Why have we not all come together to institute a common electrical current and wall socket type for worldwide use? It makes travel difficult and a small slip-up can damage expensive electrical devices. The good news is that, armed with a bit of knowledge and some strategic adapters, you'll be able to use your electronic devices anywhere you travel.
Electronics vs. Electrical Devices
Before packing your bags, understand the difference between electronics and electrical devices.
Electronics include things like laptops, smartphones, digital cameras with rechargeable batteries, and other devices such as tablets. Electronics will likely work with the use of a simple adapter, but to make certain, check the AC power adapter (that big black box that goes between your computer, for example, and the plug in the wall). On the back you'll see some voltage information in small print. If it says ~100V-240V, you're fine to travel with it all over the world. If you're still not sure, you should check online with the manufacturer.
To use dual-rated electronics or appliances overseas, you will still need a wall plug adapter (more about those below). An adapter is a device that you put on plug at the end of your charger or other cord that allows it to fit into the wall socket of wherever you're traveling.
Electrical devices include things like hair dryers, curling irons, electric shavers, and other things you most likely won't bring while you are traveling for vacation but which you might be thinking of bringing with you if you're moving overseas.
If you check these types of devices in the same way you did your electronics, you will likely notice that these are only rated for a single voltage (for example, 110V for devices purchased in areas like North America or Japan). 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.
Our advice: Avoid the hassle and leave anything that requires a converter at home. Some larger, fancier hotels offer a 110V plug in the bathroom but it usually comes with the warning "for electric shavers only" (does anyone still use those?). Nearly all hotels provide hair dryers these days and if you absolutely need other things, like hair curlers, then look for a travel set that doesn't require a converter. Note: If you're coming from Europe, all your devices will work—China uses the same voltage.
Wall Sockets in China
Most wall sockets in China are designed for two-prong plugs (the bottom row sockets in the power strip in the photo above). Sockets in China will take "Type A" plugs where both prongs are the same size (Type A plugs that have one prong that is wider are common on modern devices and these would require an adapter) as well as a "Type C" or "Type F" plug that is standard in Germany.
Some sockets in China take the "Type I" plugs that are common in Australia and New Zealand. The top row sockets in the power strip in the photo accept the two-prong types (A, C, and F) as well as the three-prong Type I plugs.
Note: All your devices and appliances will work if you're coming from Australia/NZ, as you use the same voltage as China.
Adapters to Bring or Buy
You can buy adapters before you leave at travel-supply or electronic stores. Airports are another place you can buy universal adapters, 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.