Before we discuss tackling this question, we need to establish a few very important safety issues. Then we’ll tell you the simple equipment you will need to use your devices in Italy – as well as some tips and tricks.
Italy works with a domestic electricity supply of 230 volts.
This allows for higher-powered devices such as washing machines and dishwashers to be used with a simple plug and socket.
The disadvantage of this is that this makes the danger to an individual from an Italian domestic socket far higher than sockets in countries that use lower voltages. Briefly coming into contact with 110V (as used in the US) usually gives you a nasty shock, but a mere touch of a 230V domestic circuit can kill you.
Despite this, most of the world uses domestic electric circuits that are between 220 volts and 240 volts, and so devices from those countries are almost always totally compatible with the 230 volt supply in Italy.
However the US, Japan, some Caribbean countries, and Taiwan, use much lower voltages – from 100V to 120V. A few devices from these counties are compatible with Italy’s domestic electrical systems, and many are not. Read on to find out which.
If you are from a country that uses 100-120V, and bring larger, high-powered electric goods – such as hair dryers or straightening tongs – they will literally blow up in a shower of sparks, or overheat and melt down if plugged in in Italy. It is a significant safety issue.
To use devices like those safely you would also need an expensive – and really heavy – AC step-down transformer.
This may be suitable for someone relocating to Italy who doesn’t want to buy a new Kitchen Aid, but isn’t really suitable for a short-term visitor.
So don’t bring your higher-powered devices! The most common item visitors carry is a hairdryer, but remember that nearly every hotel or Airbnb in Italy has a hairdryer in the bathroom (or will provide one on request). Same with a clothes iron.
In particular Dyson hair dryers have a safety cut-out that will prevent them from working when plugged into the wrong voltage, so if you bring one you will have essentially have brought an expensive piece of plastic that you’ll have to carry around with you until you get back to 110V land again.
If you really think you can’t do without one, you can order a voltage-compatible travel hair dryer that will fold up small, such as this one rated up to 240V:
Or these tongs rated to 240V:
And this travel iron rated to 240V:
Most smaller consumer electronics such as laptops, tablets, and cellphones will be compatible with the higher voltage. They run on DC which is derived from a small transformer inside the plug or adapter. Mst of these transformers can convert voltages from 110V-240V, so will work fine in Italy with no voltage alteration.
You can tell if they’re rated for higher voltage by looking at the small print on the device. Verify 100% before you try them.
Italy has unfortunately never managed to standardise itself following each attempt at modernization, so there are three different socket standards running in parallel: small two or three-pin Italian (C), large three-pin Italian (L), and large robust two-pin European type (F, also known as Schuko, with no earth pin) that facilitate easier import of electrical goods from other parts of Europe.
Each basic socket is not compatible with any other plug, which can create great confusion in domestic settings, with various sockets of differing sizes in different parts of properties.
Builders and electricians adopt various different strategies used to attempt to mitigate the incompatibility of the various plugs, and different combined solutions are being produced all the time by manufacturers.
Depending on the age of the property you may find various different socket configurations built into the wall, from F to C to L to various hyper-modern combination sockets that attempt to allow all three plugs, plus USB charging.
The good news is that both three-pin sockets will allow two-pin plugs to be inserted into them, which in turn means that a two-pin Italian C plug will work in any of the three potential socket types.
Repeat: a 2-pin Italian C plug will fit all Italian sockets.
There are circumstances in which you may not need an adapter at all. Bearing in mind that you must take into account the voltage rating of your appliance:
If you just need USB charging on your visit, you can buy cheap USB chargers with an Italian two-pin C plug (thus fully compatible with all sockets), anywhere in the street in Rome or in the Chinese casalinghi (housewares) stores all over the city, for like €2 or €3. These will likely be low quality but will usually suffice during your stay.
Or you can order slightly more robustly tested versions from any of the electronic retail chains (Euronics, Unieuro, MediaWorld, Expert City) with higher power ratings for €12-€20.
The caveat to this is that Apple devices are a bit fancy and may require higher power output than a regular USB charger. Or Apple may want to charge you $150 for a new cable. In that case you will need a socket adapter.
If you have a device that uses charger with a generic fitting that’s rated for all voltages, you can also just buy the Italian equivalent. For example this Lenovo laptop is rated 1o0V-240V and takes a universal “clover leaf” plug. This author has one “clover leaf” cable with a US plug, one for the UK/Ireland, and one for Italy – each bought for around €5. It’s easy enough just to switch cables, since the transformer unit works at any voltage.
You can buy such cables from the electronics chains mentioned above, branches of which are all over Rome.
The best socket adapter we’ve ever owned is made by Skross. It can plug into 90% of the world’s sockets, and can receive 90% of the world’s plugs. It also has two USB charging sockets.
Warning – again, it’s not a transformer – it is a plug/socket adapter. It will transmit as many volts as you plug it into!
For Italy it provides the two-pin Italian C plug that works in all sockets, and can work with UK and US two-pin plugs (though not three-pin, nor Australian plugs).
Finally, if you have a lot of devices, you could also get a multi-socket outlet cable like this and plug that into the Skross adapter above, then plug all your devices into that. As long as you’re not drawing too much power (e.g. just charging your devices) then you’ll be fine. Here’s an example for US devices: