Tourists wishing to use laptops, cell phones, battery chargers, and other electrical appliances in Italy need to know how to convert the appliances for use in Italy, and how to connect that appliance to the sockets in the wall.
Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at 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.
What You Need to Know about Italian Electricity
The photo above shows 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 in the photo below, or one of these recommended power adapters and converters.
What You Need to Use Your Electrical Items in Italy
The plug adapters shown in the photo are probably 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). Some adapters of this type have a USB port, meaning you can use them to charge a cell phone or digital camera via USB.
Plug adapters are the interfaces between the American flat-pronged plug and Italy's two (or three) round-prong socket. 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 and phones, 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.
You may see adapters with three prongs in a row, but only buy a 2-prong adapter. That's because some, but definitely not all, Italian outlets have three holes—just don't risk it and stick with a 2-prong adapter. You may also see round outlets with two or three holes—in most cases, your 2-prong adapter will work fine in these.
To buy adapters or converters to take to Italy, see our guide to the latest Power Adapters and Electrical Converters.
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.
There's really no need to pack a blow-dryer for your trip to Italy, as most hotels and rental properties will supply one. If you're really worried about being without a dryer or curling iron, you might want to simply buy one of these devices in Europe to avoid carrying both the device and the converter around.
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.
For more information, see: Electricity in Europe - Power Sockets and the Connected Tourist.
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