Thinking about travelling abroad for fertility treatment? Things to consider

Every year thousands of people make the decision to pack their bags and travel abroad for fertility treatment. Whilst for some this represents the first step toward potential parenthood (perhaps because the treatment they need isn’t available at home), for most others making the decision to travel comes after other options have been exhausted. Research shows for example, that many people decide to go abroad after multiple failed cycles in their home country. Regardless of where you are in the process, if you find yourself considering an overseas clinic, here are some initial questions you might want to consider before booking those flights.

Why do people travel?

Travelling abroad for fertility treatment became increasingly popular in the mid-2000s due to the expansion of low-cost airlines and the increasing availability of information about clinics online at that time. The media somewhat unhelpfully

popularised the term ‘fertility tourism’ to refer to what they presented as the process of combining a holiday with fertility treatment. Whilst the option of taking in some sun and sand is attractive for some, research by social scientists instead found a complex set of motivations at play, including the cost of treatment, availability of different options in other countries, access to surrogates, egg and sperm donors, perceived better success rates, and shorter waiting times. 

Where do they go?

Where people travel is also shaped by a range of considerations, including the reputation of the clinic, ease of travel, familiarity with the destination, and local availability of particular treatments. A number of popular treatment ‘hubs’ have emerged in places like Spain and Czech Republic (for egg donation), Denmark (for sperm donation) and Ukraine and California (for commercial surrogacy). Whilst the exact numbers of travellers worldwide remains unknown (since there is no official record of travel) the most up to date estimates suggests that 10-14,000 people from within Europe travel each year.

What do people say are the positives of overseas treatment?

Involvement in decision-making, shorter waiting times, quicker test results, and what were felt to be more individualised treatment plans, are amongst the positive aspects described by individuals about their experience. People also tend to like the increased sense of control that they feel overseas treatment offers them because they are centrally involved in the planning.

What are the challenging aspects of having treatment away from home?

Because treatment abroad often requires the negotiation of aspects of care with treatment providers at home (for example, for accessing scans, blood tests and drugs), the required co-ordination and planning can present challenges. Research shows for example, that accessing drugs needed for a cycle of IVF, or running out of a particular medication can be stressful if a patient is not linked to a clinic at home.

On top of this, people describe challenges relating to the co-ordination of travel arrangements and needing to communicate remotely with the clinic about the stages of treatment (including managing language differences), which for some, can add to the stress of undergoing treatment.
Fertility treatment is a global industry estimated to be worth millions annually, and patient travel now forms a significant part of this landscape. Despite the challenges, research finds that in general people are positive about the experience of going overseas, especially when it is seen to represent a new set of possibilities after previous failed cycles. If your are considering travelling abroad for fertility treatment, information to help with decision-making is available via the following sources: