In the United States, the average cost of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle ranges from $10,000-15,000. Many couples undergo more than one cycle, and these expenses quickly add up, especially since IVF is rarely covered by health insurance. But IVF costs can be significantly lower in other countries, and a growing number of American women are packing their bags and heading overseas for what’s called an “IVF vacation.”
What is an IVF Vacation?
In recent years, “medical tourism” has become increasingly popular, with American citizens discovering less-expensive alternatives abroad for a variety of procedures. IVF vacations operate on the same theory – the Czech Republic is a common choice for American women, and several other countries are also chosen destinations for IVF, including South Africa, Spain and Israel. Sometimes you can communicate directly with treatment facilities, but in other cases all arrangements (except travel, you’re usually on your own with that) are handled through an IVF vacation agency. Prior to heading out on an IVF vacation, some initial medical preparation, including hormone treatment, is generally done in the States. If you’re looking for an egg donor, you can let the facility know certain qualities you’re looking for, like hair and eye color, but options are often more limited than in the States.
The Cost Factor:
Obviously, the primary advantage of taking an IVF vacation is that treatment is significantly less expensive than it is in the US. Even factoring in travel to a foreign country and a weeks-long stay (usually about half of the total cost), the average price for an IVF vacation cycle, including drugs, lab procedures (for both sperm and egg) and fees and hospital costs, would likely be a fraction of US charges, often thousands less than $10,000 total. (The price rises if you’re using donor eggs, but overseas they’re much less expensive.)
This could be especially helpful if more than one cycle was needed. IVF vacation agencies often handle all but your travel arrangements, setting up clinic appointments, booking local hotels, providing translation services – and can even plan the “vacation” part of the trip. This may seem odd, considering why you’re traveling, but since you’ll have to be in the other country for at least a few weeks, there’s often time to do some sightseeing – a relaxing break from the otherwise stressful situation. IVF vacations also offer an opportunity to older women who may have aged out of treatment at US facilities; some IVF vacation locations accept women as old as their mid-50s.
Important Things to Consider:
IVF vacations are a fairly recent phenomenon, and nearly all the available information is Internet based. The good news is that everyone has the chance to seek out IVF vacation opportunities around the world – but on the other hand, it can be difficult to check out some places to determine if their claims are true.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK when researching an IVF vacation. There are no official statistics on success rates of IVF vacation clinics, so it’s vitally important to thoroughly investigate facilities and programs before signing up – and especially before sending them any money.
In the US, IVF treatment is monitored by federal regulatory agencies. However, there’s no formal oversight for international programs. The European Union passed a law setting some fertility practice standards, but it’s up to each country to monitor its own facilities. Some private IVF vacation websites are run by people who’ve gone through the experience; they come from a place of good intentions and make careful arrangements for their clients – but they’re not medical professionals or affiliated with any stateside medical agency.
Check out the clinic yourself and ask to speak with women in the States who’ve been there. Be prepared to experience language difficulties when dealing with people overseas. Also, if you’re planning to use donor eggs, it’s difficult to find out how carefully donors are screened in other countries. And once you return home, there’s no legal protection in case something goes wrong with the treatment you had. Keep in mind as well that it can be very disruptive to take several weeks away from your life to go abroad on an IVF vacation – and even harder, both physically and emotionally, to consider doing it again if the procedure doesn’t work.