What voltages are used in different countries and why?

In most countries, there are two voltages that are widely used. The first is called residential voltage (or single phase if you're in the UK) and is designed to be enough to power appliances while still being safe to use. The second voltage is sometimes referred to as three-phase voltage, is higher than the residential voltage, and is generally used in power transmission – though three-phase voltage is sometimes used to power larger machines in industrial settings. Among the 8 variations of residential voltage (100V – Japan only, 110V, 115V, 120V, 127V, 220V, 230V and 240V) there are 15 types of plugs used around the globe with some countries actually using two types of voltage.  

You can see an up-to-date list of the different residential and three-phase voltages used in each country here. This all begs the question: why are there different voltages in different countries in the first place? After all, while many countries have similar voltages, others have very different ones (Germany, France, UK, and New Zealand for instance all operate with a residential voltage of 230V, but Aruba, Mexico and Suriname use 127V). The answer lies in the history of electrical power generation. 

When electric power was first being pioneered, there were two main players – Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. The two men had different approaches to power generation – Edison favoured 110V DC current, while Tesla worked with 240V AC current. Although Edison’s preference for DC was eventually proven to be ineffective for power transmission over long distances, safety concerns about Tesla’s higher voltage (admittedly fuelled by a PR campaign led by Edison, which included electrocuting a live elephant), led the US to adopt Edison’s lower voltage, resulting in a 110V AC power network. However, in Europe, most countries chose to adopt the higher voltage AC current that Tesla had proposed. As the age of colonialism continued, colonies tended to adopt the power transmission standards of the occupying country, which explains why various groups of countries use very similar voltages – while others use a different, yet similar to each other, set of voltages. As a consequence of this, the cables that different countries must use to transmit power over long distances, and from power networks into people’s homes and workplaces, all need to be slightly different in order to balance performance with safety. 

According to the IEC the list below is of the standard 'residential' voltages used around the world:

Afghanistan 220V Albania 230V Algeria 230V
American Samoa 120V Andorra 120 Angola 220V
Anguilla 110V Antigua & Barbuda 230V Argentina 220V
Armenia 230V Aruba 127V Australia 240V
Austria 230V Azerbaijan 220V Bahamas 120V
Bahrain 230V Bangladesh 220V Barbados 115V
Barbados 115V Belarus 220V Belguim 230V
Belize 110V / 220V Benin 220V Bermuda 120V
Bhutan 230V Bolivia 115V / 230V Bosnia & Herzegovina 230V
Botswana 230V British Virgin Islands 110V Brunei 240V
Bulgaria 230V Burkina Faso 220V Burundi 220V
Cambodia 230V Cameroon 220V Canada 120V
Cape Verde 220V Cayman Islands 120V C.A.R 220V
Chad 220V Chile 220V China 220V
Colombia 110V Comoros 220V Congo, Republic of 230V
Cook Islands 240V Cuba 110V Cyprus 240V
Czech Republic 230V Dem. Republic of Congo 220V Denmark 230V
Dijbouti 220V Dominica 230V Dominican Republic 110V
Ecuador 120V Egypt 220V El Salvador 115V
Equatorial Guinea 220V Eritrea 220V Estonia 230V
Ethiopia 220V Falkland Islands 240V Faroe Islands 230V
Fiji 240V Finland 230V France 230V
French Guiana 220V Gabon 220V Gambia 220V
Georgia 220V Germany 230V Ghana 230V
Gibraltar 240V Greece 230V Greenland 230V
Grenada 230V Guadeloupe 230V Guam 110V
Guatemala 120V Guinea 220V Guinea-Bissau 220V
Guyana 240V Haiti 110V Honduras 110V
Hong Kong 220V Hungary 230V Iceland 230V
India 230V Indonesia 220V Iran (Islamic Rep.) 220V
Iraq 230V Ireland 230V Isle of Man 240V
Israel 230V Italy 230V Jamaica 110V
Japan 100V Jordan 230V Kazakhstan 220V
Kenya 240V Kiribati 240V Korea, Dem. Peoples Repub. 220V / 110V
Korea, Republic 220V Kuwait 240V Krygyzstan 220V
Lao Peoples Dem. Repub 230V Latvia 230V Lebanon 220V
Lesotho 220V Liberia 120V / 220V Libya 127V / 230V
Liechtestein 230V Lithuania 220V Luxembourg 230V
Macau 220V Macedonia 230V Madagascar 127V / 220V
Malawi 230V Malaysia 240V Martinique 220V
Mauritania 220V Mauritius 230V Mexico 127V
Micronesia (Fed. States) 120V Monaco 230V Mongolia 220V
Montenegro 230V Montserrat 230V Morocco 127V / 220V
Mozambique 220V Myanmar 230V Namibia 220V
Nauru 240V Nepal 230V Netherlands 230V
Netherland Antilles 127V / 220V New Caledonia 220V New Zealand 230V
Nicaragua 120V Nigeria 230V Norway 230V
Oman 240V Pakistan 230V Palau 120V
Panama 110V Papua New Guinea 240V Paraguay 220V
Peru 220V Philippines 220V Poland 230V
Portugal 230V Puerto Rica 120V Qatar 240V
Republic of Moldova 220V Republic of Niger 220V Reunion 220V
Romania 230V Russia 220V Rwanda 230V
Saint Kitts & Nevis 230V Saint Lucia 240V Saint Martin 120V / 220V
Saint Vincent & the Grenadines 230V Samoa 230V San Marino 230V
Sao Tome and Principe 220V Saudi Arabia 220V / 230V Senegal 230V
Serbia 230V Seychelles 240V Sierra Leone 230V
Singapore 230V Slovakia 230V Slovenia 230V
Solomon Islands 220V Somalia 220V South Africa 230V
Spain 230V Sri Lanka 230V Sudan 230V
Suriname 127V Swaziland 230V Sweden 230V
Switzerland 230V Syrian Arab Repulic 220V Taiwan 110V
Tajikista 220V Thailand 220V Timor-Leste 220V
Togo 220V Tonga 240V Trinidad & Tobago 115V
Tunisia 230V Turkey 220V Turkmenistan 220V
Turks & Caicos Islands 120V Tuvalu 220V Uganda 240V
Ukraine 220V United Arab Emirates 230V United Kingdom 230V
United Republic of Tanzania 230V United States 120V United States Virgin Islands 110V
Uruguay 230V Uzbekistan 220V Vanuatu 220V
Venezuela 120V Vietnam 220V Yemen 230V
Zambia 230V Zimbabwe 220V - -
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