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.