A key consideration for those travelling or moving internationally is voltage. No one wants to blow out a perfectly good appliance simply because, for instance, UK voltage of 240V is twice that of North America. Imagine my personal frustration when, within only a couple months of receiving shiny new kitchen appliances as wedding gifts, my spouse and I move to London and can’t bring any of it with us (for the record, we did not foresee our impending London move with 100% clarity at the time we set up our registry). If your move is permanent, it is worth it to just leave anything with a cord and plug at home and purchase UK equivalents outright. However, shorter-term placements may leave you feeling that to do so would be a tremendous waste of money that could be put toward other worthwhile things (rent, for instance).
The key for the short-run, then, is understanding what you can use from home or how you can adapt without. And before I get into that, let’s understand the key terminology:
– An ADAPTOR converts your 2 or 3-pronged U.S. plugs to the 3-pronged UK standard. This simply enables you to plug a U.S. appliance into a UK outlet; it does NOT adapt the voltage!
– A CONVERTER is what you can plug your appliance (or power strip, if needing to convert multiple appliances) into before then plugging the converter itself into the wall. This will suppress the 240V coming through that outlet to only allow 120V through to your appliance, thus, not blowing it out.
– A TRANSFORMER is basically a converter, but much more hard core (and expensive). Whereas a converter is usually a small plastic black box with a cord, a transformer is a heavier, bulkier metal box that is far better adapted to converting electricity for higher wattage items (or total wattage, if grouping appliances together on the same power strip).
Most televisions and computers purchased within the last several years will be 120-240V compatible (just be sure to read the fine print to confirm this before you plug anything in!). After verifying this, these items can be plugged directly into the outlet using only an adapter. As far as what to plug into a converter or transformer, it’s generally best to stick to appliances running at a lower wattage, those that are longer running at a slow, steady current like a DVD player or VCR. Items like coffeemakers, toasters, or blenders that use a lot of energy in short bursts are probably best left at home and replaced, in the interim, by reasonably-priced equivalents in the UK (try Argos or Homebase)—it seriously isn’t worth risking ruining your U.S. stuff and/or blowing a fuse/starting a fire/etc. Think of what you can live without for a while (probably a blender, huh?) or what you can replace with a non-electric alternative (e.g., a French Press or stovetop espresso maker).
One last recommendation for when you get settled into that lovely home London Relocation Ltd. will find for you: Though one stubborn, delusional hardware store owner insisted otherwise to me, these older, period-conversion buildings are indeed prone to power surges, so be sure to plug all your appliances into surge-protecting power strips!