Electronics Compatibility

One of the most often wondered questions is what electrical devices you can bring from the US. The UK has a completely different electrical standard, voltage, frequency and plug type. This website and its author(s) will not be held responsible for any accidents or lawsuits that occur from following this advice, it is not professional electrician advice.

Basics

There are four differences between using US appliances in the UK : the voltage ( US = 120V, UK = 240V ), the number of watts the product draws (different for each product), the frequency ( US = 60 Hz, UK = 50 Hz ), and the plug on the power cord. In order to convert, you must use a transformer, which is a unit that you plug into the wall and then plug your American appliances into. (I’ve heard some of these smaller transformers can be found at American stores like Target for about ten dollars, but they may not be very good quality. ) The transformer will “step down” in voltage from 240 to 120v. From there you may want to plug in a US-style power strip and provide current for several products. you need to consider how many watts your transformer is providing (all transformers should clearly indicate this). The more wattage required by the electrical item(s), the bigger (and more expensive) the transformer will need to be. Add up all the watts that every one of the components will draw that will be turned on at the same time, then multiply by about 1.25 for good measure, and that’s about the size you need. So if you have three components drawing 30 watts each, get a transformer than delivers about 115 watts. Don’t try to draw more than what the transformer provides: you will be risking the health of you and your electronic components!

UK outlets provide a frequency of 50 Hz. Transformers do not provide a conversion to US 60 Hz; you are stuck with UK 50 Hz. The only electrical products that need concern you regarding this frequency mismatch are products that contain motors (i.e. things that run fans, spin wheels, rotate things, etc. like hair dryers, record players). But...there are two kinds of motors that will be found inside electrical products, and one type is affected by the frequency, while the other is not. Synchronous motors are affected by the frequency mismatch. When such a motor made for 60 Hz receives 50 Hz, it runs at 5/6 speed. You will generally find that any product that contains a motor that runs at high speed (e.g. hair dryer), or must drive something with great force (e. g. power drill) will be a synchronous motor. DC motors are not affected by the frequency mismatch, because the motor runs on DC (for which frequency is irrelevant) and the DC current is supplied internally by the product. Thus, as long as the product gets current from a proper transformer, the motor inside will run at the correct speed. Generally, any product which requires only a small motor (e.g. Walkman cassette player, computer disc drive) uses its own low-voltage (5 or 12 volts) DC motor. Some products (rare, and perhaps even illegal by UL standards) are rated for no lower than 60 Hz, and will overheat when supplied with 50 Hz. The only way you can be sure is to find out the minimum frequency that the product may be run at (which should be 50), for which may need a trained electrician if the manual doesn’t say so. But if the item is a modern product by a company with a good reputation, you probably needen’t worry.

There is only one type of plug in common use in the UK, a three prong plug, larger than the US three-prong equivalent. 

 

UK G-Plug

There is an older, two prong plug which apparently is still in use in older dwellings that haven’t been updated, but they are very rare, even in quite old cottages. So if a salesman selling you UK/US adapters tells you need to need to be equally prepared for both kinds of plugs, he’s wrong. The UK plug also differs from the US one in that a fuse is contained inside. Until recently, when you purchased an electrical product often times it would have no plug at the end of the power cord, which you’d have to buy separately and attach yourself. The practice has recently been discontinued (supposedly abolished by law), so you may not even encounter the problem. You’ll also discover that most UK electrical outlets have switches on them, like the switch on a power strip. And, like all other switches in the UK (such as those used for room lights) the effect of the position of the switch is opposite that of the US: down means on, up means off!

(Note the above info taken from a US to UK moving faq which seems not to exist online anymore.)

Appliances, Bring or Buy New?

Easily replaced items that draw vast amounts of current are unwise to bring because the cost of the transformer you will need for them will probably be several times more than the cost of buying the product new in the UK! These are items such as hairdryers and kitchen appliances, or others with high speed motors. Your US-made LP record turntables or cassette decks may contain synchronous motors, in which case they will run at 5/6 speed, or about 3.2 musical semitones too flat (yes, bad enough that it will ruin the music: even John Cage’s 4’33” will come out lasting 55” too long!). Battery powered Walkmans will be fine, though, even when run with the AC cord.

