IVF treatment abroad: costs, benefits and top destinations

When a person or couple consider the idea of undergoing IVF abroad, that is, turning to reproductive tourism, the first thing they should do is to get essential information and tips on how to choose a clinic and what will be the best country to travel in accordance with their situation, family type, etc.

Regulations vary from country to country, and each clinic abroad operates by different rules depending on their location. Before choosing a clinics, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • In which countries is the treatment you require legal?
  • Do you meet the basic requirements? Are you within the legal age limit?
  • Does the country you are interested in have a well-defined IVF legal framework?
  • Is the cost of the treatment within your budget?
  • In case you need a donor, do you prefer an anonymous or a known one?

These questions, along with the crucial information to help you choose the most suitable country we give you hereunder, will help you choose the most ideal destination for you.

The various sections of this article are assembled in the following table of contents.

Definition of ‘reproductive tourism’

Reproductive tourism, fertility tourism, or cross-border reproductive care (CBRC) is a type of medical tourism that involves traveling from where you live to another country in order to undergo fertility treatment.

Another definition is the one provided by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), which describes it as follows:

Cross-border reproductive care (CBRC) refers to the activity surrounding patients who travel outside their country of domicile to seek assisted reproductive services and treatment.

Infertile couples, same-sex, and single persons may find the treatment they need is not allowed in their home country. In such case, they have no alternative but to travel abroad in the pursuit of IVF clinics that offer the treatment they need.

Regulations governing assisted reproductive technologies (ART) vary greatly from country to country. Factors that contribute to such variations include, but are not limited to, the type of technique used, the family type, or the requirements to meet.

Some experts consider this term inaccurate because tourism means traveling by pleasure, and therefore trivializes infertility problems. In this sense, the phrase reproductive exile is seen as a more appropriate one, as its meaning is more similar to the .

Why do patients seek IVF abroad?

The reasons why people choose to travel abroad are varied, but often interrelated. What follows is a list with the most common ones:

Anonymity
A high percentage of patients from the USA, Norway, and the UK decide to seek care abroad because of their desire for access to anonymous egg donors.
Previous treatment failure
This, and the common perception that foreign clinics have more highly-trained specialists and use cutting-edge technologies, incentivize patients to seek IVF abroad.
Age limits
Another significant factor shared by CRBC patients is their age: 37 years old on average.
Reduced cost
In many countries, the high cost of assisted reproductive technologies is a well-described barrier to its use.The United States is the country with the highest cost for IVF cycles.
Legal issues
When the cause of fertility tourism is to avoid application of prevailing law, it is often called circumvention tourism. It is the act of traveling abroad to engage in an activity that is illegal, prohibited, or too limited in the citizen’s home country.
New family types
Single men and women as well as same-sex couples are able to find the way to create a family now thanks to assisted reproductive technology. However, society is progressing even faster than legislations in this field.

One should not forget that, additionally, fertility tourism allows patients to combine cultural comfort with their fertility cycle. This reason is further reinforced if they have family connections/support or a certain degree of cultural familiarity in the destination country.

You are recommended to hire a special travel insurance should you decide to undergo fertility treatment abroad, as normal insurances are unlikely to offer coverage if anything goes wrong. There exist specialist travel insurances designed for fertility tourists exclusively.

Most sought-after treatments

Some infertility treatments that increase the popularity of fertility tourism are more controversial than others either for ethical reasons or religious beliefs, depending on the country of origin or even on the patient.

Also, the existence of legal restrictions in these countries contributes to increasing the number of complications fertility patients might have to deal with. The following are the most sought-after infertility practices in foreign countries:

Egg and sperm donation

Most of the patients that visit a fertility clinic need to use donor eggs and/or donor sperm to become parents. Poor sperm quality or zero sperm count, along with low egg quality or having a depleted supply of eggs, are the main causes why patients have to move to donor conception. Also, single females need donor sperm to have a baby via IUI.

There exist two types of donations: anonymous or known. While in the former, prospective parents do not know about their donor(s), in the latter case, they have the chance to choose who they want to be their sperm donor and/or egg donor.

