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Electricity Guide: FAQs and Glossary

Adapter plug

Electricity can be a baffling subject for many travelers. The REI Electricity Guide for Travelers article explains the basics, but here are also some quick answers you may find helpful:

Q: Will my electrical and electronic appliances work in Country X?

A: Yes, provided you have the appropriate adapter plug to fit the power outlet in your destination country, and your device is rated for the same voltage as the power supply in that country. If the voltage is different, you will need a voltage converter or transformer. Note: Some foreign hotels have circuits providing approximately 120 volts, which allow guests to use electric shavers and other low-wattage U.S. appliances. These are labeled as such in the hotel.

Q: How do I find out what I need to take?

A: First, read the power supply label on your device to determine the voltage rating. Then find out what the power supply voltage is at your destination. See our Voltage and Outlets by Country chart (or consult your travel guidebook) to find this information. If your device and the power supply use the same voltage, you only need an adapter plug. If it is different, you will also need a voltage converter or transformer.

Q: What type of adapter plug do I need?

A: Adapter plugs come in many configurations, but there are 4 common types that work for many countries.  See the list of countries below or our Electricity Guide for Travelers article to find the correct adapter plug type for your destination.

Q: When do I need a voltage converter or transformer?

A: One or the other is needed only if your destination country's power supply has a voltage rating that is outside the range of your device. For these single-voltage devices, you’ll need a converter is for use with "electrical" devices and a transformer for use with "electronic" devices (see Glossary). You won't need either if your device is rated dual or multi voltage.

Adapter plugs are available as a single plug type or as a multi-nation adapter plug which features the common plug types, including a USB outlet for some electronic devices. 

Shop REI’s selection of converters and adapters.

Glossary: Electrical Terms

Electrical adapters

Adapter plug: This changes the prongs on your device's plug into a configuration that fits into the power outlet at your destination. An adapter plug does not convert electricity. Adapter plugs can be used with voltage converters, transformers and dual- or multi-voltage devices, if needed. They are labeled by plug type and/or country of use. They are sold as single plugs for individual countries, in travel sets of the most common plug types or as a universal plug with multiple plug types. Adapter plugs are usually ungrounded. See Grounded for more plug information.

Tip: It's easy to unintentionally leave your adapter plug behind when you pull your power lead out of the outlet. Consider using a dedicated adapter plug per device and tape it onto your plug.

AC adapter: This is the black box that converts AC (alternating current) coming out of the wall outlet to the DC (direct current) power that is required to operate your device. This adapter comes with your device (such as a laptop computer or cell phone charger). Don't leave home without it. For some devices, a USB cable is used to connect the to AC adapter to the device, but you still need the AC adapter to regulate the power supply.

AC: Refers to alternating current, the most common type of power supply. This power is generated by a utility company and sent along cables to power outlets.

DC: Refers to direct current, the type of power supply required by an electronic device. The output information on the device's power supply label will tell you what it runs on.

Example: OUTPUT DC 1.2V 2.3A

This is usually important only if you need to replace a lost AC adapter. In this case, a replacement AC adapter must match the manufacturer's recommendation for your device.

Converter: See voltage converter.

Electrical devices: These use heating elements or mechanical motors. Examples include hair dryers, travel irons, water heaters, shavers and toothbrushes. If the device's voltage rating is not compatible with the power supply in your destination country, it can be used with either a converter or transformer with the correct wattage range for short periods of time (under 2 hours).

Electronic devices: These operate with electronic motors, circuits or chips. Examples include mobile devices, computers, radios and battery chargers. If the device's voltage rating is not compatible with the power supply in your destination country, it should be used ONLY with a transformer of the correct wattage range for short periods of time (under 3 hours).

Frequency: Also called “cycles,” this is the speed at which electric current alternates (expressed in Hertz = cycles per second). In the USA and Canada, the AC power supply is 60Hz. In many other countries, it is 50Hz. This is not a problem for most devices, but some with electric timers in them (such as clocks) may have their accuracy affected. Converters and transformers do not adjust frequency. Many modern portable devices are designed to accommodate a range of frequencies; the power label on such devices will say 50-60Hz.

Grounded: This relates to the power outlet and plug type. A grounded plug will have 3 prongs (with some variations possible), whereas an ungrounded plug will have 2 prongs. Most portable devices are ungrounded. You can use a grounded plug with an ungrounded adapter plug. Is this a concern? Potentially, but it is unlikely for occasional short-term use of a device. You can also use an ungrounded plug in a grounded socket. Consult your device's instruction manual for further information.

Outlet: This refers to the wall outlet or power strip that you plug into (also called a power socket). The plug pin configuration (number, shape and orientation) differs from country to country. Typically you will need an adapter plug (single country or universal) to enable you to plug into an outlet in another country. Countries in the same region (e.g., Europe) often share a common plug type.

Socket: Synonymous with outlet in some countries, but it more correctly refers to the connection point for a light bulb.


