What to know about bringing electronics when you move to China

If you’re moving to China from the US, you’ll need to be aware when you bring any appliance or electronic with a plug. The US is a little odd and uses a different voltage than most other parts of the world. They use a 110V system where China (and most everywhere else) uses a 220V system. What this means is that you’ll need to just be aware and check before plugging in your US-bought electronics when you get to China. It’s also a good idea to check the voltage requirements before you ship something you won’t be able to use.

Photo by Yagan Kiely

That said, you shouldn’t have any problems with MOST of your electronics. Most computers, cell phones, tablets, cameras, gaming systems etc. are designed as dual-voltage devices and are fine to use anywhere on 100-240V. Notice I said “most”. It’s still a good idea to double check and make sure your device won’t get fried if you plug it straight into a China outlet.

Fortunately, it’s a very easy thing to check. Just look at the plug if it has one of the big transformer boxes or somewhere on the back/bottom for the fine print. You’re looking for the part that says “Input” to tell you the safe input voltage for your device. Dual-voltage devices will say: “Input: 100-240V” or 110-220V. The trick for China is to make sure the higher number is greater than 220V.

how to check for voltage requirements

One exception that we found is the Nintendo Wii. The US power cord is not made for dual-voltage. (It only says Input:110V on the box on the plug.) That doesn’t mean you have to leave it at home though. Since Wii’s are also sold in China, all you’ll need to do is head down to Computer Street and pick up a new power cord that is made for China. They run about $20 if I remember correctly. (Don’t forget to negotiate!)

Note: Don’t automatically limit your search to electronic items. While these are the most common dual-voltage devices, you should check any electric appliance you might want to bring. I made the mistake when we moved of just assuming my kitchen and bathroom appliances wouldn’t work on the 220V. Turns out a lot of things now are made to sell all over the world and will work with all voltages. On one of my home trips, I was able to find a hair straightener, hair dryer, and electric toothbrush that were all dual-voltage and didn’t need a converter. It’s been a year and half and I still wonder how many of my favorite kitchen appliances are buried in storage that I could have packed. (Kitchenaid, Oh how I miss you!) Don’t be like me.

Now that you’ve broadened your search, you will certainly come across a few items that aren’t able to handle the 220V. In this case, you can purchase a International Voltage Converter. These are made to transform 220V down to 110V.

You should note however, that while they work fine for most things, sometimes the difference in Hz/wavelength will still cause an appliance to overheat and turn to toast. My suggestion is to only bring items you are willing to scrap in the case the transformer doesn’t work properly. I wouldn’t count on these for anything you’re really attached to. If my Kitchenaid mixer is 110V only (WHY didn’t I check it??), I wouldn’t rely on a voltage converter because I would cry if it got toasted!

Now that you’ve made sure the voltage isn’t a problem, you still have to deal with the plug and outlet differences. Thankfully, this is a very simple fix as well. China uses a three prong diagonal looking outlet although you’ll also see the standard two prong as well. You can find universal adapters all over the place in China and they are quite cheap. They don’t affect voltage at all, only changes a three prong US or European plug to fit the different Asian outlets.

So even though it’s annoying that the US uses a totally different system than the rest of the world (in several ways actually. they are all annoying.) and you can be jealous that all your European expat friends just packed their fancy coffee pots without even having to think about it, the transition is not too bad once you know what you’re looking for.


4 thoughts on “What to know about bringing electronics when you move to China

  1. Hi Guys,

    I dropped you a message, but there was no reply from you…
    I guess you must be busy… If you have time we can have coffee or something…


  2. A few suggestions that i hope will help.

    Many ‘simple’ non-motorized electronics can be used in China and 220v/50Hz with the addition of a transformer of adequate size to correct the voltage (note & match or exceed the wattage of the device used).

    Things become more complex when motorized devices are used (ranging from simple fan devices to more robust devices such as the aforementioned Kitchenaid mixer).
    While most focus on the voltage, there is also the critical issue of frequency (60 Hz in the US and 50 Hz in China).

    Systems that internally operate on DC current don’t see the frequency, so that is a moot point, But many higher capacity motors run on AC, and here the frequency is critical! Operating a 60Hz motor on a 50Hz circuit will result in burning up the motor! And a transformer CANNOT correct for frequency differences!
    So, unless you know for a fact that the internal motor of the device is DC (where the external line voltage is converted from AC to an internal DC voltage such as 12v or 18vDC – and most devices will provide NO information regarding this), one should assume that the motor is AC and thus will not work.
    The only way such a device can be used is to replace the unit for one with a 220v 50 Hz motor.

    Oh, and an easy way to tell if a device is compatible is to observe if it uses an external ‘wall wart’ transformer. While many dislike these, they have the advantage of rending part of the power supply into an easily interchangeable and readily available component. Transformers are readily available via electronic supply houses ranging from places such as Mouser Electronics, DigiKey Electronics, etc. Note the voltage & current or wattage rating on the original & give them a call for the appropriately rated 220v alternative. Also, when exploring, inquire about a dual/universal models that will work with either 100/60Hz or 220/50Hz for such devises that run internally on DC power. Such transformers normally cost between $5- $20.

    Oh, and note also that with some larger electronics, a bit of perseverance in contacting the manufacturer and finding a knowledgeable contact may result in their being able to replace the power supply for a properly rated 220v power supply for a price generally much lower than replacing the unit. And such a swap is generally not complex. If it is, they generally will provide a method to send in the unit for a swap. Examples of companies featuring this service are SVS and Velodyne Electronics, manufacturers of powered subwoofers.

    I hope this has not been too confusing and serves to help.