What Type of Electric Power Adapters are Needed in Spain for US Travelers?

What Type of Electric Power Adapters are Needed in Spain for US Travelers?

So you want to plug in your laptop or recharge your digital camera batteries during your Spain vacation holiday?

Here are some things to know ahead of time.

north america to europe adapter plug for spain

In Spain, electric power comes through at 220 volts and at 50 Hertz. Though similar to most of Europe, this differs from the 110-120 volts at 60 Hz North America electrical standard. Certain types of equipment from North America won’t work properly if it does not have a built-in capability to work with 220 volt power supplies.

The plug pictured above works for 2 pronged flat North America plugs to a 2 pronged round European plug. But there’s more to the equation. As pointed out on Wikipedia “even if an adapter allows a secure and protected connection between portable equipment and a socket, it may not adjust voltage, frequency, grounding, or overcurrent protection to allow safe use of “foreign” equipment with any particular wall socket.” (see: Wikipedia).

So. whatever you do, follow the instructions on the label of the manufacturer’s device.

For digital camera battery chargers, laptops, phone chargers, GPS devices and the likes, take a look at the adapter label. If it reads as 110 – 220 or above (i.e., 100 – 240) and will do 50Hz to 60Hz then you are headed in the right direction. This means the adapter follows both the European and North America standard and has the built-in ability to convert power from one to the other standard. It should work fine in Spain. All you need is a standard travel adapter plug.

Here’s a label from a Motorola phone charger I have. It looks like it will work fine in Spain with a travel electric power adapter.

motorola power adapter label

These types of adapaters come in many variations. Usually what you’ll find in a department store or travel store is a global travel adapter. These are a lot bigger than the adapter pictured above but they’ll usually support 3 pronged North America devices and are useful in most countries around the world.

What devices won’t work reliably?

Well, remember that Spain is 50Hz. North America is 60Hz (see Wikipedia). Spain is 220 volts. North America is 110 volts. Some devices, especially non-electric devices, are not likely to work outside the country of purchase without the use of a voltage converter. These are also usually sold in the travel section of a department store. Items in that would need a voltage converter include hair dryers, hair curlers, electric razors and anything electric that doesn’t say 50-60Hz on the label. If you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll have a hair dryers as standard practice. And if they don’t, hair dryers can be purchased cheaply locally. This may be better than bringing a bulky, high-end hair dryer from home only to have it fry.

Pictured is a typical global electric power converter kit for travel – ideal for Spain travel. These usually sell for under $20. This type of device will “usually” work for travel with higher wattage devices like hair dryers and some electronics. I’ve used this type of device.

Buy Multiple Power Adapters, Converters and Surge Protectors

If you read power adapter/converter product reviews on Amazon and other websites, you may notice a common theme: unreliability.  Most people have great experiences.  A few people still manage to fry their adapters.  These seems to be a function of electrical properties.  Converting from 60Hz to 50Hz puts a strain somewhere in the chain and something may go.  Without going into details, that’s electronics with built-in global power capabilities are reliable and hair dryers requiring a power converter are not 100% reliable for travel.

I not only fried my adapter, but also my device but putting strain on the adapter.

After learning the hard way in France, I pack standard surge protectors in my luggage in addition to 3 electric travel power adapters. I get the smallest surge protectors I can find – usually just a single outlet surge protector which is nice and small. I’ve heard that surge protectors have a short lifespan and should be replaced every few years so I don’t use an old one. You can get these cheap at department stores.

In France, I had a Panasonic battery charger and an MP3 device charger plugged in through a standard travel power adapter. It had worked fine the week before in Spain, and was fine the first few days in France. Then, right after I put in my camera battery for recharging one evening, I heard a pop sounds and saw smoke. I immediately yanked the plug from the wall. The charger AND the power adapter were fried.  I guess I was using too many devices with one adapter.  Luckily the MP3 player was OK. And luckily I had another power adapter.

The charger could not be replaced while on the trip. The local department stores didn’t carry replacement chargers or batteries so that was the end of taking pictures that trip.

Luckily this was near the end of my trip.

Have a good trip and remember to read the label on the travel adapter and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  And always have a back-up plan!