Electricity in Italy - Plugs, Adapters and Transformers
What you need to know about Italian Electricity
Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at a 50 cycles per second. In the US, electricity comes out of the wall socket at 110 volts, alternating at 60 cycles per second. Not only the voltages and frequencies, but the sockets themselves are different.
Tourists wishing to use laptops, battery chargers, hair dryers and other electrical appliances in Italy will need to know how to convert the appliances to use the new voltage, and how to connect that appliance to the sockets in the wall.
Plug adapters are the interfaces between the American flat-pronged plug and Italy's two (or three) round-prong socket (see pictures below). These allow you to plug your electrical device into the Italian wall socket, but they do not convert the electricity to the American 110 volts. If your appliance is designed to run only on 110-120 volts, you are likely to see smoke, if not fire, from this potent miss-mating. You will need a step-down power converter or transformer to safely step the voltage down from 220 to 110. More on this later.
You can get along with just a plug converter for many of today's small electrical devices designed to run on dual voltages. Devices like this include most laptops, most recently produced battery chargers, and many small, electrical gadgets, especially those designed for world travel. You can check the back of the device or the "power brick" for the electrical input specifications. Here's one that you can just use with a plug adapter:
The device above only needs a plug adapter to work in Italy, since it can use any voltage between 100 and 240, as long as it's AC voltage alternating at 50 or 60 hertz. Sometimes called a "universal power supply," this battery charger can be used throughout Europe with the right plug adapter.
Transformers or Power Converters
Hair dryers and curling irons are the bane of modern day travel. These devices cannot often be used in dual voltage situations without voltage conversion. They are extremely high current devices, meaning that combined with the high voltage, they use a whole lot of power (current times voltage = power). You'll need to lug a large power converter or power transformer to convert Italy's higher voltage to the lower American voltage--or you'll risk having the curling iron really curl (meaning "fry") your hair.
Frequent travelers will want to simply buy one of these devices in Europe to avoid carrying both the device and the converter around. They aren't expensive in Italy. Many rental properties supply proper hair driers because home owners hate to deal with the many customers disgruntled when their own devices turn to lumps of charcoal in their hands. Ask if you aren't sure.
If you buy a power converter, make sure its power rating meets or exceeds the power rating of the single device you will use with it. This information is usually found on the body of the device near the power cord.
Power Sockets and Plug Converters for Electricity in Italy
|Here's an Italian power outlet of the type you might find in a kitchen. On the left is a typical power socket, in the middle is a Schuko Grounded socket for large appliances. On the right is a power switch. An adapter plug will fit into the two outer holes of either socket.|
|Here is a normal Italian power socket. To access it with an adapter that connects to a typical American power plug, you'll need an adapter like the one shown below.|
|Have many chargers? Need more outlets than the common hotel room has available? A simple plug expander might do the trick. You can buy these in Italy at any hardware store for a few Euros.|
|This plug adapter is all you need to convert the US rectangular pronged plug to the round prong Italian power plug used in most Italian homes and hotels. This adapter is ungrounded, which is why it doesn't have a third, center prong. This is fine for devices which are insulated (having a plastic body, for instance).|
For buying adapters and converters to take to Italy, see: Power Adapters and Electrical Converters.
For more information on Electricity in Europe, see: Electricity in Europe - Power Sockets and the Connected Tourist.
For more on Packing for your Italy vacation, see Italy Travel Packing Tips.