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.
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.