When traveling outside the USA, there are some important considerations when using an oxygen concentrator. The most important factor is the electrical supply, which differs widely in both quality and quantity; though there are some possible other considerations to consider.
In the United States electrical current is standardized around 120 Volts AC (VAC), at 50 Hertz in either the NEMA 1-15 (Ungrounded) or NEMA 5-15 (Grounded) formats. This standard is used in several other countries as well. However, confusion and problems can arise from the exact same plug format being used in other countries with vastly different power standards.
One such example is Japan, which uses the NEMA 1-15 standard as well, which means that the outlet and plug look just like they do here in the United States. However, while in the USA we are 120 VAC, Japan runs on only 100 VAC, and half the country is on 50 Hz with the other half on 60 Hz. This means your unit will not get enough power to run.
Europe has an even wider range – in which most of Europe runs between 220-240 VAC at 50 or 60 Hz. Going to Africa, Asia, or parts of South America? Power requirements in some of these countries vary wildly depending on the local power supply – some cities and towns may be 220 VAC, others 120 VAC.
The reason for this electrical lesson is simply that, before traveling, you should look up what the local power supply will be where you are going, and then check the possible limitations of your specific concentrator. That’s where the good news begins! Most Portable Concentrators are capable of accepting between 100-240 VAC and operating at either 50 or 60 Hz.
You can check one of three ways to figure out what your concentrator's power specifications. The first method is to check your manual. Every concentrator's manual will include the specifications of the unit usually on the last few pages. If you do not have your manual handy, we also publish them on our website. If you’re already on your way and don’t have the manual, you can also check your power supply. Lastly, of course, you can always contact our Customer Support Team, where our representatives can answer all your power questions.
If your concentrator’s power supply includes a transformer, usually referred to as a “brick,” the specifications will be written on one side. Look for abbreviations like “VAC” for Volts Alternating Current to find the numbers. Most of the time, if there is a transformer, the unit will be capable of 100-240 VAC. If the line doesn’t have a transformer, it is unlikely that the unit can do anything but the native power format.
American Medial Sales Rentals (AMSR) sells units designed for use in the United States, which means they are designed for a native power format of 120 VAC. Some units have an “international” variant which will be designed for native power formats of 220 VAC and will not operate in the USA – AMSR only sells these as special-order items.
It is also important to know that modes of transportation vary in power output as well. If you are taking a cruise, the ship may operate on 220 VAC even if it is an “American” cruise line. More and more aircraft are featuring power outlets on seats for electronics to be used; however, the power output may not be enough to power your unit. Always contact the carrier to find out what the electrical standards are before your trip.
Of course, when traveling internationally, you may find that the outlet is different than the NEMA outlet found on all our concentrators. To solve this, you will need to use a power adapter. A power adapter simply changes the configuration of the prongs on the plug to fit the outlet in the wall.
A power adapter is different than a power converter. We strongly discourage using power converters because they can damage your unit, rendering the unit and its factory warranty useless.
Power consumption isn’t the only international consideration to have while traveling abroad, though it is probably the largest consideration. Different countries have different regulations regarding the use of medical equipment, meaning you should look to see if there are specific rules for using a concentrator; such as carrying your prescription or special rules for flying. AMSR sells units that meet US FAA regulations, however other airlines and countries may have a different list of authorized equipment your unit may not be on. The European Aviation Safety Agency, for example, is slower to test and approve units than the Federal Aviation Administration (USA). This is more likely to be a concern if your airline is from another country; flights to and from the USA all must meet FAA requirements.
Another consideration is a change in local conditions. Oxygen machines have operational limitations such as temperature and altitude. Concentrators have a maximum altitude that they can operate at, and if you are visiting an area that is significantly higher in elevation from where you live you could run into trouble, both in the unit not having enough air to concentrate and potentially needing more oxygen than you normally do which could exceed your unit’s maximum settings. Likewise, some climates may be too hot or cold which can prevent the unit from operating properly.
Oxygen concentrators are a great benefit to help people get out of the house and traveling. Before your next international trip, take these tips into consideration and free to call our Customer Support Team and they can help you through any of these questions or concerns.