Electrical Appliances, Should I Bring Them to Italy?

European electrical plug

I recently received a note from someone asking what sort of things to bring with them to Italy. I know that I wondered the same thing when I moved. I am pretty sure everyone who has not lived outside the United States has had the same thoughts. I decided to share what I know and what I think about the topic.

Voltage in Italy Verses Voltage in the United States

Many countries electrical systems differ. These differences stem way back to when Edison invented the light bulb. After doing a little research, I decided to forgo any further explanation. (If you are really interested, Bright Hub has a pretty basic article on the subject.)

Most of Europe operates on 220 to 240 Volts.  The United States, Canada and most countries in Central America use 110 Volts.

Why Voltage Matters

In the United States, all appliances are wired to use 110 Volts of electricity. If you try to use appliances on higher voltages, they will likely short out, spark or catch fire. Even if an appliance initially appears to work using only an adapter plug, it will not last long if the voltages is too high. Once your appliance has shorted out, it won’t be repairable.

How Do I Know If An Appliance is Dual Voltage?

Many electronics are dual voltage. If you have the manual on an appliance, read it. Prior to moving to Italy, I ignored the section mentioning voltage, because it meant nothing to me.  If you have tossed the manual, you can still find the voltage information. Every electrical appliance has a line on it somewhere that will tell you the voltage.

My camera battery chargers are an example of dual voltage electronics. The charger has printed information on the back of it that states “Input: 100-240V” and a bunch of other stuff. This means it will work in the U.S. and in Italy.  Sometimes it is hard to find this information. Look on the back, bottom or on the appliance plug.

A Note About Dual Voltage Appliances

Just because an appliance will work in Italy, it does not mean it will work the same. My hair dryer and flat-iron are both dual voltage. Unfortunately, they only work on the highest setting. I am not able to adjust the temperature on either one of them. I just use them anyway, because I did not use the temperature settings much. Just know that surprises happen!

Adapters are not the same thing as converters. Don’t get the two confused or you will end up frying your electrical stuff.  An expatriate website goes into great detail here about the difference.

Electrical Adapters

Plug styles are different in many countries. The American 2-Prong plug-in does not fit anything here. Even something is dual-voltage, you can’t plug it in, because of the plug-in. You will need adapters to put on the plug so it fits the European-style plug-in. If you use an appliance that is not dual-voltage, you can put an adapter on and plug it in, but the voltage will likely ruin it.

Voltage Converters

A converter is a device that actually changes the voltage from 220 volts to 110 volts. You can plug the converter into an electrical outlet and then plug your stuff into it. Everything works fine then. Make sure you get a converter large enough to handle the electrical wattage your appliance uses. If you are plugging in a DS Game System to charge, a small one (like the travel ones for less than 50 watts) will work. However, if you need a converter for your television, you will need to get one that can handle several hundred watts.

Don’t use clocks with voltage converters, because they will not work correctly. Trust me on this one!

Although the topic of watts and volts seems confusing, it is pretty easy to adapt to once you arrive in Italy.  One last word to you, go to the thrift shop to buy adapters and save yourself a few dollars! You will use tons of them!


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