Transformer: A device for short or long-term use with single-voltage electronic appliances. Transformers are designed to either step down power from, for example, 230V to 115V, or to step up power from 115V to 230V. If you have a single-voltage North American appliance, it will most likely be 115V or 110V to 125V. If you intend to use it in a country with a 230V power supply, you will need a step-down transformer, or something is going to burn out. The wattage rating of a transformer must always be larger than the wattage rating of the appliance to be plugged into it. Transformers are generally larger, heavier and more expensive than voltage converters.

Note: Travelers generally do not need a transformer, as the AC adapters for most electronic devices are dual or multi-voltage, negating the need for a separate transformer. Check the power information label on your device to confirm this. 

Voltage: This can refer either to the voltage rating of the power supply in your destination country or to the power rating of your device. To find the former, refer to the Power and Outlet Types by Country chart. To find the latter, look for the device's power supply information. This may be a label affixed directly to the back of the device, on the AC transformer box along the power lead or molded into the plastic on the plug. It is often in very small print.

  • Domestic power supply in North America is typically AC 115V. In most other countries the voltage will be in the range of AC 220V — 240V.
  • The rated input for electrical or electronic devices will be single, dual or multi. Devices made for domestic use (not international use) will often be rated as single voltage (e.g., kitchen appliances).
    • Single voltage would read 120V. Household kitchen appliances like coffee makers, toasters and blenders are typically single voltage. This is usually not the sort of thing you are going to take on a trip.
    • Dual voltage would read 110V/220V, and the device may have a switch to toggle between the 2 voltage inputs. This is common on hair dryers.
    • Multi-voltage would read 100 — 240V. This is common on battery chargers and AC transformers for many modern portable devices like laptop computers.
  • A device with a single voltage input will need a voltage converter or transformer to be used in a location with a non-corresponding power supply voltage, as well as an adapter plug.

Tip: If using a dual-voltage device in another country and it has a manual switch to change voltage input, be sure to use it or you are likely to damage your device. Remember to change it back when you return home!

Voltage converter: The little black box that goes between the power outlet and your device. It is for use with electrical appliances only and should not be used with electronic devices. You only need a voltage converter if your electric device is rated as single voltage (e.g., 120V) and this is different from the voltage supplied in your destination country. If so, you also need to know the wattage requirements of your device and use a converter that is appropriate. Voltage converters may be low wattage only or dual wattage (low and high). A battery charger has a low-watt requirement, whereas a hair dyer has a high-watt requirement.

Note:  Some converters also act as a transformer for electronic devices that are rated at less than 50 watts.

Glossary: Outlet Types

Below is a list of outlet types. If you don’t see your destination country mentioned, check the outlet type in our separate Voltage and Outlet Types by Country chart.

Use Adaptor Plug E108 from REI or a universal kit.

This ungrounded plug with 2 flat parallel prongs is standard in North and Central America. Though similar, the Japanese plug has 2 identical flat prongs, whereas the USA plug has 1 prong which is slightly larger. Therefore, USA plugs do not often work in Japanese outlets.

Use Adaptor Plug E108 from REI, or a universal kit.

Although this plug is also standard in Japan, it is less frequently used than in North America. An ungrounded version of this plug is commonly used in Central America and parts of South America.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

This 2-wire plug is ungrounded and has 2 round prongs. It is popularly known as the Europlug. This is probably the most widely used international plug. The plug is generally limited for use in applications that require 2.5 amps or less. Since type C outlets are ungrounded, they are currently being phased out in many countries and replaced by type E, F, J, K or L. A type C plug fits perfectly into a type E, F, J, K or L outlet.

Although type D is now almost exclusively used in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Namibia, it can still occasionally be found in hotels in the UK and Ireland. Do not attempt to connect anything to a round-pin outlet found in the UK or Ireland.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

France, Belgium and some other countries have standardized an outlet which is different from the type F outlet that is standard in other continental European countries. A type C plug fits perfectly into a type E outlet.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

Type F, commonly called the Schuko plug, is similar to type C except that it is round and has the addition of 2 grounding clips on the side of the plug. A type C plug fits perfectly into a type F outlet.

Use Adaptor Plug E105 from REI, or a universal kit.

This plug has 3 rectangular prongs that form a triangle.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

The flat-bladed version of this plug is being phased out. In 1989, Israel standardized a new version of the type H outlet: the holes were made round in order to accommodate type C plugs as well.

Use Adapter Plug E107 from REI, or a universal kit.

This plug has a grounding pin and 2 flat prongs forming a V-shape. There is an ungrounded version of this plug as well, with only 2 flat V-shaped prongs. Although there are slight differences, the Australian plug mates with the outlet used in China.

Use Adapter Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

This plug is similar to type C, except that it has the addition of a grounding pin. A type C plug works in a type J outlet.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

This plug is similar to type F except that it has a grounding pin instead of grounding clips. Denmark started phasing in type K outlets from 2008 forward. A type C plug fits perfectly into a type K outlet.

Use Adaptor Plug E106 from REI, or a universal kit.

A type C plug fits perfectly into a type L outlet.

This plug resembles the Indian type D plug, but its pins are much larger.

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