My husband and I recently had our first experience with infertility treatments. After a year of trying to conceive naturally, we found out we'd need a little help in the form of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Besides the fact that it's, how do I put it, a less romantic way of making a baby, there was at least one other factor that was weighing us down—the cost. So we decided to explore the world of infertility tourism, culminating in us traveling over 5,000 miles to Europe for treatment.
Even though I didn't get pregnant on our first IVF attempt, we wouldn't change a thing about our experience. Besides, we still have 4 good looking frozen embryos waiting for their shot!
There's not a whole lot of reliable information out there on IVF tourism from a patient perspective, so I think it's time to dispel some myths and give you the inside scoop! These are the top 5 questions we are asked about doing IVF abroad.
1. Is IVF Treatment Abroad Really Cheaper?
It goes without saying that our number one reason for doing IVF abroad was the cost. We live in the US and fertility treatments are simply not covered by our health insurance plan. The cost of a single IVF cycle plus meds can easily exceed $20,000.
We spent a couple of weeks researching what to expect cost-wise for IVF treatment around the globe. To us, fertility clinics in the Czech Republic (Europe) seemed to have the best bang for your buck.
The clinic we picked was in Prague, the country’s capital. Prices are all listed neatly on the clinic's website so there's absolutely no secrecy as to how much you'll be charged. We paid $2,870 for a full IVF cycle including consultation fees, medical tests needed, general anesthesia, embryo transfer and freezing of our leftover embryos with a year of storage.
While most clinics in the US charge extra for things like intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), almost all fertility clinics we looked at in the Czech Republic included this method of fertilization for free.
Additionally, the meds ended up costing just $1,111 as we took advantage of Europe’s price caps on drugs. Buying the exact same drugs in the USA would have cost us over $6,000. If you did the math right, now is the time you'd realize that you can pay for travel, a full IVF cycle, and all medication, and it would cost about the same as buying just the drugs from an American pharmacy.
2. Is IVF Abroad Safe?
I admit it. The first thing that popped into my mind was are we crazy to even think about going to a foreign country for a medical procedure? Are their medical standards up to par? How do I communicate with them given I don't speak any Czech?
Lucky for us, we have friends in Prague who are doctors. They were able to ease our minds regarding the quality of medical care. Our own research also showed that the Czech Republic continues to rank near the top of first world countries in quality of healthcare.
The doctors all spoke English, which definitely made things easier. I felt surrounded by highly skilled medical professionals in a modern, state of the art clinic. The personnel spent more time talking with me than my own perpetually-in-a-rush OB/GYN generally does.
But the thing that impressed me most (yes, I realize this is starting to sound like an advertisement—it’s not!), was that all medical decisions, from the treatment protocol to which drugs to take, was individualized for my needs. It felt great not just being a number. Also, there was absolutely no up-selling of unnecessary tests, and trust me, I'm a scientist with a good bullshit detector.
Traveling far and wide for medical treatment wasn't what I had in mind when we started trying to conceive, but I can honestly say I felt like I was in good hands at all times.
3. Are IVF Success Rates Abroad Comparable to the USA?
Going abroad for IVF is a big commitment. Before embarking on this journey, I wanted to make absolutely sure I wouldn't be getting substandard treatment. The whole point is to get pregnant, now isn't it?
Arguably the country with the highest IVF success rates is indeed the United States. I've spent countless hours digging through the statistics and crunching all the numbers, just so you don't have to.
In short, the live birth rate calculated at the start of a fresh IVF cycle in the United States is almost 24%. In Canada, the live birth rate per cycle is 23%, while in Europe (disregarding country-specific differences), it's 21%.
That's a pretty small difference, wouldn't you say? The differences are so small that factors other than the doctor's skillset are likely to be the cause. For example, the number of embryo's transferred is higher in some countries than others. This increases the odds of a pregnancy and live birth, but also increases the risk of twins or even triplets.
The way I look at it is that IVF success rates are remarkably similar between North America and Europe. Spending 5 times less for essentially the same treatment is, to me at least, a no-brainer.
We picked a clinic with an excellent track record of success, which was also open and honest about their success rates.
4. Are There Waitlists?
If you’re one of the lucky ones living somewhere in the world where IVF treatments are covered by insurance, you might have to deal with the flip side of that very shiny coin: waitlists.
Because whenever something is free, there are bound to be a ton of people lining up for it. It’s no different for IVF treatment. Waitlists can differ per clinic, region or country and can be anything between a couple of months to a couple of years. And when you’re dealing with infertility, every month, week, and day can feel like an eternity.
Going to a private clinic abroad often means there are no (or very short) waitlists. We were happy to be able to start our IVF treatment in Prague right away. On our schedule. When we were ready for it. Our clinic was very accommodating with scheduling and there were enough doctors and staff available to handle the patient load.
5. Did you Combine Travel and Treatment?
People go all over the world for IVF treatment. From a beach vacation in Mexico or Greece to a city trip in Prague or Brussels, there's something for everyone.
Yes, this brings with it some additional cost. We stayed in Prague for just over 2 weeks. Food and lodging are very inexpensive there. We loved browsing the supermarkets and discovering new flavors of potato chips and the like.
We were there right before Christmas and got to see the famous Christmas market on the Old Town square. If it wasn't for IVF, we probably never would have visited this city and we’re thankful we got the chance to do so because of it.
We spent a total of $1,423 on all travel related expenses (flights, taxis and public transportation, Airbnb, food/shopping). Granted, our flights were partly paid for by airline miles.
If you’re in short supply of vacation days, you can always do some of the ultrasounds and bloodwork at home and get your meds cheaply elsewhere (e.g. online). This could allow you to get away with an overseas trip of no more than one week.
All things considered, if you get anxious about traveling long distances, doing so in the middle of IVF treatment might not be the best idea. For us though, it was an adventure we're not likely to forget anytime soon.