Old Tech: Your American-bought TV sets, Video Cassette machines, and the cassettes that are made to play on them, are likely to be of little use to you. If you bring both your TV and VCR from home, the only thing you will be able to do with them (after you’ve bought the gigantic transformer you’ll need to convert the watts) is watch American-made video tapes on your VCR. You will not be able to watch British TV broadcasts, or British-made video tapes, nor will you be able to hook up a British-made VCR to that TV set. This is because both British TV sets and VCRs (yes, both) run on a different video standard than in the US: the standard in the US is NTSC, while in the UK it is PAL. (And by the way, France uses an even different standard, called SECAM.) Don’t be confused by the fact that the physical cassette is called “VHS” and looks just like the ones back home: although they are the same media, the information is encoded on them differently. If you want to throw a lot of money at the problem, you can buy both TVs and VCRs that can run PAL or NTSC at the flick of a switch, or automatically. Some of them will just handle playback of both PAL and NTSC, but can record only in NTSC format. Others (more costly, no doubt) will be able to record and play in both formats. There are shops scattered here and there that will convert VHS tapes for a fee, £10-£20. ( I tried playing an American NTSC format video in a PAL machine just because I’m the curious type, there was mucked up sound and no picture.)

IF an LCD/LED/HD television is dual voltage, your TV would still need to support PAL's 25fps (frames per second) to work in the UK. So have a look around in the TV settings menu to find out, it seems that most do not.

Digital radios (car radios, Hi-Fi tuners) may not work, since the channel step in the UK is in units of 9kHz, while in the US it is 10. So your US-made radio may “miss” all the right frequencies.

You can buy special US products that can run on UK current and have them shipped to the UK. There are such things in export/import shops online. But save yourself supreme embarrassment and measure the doors and hallways of the house you will be living in; will the products fit through the door? One reason that the UK version of these products are smaller is due to a smaller sized door standard.

If you’re lucky, perhaps the item you want to bring runs on both standards of current and frequency. The good news is that more and more products are being built this way, especially consumer stereo items, and computers. You can find out if you have such a product by looking near the spot where the power cord comes out: if it says something like “AC 100-240, 50/60 Hz”, you are in luck. You won’t need a transformer at all, just a plug converter or a replacement cord, I did this with my pc. Make sure to check this for every product that needs to be plugged in.

Provided you supply the correct adapter for the different standard of phone plug and the correct power, modems, answering machines and extension cables will work on the British phone system. (I am not sure if phones themselves will work.) However, I should point out that it is technically illegal to do so. The only products which may legally be hooked up to the phone lines are those with a special BT green sticker of approval. Buying the correct adapter can be tricky. Believe it or not, it is a rather frequent occurrence to buy a US-UK adapter and have it not work because it is incorrectly made! Apparantly, US telephones use pins 3 and 4 in their jacks, while British ones use 2 and 5, and companies who make connectors will actually get this wrong. The British phone ring poses a rather obscure problem to US-made answering machines. The US phone ring goes “ring (pause) ring (pause)” while the UK one goes “ring-ring (pause) ring-ring (pause).” Unfortunately the US-made answering machine will regard each double-ring as two single rings, and thus the answering mechanism will kick in sooner. If your phone is far away from you, you may find it frustrating to have the machine kick in before you get to the phone (I certainly do). You are best off if you own a machine that lets you control the number of phone rings before answering to a high number like eight. Or, you could simply buy one made in the UK. (BT has a free voicemail service to answer your phone if you choose.)

Video Games and systems are tricky as well, American console game systems such as Nintendo and Sega are for NTSC televisions, and probably won’t work on a PAL television in the same way that the videos don't play. The older Nintendo DS games played on either US/UK systems, but the newer Nintendo 3DS has killed that ability now too. It normally specifies the region limitation on the back of the game box.

Times have changed and we have moved on to DVD's. But of course the industry has created DVD region coding to thwart consumer efforts to get DVD's as cheaply as possible by using region coding. Region 1 is the USA and Canada. Region 2 is Europe and a few others. If you put the wrong region dvd into a DVD player or computer DVD drive, it will give an error and not play. 

DVD Region Map

With computers, you are normally allowed to switch DVD regions up to 4 times. There of course is software out there to get around this, one freeware called DVD43. There are also multi-region DVD players available for less than £100. As a family with children and grandparents buying DVD's, we find having one a necessity.

Computers

Laptop and desktop computers are easier to adapt to the UK electrics. Laptops merely require a UK AC adapter, most of the same brands exist in both countries. Even if it's a machine that is rare, you may still find the needed parts on Ebay.

Desktops often have a switch on the back of the machine to switch between power supply types, 120v or 240v. If it does have that switch you can just buy a new power cord aka lead quite cheaply. If it does not have this switch, you can most likely buy a replacement power supply unit (PSU).

 

 

USA to UK Electronics Terminology

There are broad differences in terms used by American and British terms related to plugs and power sockets.

