Planning Any 2023 Travel? Here’s an Electrifyingly Useful Guide to Outlets Around the World
Here at Apartment Therapy, we’ve showcased homes all around the world, therefore lamps all around the world and appliances all around the world (hello, laundry appliances in kitchens!) — and therefore outlets around the world.
If you’re an eagle-eyed viewer of international house tour photos (or if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel or vacation rental in another country), you’ll know that outlets look different from country to country, and that you’ll have to pack an adapter if you plan to use a curling iron or phone charger (or anything that plugs in) from home while traveling overseas. So if 2023 is your year for vacationing — or even moving! — abroad, you’ll need to do a little prep.
Below, you’ll find our handy guide to knowing what outlets look like in foreign countries, plus what to know before you plug in. Here’s what to expect:
- The reason behind different outlets in different countries: It all has to do with how and when the electrical grids there were set up. There are 15 total outlet types throughout the world.
- Where you can successfully use plugs for American-made products: These work with type A outlets that are used in North America, Central America, and Japan, though Japanese plugs have a slightly thinner neutral pin.
- Why most outlets have three holes: The third is for a grounding pin, which became standard in the U.S. in 1971.
- What the names are for the other outlet types: Around the world, you’ll find types C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, and O. Some plug types work with multiple outlet types.
Why do outlets look different country to country?
Some outlets look like pig noses and some look like alien faces, but the general gist is that there are two or three openings for round prongs or flat pins to go into. One opening is for “hot” — in the U.S., that’s the right side, meaning the electrical current flows from there, and the current flows to the other opening, which is neutral, to make a complete path, or circuit.
Most outlets and plugs today have a third openings and pin, respectively, for grounding. “It helps to keep you safe from electric shock if something goes wrong with the plug, or if a wire gets loose in whatever you’ve plugged in,” Ted Kury, Director of Energy Studies at the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida, wrote for The Conversation. “This feature is called grounding because if electric current escapes from the wires that normally carry it, a special set of wires leads it from the center opening to a rod buried deep in the ground.”
The reason plugs look different depending on where you are in the world is because electricians, engineers, and grid planners independently developed their own technologies and electrical grid systems from country to country, and no universal standard (regarding prong shape or voltage) was set early on.
“The US grid is set up at 110 volts because at the time the grid was being put together — the time of Edison and Westinghouse and Tesla — most of the time the electricity was being used to light lights, and lights just happen to work best at about 110 volts,” Kury says.
However, the European grid was set up after the U.S. and operates at 220 or 230 volts. “When Europe started setting up their grid, they looked at it from a cost perspective, ” Kury says. “And they said, you know, all this copper that’s used in wires to transmit electricity … is pretty expensive. So if we provided electricity at higher voltage levels … we can actually use less copper to send the same amount of power to people’s homes.”
Adapting to a universal standard “would require countries that don’t already use that standard to spend billions of dollars to change their outlets, the way they build buildings and even the way they manufacture certain appliances,” Kury wrote.
The good news is, there are handy travel-sized adapters that will work for many countries if you’re visiting. You’ll have to plug your two-or three-pronged American device (for either an A- or B-type plug) into the adapter and then the adapter into types C through O. According to the International Electrotechnical Commission, there are 15 outlet types around the globe, labeled A through O. More on this below.
Type A — U.S., Mexico, Canada, Japan
The Type A plug has two flat pins and is used in North America, Central America, and Japan. “Although the American and Japanese plugs appear identical, the neutral pin on the American plug is wider than the live pin, whereas on the Japanese plug both pins are the same size. As a result, Japanese plugs can be used in the U.S. but often not the other way around,” according to the IEC.
Type B — USA, Mexico, Canada, Japan
The Type B plug is used in the same regions as above and is the exact same but has a grounding pin in the bottom center. The grounding pin became standard in the U.S. in 1971 for additional safety measures.
Type C — Much of Europe
The Type C plug is known as the Europlug and is used in Europe with the exception of the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta. Type C outlets, however, are largely being replaced with Type E, F, J, K, and N sockets, which will work with the Type C plug.
Type D — India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Namibia
The Type D plug is used in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Namibia and has one large circular opening at the top center and two smaller ones beneath.
Type E — France, Belgium, Slovakia, Tunisia
A Type E outlet actually has a piece that plugs into the Type E plug. The plug has two round pins and an upper opening for a piece of the outlet to plug into it.
Type F — Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain
Type F, used in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Spain, is similar to Type E but has two clips, sometimes called earth clips, on the side for grounding. According to the World Standards website, it’s known as “Schuko plug”— a shorter version of “Schutzkontakt,” a German word meaning “protection contact” or “safety contact.”
Type G – UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong
If you’ve ever traveled to England, you’re familiar with the Type G plug, used in the not only the UK but also Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, which accepts rectangular pins and has safety shutters so you can’t plug anything else into it.
Type H – Israel
The Type H plug is found in Israel only, and it’s being phased out. The plug has two flat pins in a V-shape as well as a grounding pin, and the Type H socket can accommodate the flat pins or rounded pins, like in the Type C.
Type I – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Argentina
The Type I plug looks kind of like a tired ghost. Its two “eyes” are holes that accept two flat pins in a V-shape, and the “mouth” fits a third flat grounding pin. According to the IEC, “a version of the plug, which only has the two flat pins, exists as well. The Australian plug also works with sockets in China.”
Type J – Switzerland, Lichtenstein
Type J plugs are relatively condensed and have three round pins. The IEC warns that although the Type J plug/outlet duo looks a lot like the Type N plug/outlet duo used in Brazil, the two are actually incompatible because the grounding pin of a Type J plug is further away from the center than on Type N. However, Type C plugs can work in Type J outlets.
Type K – Denmark, Greenland
The Type K plug looks a bit like a smiling face, and it’s used in Denmark. Its live and neutral openings are similar to Type F, but Type K has an opening for one grounding pin instead of the earth clips.
The Type L plug has three round pins in a row (the central one is a grounding pin). It comes in two versions with two different currents, 10 amps and 16 amps.
The Type M plug has three large round pins, the top one being the largest. According to the IEC, Type Ms are typically used for larger appliances in countries that use Type D (Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Namibia) as well as in Israel (Type H).
The Type N plug is used in Brazil, and Brazil is one of the only countries in which plugs come in two different voltages (either 127 V or 220 V). Therefore, many appliances in the country are dual voltage. The higher voltage version has larger pins but has the same layout, with three round pins in the plug and three circular receptors in the outlet. “It is therefore important to find out the local voltage before plugging in your appliance,” the IEC warns. “Note: wrong voltage can destroy your appliance.“
The Type O plug and socket were designed in 2006, the newest of the plug types — so it makes sense that it’s not widespread yet; this three-pronged plug is exclusive to Thailand.
What to Do if You’re Not Sure of the Outlet Type
If you are unsure about voltage, plug, or adapter types while traveling, refer to the IEC’s plug type and voltage guide before plugging in. Never plug in anything with a voltage or prong type that does not match your location’s standards into an outlet. Without a voltage adaptor, for example, an American clock that plugs in might run a little faster in Europe, or an American steamer might pump out steam a little more aggressively, or you might give yourself a shock. If you don’t use an adapter, “you’d end up damaging your electronics, and you could hurt yourself,” Kury says.
Even with an adapter, you should check before plugging anything in with a high power rating (denoted by Watts). This includes things like hair dryers, curling irons, electric kettles, and other small appliances. Check the instructions on your particular adapter before proceeding.