If Switzerland Would Only Change Its Plugs


A waste of time! After arriving at our hotel in Switzerland at 7 p.m., my wife and I had both hoped to work on our computers — but we couldn’t.

Although we had bought universal plug adapters (which convert American plugs to European, Australian, and English outlets), it turns out that Switzerland has its own unique three-prong plug.

Why? This kind of plug adapter is not sold with standard adapter sets. Why does Switzerland renounce the network externalities that would come with using standard European plugs with their standard 220-volt electricity?

While the country would incur some transactions costs if all new wall outlets were standard European, I can’t imagine that these costs would be large enough to justify the costs of the Swiss having to buy adapters for travel in Europe, or the costs imposed on ignorant foreigners like me (lost work time, and the $10 spent the next day to buy an adapter that I’ll use for three days).

If the Swedes can switch overnight from left-side to right-side driving, as they did 40 years ago, surely switching to a standard plug should be both easily doable and economically beneficial for Switzerland.


Why the fuss? The Swiss have to buy a travel adapter themselves when visiting the USA. And just to be a little brash, the american power plugs suck big time, and they look weird. How about a redesign? Because beauty often lies in the detail.


Dear Professor, what gave you the impression that Switzerland is in Europe?


#21, #42:

British plugs are the best in the world: the cable runs along the wall so you can put them behind bookcases and fridges more easily; they're fused at the plug; they actually stay in the wall (I've had serious problems with US 2-pin plugs); and the socket automatically seals itself when not in use.

If the rest of the world would standardise on British plugs, everyone would be happier, let me tell you.



Yes, why isn't everybody the same?? Btw, ever heard of "metric"?

David F

In the future, purchase laptops with long battery life: The new Thinkpad X200s promises 12.5 hours of battery life with the 9-cell battery weighing in at 3 lbs! http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=4606

My current Thinkpad X61s has about six hours of battery life in a 3.5 lb unit.

Extra battery life makes all the difference and you never know when you need it.

Then, after using your laptops with the extra battery life the next day you can purchase the adapter for the outlet.

Dan Bock

That's interesting about the Swedes. I can think of a few other countries that should make that switch.


Hmm, according to Wikipedia, European plugs fit into Swiss outlets...

erik de koster, brussels

the swiss are kind of an exception... they are completely surrounded by EU countries, but repeatedly voted not to become EU members. They are not members of the European Economic Are. They are not members of NATO. They use swiss francs and not euros. However, they will become part of Schengen in december. Confused? No more than we are...

Giovanni Ciriani

For those traveling to new countries, I've found this site handy to check what adapters they'll need http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

Interesting though that, in a blog perused by people interested in economics, there hasn't been more of a dialogue on increasing returns and local maxima (why did QWERTY or VHS prevail?).


Whenever I see a Freakonomics article that is concerned about how something done differently from the US is problematic I can be pretty sure the parochial, but widely travelled, Mr Hamermesh has written it...


Assume there are 2 million rooms in Switzerland.

Assume there are 3 plug sockets in each room.

Assume it takes an electrician 5 minutes to change a swiss socket to another type.

Assume the electricians (despite being lightning fast) work for no money e.g. €20 an hour.

Estimated cost of changeover = 2,000,000 x 3 x 20/12 = 10 Million Euros.

What if there are 4 million rooms? 20 Million Euros. What if the electrician wants €30 an hour? 30 Million Euros. What about the cost of changing the plugs? What about the cost of the sockets themselves?


Daniel, #35, you're bound to be joking :o


"If the Swedes can switch overnight from left-side to right-side driving,"... Were you referring to Switzerland or Sweden? Because Swedish people are called Swedes.


Nevermind the Swiss. Why can't the Brits change to standard European plugs?


Learned something new today :)

The swedes were driving on the left lane 40 years ago...


only because most of the americans are to stupid to realize that the EU is not a country the swiss people have to change their life?

Patrick Morris

One important issue msny posters are missing is that the Swiss must use adapters themselves. In the Swiss home I stayed in this summer, they had adapters for many of their non-Swiss appliaances and electronic devices. In our experience, it would make more sense if the home had the two-prong French outlet, which seemed to be where most of their appliances and electronic devices were from.

Oliver Dziggel

People have asked "why would the Swiss use a different standard of plug?"

I am perhaps being arrogant or proud when I say this, but for the most part its true (Zurich having recently been named the city with the highest standard of living in the world, followed by Geneva)

but if the Swiss chose to use that 3-prong plug instead of the 'same exact one as the rest of Europe' (theres no universal standard to conform to), they probably did so because their idea was better.

so to conform to other countries, the Swiss would probably be reverting to lesser technology


I wonder if the Swiss have to pay more for consumer electronics produced with their style plugs or do they buy electronics with an European plug and use an adapter to make it work in their home?

Oliver Dziggel

Hi. As a Swiss citizen who constantly travels between the US and Switzerland, as well as other European countries, and spent 4 months of 2008 studying abroad in Spain - This article is simply wrong.

Switzerland's plugs are compatible with standard travel adapter plugs for 'western Europe' for almost all devices, including laptops. I used the exact same 2 prong plug on my apple laptop -which I purchased in the US with the 'world travelers kit'- in Switzerland and in Spain. No adapters needed.

We do have the 3 prong holes, that is true. But you can plug your laptop's 3 prong plug into any standard 2 prong adapter (the really small ones, not the ones the French/Germans use - THEY are the ones who have the weird plugs, not us!)

In conclusion, this is not an economic problem for us, its a benefit: because Swiss people can travel anywhere in Europe while using their standard 2-prong plugs (to my knowledge, only tvs/desktops/monitors and such large equipment use the 3 prong plugs) - and all the while, "ignorant foreigners" as you say will get confused and buy our travel adapters.