British EnglishAmerican EnglishMeaning
mains powerline powerThe primary electrical power supply wires entering a building, connected to the Main fuses or circuit breakers.
domestic power Single-phase 230 V power as used in a single-family residence
earth connectionground or grounding connectionSafety connection to the earth or ground
live connectionhot or live connectionPhase ("active") connection
neutral connectioncold or neutral connectionreturn connection
flex/mains lead, mains wire/wiringline cord/power cordFlexible electric cable from plug to appliance
pin, (plug)pin, prong, blade (plug)Male part of an electrical connector
socketsocket, outlet, receptacleFemale part of an electrical connector

 

There is also the UK Shaver Socket, the only electrical outlet in a UK bathroom for safety reasons.

UK Shaver Socket

Voltage Map

Plug Types Map

 

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Kitchen aid

I have been given a gift of a US kitchen aid professional mixer, it has a 475 watt motor and standard 2 pin us plug and therefore run on 120v. an i take this back to the uk and use it or will it blow up?????? please help

admin's picture

Transformer Required

Hi nannytaxi,
You would need a step-down transformer to convert the UK voltage down to US for your mixer. These can be expensive depending on your requirements, so it might be more cost effective to buy a new mixer in the UK. Hope that helps!

(Amazon Aff Link) Step Down Transformers

Where can we purchase a

Where can we purchase a crabtree cooker switch to be installed and used in USA? Any help will be appreciated.
Lyana

admin's picture

No idea

I'm sorry I have no idea (being in the UK), but I wonder why you would want to with completely different electrical voltage/wiring systems?

Nintendo charging

My daughter just got a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas. It is from the US and came with a 110V charger. We have several transformers in the house that convert the 220V mains to 110V wihich would provide the proper voltage for the supplies charger. I'm concerned thought that the frequency difference could cause a problem. Although I've been told that this really only an issue with motors I don't want to ruin the US Nintendo charger o rhte actual game console pluggin it into thte transformer. What do you think?

admin's picture

No problem

We've had two 3DS systems given in the past month, one from the USA. We have put the US 3DS in the UK charger without any problem and have just picked up an extra UK adapter from Sainsburys as well. We've had several DS systems over the years and have always interchanged the UK/USA adapters without any problem, they are all still working perfectly, so I wouldn't worry. Happy Holidays!

Edited to add: 3DS games are region protected games and are often not interchangeable between Europe and USA devices. Check boxes to determine whether they are limited, or ask the seller for assistance.

Is a transformer necessary for this?

I have just returned from a holiday in the US where I bought a voice recorder with a detachable US plugged power cord. On the plug it says:
Input: 100-240V~ 50/60Hz Max 0.3A
Output: 5V ----- 1.0A
I have a 4.5V lead for another appliance of UK origin, could I just plug that into it, or do I have get an adaptor/converter/transformer to fit the original US one? Thanks for your help!

admin's picture

It could work

It's quite likely that that lead will work fine. The input looks US/UK ready so it's just a question of getting a matching AC adapter, which you almost have. I've used 4.5 adapters in 5v devices before. It certainly shouldn't damage it as it's lower voltage. Higher voltage than specified can cause damage, I know this from experience. :-)

Let us know if it worked!

I have a USA Laptop to use in

I have a USA Laptop to use in UK but when I tried to plug it in via a plug adapter it made like an electricity noise so unplugged it in seconds. What can I use to be safe?

It says Input 100-240V 1.7A 50-60Hz

Output 18.5V 3.5A 65W Max

Many thanks as I don't understand all this electric stuff!

admin's picture

Mine normally make noise when

Mine normally make noise when plugged in and they were purchased in the UK, but you should speak to your brand's support line or a specialist shop to be sure. I think it's fine but I'm not an expert.

Is it too late?

Hey there, thanks for the great article. I should've known better but is it too late for me to purchase a transformer? I brought my Phillips stereo over from the states and just plugged it into the wall using a cheap 5 dollar wall converter.. not the proper 300 watt step down transformer... and heard the dreaded... zip zip crunch like side inside the stereo... was that it frying itself in the two second power got sent to it? If I were to now buy the official step down converter will that resurrect my stereo to life sending the proper voltage to it or is it gone forever now thanks to my stupid mistake? Thanks so much!

admin's picture

Bad news

To be honest I think you've probably killed it, sorry. :(

Heated Hair Rollers (Conair)

Hello I hope you can help. I've just bought the above item on Ebay and realised after that it's coming from the US so therefore would probably now need a transformer of some sort - whoops! I must say I've found this page very informative thank you. Please could you tell me the type of transformer I should try to buy. On the bottom of the case it reads 240V 60Hz 580W and all the transformers I've looked at so far have a lot lower wattage mentioned. Or am I getting it all wrong?! I hope you can help, many thanks,,

admin's picture

Hi Shelley, If I understand

Hi Shelley, If I understand you correctly and you're in the UK, it sounds like that is a UK appliance if it is 240V. US appliances are 110V, so I'd wait and see, perhaps someone moved to the USA with a UK device, or the seller is now in the UK.

