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Importing and exporting sperm, eggs and embryos

If you have eggs, sperm or embryos in storage, it’s possible to move them both into and out of the UK, providing the import or export is to or from a HFEA licensed clinic. Find out more about importing or exporting your eggs, sperm or embryos.

What is importing and exporting?

Importing and exporting is when you move eggs, sperm and embryos outside of Great Britain (GB; i.e. England, Wales, Scotland) or Northern Ireland (NI) (exporting) or into GB or NI (importing). This could be for storage or to use in fertility treatment. If you are moving eggs, sperm or embryos between clinics in GB or from a clinic in NI to one in GB this is not import/export. For legal reasons, if you are moving eggs, sperm or embryos from a clinic in GB to one in NI, this is an import to the clinic in NI but is not an export from the clinic in GB.

It is possible to move eggs, sperm and embryos into and out of GB and NI but strict conditions need to be met. You’ll need to find a licensed UK clinic which offers import/export services and will ensure that the import or export meets those strict conditions.

Why do some people import or export eggs, sperm or embryos?

You might want to consider importing or exporting your eggs, sperm or embryos if:

  • You’re moving to GB or NI or you’re moving overseas from the UK and you want to take your frozen eggs, sperm or embryos with you.
  • You’re using donor eggs or sperm from another country but you want to have fertility treatment in GB or NI.
  • You want to go abroad for fertility treatment but you have frozen eggs, sperm or embryos in GB or NI that you want to use in treatment. This might be because of treatments available abroad or because there are rules on how long you can store material in the UK.

How do I import/export my eggs, sperm or embryos?

You’ll need to find a GB or NI licensed fertility clinic (if you don’t already have one) to ensure your eggs, sperm or embryos are moved safely. There are strict requirements for importing/exporting and your clinic will need to be happy those requirements have been met before they allow your eggs, sperm or embryos to be moved.

As a result of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU) different import/export rules apply based on whether your clinic is in GB or in NI.

If your clinic is in GB and is importing your gametes or embryos from a country outside the UK, including from a country in the EU/EEA, the import must be authorised by the importing tissue establishment (ITE) import certificate held by the clinic. If you are moving gametes or embryos from a clinic in NI to one in GB, ITE import certificate authorisation is not required.

If your clinic is in NI, ITE import certificate authorisation is not required for imports of gametes and embryos from EU/EEA countries. ITE import certificate authorisation is however required for imports from all other countries outside of the EU/EEA including GB.

View our requirements on importing/exporting in our Code of Practice.

View our requirements on import and export in General Direction 0006 (Great Britain) and General Direction 0006 (Northern Ireland).

Please note that not every fertility clinic offers import and export services, and that clinics providing import and export services may charge for it. Search for licensed fertility clinics here: Choose a clinic

How long does it take to import/export?

It depends on whether your clinic has previously imported to/exported from the relevant clinic abroad. If they have, it may be quicker for them to carry out all the relevant checks than if they haven’t worked with the clinic abroad before. If the clinic abroad meets our requirements, permission for the import or export is automatic, however if our requirements are not met, your clinic would need to apply to us for special permission to import/export your eggs, sperm or embryos. This would involve submitting information to us for our Statutory Approvals Committee to consider (see below for more information).

How are the sperm, eggs or embryos transported?

They’d need to be frozen (cryopreserved) in a tube first and then shipped in a container that is designed for the transport of biological materials and that maintains the safety and quality of the eggs, sperm or embryos. Clinics will often work with specialist courier companies to ensure that all material is kept safe during transit, but if you have any concerns you should talk to your clinic about their transportation processes.

How long can I store them for?

If you’re importing your own eggs, sperm or embryos into the UK then you can usually store them for use in treatment for any period up to a maximum of 55 years from the date they are first stored in a UK clinic if you renew your consent to storage every 10 years.

If you’re importing donor sperm, eggs or embryos then the donor would also need to have given consent for their donation to be stored. The donor sperm, eggs, or embryos can only be stored for as long as the donor has given consent for their donation to be stored. The  maximum period that the donor sperm, eggs or embryos can be stored for is 55 years from the date that the eggs, sperm or embryos are first placed in storage in the UK. The donor does not need to renew their consent every 10 years. If donor sperm or eggs are used to create embryos with your eggs or your partner’s sperm then either you or your partner will need to renew consent every 10 years. You will need to discuss this with your clinic who will provide you with the relevant consent forms at the appropriate time.

Find out more about sperm freezing.

Find out more about egg freezing.

Find out more about embryo freezing

If you’re exporting to another country, then length of storage depends on the relevant laws or restrictions within that country (if there are any).

What if my import/export doesn’t meet requirements?

If your clinic in GB or NI doesn’t believe your import/export meets the requirements, they can apply to us for special permission on your behalf. This involves the clinic completing an application form explaining why we should allow your eggs, sperm or embryos to be moved either into or out of GB or NI. Please note, you cannot apply to us directly. Their application will be reviewed by our Statutory Approvals Committee (SAC), who will make a decision about whether or not to approve the request. Find out more about our committees and panels. Again, it’s up to your clinic whether they want to put in an application for you, and they may charge for this.

Why might an import/export not meet requirements?

Strict laws need to be met for eggs, sperm or embryos to be moved across borders. These include ensuring that the clinic abroad is licensed or accredited by a relevant authority, and that it has processes in place to maintain the safety and effectiveness of stored sperm, eggs and embryos and to minimise the possibility of contamination. The requirements vary depending on whether patients intend to import or export, and whether the clinic is in GB or NI. Your clinic will be able to discuss the requirements relevant to your import or export with you.

Review date: 21 July 2024