different plug types

International tech shopping: converting UK & European plugs to US plugs

Shopping internationally for technology can open you up to some unbelievable deals. Whether you’ve grabbed yourself a brand new DSLR in the airport or ordered a new TV, hairdryer or vacuum cleaner online through our European parcel forwarding service, you’re going to need to make sure you can actually use it when you get it home. Making sure you have the right plug adapter is just the beginning.

The US has different plug sockets and network voltage to the UK and the whole of Europe, so we’re going to run you through the basics, touching on why you need to change your plugs and going into detail on how you can do it. We’ll look at the different voltages and whether you want to rewire your plugs or simply use plug adapters.

Disclaimer: opening up plugs may void your warranty and if you don’t re-wire them properly you could cause damage to your device or harm to yourself. 

Why you may need to change your plugs to use your new tech in the USA

Let’s start with the absolute basics. A US plug socket is a completely different shape to both a UK plug socket and a European plug socket. This means that your European plugs simply won’t fit. In addition to this, US plugs, sockets and devices are designed to use completely different voltage levels. This is because the US electric grid uses a much lower voltage than both the UK and the rest of Europe. At best, plugging a device into a socket with the wrong voltage will simply mean it doesn’t work. At worst, you could be facing electrocution or fire.

So what are the differences between the US and European voltages?

UK voltage vs US voltage

There’s a stark difference between the voltage in the UK and the US.

  • An electrical device in the UK is built for a grid using 230v.
  • The grid in the USA provides 120v of electricity.

European voltage vs US

The rest of Europe is the same as the UK and uses 230v of electricity.

Dual voltage devices: check the range on your device

Now, just because there’s such a huge difference in these two voltage levels, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use your items in the US.

You can now find dual voltage appliances fairly easy. Most modern devices, in fact, would be classed as dual voltage. ‘Dual voltage’ simply means they can automatically adapt to the network voltage when they’re plugged in. For example, many smartphones have an input range of 100-240v. This means they will adapt to any voltage within that range.

You can find the voltage range on the label of your device.

Some devices do not have access to this kind of range, however. In some cases, they may simply be older technology, but there are a few where the flexibility just isn’t possible. These are predominantly devices that are supposed to use mains power to generate heat. Think kettles, hair dryers or fridges. Many of these devices will only have a range of 22-24v if they’ve been bought in Europe.

HOW TO ADAPT A UK OR EUROPEAN PLUG FOR THE USA

If you’re after a quick fix that still offers great flexibility, you may be best off using an adapter.

You’ll find adapters available in all manner of shops, from hardware stores to convenience stores or book shops. These are generally simple contraptions that add as an adapter between your plug and your plug socket.

You’ll find a range of Europe to US adapters available, including:

  • Individual country adapters designed to only convert one type of plug to another
  • Universal adapters that let you convert any plug to any socket
  • Adapters for multiple devices that act as an extension cable and allow you to plug several foreign plugs in at once
A universal adapter is an incredibly useful piece of equipment to have. They’re great to use when you’re travelling, as they can let you charge multiple devices like your phone, laptop or camera battery.
 
universal and individual adapters

How to re-wire UK & European plugs to US plugs

Let’s start with the absolute basics. A US plug socket is a completely different shape to both a UK plug socket and a European plug socket. This means that your European plugs simply won’t fit. In addition to this, US plugs, sockets and devices are designed to use completely different voltage levels. This is because the US electric grid uses a much lower voltage than both the UK and the rest of Europe. At best, plugging a device into a socket with the wrong voltage will simply mean it doesn’t work. At worst, you could be facing electrocution or fire.

Disclaimer: opening up plugs may void your warranty and if you don’t re-wire them properly you could cause damage to your device or harm to yourself. 

Step 1: buy an American plug

You’ll need to buy a plug that fits an American plug socket. You should be able to find one of these online or at your local hardware store. Make sure it’s one that’s compatible with the device you’re attaching it to.

Then you need to remove the wires from the old plug and attach them to this new plug.

Step 2: remove the screw(s)

Grab your flat head screwdriver and remove the screw that holds the back of the plugin place. In some instances, there may be 2 small screws in addition to the main screw. These will need to be loosened too.

Step 3: remove the back cover of the plug and identify the terminals

Once you’ve taken out the screw, you just need to take the cover off. This will then reveal the 3 wires and the terminals they connect to. When looking directly at the plug, the three wires are:

The hot terminal should have a fuse connected to it.

Step 4: identify the wires

The wires going into each terminal also correspond to the job the wire is doing. These are as follows:

If you have problems telling colours apart, you should label each wire as you remove it with some tape, as the terminal it’s currently in will help you identify the wire.

Step 5: Loosen the terminal screws in the old plug and remove the wires

You’ll need that flat-headed screwdriver again, so grab it and loosen the screws on each of the terminals. Don’t completely remove them, you just need to unscrew them until you can pull the 3 wires out of their connector holes.

Take the wires out of the old plug.

Step 6: open up your new US plug and identify your terminals.

Just follow the same steps, opening up the new plug you’re going to use. You just identify the 3 terminals again. In some cases, US plugs may not have a ground terminal. These are the 2 pronged ones. If that’s the case, you may just need to cap that wire.

Simply identify the terminals that match up with your wires. If you’ve bought a new plug, it should say which is which in the information you receive with it.

Step 7: loosen the terminal screws in the US plug

Do the same as you did in the old plug, just loosen the screws a little.

Step 8: insert each wire, tightening after each is added

Push the wires into the connector hole one by one. After you’ve pushed one into the screw hole, tighten that terminal screw back up. Do this for each wire in turn.

Step 9: replace the cover and screw it back on

Just clip the cover back into place and put the screws back in. Tighten then and you should be good to go

Shop for international tech online with forward2me

Shopping for the latest tech in Europe lets you find some of the best deals available. You’ll be able to get your hands on the latest Apple products or the best Alexa devices, for instance. When you sign up for your free European forwarding address with forward2me, you’ll be able to shop across Europe and have your orders shipped to you in the USA. You’ll also get access to your own UK tax free shopping address too. 

Not sure where to start? We’ve put together shopping guides for countries across Europe so you can get your hands on the best tech the continent has to offer.

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