When travelling

When you are travelling, you should never assume you are as protected abroad as you are at home. Electricity safety standards in the UK are higher than in many other countries.

Apart from some of the obvious differences, like plugs and sockets, there are other aspects you should be aware of. For example, electricity supplies worldwide can vary from anything between 100 volts and 240 volts. This means it’s not always safe to use UK electrical equipment that is rated at a voltage different from the foreign supply. Check before you plug it in. (The normal voltage and frequency of the electricity supply in the UK is 230 v 50 Hz.)

Keeping yourself safe is easy if you follow these simple rules:

  • Never touch electrical equipment with wet hands.
  • Never touch light switches if they are cracked or show signs of damage.
  • Never plug equipment into a socket which looks damaged or cracked, or has part or all of the cover missing.
  • Never use mains-powered electrical appliances in a bathroom.
  • Always check cables are securely attached and are not cut, nicked or damaged in any way. There should be no joints in the cable and certainly no repairs with insulating tape. Cables should also be checked for signs of overheating, such as discoloration.
  • Always check that the travel adaptor you are using is the correct type for the country you are travelling to and never force it into a socket if it does not easily fit.
  • Never ignore burning smells, sounds of arcing (buzzing and crackling), fuses blowing or scorch marks on plugs and sockets.
  • On campsites check there is Residual Current Device (RCD) protection or a similar device that will cut off the supply if there is an electrical problem.

What to do before you go

  • Find out about the type of sockets and the voltage used in the country you are visiting.
  • Think about the appliances you intend to take and whether you will need to use travel adaptors or voltage converters and what their power rating should be.
  • Consider buying travel adaptors and voltage converters before you go as not all products available abroad will meet British safety standards.
  • On cruise ships, the voltage and type of sockets provided in cabins can vary (even with the same cruise operator) and may not be the same as that used in the country the ship departs from. Check with the cruise operator or your travel agent.

Using electrical appliances abroad – Your questions answered:

Can you use UK electrical appliances safely?

Yes, but you must consider the type of socket, the voltage and the frequency of the electricity supply used in the country you are visiting. In most cases a travel adaptor will be needed.
Where the supply voltage is different you may need to use a voltage transformer or converter unless the electrical appliance or its power supply is dual voltage rated. If the frequency is different, the normal operation of an electrical appliance may also be affected. For example, a 50Hz clock may run faster on a 60Hz electricity supply.
For travellers to Europe only the socket type needs to be considered as the voltage and frequency are the same as the UK.

What are travel adaptors?

A travel adaptor is a device that simply allows you to plug any UK electrical appliance into a foreign electrical socket. It is important to note that it does not convert the voltage or frequency.

Which ones should you use?

There are over a dozen different styles of plugs and sockets used throughout the world. Before you travel you need to know the type of socket used in the country you are visiting. Some adaptors are designed to be used in more than one country – so make sure you take the right one.

Some travel adaptors are not suitable for appliances that require an earth connection and should only be used with double-insulated equipment.

Double-insulated appliances will be marked the double-insulated symbol which is usually two rectangles . Before plugging an appliance in, check that it does not exceed the maximum power rating shown in AMPS or WATTS on the adaptor. For safety, all modern travel adaptors must meet an electrical safety standard known as BS 5733.

What are voltage converters/transformers?

In countries where the voltage is 100 - 127 v and the appliance, or its power supply, is not dual voltage rated, you will need to use a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.
Both voltage converters and transformers increase the voltage, but some ‘electronic’ appliances such as CD players, TV’s, radios, computers, etc are not suitable for use with converters. If unsure, check with the manufacturer. 

Can I buy electrical appliances abroad and use them safely back in the UK?

Due to the differences already explained in this guide, we would not recommend buying electrical appliances abroad for use back in the UK.