Heated Hair Rollers (Conair)

Thank you for your prompt reply. Yes I'm in the UK and the item was manufactured in the US and it arrived yesterday it has a plug with two flat pins with a hole at each end of the pin? So hopefully I will only need a plug adapter then?!!

Heated Hair Rollers (conair)

Whoops sorry I typed that all wrong in my initial message. I've just checked the bottom again and it reads:it reads 120V AC. 60Hz 580W

Do I need a transformer / converter or just an adaptor?

I am in the UK I bought a radio-receiver from the US (which is not sold in the UK) for radio-tracking wildlife in the field. The radio-receiver needs to be charged up for several hours before use. I just went to Maplins to ask their advice about what adaptor is required for the charger but they pointed me to the cheapest one (£6), which I bought, but I'm worried about using it because the radio-receiver is expensive and I can't break it. The adaptor I bought doesn't have any information on it about what's suitable to use in it - it just says 'Tourist adaptor for all visitors to UK and Ireland'.

The notes on the US charger say:

Input: 220VAC, 50Hz, 4W
Output: 12VDC, 50MA

They said in Maplins that because it was already 220VAC, this cheap adaptor will be fine. Is that right?

Thanks

help

hi im from the u.k and am visiting the u.s i have a nokia mobile phone, my battery's gone dead and need to charge it up, how or where can i get something that transforms a u.k plug to a u.s plug ?? please help, thanks

Kitchenaid - help

I have bought a kitchen aid in the US to use in the UK, but having now read lots about it, I am not sure if it will work here. Can anybody tell me which transformer is the correct one to use, it has a 350 motor.

Many thanks

US Sony TV

I am moving to London from the US. My Sony Bravia says 120v to 240v and 50/60Hz so that leads me to believe that I can plug the TV in bout perhaps not subscribe to satellite / cable TV. Would I be able to perhaps bring along my playstation and apple tv and simply rely on streaming content? Or perhaps could I place a pal to NTSC converter between the satellite box and the tv?

admin's picture

US Apple TV reportedly works in UK

The Apple TV and PS3 would work on any TV, but would need a new power lead. You would need a different PSN account for each region, all games will work in the console.

us tv

Im moving to the uk from the usa and my tv says 110-220volts 50/60hz i should ok power wise but what about watching tv?

admin's picture

Updated

I've updated this page to include newer LED/LCD/HD televisions. TVs would still need to support PAL's 25fps (frames per second) to work in the UK even if the voltage is compatible.

us brought tablet

hi, i recently purchased a tablet from the us and on the ac adapter it states input 100-240v. does this mean i need a step down converter or just a regular travel adapter to use in the uk?

admin's picture

I have a US bought tablet as well

I have a US bought tablet as well (Nexus 7) which is also 100-240v, and I use a regular adapter, it's a UK micro-usb plug that happened to be spare charger from a Samsung, no stepping converter needed. I only made sure that the charger voltage output was the same or lower than the original, such as 4.5v. Another alternative might be a USB cable, if it came with one and that's the same charging port, with a USB-AC adapter which are quite common and isn't so bulky. Hope that helps!

Keurig

I've just imported a Keurig B70 and it arrived today! Ooooops I don't think about power until now. It's 120v and 1500w. What do I need to do so it can work in the UK? Can you point me to the right adaptor?

Thanks

Should mention its a US 3 pin

Should mention its a US 3 pin plug.

admin's picture

I think it would be something

I think it would be something like this:
http://www.beststuff.co.uk/store/Goldsource-1500-Watt-Step-Down-Up-Volta...

It has a good review, but you might want to seek advice to see if a slightly higher spec would be more reliable, such as one that could handle up to 2000w.

tv and uk cable

we are moving to England and our tv is 120-240v 50/60hz. WE cant find the pals 24fpg. WE also want to bring our xbox360. this is where were confused... in order to play our US movies do they make a UK dvd player that playes both or do we bring a US tv with US dvd player to play US movies and xbox360? if we do that we will still need a UK pal24fpg tv to have cable in the UK right?

admin's picture

Regarding the Xbox, you might

Regarding the Xbox, you might want to read this: http://talk.uk-yankee.com/index.php?topic=66653.0.

There are multi-region DVD players available on Amazon UK, even Blu-Ray players that offer a multi-region DVD play (but not multi-region Blu-Ray).

I'd recommend leaving the TV behind, you won't need it for the Xbox if you decide to bring it despite the limitations of use of a US Xbox in the UK. Hope that helps.

 

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Tip of the Day

Driving while using a mobile (cell phone) or other communication device is illegal, can result in a fine and penalty points against your licence. Use a handsfree kit, only push buttons while it's in the cradle.

http://www.roadsafetyni.gov.uk/index/faqs/faqs-mobilephones.htm


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