More on Electrics abroad

French and European Electric Connections


One of the concerns about going abroad with your motorhome or camper from the Uk or Ireland for the first time is the electrics you will encounter. We are used in the UK to exclusively using site connections to the CEE 17 European Standard.  However this seems to be one standard where we are well ahead of the rest of europe

                                                                                 Standard CEE17 Connection >

 In Europe, particularly France, it is still quite normal to find Continental 2 pin connectors on the electric bollards.  To use your standard UK power lead you will need an adaptor to fit this style of connection. These can be purchased from almost any motorhome dealer, ebay or online Motorhome shop

         < Continental 2 pin Connector


In Switzerland or some of the other EU contries you may find the odd place that has some werid connection, you will find if this is the case they will be used to the problem and have adaptors that they will lend you for a few Euros deposit.

 In the UK a 25-metre cable will be fine on the vast majority of campsites. This will also generally be the case in Europe. However you can sometimes find you need a much longer cable run to get to the electric bollard therefore always make sure you bring a second lead with you on your trip.

Another major difference you will find in Europe is the number of amps supplied to each pitch. On most UK sitess there will be a 16 amp supply which is enough to boil a normal domestic kettle, as well as running the fridge and water heater or blown air heating on its lowest setting or a microwave. In France the average number of amps available is 6 which is not enough to boil a standard kettle but will run the other things I have mentioned but not at the same time and you can always buy a 1500w kettle! In Italy you sometimes only find 3 amps  which is fine for fridge, battery charging and lights but not much else.

The new European standard for domestic electricity supply is 230 watts per amp.  Each amp is worth 230 watts. So if you have a 6 amp supply you can use appliances totalling 1380 watts if you have 3 amps it comes to 690 watts. On some sites in France I have come across 10 amps which would give you 2300 watts. Every electrical appliance has marked on it the maximum number of watts it uses. For built in appliance such as water heaters you will need to refer to the operating instructions provided with the caravan. for example if you have a lower wattage kettle which is rated at 1000 watts. As an example you could boil the kettle, have the fridge on and charge the battery and we would be within the 6 amp supply for your Motorhome. If you for example switched on the webasto water heater, microwave or a hairdryer at the same time we would be trying to take more power than is available which would cause an overload and trip your electrics.  Things like mains lighting, battery chargers and electric cooling fans take very little electricity so its best to concentrate on the more power hungry appliances you use. If you do accidentally trip the switch you can sometimes re-set it yourself if the box is open but mostly this will mean a trip to Reception to ask them to re-set it for you. the B16 on the one below means its a 16A 

Another difference you encounter in Europe is cross polarity. UK appliances use fused plugs. There are two types, those  using an earth wire, and those which are double insulated which do not have an earth. You can recognise Double Insulated appliances by a symbol which consists of a square within a square.

 In the UK and Ireland we use a fused plug  so we only switch on the live side, this is called single pole switching. In Europe they switch on both neutral and live which is called double poll switching. In Europe as they run everything through circuit breakers they don't use fused plugs. On the UK system it is important that the live and neutral are wired correctly but on the European system this is not so important. This results in what is called Cross Polarity. In simple terms connecting a UK appliance may lead to it being live even when you think it is off because the live feed might be coming from the neutral wire which is not fused.


So how do I know if I have Cross Polarity? Some Motorhomes, Campers Rv,s have a built in tester with a switch over switch which solves the problem. If you do not have one of these you need to invest in a tester which again can be purchased from you local caravan dealer. Looking at the illustration below you can see that it shows 3 lights on, this indicates correct polarity. 

If there were only one or two lights on you have a problem. All the tester will do is to highlight the problem. What you need to correct the problem is some extra connectors which are wired up the wrong way round so they cross the polarity back to the wiring of your van and its appliances. To cover all eventualities you will need:-

1 x Standard CEE17 Mains Cable

1 X Continental two pin adaptor

1 X Short lead with male and female CEE17 plugs on either end wired with the positive and neutral wired the wrong way round.                Make sure you mark this lead as crossed polarity so that it can't be used under the wrong circumstances.

All these can be purchased on the net or from a good motorhome dealer or indeed you can buy the parts and make them up yourself. If you wish to buy them just google the type of lead and i,m sure you will soon find a dealer near you or shop on the net.

A final thought, this is nothing to get too worried about it is just about recognising that there are differences between the UK and Europe as far as electrical systems are concerned but there is no too high a price to pay for safety and a little forward planning will ensure a safe Motorhoming holiday in any part of the EU.