One of the most common questions asked is “Will my work in the DR?” or “Will I need a converter?”. The quick answer is “Maybe”, so we will go into it here. I’m going to refer to this as Electricity 101 or the three bears description.
To start off, the electricity in the DR is the same as in North America. It’s alternating current with a nominal voltage of 115/120 volts and the frequency is 60 hertz (cycles per second). You guys from across the pond have a nominal voltage of 220/240 and a frequency of 50 hertz. This brings in a whole other set of issues, so we’ll cover that separately. Normally, the frequency is not a big issue for most devices; it’s the voltage and physical connections.
FOR NORTH AMERICANS (and other places that use this system)
So, you might ask, if the electricity is the same, then why can’t I just plug in my device and go?
Well, yes, it’s the same, but the physical connection to it is slightly different; just enough to cause problems. If you examine a conventional North American electrical socket, you will notice that there are three holes. Two look like small slots and the third looks like a “U”. If you look even closer, you will notice that one of the slots is slightly larger. Each hole serves a different function and the shape/size identifies that function (hot, neutral and safety ground). Now, if you look at the cord that plugs into this socket, you will see one of two types. It will either have three prongs on it, to line up with the socket, or it may have only two flat blades. One of those blades will have little ears on it, making it larger than the other one. There is a reason for all this, and it’s called safety. The system is designed so that the plug can only be inserted one way. It’s called polarization. This is where the difficulty starts, since they don’t use this system in the DR. Their plugs will go in either way.
First, the socket in the DR will have only two holes. Usually it will accept either two flat blades or a European type round pin. Obviously, anything with a three prong plug isn’t going to fit. Unfortunately, the North American two prong plug usually won’t fit either, because in their infinite wisdom, they designed it so that the two slots are the same size, and yes, it’s the small one. You may luck out, and countless tourists ahead of you may have jammed the plug in and enlarged (read as ‘broken’) the socket so that the cord will fit.
Oh, and there’s another complication. Sometimes you will find a socket that is recessed about a centimeter (1/2" for those of you who aren’t metric). This causes issues for those little transformer plugs that they use on the battery chargers for cameras, cell phones and the like. Because of the recess, the prongs on the transformer box won’t physically reach the socket.
This is what you will likely see at some resorts:
OK, NOW THE ANSWERS
- If it’s got a three prong plug on the cord, it’s probably best to leave it at home. It’s designed to be grounded, and you won’t find one there.
- If it’s got a two prong plug, get an adapter socket. These are about an inch long and will plug into the socket in the DR because the prongs are both the same size (small). Your plug will plug into the adapter easily. If you already have a converter for your European travels, one of the adapter plugs that came with it should be just perfect. You should also be able to find one at a travel shop, The Source (formerly Radio Shack) or WalMart (to name but a few).
Alternately, buy the cheapest two conductor extension cord you can find. Take a file and grind off the ears on the large blade. The metal is soft; it’s quite easy. Once you can easily plug it into one of our sockets either way, you’ve got it made. IMPORTANT See caveats below.
- If it’s got one of those transformer boxes, it will probably plug in OK, unless you run into the recessed socket issue. See item 2 above.
CAVEATS: When you use an adapter plug or the modified extension cord, you are defeating one of the safety devices built into our system. It’s normally not an issue with the standard hair dryer/curling iron/clock radio etc, but if you feel any tingling, try reversing the plug. If that doesn’t help, discontinue using the device. Oh, and technically that modified extension cord is probably illegal for use here, so keep it with your DR stuff for future trips.
FOR PEOPLE FROM "ACROSS THE POND"
Your sockets and plugs are totally different, so as a minimum you will need some kind of adapter plug (from ‘yours’ to ‘theirs’).
Your voltage is slightly stronger (OK, a whole lot stronger) than ours, so any device you plug in will be somewhat lethargic, unless it’s designed for dual voltage. Otherwise, your hair dryer will take a long time! Your battery charger probably won’t function at all.
I know that when we travel from North America to Europe, we can buy converters to step down your 220 voltage to our 115 volts. These are quite reasonably priced. Apparently it’s easier to step down the voltage than to step it up. Maybe such a converter exists; if so, could someone from over there send the information and we’ll add it to the FAQ. The only thing I’m aware of is a transformer. These will step up the DR voltage to what you need for your device. Unfortunately, they are expensive and VERY heavy. For practical reasons, a transformer would be suitable only for a small device such as a camera battery charger. I have seen hotels that had a 220 volt outlet in the luggage room near the front desk that was available for charging your camcorder batteries, but I wouldn’t count on such a thing existing. Check with your chosen hotel.
If it won’t run on 115 volt electricity, leave it at home. The most important thing you will probably need is the charger for your camera batteries, or cell phone. Get a dual voltage one or spring for an adapter and transformer.