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World Plug Types Explained

Have you ever landed in a new country with a phone desperately on 2% in need of a charge, found a power outlet just in time and…didn’t have the right plug? Bugger. Plug and socket configurations can be confusing and yet, knowing which plug adaptor you need to have in advance helps you plan for any electrical eventuality.


Quick-Look Plug Adaptor Travel Tips:

  • Check your destination country’s plug types on the WorldStandards.eu list to make sure you have the right adaptors
  • Buy at least 2 adaptors to take with you
  • Check the voltage on your devices before you plug them in at your destination country
  • Invest in a multi-location adaptor, even better if it has extra USB outlets


An early electrical plug with build socket. Photo credit: IEC

Why Are There So Many Electrical Plug Types? 

Great question. Everyone who travels has probably wondered this at some point, and yet most still don’t know the answer. And basically the answer is simultaneous worldwide technological development resulting in, “oops, you were working on that too? We didn’t realise…”

It all started with the gradual introduction of electricity into world infrastructure. At the beginning, electricity was primarily used for lighting however as the technology developed, engineers began using it to supersede fireplaces for heating, and other appliances. Enter the toaster, vacuum cleaner, television, etc and soon electrical companies had a full-blown industry to accommodate with differing wattages.

The more devices that needed to be plugged in, the more important safe electrical outlets and fittings became and so outlets changed, adding a third “grounding” pin to the American two-pin system.

Technology developed at various rates in different countries and many locations came up with the plug configuration they thought was best on their own. Keep in mind, this was long before the internet or global communication when the world was far less connected in terms of technological advances.

Nevertheless, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) tried to create a standard plug type and eventually introduced the Type N plug in 1986. Unfortunately due to political and social attention being focused elsewhere, no one actually used the Type N plug until Brazil took the lead in 2007, hoping to amend their immense confusion of national electrical outlet styles, became the first to install this configuration as standard in wall outlets and plug leads.

Fast-forward to 2018 and there is still no world standard for plug configurations.


How Many Electrical Plug Types Are There?

Did you know there are actually fifteen different types of electrical plugs? Incredible, isn’t it? Whether we like it or not, this mish-mash of electrical outlet types is a fact of travel and we simply have to deal with it.

So the best answer is to do a little bit of research and make sure you have the right adaptor for your destination(s).

This great map by Gizmodo shows the debacle of plug types worldwide. Photo credit: Gizmodo

WorldStandards.eu did a fantastic job listing every country and the plug that it uses so instead of reinventing the wheel, CLICK HERE to view their list and cross-check your plug types before you travel.


Adaptors and Converters Are NOT the Same Thing

Ok so we’ve talked about plug adaptors and how you’ll need at least two for any destination (imagine if you want to plug in your computer and phone at the same time, etc) but what about voltage?

Do you know what voltage your hair straightener takes? It’s not a bad thing if you don’t even understand the question – most people never have to consider the voltage of their electronics because it’s standard in your home country.

Voltage is how much power the wall socket delivers to your electronic device when you plug it in. This amount can range from say, 110 Volts (V) in America to 230V in South Africa and Australia, to 240V in Kuwait, and so forth. It gets problematic when you take (let’s stick with the hair straightener example because I’ve lived this one first-hand!) a hair straightener from America that, unbeknownst to you, only runs on 110V and plug it into an Australian plug because you just got off a plane, it’s stinkingly humid and you look like someone who just got sorted into Gryffindor. BOOM. Well, not actually “boom”, the hair straightener won’t necessarily blow up like a Hollywood special effect but it will (did) fry the inner workings of the thing and rendered it useless. I had to buy a new one.

Thankfully, the acceptable voltage of most electronic devices from computers to hair straighteners tends to be written on the device, or on it’s power cable. If your device does not work with the voltage of your destination country, the best idea is to leave it at home since power / voltage converters are usually big, cumbersome, heavy and expensive. Just pick up a new one at your destination.

SIDE NOTE: Most portable electronics such as computers, phones, and most cameras tend to be compatible with a wide range of voltage strengths.


Multi-location Adaptors

There are numerous options for multi-plug type adaptors and these can be fantastic travel accessories. Multi-location plug adaptors Tetris several different plug types into one space and can even offer extra USB slots so you can charge multiple devices in at the same time such as a phone and your computer.

Multi-location adaptors usually look like little boxes and allow you to plug in one device (with the plug, not via USB) from your home country and then select the plug type of your destination country.

These are great travel accessories but be careful not to drop them or throw them around too much. I managed to snap one last year by missing a ~4 foot toss onto my luggage and having the plastic adaptor land on the floor instead.

Some good options are below and vary from $11.99 to $19.99


LKY Digital Worldwide Universal All-in-One Power Adaptor $11.99

Pro’s – affordable, offers US, EU, UK and Australian plugs plus 2x USB

Con’s – only 2 USB ports, not recommended for use with high-power electronics such as hair dryers




LOOP World Adapter Plug, Worldwide Travel Adapter Charger $15.95 (on sale from $29.95)

Pro’s – comes in 4 colours, 2x USB incl. one smart-USB port

Con’s – two vs 4 USB ports





EPIKA Universal USB Travel Power Adapter-EPICKA All In One Wall Charger $19.99 (on sale from $49.99)

Pro’s – shock-resistant, 4x USB incl. 2.4Amp smart-USB ports, 30-day money back guarantee

Con’s – higher price point





What do you think of all this plug outlet and adaptor necessity for travel? Do you have a travel story about electronics and voltage? Tell me in the comments!


Research in this article includes details from GizModo, WorldStandards.eu, and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)

About DeneaBuckingham

Denea is a world citizen and modern-day nomad. An Australian-American-Canadian, Denea left home at age 17 and has been traveling, learning, and loving life ever since. With a passion for exploration, scuba diving, spelunking, languages, and anthropology, Denea has traveled extensively around Australia, lived in the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and America. Denea is a member of the Explorers Club and is dedicated to building a community of passionate travel bloggers, adventurers, and friends around the world. Each time she ticks off a bucket list item, a new one takes its place. "The best souvenirs are the friends we make along the way."

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