Last update12:12:22 PM

Back You are here: Home Property Building and Renovating Dying to Change Plugs and Sockets?

Dying to Change Plugs and Sockets?

My first comment has to be:

WARNING: Do not attempt ANY electrical work unless you are competent to do so.

Electricity is dangerous and can be hazardous. If you are in any doubt whatsoever about your capacity to complete the work safely you should call a qualified electrician to do the work. In some countries it may be illegal for unqualified persons to undertake electrical works.

A common problem for people who move from the UK to European countries and indeed to many other parts of the world is the fact that although the voltage may be the same or very similar to that used in the UK the standard UK mains plug is not compatible with the available electrical outlets.

The UK mains plug (made to British Standard BS1363) is the safest in the world, when used in conjunction with the proper fuse for the job and the correct wiring in both the device and in the home

It is the only plug that has a safety fuse designed to ‘blow’ (that is stop working and stop the flow of electricity) if a fault develops in the equipment that causes too much current to be drawn from the supply.

Most European countries use the Schuko plug for earthed devices. ‘Schuko’ is a short form of the German term Schutzkontakt (literally: protective contact), which simply indicates that the plug and socket are equipped with protective earth contacts (in the form of clips and strips rather than holes and pins). Schuko connectors are normally used on circuits with 230 volts, 50 Hz, for currents up to 16 amps.

The standard Schuko plug is known as the ‘Type F’ or ‘CEE 7/4’ connector. It features two round pins of 4.8 mm diameter 19 mm long with centres 19 mm apart for the live and neutral contacts, plus two flat contact areas on the top and bottom edge of the plug for the protective earth (ground). Schuko sockets form a cavity into which the plug is inserted. Schuko plugs and sockets are symmetrical AC connectors which means that they can be mated in two ways. Therefore the live and neutral can arrive on either pin at the consuming device.

However, France and Belgium use a slightly modified version that has a polarising earth pin in the socket. For this reason the most common modern Schuko connectors are a hybrid known as the ‘CEE 7/7’ connector which has an additional hole that also accommodates the earth pin of French and Belgian sockets.

This plug can therefore be used throughout Europe as well as in Algeria, American Samoa, Aruba, Azores, Balearic Islands, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Chad, Croatia, El Salvador, Finland, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Jordan, Korea, Laos, Luxembourg, Madeira, Monaco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Niger, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Suriname, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay amongst others.

So ... do you really need to change those plugs?

Before jumping into modifying your equipment it is worth taking the time to consider whether that is the best way forward. For those going abroad for a short period, using adaptors or hiring or buying local equipment may be the best way to proceed, and if emigrating permanently it may even prove beneficial to start again at the new location.

In many parts of the world the cost of new equipment is less than in the UK and even if it is not, the cost of purchasing new may still be less than the combined cost of shipping your existing equipment abroad and performing the necessary conversions, even without considering the second hand value of the product if you sell it before you leave.

In some countries, Bulgaria included, you could actually come away with a profit by selling your old equipment in the UK and buying new abroad when you take all these factors into consideration.

If you really do need or want to take UK equipment with you it may be sensible to purchase a UK multi-way extension with a suitable foreign plug connector fitted so that you can safely continue to use the UK products without modification. Such leads are readily available for use in almost any country in the world that uses 230 - 250v AC as their mains supply.

For many devices (for example Computers) the cable assembly is removable, so the best way to deal with this is to replace the entire cable. This takes almost no time at all, has the advantage of having a brand new approved connector, and is also an inexpensive option since a replacement Schuko cable with a C13 line socket for a computer is readily available for less than £2.50.

Many other connections are available including the C5 (cloverleaf, commonly used with Laptop computers, projectors etc.) and C7 (figure eight, radio or calculator) connectors.
If the cable assembly is not replaceable on your appliance, you will have to think seriously about changing the connectors or having them changed for you.