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Operation of European Electrical Appliances in North America and Venezuela

General

Run of the mill consumer electrical equipment is cheap in Canada (especially Alberta, where there is no Provincial tax), so it is probably better to buy items such as toasters, irons and hair-dryers locally.

Unlike the United States and Venezuela, electric kettles are commonly available in Canada.

Not available are hostess trolleys, electric hot stone (hete steen) barbecues, and hair-dryers with attached brushes and curling irons (hair dryers and separate curling irons are available).

Mains Voltage

All North American houses (plus Venezuela) come supplied with 240 volts in addition to 120 volts. This is achieved by combining two 120 volt phases, and is required for high consumption appliances such as ovens, hotplates and tumble dryers. These have specialised plugs to provide 110 volts for the controls and 220 volts for the heating:

 

Counter-top receptacles are illustrated below:

However the 240 volt outlets are not standard fittings in private homes.

For your 220-240 volt appliances, there are several options:

  1. Is the appliance dual voltage? Check the back. Usually some audio equpment, most newer computers, some printers and other peripherals can be switched to 110/120 volts. In this case all you have to do is get a 110v power cable or change the plug on the existing power cable.
  2. Is the appliance a lamp? If it has a standard size screw lightbulb fitting, then North American lightbulbs will fit, and all you need to do is change the plug. Smaller size bulbs, such as those for chandeliers are incompatible, and you have the option of buying insert adaptors (expensive) or rewiring the thing (fiddly). Bayonet lightbulbs for 110v do exist, but are only available from specialised shops such as Glazier Electric in Calgary (see Appendix below), and at a cost.
  3. Get a transformer. These can be obtained from Glazier's, who will fit the appropriate receptacle e.g. Dutch or British. Simple but expensive and bulky.
  4. Have an electrician install 240 volt outlets.
  5. In the kitchen, electrical code mandates that the 120 volt 15 amp receptacles be split to allow the top and bottom sockets to be fed from different circuits. Connecting the live (hot) circuits will provide a 220v supply, and this is the most cost-effective solution, especially for higher consumption appliances. If you have receptacles from your own country, it is simple to do it yourself. However Glazier will make up appropriate adaptor cables for you if you don't feel competent.

This approach won't work in the rest of the house as the receptacles are not split.

Mains Frequency

North America has a 60 cycle (Hz) supply versus 50 Hz in Europe. This means anything with a motor will run faster here. This is not usually a problem with power tools or food mixers, but any clock mechanisms that rely on the mains current for synchronisation will be useless. However many appliances have clock mechanisms that operate independently from the mains frequency using internally generated timing signals. The author of this article has an old UK Betamax VCR whose clock runs fine over here.

Televisions

North American standard is NTSC which is incompatible with PAL or SECAM. However some European TVs come with NTSC decoders (only visible in the circuit diagrams), and it is worth checking to see if your TV has that capability. If so, even though you cannot receive off-air broadcasts, it is possible to receive them via the video input. Buy a cable TV decoder box with a video output - plugging the video and audio feeds into the TV will then allow you to use it for N American TV cable transmissions. Bring some spare SCART plugs as they are not available here. Ditto coaxial cable connectors as the fittings are different.

It is possible to acquire multiple standard TVs and VCRs locally, but they are relatively expensive here.

The cable TV decoders in European televisions won't work with North American cable TV services. (Venezuelan ones will)

Video Recorders

If you have lots of PAL or SECAM VCR tapes and you want to watch them over here, you'll either need to bring your VCR and a compatible television (for 220v supply - see above) or get a multi-standard VCR.

DVDs

DVDs are published with region codes to prevent you (say) getting a copy of a movie in N America and viewing it in Europe before it has been released there. For instance N America is region 1, Europe is region 2, whilst region 0 DVDs can be played worldwide. The region and encoding are specified on the back of the box. If you have a collection of non-North American DVDs, you may want to consider bringing the player and its TV with you, and/or use a multistandard VCR to convert the signal from PAL to NTSC. Some DVD players, especially those attached to computers can be switched between regions up to 5 times before locking in, whilst there are fixes (available on the internet) to bypass the region lockout altogether.

Computers

These are usually dual voltage, but some older computers aren't. As computers do not consume a lot of current, a transformer is usually the best solution in this case. Alternatively, local computer shops sell replacement power supplies which are cheap easy to install. Calgary has good fast internet access via the cable TV service - the cable TV will set you up with a cable modem and software (www.shaw.ca)

Telephones and modems

British telephones will work in Canada but won't ring (something to do with the ringing voltage), so are only useful for outgoing calls or where you already have a second N American phone to hear someone's calling. This applies to British fax machines too, unless they're specified to work worldwide. Incidentally N American phones will work in the UK if you decide to take them back.

Same applies to British modems unless they're specified to work outside the UK.

You'll need an adaptor to convert from British phone plug to the N American one, often you can just replace the cable with a N American one.

Continental phones and modems will work here. DECT and other cordless phones from continental Europe will also function, although they could cause interference to other services, and you'll need a small transformer for the power pack (easier to get in Europe).

Mobile phones

All types of mobile phone service are available in Calgary, including GSM. However whilst most parts of the world outside North America use the 900/1800 GSM bands, the local GSM frequency is 1900 MHz. This means that standard GSM phones won't work here, although a local phone with your home SIM card will, if you have international roaming enabled. Some manufacturers provide tri-mode phones which will work everywhere on GSM systems. For more information on GSM click here. The local GSM service is provided by FIDO (www.fido.ca).

 

Appendix

Glazier Electric Ltd
7134 Fisher Street S.E.
Calgary (403) 283-4111

N.B. Address change - Glazier's website not updated at last visit.