Electricity in Spain

29 March 2021


Information on your electronics, electrical appliances and setting up electicity for your flat or house.


...most new electronics like digital cameras (or their chargers rather), external harddrives, printers, mp3 players, and of course laptops/computers are of the 110V - 240V variety.

Endesa is the national electricity company.

There are two different prong sizes for the electrical plug-ins. Apparently, this is done for safety: The fat-pronged plugs include a ground; the thin ones don’t. However, you can buy a converter, and break off the little plastic piece which sticks out so that you don’t use it as a converter (but is meant to be broken off).

USA:
For an 120 Volt appliance to work, you need to buy a hulking transformer (available at El Corte Ingles). Transformers have to be capable of handling the wattage of the appliance or else it will overheat and you might ruin the appliance. I think you multiply the ampere rating of the device by 240 (volts) to determine the minimum size of the transformer you need, but don’t blame me if I’m wrong. For my 1.6 Amp monitor, for instance, I bought a transformer rated 500 V.A. Most new computers are rated for 110V - 240V so they can be plugged right in once you buy a Spanish cable. My American-bought Dell monitor is also rated at 110V - 240V, but it only worked at 640 x 480 pixels until I bought a transformer for it. Strange, but true.

Speaking of modern electronics, most new electronics like digital cameras (or their chargers rather), external harddrives, printers, mp3 players, and of course laptops/computers are of the 110V - 240V variety. One indication is that they will have a little (but heavy) box on the cord that you’ll have found gets pretty hot sometimes (and it should say 110V - 240V on it somewhere). That’s the transformer, so if your device has this, then you should be able to plug it in with only a little adapter that you get at the hardware store (ferreteria). It’s about an inch wide, is usually white, and should be able to accommodate North American 110V electrical plugs with a bit of effort (I don’t think they were designed for this originally so you may have to play with it). They run about 1.50€.

UK: the following excerpts should give you a good idea of what to expect for British expats, as well as some useful information for non-EU expats as well. On the power supply: 

Spain, like the rest of Europe (including the UK) has a nominal mains electricity supply of 230 volts AC at 50Hz, This means, in general, that appliances bought in the UK will work in Spain and vice versa. The only difference you may notice is that items such as kettles and toasters may take longer to heat, as in the UK the actual voltage tends to be over 230V, whereas in Spain it is usually well under, and can be as low as 206V.

 About domestic supply and wiring: 

Your bill will consist of various items, including (obviously) a charge for units consumed and also a standing charge. The standing charge will vary depending on the capacity ("potencia") that your contract allows, and which is controlled by a trip in your main circuit breaker box. Common potencias are 3.3Kw, 5.5Kw and 8.8Kw. The higher your allowance, the higher the standing charge you pay. The potencia can be upgraded - but at a considerable price. In your property there will usually be a cream coloured plastic box which will contain various circuit breakers (trips) for various sections of your wiring. There will also be an RCD (Residual Current Device) which will trip in the event of any current leakage. There is no ring main as used in the UK; everything is in the form of stub circuits. Although earth is green, or green and yellow stripes, there does not appear to be any consistent colour code for line and neutral. The switches for things such as lights are often placed on the neutral side, and the device itself may often still be "live" even though switched off.

 Plugs and sockets: 

There are some weird and wonderful older arrangements still around, but for many years Spain has utilised the standard European socket with a two pin arrangement and side earth. There are two types of plug, both of which fit the standard socket. A smaller two pin plug for double insulated appliances which don't need an earth, and a larger two pin and side earth strip for those requiring an earth. Line and neutral are not distinguished - plugs can go into sockets either way. Plugs are not individually fused. Appliances with UK sockets can be adapted to work with Spanish sockets either by replacing the UK plug or using a cheap and widely available adaptor.

 Televisions and Video Recorders: 

The analogue terrestrial transmission system (RF) used in Spain differs from that in the UK. This means that you can get picture, but no sound, through the aerial input, if you use older UK TV or video in Spain. Most modern televisions are multistandard, which means they can work on either the British or Spanish system. When it comes to connecting UK and Spanish TVs, videos and digiboxes together the situation is easier. Using the SCART (sometimes called Peritel) connectors all modern equipment has, all combinations can be used quite happily, as the SCART connections are standard throughout Europe.

 Telephones, modems and fax machines: 

The Spanish telephone system uses a different connector (RJ11) from the British. The connector is physically the same as that used in the US. Unfortunately, sometimes UK / US adaptors bought in the UK and used in Spain will not work perfectly - you can make calls, and receive them, but the phone won't ring. If you want a device (phone or fax, probably) to physically ring, you'll need the proper adaptor, which can be hard to get hold of or (probably better), cut off the UK plug and fit a Spanish one. This can be fiddly, and is best done with the use of a special tool, but many larger outlets stock them and they're not expensive. If your device needs a mains input then, obviously, it will need a new plug or adaptor for that. Once the correct adaptor(s) have been fitted, your telephone equipment will work perfectly well.

 Computers: 

With the provisos given about changing mains plugs and, if necessary, modem plugs, your UK computer equipment will be perfectly at home in Spain. You will need to change your system settings to take account of the new location and dialling codes, but that's all.

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