — On Feb 18, 2013

Watts is the total power consumed by your appliance. Amps drive your appliance. Voltage is like the speed the amps are supplied at.

Voltage x amperage = watts

240 volts x 10 amps = 2400 watts

110 volts x 10 amps = 110 watts

Therefore, 2400 watts divided by 110 volts = 21.8 amps.

Too many amps = bang; Too few = no go.

By anon317157 — On Jan 31, 2013

I'm currently in India and I'm looking to buy a hair dryer here. I will be shuttling between the US and Australia. Can you please help me in understanding the wattage I need to look for and buy so that I can use the same everywhere?

By anon298440 — On Oct 20, 2012

I bought an exercise machine which states either 220-240v/50HZ OR 110v/50HZ US runs on 60HZ. Is there a converter needed to change to 60HZ? Could it damage the equipment to run on higher HZ?

By anon252160 — On Mar 04, 2012

We moved from the US to Slovakia and we brought with us our treadmill, DeWalt tools, kitchen mixers and commercial refrigerator. Which converters or transformers do we need? Thank you for your help. Write back soon.

By anon189761 — On Jun 24, 2011

We moved from US to Switzerland and we brought with us our treadmill Sole F63. What should we do to make it work here in CH? Thanks for your help.

By anon164151 — On Mar 30, 2011

Anon: Volts and Watts are not the same!

By anon148614 — On Feb 02, 2011

I have a treadmill that I purchased in Europe and I'd like to take to the US. Is it easy to convert power to US?

By anon142331 — On Jan 12, 2011

why is the voltage in europe 220-240 volts and North America is 110-120? why are they different?

By anon128324 — On Nov 19, 2010

I live in Nigeria and bought a MacBook Pro from the US. The MagSafe Adapter is 60W.

The voltage in Nigeria is 240V. I would like to know if i can use the system without a voltage converter or i need to get a voltage converter before i can use the system.

By cansaner — On Oct 24, 2010

I have a problem with a CD player. At the back of it, It says 230V, 50 Hz. I am living in Turkey and Turkey operates on 220 volts, 50 Hz. So the difference is for volts. And when I plug it doesn't work right now. Is it because of the volt difference or my CD player is broken or what? Can you operate a 230V product with 220V main power? If you can, how?

By anon113627 — On Sep 25, 2010

I have a Kitchen Aid mixer that I bought while living in Switzerland a few years ago. I am now back in the US and would really like to keep using it here. On the side of the mixer it says that it can do 220-240v. What kind of voltage converter and adapter do I need? ---chrispie242003

By anon97871 — On Jul 21, 2010

If it says 110-240 volts you can use it anywhere in the world. Like cellphone charger if it says on the adapter,110-240 volts or voltage, it's going to work anywhere,don't need to worry about it.

answer to the # 1 question

If you're in the United States right now, the voltage is 110 volts but you said you bought a 220 volts converter. If the adapter/converter says 110-240 volts, you need to make sure before you plug it in your voltage that you're using is 110 volts *not* 220. that's why the converter was burned -- because the plug in is 220 volts but you inserted it to 110 volts. Once that happened you broke your gadget. So be careful when dealing with electricity.

By anon58651 — On Jan 03, 2010

Can i use a 50Hertz electric motor on 60hertz power supply?

By anon45512 — On Sep 17, 2009

Why is the American and European voltages different anyway? Is there any advantage to having this difference?

By anon44592 — On Sep 09, 2009

My mobile phone charger states on label AC 100-240. Can I use this in US? Thanks

By anon41480 — On Aug 15, 2009

Hi - I want to buy a chandelier from the UK for use in the US. Are lighting circuits different between countries also - and are US bulb fittings bayonet and screw-in as in the UK? Thanks!

By anon33631 — On Jun 09, 2009

Ochiellieme- your generator will run incandescent lights, heaters OK, but you might have problems with motors. they will run a bit fast and won't have as much torque. for most applications, unless you are pushing the motor to the limit it should be OK running on 60 hz.

By anon28251 — On Mar 13, 2009

I found a bandsaw who's panel says 230/60. Is this all right to run on 200?

By robert2008 — On Dec 09, 2008

i have a question what are the volts in europe over here the most common is 120/240

By ochillieme — On Jan 28, 2008

i recently purchased a diesel generator rated 24 kw with 120/240 volt 60 hertz. my country uses 240 volt 50 hertz. will i have problem using this generator in my country?

i also purchased a ductless mini split system air conditioner with 240 volt 60 hertz. can i be able to use this product in a country with 240 volt 50 hertz?

By jorgerx — On Jan 10, 2008

the same thing happened to me, and now I'm not sure if my power supply still works, but there is a step down AC adapter for the 360.

I'm trying to figure out if my power supply is still working, in the case that you need a new AC adapter there is one that can work with both voltages voltages from America and Europe.

but I haven't found anywhere to buy it. I live in England, I hope you have any luck :(

By anon6829 — On Jan 10, 2008

I brought an old European table lamp to the US.

Can I leave the European elec. wire or cord on the lamp and just replace the electrical wall plug with an American wall plug? Thanks

By anon3482 — On Aug 31, 2007

Using an American Xbox in Europe?

I am having problems using the Xbox 360 in Switzerland with the original power supply.

I bought a converter that said 220 and that it would go to 1600 watts, but when I plugged in to the wall it burned something, even the power in my room went off.

Fortunately the xbox was not connected, but what do I need to make sure that I plug it in and that it will work.

Thank you

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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