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Will your gadget work in Australia?

Wondering what electrical and related gadgets you can:

  • Bring with you when you visit or move to Australia?
  • Send to a friend in Australia?
  • Buy in Australia and send or take to friends overseas?
  • Buy overseas and bring back to Australia?

Or, more importantly, what gadgets will work in different countries?

Here are some clues. This list doesn’t cover everything, but it should get you started.

The main rule to follow is: check!

Gadgets that use ordinary batteries

If your gadget uses batteries (such as AA, C, D, 9V, etc), there’s no problem. You can bring batteries, or buy them here, and all is well.

Gadgets that run off a wall socket (mains power) or use batteries that need recharging from a wall socket

If the gadget needs to run off the mains supply, or its battery needs to be recharged from the mains occasionally, you may have a problem.

Australian electricity is mostly 240V, while North America uses 110V, Europe 220, and I don’t know what other variations there may be around the world. Australia uses 50Hz; North America uses 60Hz.

So if your gadget (or its battery recharger) plugs directly into the mains, check to see if it’s compatible. Some items (for example, some hair dryers) can be switched between voltages. Others can’t. A 110-volt gadget will burn out if plugged into 240V. (A 240V gadget won’t burn out on 110V, but it won’t run properly either.)

Some gadgets (such as notebook computers) have a plug pack or power brick that can be used with any voltage, but not all plug packs are “universal” — some are good only with one voltage. Check yours to be sure.

Even if your gadget or its plug pack are safe to use here, you’ll probably need a plug adapter, or a separate power cord with an Australian plug. You can buy these in many travel or electronic stores (such as Tandy/Radio Shack or Dick Smith’s Electronics), or get one when you arrive in Australia.

For people moving to Australia, or bringing equipment back from overseas, transformers are available, but they are generally large, heavy, expensive, and heat up noticeably. You are almost always better off buying a new item rather than using a transformer.

Televisions and video tapes

Australian television is on a different standard (PAL) from North American TV (NTSC), so videotapes aren’t directly compatible. Many (but not all) recent Australian video players and televisions can play both types of tapes, but North American equipment mostly can’t play Australian tapes. So that tape you’re bringing as a gift may not be compatible, and when you buy a souvenir to take home, be sure to check the box to see if it’s the right kind.

If you’re thinking about taking your own TV or VCR to Australia, pay a visit to: http://www.telsat.com/world.htm

This satellite television site contains all the data you need about system parameters, technical specifications, and colour and broadcasting systems, listed by country. Find out if yours is compatible (most likely it isn’t).

CD, DVD, audio tapes, etc.

CDs are all the same — no incompatibility problems there. Same for audio tapes. (But the players, like other electric gadgets, may have problems — check to be sure.)

DVDs are complicated. The world is divided into 6 zones. A DVD made for one zone is not compatible with a DVD player in any other zone. (This is a requirement of the copyright owners, NOT the manufacturers of players.) The USA is zone 1, Australia is zone 4, Europe is a different zone.

There are ways around this. Many Asian retailers (in Hong Kong, for example) sell players that ignore zones and play any DVD. In Australia, you can buy legitimate players that play any DVD — but you have to ask for them at the store. Also, even the regional ones will let you play up to five “foreign” DVDs before locking you out.

DVDs that are played on computers rather than dedicated DVD players don’t have quite the same problem. They still have the same region coding — but every player will allow you to play up to five “foreign zone” DVDs before locking out the other regions. And there are programs freely available on the Web that will reset the counter on your DVD drive from five (the maximum) back to zero, or ignore the zoning completely. Note: the legality of these programs is unclear.

Cameras

Cameras should be no problem, but do check the recharger for camera batteries to make sure it is compatible with Australian electricity; see above.

Mobile (cellular) phones

How about your mobile (cellular) phone? Generally speaking, North American and Australian phones won’t work in the other area, but European and Australian phones are compatible. Australia uses the same GSM system as the rest of the world (except for North America and Japan) at 900MHz and 1800MHz. Some American GSM phones designed for 1900MHz can also handle standard GSM.

CDMA phones are more likely to be compatible from one country to another; but again, you do need to check yours specifically. Note: Telstra plans to close the CDMA network in early 2008, replacing it with the NextG network, which is already in operation.

If your phone is compatible, check the recharger to make sure it’s okay too. Remember that Australian electricity is mostly 240V, as discussed above.

Don’t forget to ask your home phone company about roaming, as it is not always an automatic option.

Unless you really need to be reached on your existing phone number, you may find that a cheaper option is to buy a SIM card to fit your phone, or buy a pre-paid phone to use while you’re here. Several phone companies provide them, and they can be purchased at many outlets including Australia Post shops.

If you plan to travel outside major population centres or off the main highways, your best choice of provider is Telstra as it has the widest coverage, but even so there are huge gaps between population centres where only a satellite phone will work. You’ll want to check Telstra’s coverage maps. Although mobile phone service is available to most of the population, it’s definitely not available in most of the country, especially the outback areas. Coverage maps are here.

We’re looking for a detailed and up-to-date website to link to, for more information about mobile phones.

Gadgets that connect to a telephone line

Legally, you’re not supposed to connect to the phone line any equipment (phone, fax, modem, etc) that hasn’t been approved for use in Australia.

In practice, most people who travel with notebook computers have a modem, which may or may not be a brand that’s approved and may or may not work. The connector may not match an Australian telephone wall socket. The (old) standard Australian connector is the British-style 610, which has three large blades. The standard North American connector is the small RJ11. They’re now found in many installations (such as modern or renovated motels) but not everywhere. Fortunately, you can buy adapters in many stores, including Tandy and Dick Smith Electronics.

Note: Access to wireless and other broadband internet services is becoming increasingly easy to find, so dial-up access is less often needed.

For more about connecting to the Internet, see this page.


Page last updated 3 November 2007.