An electrical outlet is an opening or series of openings connected to a wired power source meant to power electrical equipment and components. It is one of the most commonly used items in a home or building and can be found nearly universally, although many countries have different standards or voltages. As a result, not all outlets, or the components they are intended for, are compatible with each other.
Most household electronic components get their power from a cord that is plugged into the outlet. The plug of the component transfers power from the electrical outlet to the device requiring it. Another wire then takes the electricity back to its original location. For simplification, in a home environment, this is the electrical panel. Due to this round-trip routing, it is often called an electrical circuit.
In the United States, the standard electrical outlet has a pair of parallel vertical slits less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, plus a round opening centered below the vertical slits. The round opening is for the ground, which offers some safety. The voltage in the United States is usually 120 volts. In addition to the United States, this standard plug is often used in the eastern portions of South America, some Caribbean countries and in some Middle Eastern countries.
In most of Europe, the standard outlet has two openings spaced horizontally less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Its voltage is usually 220 to 230 volts, but it can vary by location. This type of plug is most commonly known as the Europlug, because of its use in that portion of the world. It is also the most widely used type internationally.
In the United Kingdom, the main electrical outlet plug has two horizontal slits at the bottom, and one vertical slit slightly above those horizontal ones. The slits together form a triangular shape. The plug can also be found in other portions of the world, such as Latin America and Africa. Its most common voltage is 230 volts.
For travelers, international adapters can allow devices made in one country to be plugged into outlets in others. Just because someone may be able to plug an electronic component into an international outlet does not mean he or she should, however. If the component is not made for higher voltage, the person will also need a converter to lessen the voltage. Otherwise, the electricity will overpower the equipment and cause it to become inoperable.