Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Are French and US electricity the same?

If you are about to travel to Paris, do not forget to pack the right adapters for your small appliances. Otherwise, you will get yourself into trouble.

A higher voltage

Electricity in France—and more generally in Europe—comes out of the electrical outlets at 230-240 volts. In the US, the voltage is 110 volts. If your electric shaver is not meant to be used in a power band of 110-240 V, it will burn quickly when you plug it in a French socket.

Before you take this electric shaver or Discman with you, verify which voltage it supports. If it uses a transformer—a small device which converts the 110-volt current into a 9-volt or 12-volt curren, also called a ‘converter’—check the voltage characteristics of your transformer. It should be clearly stated on it which voltage band it accepts. If it only states “110 Volts”, that’s not enough. You will burn both the converter and the appliance by plugging them in an electrical stocket in France.

Pack only appliances which accept 110-240 volts, or a low voltage (like 9-12 volts) IF they come with a transformer which accepts 110-240 volts.

The transformers coming with laptop computers typically accept 100-240 volts. But check yours beforehand. If it only accepts 110 Volts, go to Radio Shack with your laptop, and buy yourself a multi-voltage transformer suitable for your model.

Check the voltage on the transformer (left) of your laptop (right)

Battery chargers for digital cameras and cell phones should be checked too. Some battery chargers accept the higher 240 volts, some don’t. Read the labels on your charger and on the transformer that often comes with it.

Plug differences

The electrodes (terminals) on US plug are flat. In France, the electrodes are cylindrical. And wall outlets are only made to accept this type of plugs.

A French two-pronged plug

A French wall outlet with a ground terminal

Therefore, you won’t be able to plug your flat American plug into a regular outlet.

Buy yourself a cheap adaptor. They come in various shapes and forms, the more sophisticated allowing you to plug your devices anywhere in the world.

You should be able to find uncostly adapters at your local hardware store. Call before you go, not all of them carry these items.

This adaptor allows you to plug almost everywhere

Adaptors are not transformers

Adaptors are simple devices which connect your US-model plug to a French or European-model outlet.

Converters or transformers modify the characteristics of the current which goes into your appliance.

Do not mistake one for the other. The converter is heavier because there is a metal coil in it. The adaptor is usually light because it’s all plastic with a bit of metal in it.

Sometimes, converters also double as adaptors. In that case, the shape of the male terminals will be for the shape of the female terminals.

A converter-adaptor


Hairdryers usually require a large amount of power. If yours does not function on 110-240 volts, you will have to buy a large and heavy transformer. Just don’t bother to pack this appliance, and simply call your hotel (or go to their website) to check if your room comes with a blowdryer.

This article was written by Phil Chavanne in collaboration with Vincent Ramelli. Phil and Vincent share their knowledge of Paris in the columns of www.Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.com a free Paris travel guide.