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Importing or exporting eggs, sperm and embryos
If you’re thinking about going overseas for fertility treatment, there’s a lot to consider. It may seem obvious, but fertility treatment isn’t regulated in the same way outside the UK. Find out more about having treatment abroad.
You might be thinking about going to another country for treatment because the price is often lower. However, if you’re thinking of going overseas to avoid a long waiting list for a donor in the UK, you might find there’s no need. Many clinics in the UK have either no waiting list or a short one, particularly for IVF with donor eggs.
Lots of people have safe, effective treatment abroad but it’s important you do your research. We have no powers overseas and whilst some countries will have a similar government body or laws to oversee fertility treatments, not all of them do. Ask your clinic if there’s a national regulator or what laws they are required to follow.
There is legislation within the EU which sets standards for quality and safety. However, not all EU countries have implemented this legislation and clinics in these countries are not necessarily accredited by a national body.
You should also ask about your clinic’s multiple pregnancy rates. Twin and triplet pregnancies are the single biggest risk to the health of both mothers and babies. In the UK, it’s best practice for most women to have a single embryo transferred to reduce the risk of a multiple pregnancy, but not all countries take this approach.
Make sure you understand the country’s legal situation before having treatment
Some people prefer to go abroad because they’ve found a clinic which claims to have very high success rates. You should be cautious in these cases as there are lots of different ways to present success data. For example, they may only be presenting data for women under 35 or their data may relate to pregnancies rather than births.
Success rates can also be affected by the types of patients a clinic treats. If a clinic treats a large number of younger women with mild fertility problems, their success rates will inevitably be higher than clinics treating older women or those with more complex diagnoses.
In the UK, we provide the same success rates for all licensed UK fertility clinics which makes it easy to compare clinics.
Some countries won’t allow single women or same-sex couples to have treatment
It depends on the country. Unfortunately, only a limited number of countries offer treatment to single women or same sex couples.
You can find out more about the laws in different countries on the Fertility Treatment Abroad website.
Also, some countries allow treatment using donor sperm but not with donor eggs or embryos.
There are several important issues to consider when using a donor abroad:
The law: In the UK, if you have treatment using a donor at a licensed UK clinic, the donor will have no rights or responsibilities to any children conceived. This might not be the case in other countries so it’s important to do your research and seek legal advice if you’re unclear about the situation.
Recruitment and health checks: Find out what the process is for recruiting and screening potential donors. They should be checked for infectious diseases and their family history should be assessed to ensure they don’t pass on any serious genetic diseases. In the UK, donors are also given counselling to ensure they fully understand the commitment they’re making.
Donor anonymity: Some countries allow people to donate anonymously. This means there would be no way of your child being able to trace their donor or potentially their donor-conceived siblings. In the UK, donor-conceived people aged 16 can find out non-identifying information about their donor by contacting us. When they are aged 18, theycan request identifying information including contact details for their donor and can make contact with their genetic siblings if both parties want to.
Donor information: Even in countries where donation is not anonymous, you should find out if the clinic can give you any information about the donor (for example, a physical description and medical history). Donor-conceived children naturally have questions about their origins, so you may want to keep this information to share when the time is right.
Limits on donating: You may want to check with your clinic if there are any limits on how many families an imported donor can donate to outside of the UK. In the UK, one donor’s sperm, eggs or embryos can be used to create up to 10 families, thereby limiting the number of children with a genetic connection to your child. That might not be the case in other countries, meaning your child could be genetically related to many more families. The HFEA only regulates UK licensed fertility clinics and only collects data about the use of donated eggs, sperm and embryos within the UK.
The ten-family limit is more important for those using sperm donation to consider than for those using egg donation. This is because in practice it is rare for an egg donor to be used to create 10 families.
If you are planning to enter into a surrogacy arrangement overseas, find out the legal issues surrounding parental responsibility. These differ from country to country.
If the child is born abroad, you can only apply for a parental order if you are living (or domiciled) in the UK. A parental order officially transfers parental responsibilities to you.
While waiting for the parental order to be processed, the child born abroad will need a visa in order to enter the UK.
If you are considering surrogacy abroad, get legal advice beforehand to clarify your position.
Other issues you may want to consider include:
It can be, as long as you do the maths first and are not caught out by unexpected ‘extras’. Some clinics seem to offer very low rates for IVF, but these prices may not include fertility drugs (typically hundreds of pounds) or other essential procedures such as blood tests or an initial consultation. Make sure you’re comparing like with like and you get the whole package cost.
You’ll also need to pay for accommodation and living costs, flights, specialist medical insurance (for unexpected medical emergencies) and the cost of taking time off work if you need to take unpaid leave. Calculate roughly the total cost for being treated abroad and make sure you have a healthy contingency fund in case anything goes wrong.
Find out about the average costs of IVF in different countries
No one wants to think about something going wrong, but it’s worth knowing that if it does it might be complicated to make a complaint in another country.
Because our powers don’t cover overseas clinics, we can’t deal with a complaint about treatment carried out abroad. It’s also unlikely that we would be able to take action against a UK clinic who referred you to an overseas clinic.
You should find out in advance how a complaint will be handled in the event that something goes wrong. You might also need to seek legal advice to check that any contracts between you and the clinic would be legally enforceable.
Fertility treatment is often cited as one of the toughest challenges anyone will ever have to face. It's for that reason that licensed clinics in the UK are required to offer counselling to everyone having fertility treatment.
If your clinic doesn’t offer counselling, you might want to consider getting counselling in the UK. The British Infertility Counselling Association has details of accredited infertility counsellors or you can find accredited counsellors on the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy website
If you're having donor treatment, it may help to talk to other people who've had families with donor conception. Donor Conception Network offers advice and support.
You should ask your clinic for a copy of your patient records, which you can give to your GP back home.
If your treatment will involve using donated sperm, eggs or embryos, ask:
Unless you already have a specific clinic in mind, make sure you do research before making any decisions.
Fertility Treatment Abroad has a lot of practical information on the law and costs of treatment in different countries, as well as general advice.
Fertility Friends have chat rooms for people who are considering, or have had, treatment abroad. You can ask your own questions or just browse what others are talking about.
Mumsnet also have chat rooms on a wide range of topics, including having treatment overseas.
Once you have an idea about which country, you can start contacting clinics. You may find the questions above helpful in starting a discussion. You might also want to ask if they have any current or former patients you can talk to about their experience of treatment at the clinic.
Information on treatment overseas (Fertility treatment abroad)
Forums for people having treatment (Fertility Friends)
Support for people using a donor (Donor Conception Network)
Review date: 28 November 2024