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Bringing your appliances and gadgets to your new home: A guide to choosing the right voltage transformer

We cannot live without our appliances and gadgets - but moving abroad doesn't mean you cannot take them with you. Save a fortune and follow this guide to getting your power supply right for your everyday electrical appliances

Written by Miguel A. Flores on 5 January 2017

There are plenty of things to consider if you want to bring your appliances with you on your move overseas. You may have realised that not every country uses the same outlet plugs, but were you aware that you also had to take into consideration different voltage standards?

Luckily, the UK voltage standard is between the 220-240V range that most of Europe, Asia, and Africa uses. But if you plan on going to a country like the United States, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, or anywhere else that uses a different voltage standard, you will need a voltage transformer or converter. And when choosing your transformer, you should be wary of your choice. Choosing the wrong unit can be a severe threat to your property and safety.

There are so many things to consider, that some people just choose to buy new appliances altogether. But fear not, you do not have to say goodbye to your favourite refrigerator, blender, or microwave oven just yet. Below is all the information you need to bring your favourite tried-and-tested appliances with you.

What plug type do I need? 

Different plug types around the world

Before you start packing anything with a wire and plug, you should be aware of your destination’s standard plug type. In the UK, we use a Type G plug type – so if you travel to say, Russia, where they use a Type F plug, you will not be able to use your appliance without the use of a plug adaptor.

But just because you have an adaptor doesn’t mean you should plug your appliances without further research. Depending on the voltage standards, certain appliances will need a voltage transformer to properly work. Simply plugging those appliances in without a transformer can irreparably damage them.

(Image Courtesy of ACUPWR USA)

The complete guide to electrical transformers

Transformers and converters are units that allow you to use electrical appliances in countries with a different voltage standard than they were made to work in. These units work by either stepping up or stepping down the voltage to suit your appliances’ needs.

Converters and transformers essentially have the same function, but converters are meant for short-term use. Extended use of them can lead to overheating and the possibility of fires. They also should not be used with electronic devices, which have complex power requirements for their integrated circuits. For electronics, you will need a transformer.

Transformers, good models at least, should also be good for indefinite use without risk of going up in flames.

How do you determine what you need for your appliance?

Determine the voltage type of your appliance

Look through the device plug, cable, and/or the user manual to find out the voltage type your appliance can work under. Some items are what we call “dual voltage” – they work perfectly fine in multiple voltage standards. You will not need a transformer for those. Just use a plug adaptor if needed and you’re good to go!

If, however, your appliance is "single voltage" or "fixed voltage", you will need a transformer to use it in a country with a different voltage standard.

Determine if you need to bring the voltage up or down.

Once you find out the voltage of your appliance, you need to find out the voltage standard of your destination. Most of the world, including the UK, uses a voltage standard between 220-240 V. The United States uses a 110-120 V standard. Brazil and Mexico use 127-130 V. Japan uses 100 V. You would need the proper step-up transformer to use a single voltage 220-240V appliance from the UK in any of those countries.

Likewise, if you wanted to use an appliance from any of those countries, or any other with a lower voltage standard, you will need the proper step-down transformer to bring the UK’s 220-240 V down to the proper voltage for your appliance to work.

Calculate the wattage that you need

Transformer units come under a variety of different wattage capacity models, therefore you need to calculate exactly how many watts you need your transformer to be able to take.

This is easy. Simply find the number next to the W label on your device. If you want to use multiple appliances, just add up the wattage consumption of each device. Choose a transformer model that can take that much wattage and you’re set!

Special considerations

The above should be everything you need to pick the right transformer for most appliances, but if you have a refrigerator or cooling unit, there are some other important points to consider.

Beware of cheap transformers and the myth of the "Twice the Wattage Rule"

Some companies will try to convince you that your transformer needs twice to three times the total wattage consumption of your appliances. They will try to cite voltage spikes caused by the power grid and your electronics.

Unfortunately, the industry is currently replete with cheap transformers that will breakdown, and even catch fire, when used well-within their supposed wattage capacity. These generic units are usually made in China with very minimal safety standards and can pose a risk to both your person and property.

The so-called "Twice the Wattage Rule" is nothing but a cover for those companies who know they cannot trust that their product will work within the wattage range they specify. You can generally recognise those cheap, substandard transformers and converters by their shiny black casing.

Things to avoid:

  • Units that use fuses as their safety mechanism for overloads. You want a unit that can just safely shut off in that situation.
  • Units that use aluminium wiring. Aluminium wires are known to be an electrical fire hazard.
  • Units that run with an audible hum. Yes, the audible noise people associate with transformers and converters is actually a sign that electricity isn’t being used efficiently.
  • Units that run hot. Once again, a sign that power isn’t being used efficiently and a safety hazard.

Those are all signs of shoddy engineering and craftsmanship and a surefire way to determine that a unit is both bad for your personal safety and wallet (as you can imagine a cheap, inefficient unit isn’t very kind on your electric bill, so it won’t actually be very economical in the long run).

The price of a cheap transformer can be enticing, but cheap units are known to randomly fail, damage your appliances, and even explode because of their shoddy design and construction. Do not put your family, appliances, and your precious new home at an unnecessary risk. Make sure your transformer meets the proper safety standards.

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