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Bringing Your Current Appliances and Electronics with You When you Retire to a New Country.

There’s the fun part of planning an overseas retirement, like finding the locale with the bluest water, best slopes, or best local cuisine and tax laws. Then, there’s the real work: moving and determining what to bring with you. Luxury appliances? Your dad’s hand-me-down vintage tube stereo system? A 19th-century chandelier, TV’s, electronics, miscellaneous gourmet kitchen items like a $3000 espresso machine? A dilemma, to be sure.

One facet about international relocation—and one often taken for granted—is electricity. If you assume that your 110-120-volt food-chopping gizmo will work in a 220-240-volt country, guess again. It’s not a matter of finding a plug adapter that let you plug into your new country’s oddly shaped wall outlet; there’s also the issue of voltage compatibility. There are four different line (or mains, as they say England) voltage standards in use throughout the world for household electricity.  In the USA and Canada it’s 110-120 volts. Two-thirds of the world relies on 220-240 volts. A few countries—Brazil and Mexico in particular—depend 127-volt electricity. And then there’s Japan, the lone holdout, which uses 100 volts of AC.  If you plug a device that requires 110-120 volts or 127 volts of electricity into a 220-240-volt outlet, the net result is a very destroyed appliance and possibly a big electrical fire or worse. Plug a 220-240-volt appliance into a wall outlet delivering 110-120-volt or 127-volt electricity and the device will barely work or not work at all.

There are several work-arounds to this logistical dilemma. One is to ditch your current appliances and electronics and buy new appliances that operate at the voltage standard in your new country. Buying these products in the US and shipping them overseas is actually quite cost effective. In fact, if you have the new appliances sent directly to the shipping container you might be using, you will avoid taxes altogether. Another option is to buy new appliances in your adopted homeland. However, considering currency valuations and other financial variables, this can be expensive. A third, and increasingly common option, is to relocate with your current appliances and, if the voltage standard is different in your new home country, use a common step up or step down voltage transformer—one designed to handle conversions between the aforementioned line voltage standards throughout the world—to power up your electronics, appliances, and electrical devices anywhere in the world.

Voltage Transformers are easy to find. In fact, they’re all over the online sites for Amazon.com and online sites for Sears and Wal*mart, and electrical supply companies such as Grainger. When you search “voltage transformers” on amazon.com, the result displays similar-looking black boxes with lots of different brand names. Dig deeper and you’ll find some that appear more trustworthy, with better branding and exterior packaging. Scroll through more pages and you’ll notice some transformers that seem rock-solid and built like a Sherman tank. Overall, Amazon carries a vast assortment of quality and schlock; the black-box transformers are considered low-quality and priced accordingly. High-quality voltage transformers are typically American made and priced higher for good reason.

What it comes down to is parts; the inexpensive models are manufactured with inexpensive components such as aluminum (used for the transformer’s internal coils) and poor-quality steel, both of which conduct electricity poorly and are notable for catching on fire before reaching their maximum stated wattage. This is because of excessive heat buildup and wasted electricity—essentially, the transformer is working super hard just to get in the ballpark range of its stated wattage. And the more one pushes it to reach the stated number that it’s supposed to deliver, the closer the unit comes to going up in flames. (Take a glance at some Amazon reviews for some actual, “This-Can-Happen-to-You” tales from the voltage transformer dark side.) Plus, factor in shoddy manufacturing, poor solder connections, and wires that were never connected to begin with (!) and all we can say is you get what you pay for. Actually, with those poor-quality transformers there’s a face-saving unwritten rule that you’re supposed to buy a transformer with at least twice the wattage that your appliance actually consumes so that fire doesn’t actually happen.

Meanwhile, high-quality voltage transformers use copper for the coils and treated silicon-coated steel laminations, both of which reduce overheating while being highly efficient such that the transformer actually will work beyond its stated wattage. Safety features go without saying for any electrical appliance and better-quality transformers have thermal protection circuits that automatically turn off the unit if it overheats due to over-wattage or a voltage spike. In comparison, poor-quality transformers use standard cartridge fuses that actually break the circuit when over-voltage of over-wattage happens. They often catch on fire anyway.

In the end, paying more for better quality saves you money down the line since you won’t be replacing a cheap voltage transformer every few months. Moreover, safety and reliability is everything. Find a high-quality, American-made voltage transformer with all of the quality and safety features discussed herein, such one made by ACUPWR. [Full disclosure: this article was written by a proud ACUPWR employee].

 Alas, if you’ve determined that using a line voltage transformer is a viable option for your relocation, the next step is to do some homework. Establish the voltage standard in your new country, then determine the wattage consumption of your appliances. You can always get a large transformer to power, say, all your gourmet kitchen appliances or home theater system (if your components don’t have dual voltage), or you can buy a very capable, 6000-watt whole-home model that can convert an entire house to the voltage you need. If you are moving a refrigerator or other appliance using a high-power motor, you need a special transformer that can supply the necessary voltage to keep that motor cranking at the exact RPMs it requires and hence not leave you with a refrigerator filled with spoiled food.

 In summation, buying and using a voltage transformer can be tricky if you don’t know the difference between the good and bad, and the quality and schlock. Research and make note of the differences. Also note the wattage requirements of your appliances and electronics. Ask yourself if you can get by with one high-wattage model that can be used to power a few devices, or maybe you need only one lower-wattage model to power a single appliance such as a refrigerator. Whatever the case, quality matters especially when you mess around with something as precarious as appliances and electricity. Choose safely and wisely.

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  • Anik chadha
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