When it comes to traveling internationally, many first-time tourists abroad forget to plan for the varying voltages and socket shapes in countries around the world. If you want to use your electronic devices when you travel to China, for instance, you'll likely need to purchase power adapters and outlet converters in order to plug in your electronics.
Before packing your bags for China, it's important to determine which electronics and electrical devices you're taking and what it will require to power them overseas. Electronics like laptops, smartphones, and digital cameras will likely work with the use of a simple adapter, but electrical devices like hair dryers, curling irons, and electric shavers will likely require a power converter as well. Since certain items have voltage restrictions, you might want to consider leaving some things behind (and using domestic products in China) instead of buying expensive tools to make your electronics work abroad.
Chinese electricity depends on the region. In Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the voltage is 220 Volt 50 Hertz AC while in Taiwan, the voltage is 110 Volt 60 Hertz AC. Similarly, the shape of sockets varies by region. You can find Type A (American two-prong socket) and Type I (Australia three-prong) in Mainland China, Type G (British standard three-prong) in Hong Kong, Type C & F (European two-hole) in Macau, and Type B (American three-prong) in Taiwan.
Power Adapters and Voltage Converters
Many people inexperienced with electronics, especially as they relate to foreign markets and travel, may not know that most devices have a limit to the amount of voltage they can process without overheating or blowing a fuse.
Electronics with dedicated power sources (like rechargeable batteries in laptops) typically work in foreign countries with the use of a wall plug adapter, but you can check your individual devices' built-in power converter (usually on or near the cord) to see make sure you won't overload it. If the voltage information says 100 Volts to 240 Volts (100V-240V), you should be fine to plug it in anywhere in the world.
On the other hand, electrical devices are often only rated for a single voltage use. In North American and Japan, for instance, hair dryers and similar small corded devices are only rated for 110 Volts, meaning they wouldn't work in Mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau without some way to reduce the voltage transmitted from wall plugs.
To use these devices in countries with different voltage, you will need a voltage converter. Unlike plug adapters, converters are very large and sometimes expensive implements, but they are necessary to avoid ruining your device or causing fireworks to come out of the wall socket.
Wall Sockets in China
Most wall sockets in China are designed for two-prong plugs, defined as Type A, but are unique from American Type A sockets in that these sockets in China require prongs that are the same size. Meanwhile, many two-prong plugs in the United States are made with one prong slightly larger than the other, which will require a converter to use in China.
You'll also find the "Type C" or "Type F" plug that is standard in Germany on the Mainland, but some sockets in China take the "Type I" plugs that are common in Australia and New Zealand. Types A, C, and F all accept two-prong devices but vary slightly in shape while the Type I type only accepts three-prong plugs.
All your devices and appliances will work if you're coming from Europe, Australia, or New Zealand as you use the same voltage as China, but you may need to check both voltage and socket shape before you travel if you're coming from anywhere else.
Considering Your Options: What to Bring for Power
You can buy adapters before you leave at travel-supply or electronic stores, but you can also buy universal adapters in airports, especially in the international departure gate area. If you don't get one before you go, you'll be able to pick them up easily in China (and they'll be a whole lot cheaper), or you can ask your hotel—they should be able to supply you one for free during your stay.
You might want to consider avoiding the hassle altogether by leaving anything that requires converters or adapters at home, especially if you're just planning a quick trip to China. While some larger, fancier hotels offer a 110 Volt plug in the bathroom, it usually comes with the warning "for electric shavers only," and nearly all hotels provide hair dryers these days anyway.
If you absolutely need other things, like hair curlers or flat irons, you might consider purchasing a travel set that doesn't require a converter or getting one when you arrive at your destination instead.