Electrical Appliances: That Old Chestnut

Facing an overseas move? If you are moving from North America to Europe or from Europe to North America, you will definitely face the question of what to do about your appliances. Because of the difference in voltage, every expat has to go through this process of trying to figure out which appliances to bring with them and which to leave behind. There are several options:

  1. sell everything and buy everything new in Europe,
  2. sell some things, bring other things and buy the rest in Europe,
  3. or bring everything and use everything with transformers and adapters.

We expats often use factors such as length of stay (are we on assignment or staying forever?), storage space, or immediate cash needs when making the decision.

One friend made a policy to not bring anything that was a heat producing device. So that immediately meant leaving her hair dryer, curling iron, iron, and water kettle in the United States when she moved to Germany. She figured that the higher voltage would stress the product and suck a lot of power. In addition, most of these items are low cost investments to buy new. Instead she brought more expensive kitchen appliances like her food processor and stand mixer. A year in to her expat assignment with two more years in front of her, she’s not sure if that was a good idea since her reliable yet costly transformer takes up a lot of space in her small European house.

Voltage converter

The Simran voltage converter is for larger household appliances. It also regulates the voltage, keeping it steady. PHOTO: Holly Cantu – Buy it: Get it from Amazon.com

The transformer is also so substantial that it cannot easily be carried from kitchen to bathroom for instance. If you do decide to bring appliances that need voltage conversion, you may want to do so thematically: bring appliances that will be used in one room. Or else be prepared to buy more than one transformer and make space accordingly.

An argument in favor of bringing appliances from the US to Europe is that some electrical devices such as printers are cheaper in the United States. But again, be certain that you will be using the object correctly. Doublecheck by checking on the appliance itself, the plug or by reading the manual if you need a converter or not. Don’t just look and see by plugging it into the wall with an adapter. We’ve all experienced that heart sinking or sometimes near heart stopping, “ZZZT!” I’ve heard about families that did drag everything over to Germany or else back to the States, and one by one, everything was fried or ruined: hair dryer ZZZT, iron ZZZT, radio ZZZT. Most expats regret not selling as much as they could before moving and getting cash for their still working appliances. The other consideration is that shelf life for these small appliances are nearly the same length as your expat assignment.

TVs and DVD players are a different beast. Look at this German Way page for tips.

If you decide to furnish your new German life with brand new appliances, I recommend that you use the Stiftung Warentest Annual Guide in making your purchases. (This is the German equivalent of Consumer Reports in the US or Which? in the UK.) We did that when we returned to Germany two years ago and have been 95% happy with all of our Testsieger (test winner) products. You should also ask for a big purchase discount. Although we didn’t have luck with MediaMarkt, we did with Expert which is where we took our business. The other cost-effective option is to connect to an expat group or list serve and actively seek an expat household that might be moving. These families are usually looking to offload their slightly used appliances (and Ikea furniture) quickly for good prices before moving back home.

If there is the one thing or two that you really love and want to bring with you, you will need new adapters or transformers. Check out the newly updated German Way Store where we recommend our favorite expat survival and travel products. Keep checking, as we actively add to the selection and format of the store, especially as the holiday season has just begun.

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