Swiss Watching trivia, No 13: Plugs

August 13, 2010, 7 Comments

Switzerland likes to be different. This shows itself in many ways: the political structure, the currency, the electrical system. That’s right, Swiss plugs are like no other in the world (except for the ones in Liechtenstein but then that tiny country also uses the Swiss franc). Most other European countries have plugs with two round pins but Switzerland needs three, with the third being the earth pin. Not only that but the plugs are a decidely odd shape – a sort of elongated hexagon. Luckily, most normal European two-pin plugs still work in Swiss sockets – my Dell computer has just such a plug – as do standard adaptors. The problem comes with sockets that aren’t flat but recessed into the plastic casing, like the ones found in Swiss bathrooms (that’s another oddity; since when did bathrooms have electrical sockets?). No chance of getting anything other than a Swiss plug in there. I still find Swiss plugs rather unnerving, and this from someone who grew up in Britain, which has what are surely the biggest, chunkiest, ugliest plugs in the world.

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7 Comments on "Swiss Watching trivia, No 13: Plugs"

  1. Janie Friday August 13th, 2010 at 08:11 PM · Reply

    When traveling throughout Europe, what should an American bring to be able to use a computer, hair dyer, etc.? Probably I could find this answer anywhere but what I would really like to know is what are the little quirts that may come up and cause problems once you are there? Do you have any advice?

    • swisswatching Friday August 13th, 2010 at 08:16 PM · Reply

      The most important thing is an adaptor, so that your American flat pins can be converted to into European round ones. What just as crucial is the voltage. In the US it’s 120V, in Europe 230V. I remember my American flatmate in London blew up a few things before he realised.

  2. Katharina Friday August 13th, 2010 at 11:07 PM · Reply

    @Janie: Check if your equipment is ‘voltage aware’. your computer should be able to do that. check it’s power unit. the U/L Label will indictae operating voltage. if it says 110 – 240 Volts, you are safe. most contemporary laptops do that. (as my old dell, my old hp and the new hp).

    hair dryer: it is a travel unit, there is a switch on the unit to choose between 110 and 220 volt. if you take a hair dryer, that does not have this switch, the travel power adaptors you can buy i walmart or best buys can help. although those are limited in power consumption and a hair dryer often is right at their maximum rated power (indicated in watts)

    you will need plug adatpors/converters. check radio shack.

    as swisswatching says, the electric standards are not the same througghout europe. absolutely DIN (german) standard complint plugs for instance do not fit in swiss sockets, as the diameter of the prong is slightly bigger in germany. ditto UK, and so on.

    but the plug converter units you can buy in radio shack et al do the trick.

    most hotels nowadays have upgraded to international standards and do have built in hairdryers in the rooms as any current motel/hotel in the us.

    i would buy a travel hair dryer unit and a plug converter set. your computer should be fine. check the power unit of your cell phone. often they are NOT built so that they automatically select the correct voltage. those will only work with a voltage converter. in that case you will need a voltage converter (around 20 USD)

    further questions: feel free to post here. I moved between there and here a few times. greets from California.

    • swisswatching Saturday August 14th, 2010 at 09:16 AM · Reply

      As you say, Katharina, most hotels these days have hairdryers. Even the two-star in Paris we stayed in last month had one. So I wouldn’t bother with a travel hairdryer, but a plug adaptor is essential, not least because Germany, Britain, France and Switzerland (for example) all have different plugs. For a guide to plugs and voltages around the world, check out this website:

  3. reader Friday October 29th, 2010 at 03:12 PM · Reply

    My version of the plug adaptor from Swiss to rest of Europe (except UK of course) is to carefully break the third pin et voila ! a perfectly functional European jack.

  4. Ninda Saturday March 26th, 2011 at 01:42 AM · Reply

    I have lived for a bit more than a year in Switzerland. I’m starting to feel quite homey here, and I love just about everything except the plug… Errrgh!

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