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NEMA vs IEC Power Cord: How to Choose?

In measuring electric motors and motor controls, there are two standards in use: the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Basically, NEMA vs IEC.
NEMA is mostly used in North America while IEC is used in most parts of the world. But that doesn’t mean the motors used are different. In fact, NEMA and IEC motors have the same output power, efficiency, and size.
When choosing between NEMA vs IEC, the pros and cons of each can guide you. Read on to understand the differences between NEMA vs IEC and how each can suit your intended application.


NEMA is an acronym for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Established in 1926, NEMA is an American organization focused on creating, establishing, and promoting safety standards for electrical equipment. Power cords are one of many items that fall under their jurisdiction. Despite being an American organization, NEMA standards are also primarily used in Canada and Mexico as well as parts of Central and South America, nearby small island nations such as Cuba, and some larger countries across the sea like Japan.
NEMA connectors are labeled as two numbers separated by a dash. The first number indicates the voltage rating of the cable; “5” stands for 125 volts and “6” stands for 250 volts. The second number indicates the amperage of the plug. There will also be a letter after the numbers, either a “P” for plug or an “R” for receptacle. For example, a 5-15P connector will be a plug rated for 125 volts and 15 amps.
Another standard under NEMA is hospital-grade power cords. The US and Canada have strict standards for power cords used in medical environments. These standards must be followed by law in both countries. Hospital-grade cords have higher safety standards than conventional power cords and are made with enhanced durability.


IEC stands for International Electrotechnical Commission. It is a non-profit, non-government organization founded in 1906 that sets international standards on electric and electronic devices. Power cords are one of many devices that fall under their umbrella, specifically IEC 60320. This covers cords that are numbered from C1 to C24, although only a few of these connectors are commonly used throughout the world.
The most common IEC connectors are C13, C15, and C19. C13 is used on household and office electronics such as computers and televisions. C15 is used for devices that generate large amounts of heat, such as electric kettles or small computer networking closets. C19 is used for equipment with higher amperage that requires a constant supply of power, such as data servers or similar rack-mounted hardware.
Power cords are generally not evaluated as a single item. The connectors and wiring are approved separately. A small number of countries, such as China and Argentina, do approve the whole cord at once but that is the exception, not the rule. Having international standards like IEC connectors makes these evaluations easier from one country to the next.
Because IEC cords are used in different countries with different standards, they do not have universal amperage ratings. For instance, a C13 plug can handle up to 15 amps, which is perfectly fine according to UL (American) standards. But in Europe, the same plug is only approved for up to 10 amps by European regulatory committees. Be sure to check the specs on a cable before buying to make sure it matches the technical requirements of your equipment and legal requirements of your country.

How to Buy A Right One Among These NEMA & IEC Power Cord Types

It is extremely important to choose the appropriate power cord that will deliver high performance in terms of speed and durability. Following a few simple steps will help you make the right choice.

Identify the Correct Plug for the Country of Export

When deciding on the correct plug pattern, keep in mind that while some look similar that does not mean it is the right cord for the equipment. For example, removing a NEMA power cord from a cord set made with North American cable and replacing it with a Continental European plug (CEE 7/7 power cord) will not make the cord set acceptable for Europe.

Confirm the Voltage

The voltage rating for plugs in north America ranges from 100-127 to 200-240. Higher or lower amperage can mean a different plug pattern, even in the same country. It will destroy appliances if the 125 volts power cord is mistakenly inserted into a 220 volts receptacle,

Check the Current Rating of the Power Cord

Another specification to check is the current rating, the rating for north America are different from other countries 15, 20 and 30.

Choose the Plug Type, if Utilizing a Cord Set

The number of prongs in a plug varies from 2 to 5. The prongs can be oval, round, straight blade, or rectangular in shape. For North America, there are NEMA 5-15P and NEMA 5-20P. Knowledge of the current rating and voltage can help discern between the four types and choose the correct plug.