As for the regulations governing one type or another, they vary greatly as one can see below:

  • Countries where donor conception is forbidden, such as Germany.
  • Countries where donors must remain anonymous by law, such as Spain.
  • Countries where the identity of donors must be disclosed, such as the UK.
  • Countries where both types are allowed, such as Denmark or the USA.

As for the financial compensation given to donors, one can find two categories as well: altruistic or commercial donations. The existence of countries where the motivations to become a gamete donor must be based 100% on altruistic grounds, as in France, leads to a shortage in the number of donors willing to donate, and therefore the waiting lists for receiving treatment are almost endless.

It should be noted that, thanks to fertility tourism, patients can benefit from low cost egg donation programs while they see their chances of success improved. In turn, they can increase the number of cycles they are able to undergo. Availability is often related to better treatment decision-making, e.g. fewer embryos transferred.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis or PGD is an assisted reproduction technique indicated for patients with risk for transmitting a genetic disease to offspring, or with DNA-based alterations in their gametes that prevent them from having a full-term pregnancy.

In some countries, like Germany, PGD is forbidden because it is considered a non-ethical technique, as it involves the removal of a cell from the developing embryo in order to analyze it. This is the only possible way through which we can find out whether an embryo carries a genetic abnormality or not.

As for Italy, destroying those embryos diagnosed as genetically abnormal via PGD is not allowed due to religious beliefs. Taking this into account, couples are forced to store these embryos even if they are never going to use them. For this reason, they prefer to travel abroad to undergo PGD in another country.

Gender selection

Choosing the sex of an unborn baby merely for social reasons is not allowed in the majority of countries, given that PGD is required. Given that it is considered to be a highly-invasive method, using it for non-therapeutical purposes is not an option.

Still, there are couples who wish to have access to PGD for selecting the gender of their unborn child. In most of the cases, it is due to the fact that they want to balance their family, that is to say, they already have a child and want to have another one of the opposite sex.

The USA is the most popular country for those who want to choose the sex of their baby, although it is permitted in Belgium and Mexico as well. Learn more about this technique here: Gender selection methods.

Surrogacy

From an international point of view, surrogacy is the most controversial technique due to the number of ethical and moral concerns surrounding it. Many people oppose a process in which a woman carries a pregnancy and delivers a baby for another couple.

Today, those who need a gestational carrier (GC) to become parents have no alternative but to travel to countries where it is allowed, including Canada, Greece, Ukraine, and Russia, as well as some US states. These countries offer a favorable legal framework for becoming the legal parents of a child born by surrogacy.

If you want to learn more about gestational surrogacy with donor eggs, do not miss the following post: Using an egg donor and a gestational carrier.

Top destinations

As one can see in the map below, the vast majority of destination countries are concentrated across Europe, but also the United States, Russia, and South Africa are popular areas.

What follows is a summary of the causes behind this phenomenon in these parts of the globe, along with the most sought-after countries:

European countries

Italy, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden are the European countries where the regulation of reproductive care is considered to be the strictest for reasons such as religious beliefs, historical background, or ethical considerations.

On the other hand, experts have revealed that, either because of the easy of travel or affordable prices, the following are the most popular destination countries chosen by patients:

  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Spain
  • Switzerland

These six countries have in common the existence of fertility clinics equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, as well as a more or less lax legal framework. Still, religious beliefs, along with the historical background of each country, determine to a great extent the approach each one gives to fertility care and its set of treatments.

United States

The USA is the most sought-after country for those seeking egg donation with a gestational carrier, especially California for being the most surrogacy-friendly state. The country is mainly sought as a location for surrogacy due to the following reasons:

  • Better quality of assisted reproductive technology (ART)
  • The child can get birthright citizenship in the USA
  • The child can apply for Green Cards for the parents after turning 21 years of age
  • Higher level of legal protections
  • Regulations that allow same-sex and single parents use IVF and surrogacy to start a family

Turkey is an European country located in the Middle East which, since March 2010, has established a series of legislative restrictions. This, along with the presence of Sunni Muslims against assisted reproduction, has turned the United States, along with Cyprus and Greece, the destination countries of Turkish citizens who need fertility care.

