Couples Are Traveling to Europe to Get Pregnant in a Wave of IVF Tourism

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About one in ten couples have trouble conceiving, according to most estimates, and now, thousands of them are leaving the United States to get pregnant on trips known as “IVF holidays.” The Czech Republic is an especially popular destination, and the main reason people go is money: It is way, way cheaper to do in vitro fertilization outside the U.S.

Amy Speier, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington, has been researching the trend since 2008. This summer, NYU Press will publish a book based on her research. She says the holiday aspect of these trips is important for a few reasons. First, it “builds on the idea that if a woman simply relaxes, then she is more likely to get pregnant,” Speier says.

But additionally, if the cycle fails — and they often do; the Czech Republic’s success rate is around 35 percent, just like everywhere else in the world — the woman or couple won’t feel that their trip is totally wasted. After all, they got a vacation out of the deal.

In vitro fertilization has become common since the first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978. About 5 million babies have been born via IVF worldwide — roughly half of them in the last five years. But in the United States, costs for the procedure (actually a complicated series of procedures including fertilization and growing of the egg, tracking the mother-to-be’s cycle, and, often, hormone injections) can be prohibitively high. Depending on circumstance, each cycle — the process, from start to finish, of attempting with one fertilization to get pregnant — can cost upwards of $20,000. With a donor egg, it’s more like $30,000 or $40,000.

People who don’t have vast amounts of money are often locked out of fertility treatments at home. So many women have found a cheaper alternative: They travel to Europe, where the procedure is about a third of the cost. 

The process is eerily similar to the way people book (or at least used to book) trips: through a travel agent. Only in this case, the agent is actually an IVF broker who has relationships with hospitals and clinics in towns across the Czech Republic where Americans can find services at much lower rates than back home.

People “generally make the trip there, stay for ten days, and including the medical aspect, pay around $10,000,” Speier says. “Many people,” she adds, reported “that they could make three trips for the price of one cycle with egg donation here in the U.S.”

Why the Czech Republic? Speier says that many of the people going there for IVF holidays need donor eggs. Many of them are white, and so they often want white children. While the Czech Republic doesn’t give potential future parents much control over their choices, it’s quick and affordable.

“The Czech Republic has relatively liberal legislation regarding assisted reproductive technologies,” explains Speier. “Because of this, Americans do not get to peruse egg bank profiles of donors. All they learn is the eye color, hair color, blood type.” But it’s still worth it for many couples: “Czech egg donors are generally single mothers on maternity leave or students” who are paid around 1,000 euros per donation. This accounts for much of the price difference — in the United States, an egg donor makes between $5,000 and $8,000.

In 2014, almost 30,000 procedures were performed in the Czech Republic, in the 41 clinics that offer IVF. About 40 percent of the cycles were for foreign couples. And the trend isn’t limited to the Czech Republic: There are growing industries for fertility holidays in Spain, Ukraine, and Hungary, all of which offer IVF procedures for significantly less money than the United States.