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What electrical compatibility parameters and safety guidelines should be borne in mind when moving from one country to another? As far as I know, there are

  1. AC voltage (110V, 220-240 V),
  2. frequency (50/60 Hz),
  3. plug socket type (varies widely) and
  4. product wattage (depends on the individual appliance).

I am moving from India to UK later this month and I find that of the above parameters, only the plug socket varies (220V/50 Hz in both countries). If I have a plug socket converter, will I be able to any electrical appliance from India in the UK?

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2 Answers 2

For electrical appliances connected to a single-phase circuit, you are mostly right. Most appliances will even work on both 50 and 60 Hz.

Without being specific on the differences between India and UK, there are however a few other issues to consider:

  • Especially in poorer countries with unreliable distribution networks, the actual voltage may vary a lot from the specified voltage. Operating an electrical appliance both below and above its rated voltage may lead to damage.

  • Even if plugs and sockets are partially compatible and seem to fit, you may not achieve a proper grounding if required. It is at least a potential safety hazard if you connect an appliance requiring a grounded outlet to a ungrounded socket or an incompatible socket, causing the grounding pin to be left unconnected.

  • Safety requirements for electrical appliances vary greatly from country to country. Even if an appliance works and it (for some definition of safe) is safe to use, it is in some countries illegal to operate equipment not approved by a national certification organization.

  • One oddity of UK electrical installations is that most plugs have to be fused. Using a cheap travel adapter without a fuse may be a fire hazard. This is not just about multiple layers of safety as suggested by Rory in his comment. In the UK, an entire housing unit is usually wired with a single circuit protected by a 30/32A fuse. In most other 230V-countries, multiple circuits protected by 10 or 16A fuses are used instead. Without a fused plug, a malfunctioning appliance may in the UK cause the full 30/32A to be drawn through the appliance' mains cable, which is very unlikely designed for so high currents. The high current may cause the cable to warm up and catch fire. In other countries, the main fuse will trip at a lower current, so that securing the mains cable itself with a smaller fuse is not required.

For high-wattage appliances (heaters, stoves, ACs) requiring a multi-phase connection (usually three-phase or split-phase), there are several more issues to consider and in some cases even unusual variations within the same country. AFAIK, both India and UK have 400V Y-connected three-phase-networks, so you should not have any problems.

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While UK regs require appliances to be fused, this does not mean that your unfused appliance from India will become a higher risk in the UK - it's just we have a culture of aversion to risks, so have multiple layers of defence :-/ – Rory Alsop Sep 6 '12 at 18:08
@RoryAlsop: I edited my answer to explain the reason for the plug fuse in more detail. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Sep 7 '12 at 11:04
you are mistaken. in the UK we use multiple circuits fused at various currents, so the circuit would trip or fuse. – Rory Alsop Sep 7 '12 at 16:15
@RoryAlsop: That may be the case in some newer installations. Or is the entire Wikipedia article on "Electrical wiring in the United Kingdom" incorrect? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Sep 7 '12 at 16:26
you just need to read the section on Consumer supply, metering and distribution – Rory Alsop Sep 8 '12 at 7:03

That should be OK, except for heavy wattage appliances[ read refrigerators, air conditioners], where it might be a problem.

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