There are 2 major differences when comparing power outlets in Iceland vs. those in the United States. First and most obvious is that the outlets are shaped differently. For example, an outlet in Iceland can look like this:
Second, in Iceland, the power that comes out of an outlet is 220 Volts, as it is in most of Europe. In the United States, it is 120 Volts.
Power adapters in Iceland
To solve the first issue (the shape of the plug), you just need an adapter that will convert the thin metal plugs on your power cord to round ones that will fit Icelandic outlets. BUT—and this is really important—you need to make sure the device you are using is capable of handling the higher voltage. (For what it’s worth, the frequency of the Alternating Current is also lower—50 Hz vs. 60 Hz. But the point is that it’s different stuff coming out of those holes.) You don’t want to send 220V into a device that is expecting 120V.
Now for the good news. In my experience (which includes nothing that makes me qualified to answer this question definitively), any device with a battery that charges will be fine; the “wall wart” AC adapter functions as a converter to make sure your device gets the right voltage. Take a look at the fine print on your cell phone or laptop charger now. I have yet to find one which does not also work at 220 V. For example:
Note the “Input” line specifies that this device (which is a 5 port USB charger) can handle inputs of between 100V and 240V. Power in the US is about 120V, and in Iceland it is about 220V. Both of those fit nicely in the range above, and so we can use this device in Iceland without converting the power to a lower voltage. You’d just need a simple adapter to change the shape of the plugs.
But, PLEASE check your device. Don’t assume that your cell phone, laptop, tablet, camera, etc. will be fine just because it has a battery. In my experience it will work fine, but I’m really not qualified to tell you it will be fine. Look at those voltage input ranges in the super small print on your charger.
Devices that need a power converter to work in Iceland
Devices that use power directly, and don’t store it in a battery, generally will NOT work if you give them 220V of power. And there are some things you might take with you that fit into this category: direct plug shavers or hair dryers come to mind.
Here is what it says on my Wahl beard trimmer:
This needs 120 Volts, period. Do not plug it into an adapter while in Iceland and send it 220 Volts. You will need a converter that lowers the voltage.
Buying a power ADAPTER for Iceland
So now you know whether you will need just an adapter, or a converter too. Adapters are very cheap. Here’s a set of 3 at Amazon that we used in Iceland, and that we recommend. Be sure to select Type E/F! They are only about $10 for all 3. Yes, it says Germany in the description, but this is a standard Type F adapter that will work in Iceland too. The grounded outlets in Iceland looks like this:
The grounding pins are at the top and the bottom. Your adapter can be plugged in either direction; that is, up and down doesn’t matter.
You can also buy 2 prong, ungrounded adapters. They will just use the middle two holes, and not have anything touching the outer grounding connections. For example, here is a 3 pack of them on Amazon, also for about $10. These are Type C adapters.
They look almost the same, but they don’t have the grounds on the outside. They still fit just fine in the grounded outlet. Why get the 2 prong instead of the 3 prong? The products I linked to are both the same price. The only reason is that the 2 prong adapter is more widely used, and is likely to work in many other countries. But unless you’re looking to travel to other countries besides Iceland that only use type C, just go ahead and get the type F listed above.
Remember that these adapters are nothing more than small metal conduits that take your plugs and connect them to other plugs. There’s nothing in here that requires power; it’s a very simple device. Unless the connector breaks, and as long as you’re using a device that can handle 220 Volts, there’s little that can go wrong here.
Buying a power CONVERTER for Iceland
Converters that lower the voltage are significantly more complicated, and, surprise surprise, significantly more expensive. Be careful when you’re looking for one. If you search on Amazon for “power converter”, you just get the simple adapters that will not help you. Search instead for “voltage converter” and you will have more luck.
Note that it’s totally fine to use a voltage converter with devices that just require a simple adapter. If the device knows how to handle either 120 V or 220 V, it doesn’t matter which you give it. So if you have some devices that need a voltage converter, you may want to invest in something like this Worldwide Converter.
It has 3 outlets AND 4 USB ports, works worldwide, and will convert voltage. For around $50, you’re set for Iceland and any future trips.
With these more expensive converters, there is a limit to how much power it can provide. In fact, in the description of the Worldwide Converter above, it says:
“Please don’t use this power converter to charge your hair dryer, hair straightener, and curling iron.”
Why are they singling out hair care products here? Simply, they use significantly more power than anything else we’re dealing with here. If you look at the picture above of the Wahl beard trimmer, note that in the upper right hand corner it says this shaver uses “10W”, 10 watts (which are roughly volts multiplied by amps, but you probably don’t need to know that). Most of your chargers for cell phones or cameras will draw somewhere between 2 and 10 Watts; a laptop charger may draw 60 watts, or even 90 at the top end.
The most popular hair dryers listed on Amazon draw 1875 Watts, and one that claims to be “powerful” uses 2200 watts. We’re in a totally different class of power usage here; ever see your lights dim when you turn on your hair dryer?
So what do you do if you want to have one of these high wattage devices in Iceland, and yours can’t handle the higher voltage? Buy one that says it is “dual voltage” before you go (or in Iceland if you’d like a unique souvenir?) and use it with a cheap and simple adapter. I think the rule of thumb here is that any device that uses more than 100 watts should not be used with a voltage converter.
This can really be a big issue. If your device can’t handle the power it’s given, bad things can happen! See some examples in this Washington Post article. The beginning of the article:
When John Gasink plugged his continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device into a power outlet at the Heidelberg Marriott Hotel, he was in for a shock. So were many of the hotel’s guests.
“I saw sparks,” says Gasink, who works for a logistics company in Richmond. “And then the lights went out in half the hotel.”
After the power came back on, he diagnosed the problem: His CPAP machine needed more than a plug adapter. It also required a voltage converter so it wouldn’t short out the German plugs or his medical equipment.
Dual volatage devices
Here is a fun little feature on our hair dryer:
On the bottom is a somewhat cryptic built-in voltage converter. The hair dryer doesn’t require precise voltages, so you just need to give it a sense of the range it should expect. In this case, that would be 125 for the US (which will give it about 120 volts) and 250 for Iceland (which will give it about 220 Volts). Turn the little white circle with a screwdriver, or maybe just a dime, and then don’t forget to turn it back when you return home. But this hair dryer will work with a simple adapter, because you can tell it to expect a higher voltage.
Here’s a hair dryer on Amazon that costs less than $20. The description says “Dual Voltage – great for travel,” and it’s about half the price of a voltage converter. Buy this plus a cheap voltage adapter and you’re all set.
Summary of power adapters and converters in Iceland
– Outlets in Iceland are shaped differently than those in the United States, and they provide a different voltage.
– Most devices with a charger should work just fine, but check the label on the “wall wart” AC adapter.
– Assuming your charger can handle 220 Volts, just buy a simple adapter that solves the physical outlet shape
– If your device can’t handle 220 Volts, and uses under 100 Watts, you can buy a voltage converter and use it.
– If your device can’t handle 220 Volts and uses over 100 Watts, don’t bring it. Either buy one that can handle 220 Volts, or do without it.
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