Voltage Converters: Using Equipment from the UK in the USA

If you are travelling to the United States in the near future, either for a holiday, a business trip or even a complete relocation, you are likely to make a list of the essential items that you are going to need once you get there. If you are taking any electrical items, one of the items that you will definitely need to add to that list is a voltage converter. The reason for this is quite simple – without it, your electrical equipment is not going to work!

Why Do I Need A Voltage Converter?

The answer to this question lies in the different voltage levels that run through the mains electrical systems of the UK and the US.

In the UK, the mains supply runs at 200-240 volts AC (alternating current). In the US, it runs at the lower level of 100-110 volts AC. Because the electrical appliances that you will be taking to the United States will have been manufactured for, and probably purchased in, the United Kingdom market place, they will be compatible only with the UK’s mains electrical supply or its equivalent. If you try to use them in the US (or one of many other countries that run a lower voltage supply) they will not work and you may even cause damage to the appliance.

It should be mentioned that a conventional travel adaptor, which simply permits you to use a UK three-pin plug in a US electrical socket, is not a voltage converter and should never be used as if it is one.

More than just a travel adaptor is required for this UK plus to power an appliance in the US

More than just a travel adaptor is required for this UK plus to power an appliance in the US

What Does A Voltage Converter Do?

In simple terms, a voltage converter (or, as it is also commonly known, a transformer) steps up the voltage of the US mains supply to the level that is required to run your electrical equipment. Certain smaller items of electrical equipment, such as electric razors may run without a voltage converter and some other electrical appliances, such as laptop computers, come with their own voltage converter attached to the power lead, allowing them to operate virtually universally. However, larger travel devices, such as hairdryers, will definitely require a converter, as will any substantial domestic electrical appliances that accompany you if you are planning a longer trip to the US.

It should be added that if you purchase any electrical goods whilst you are visiting the USA, they will not operate in the UK without the use of a voltage converter. Because they will have been made to run on a far lower electric supply than in the UK, the risk of damage, if you try to use them without a voltage converter upon your return to the UK is obvious.

Whilst you can purchase voltage converters that can either step up or step down the voltage from a mains power supply, it is much more economical to invest in an autotransformer. This is a voltage converter that has the ability to step the supply both up and down, according to where you are located and the source of the appliance that you are using. It will therefore work for any of your UK made electrical appliances in the USA and for any electrical goods that you acquire in the USA and bring back home.

A typical set of voltage converters

A typical set of voltage converters


If you are planning a trip to the US, it is always worth checking whether you are likely to require a voltage converter. Some hotels, particularly those that cater for a European clientele, may loan one to their guests for the duration of their stay. However, many hotels have their own electrical appliances, such as hairdryers, CD and DVD players as well as docking stations for the use of their guests so you may not really need to take any electrical items with you at all. If you do need, or wish, to take electrical items to the US, ensure that you also take a voltage converter. This way, you can be confident that you will be able to operate the equipment there – and on your return home to the UK!


Image Credits:  Wikipedia 1 and 2

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