Statistics

So you can get an idea, the ASRM estimates that, only in 2010, over 30,000 international patients chose an European country to start a fertility treatment, which translates into 5% of the world’s infertile patients.

Reproductive tourism is becoming a real phenomenon across countries from all around the world. In a 2010 survey conducted across Europe, most remarkable data showed that:

  • 24,000-30,000 cycles are done by international patients annually
  • The average age of women undergoing CRBC is 37 in Europe
  • 55% survey respondents declared the reason why they chose CRBC is to avoid legal restrictions in their home countries, followed by access to advanced medical care (43%)

The data shown above also means that almost 5% of all European fertility care involves cross-border travel. It also proved that, while most patients were from Italy, Spain was the leading destination for them.

As for the United States, statistics indicate that:

  • 4% of all fertility cycles provided in the country is delivered to non-US domiciliaries
  • Most patients are from Latin America (39%), followed by European patients (25%)
  • The rate of US citizens traveling abroad for fertility care is estimated to be far lower than the rate of people choosing the US as their destination.

Money given to donors in the US is usually high, since it is calculated in accordance with the potential nuisances and risks the donor may experience during the process, something that is not considered to be ethically acceptable by some people.

FAQs from users

Is fertility treatment cheaper abroad?

It basically depends on the destination country. However, seeking cheaper or low-cost fertility treatment is one of the most common causes why patients decide to pursue IVF or any other procedure abroad.In fact, that is the reason why patients from the USA, in spite of having one of the most permissible and well-developed fertility care system, travel to countries of similar characteristics but with lower prices.

How long does IVF abroad take?

Again, it depends on your country of origin and the destination chosen. A typical IVF protocol usually requires a 17-day protocol on average, so you would need to stay abroad for that time period. Yet, if you are undergoing donor-egg IVF, the length of stay abroad might be even shorter, as you would only need to be there on the day of the embryo transfer, and then come back after 2-3 days.

Is fertility tourism in India exploitative?

The truth is, there exists a broad debate on this subject, particularly when it comes to addressing the situation of surrogacy arrangements in India. This is the reason why the Indian Government changed the regulations governing this treatment in 2015.

From that moment on, surrogacy was not allowed for foreign patients (only heterosexual couples) unless it is also permitted in their country of origin. Such drastic action was taken to prevent India from becoming a main destination for commercial surrogacy arrangements.

Suggested for you

In many countries, the high cost of assisted reproductive technologies turns out to be a well-described barrier to its use. The cost of donor-egg IVF procedures is an example. If you want to learn more about it, visit this post: How much does egg cell donation cost?

Also, as one can realize after reading this post, third-party reproduction arrangements are the most sought-after overseas, as procedures such as surrogacy or known donor conception are forbidden in a high number of countries. What do you know about this fertility option? Check it out: What is third-party reproduction?

4 comments

  1. usuario
    anna ivf

    In my opinion, the best destination for IVF is Spain… I did IVF there and it was amazing, my clinic was modern, big, the staff was nice… No complaints at all. I come from Glasgow.

  2. usuario
    Lory378

    Why do patients pursue fertility care abroad? Thx

    • avatar
      Sandra F.Fertility counselor

      The reasons why patients from Europe or any other country in the world seek fertility care abroad are varied and often interrelated. Religious beliefs, restrictive policies, ethical considerations, cost in their home country… These are some of the most common reasons behind cross-border reproductive care.

  3. usuario
    babyOnboard

    Europe is fine! I mean, I would choose Spain as my destination country… so many things to see there!!! And the world’s best cuisine!!! I did my DE cycle last year here in Chicago, but I’m broke now, so to speak. I’d like to have a 2nd child (I’m 27) so I’ll plan to do it there… Thanks for sharing this, I did not know Italy was such an old-fashioned country…