3 Women on Undergoing Fertility Treatments Abroad

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Getty

Fertility treatment is rising in the U.S.: 42 percent of adults have undergone it or know someone who has, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. With the average cost of an IVF cycle beginning at around $12,400 (rarely covered by insurance and not including the cost of medications), many are turning to clinics overseas to cut their costs. Fertility treatments abroad, which can cost as little as $3,000 to $6,000 per round, are up 20 percent over the past three years, according to the nonprofit Medical Tourism Association, with patients traveling to the Caribbean, Europe, and beyond in order to start their families. It’s an option that may appeal to even more Americans hoping to conceive in the wake of some states’ attempts to crack down on IVF. When the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos are children under state law, it temporarily shut down clinics and sent patients scrambling to move their embryos out of state, while a fetal-personhood bill in Iowa that was recently tabled would have effectively outlawed IVF if passed.

Here, we talked to three women who traveled outside the U.S. to undergo IVF about what the process was like, what they spent, and how it went.

“All that money can only give you a chance, not a guarantee.” —Muriel, 36, flight attendant from Florida

Time spent getting treatment: 41 days across five trips
What she was quoted for IVF at home: $25,000 for one round
What she paid to get IVF abroad: $18,600 for two rounds, three embryo transfers, lodging, and two years of embryo storage

My husband had been married previously and the relationship hadn’t resulted in a pregnancy, so we knew we’d have to explore less traditional routes to conception. We began getting tested before we got married, and our experience of clinics in Fort Lauderdale felt like being in a factory. There were so many doctors and treatments suggested and everything was so impersonal. We put things on hold so we could focus on our wedding, then the pandemic happened. My insurance didn’t cover any of the costs of IVF. After being quoted $25,000 for a single round at home, I started researching going overseas. Cancun was the obvious choice. We go on holiday there all the time; it’s only a one-hour-and-20-minute flight. My husband and I speak Spanish, so we knew we’d be comfortable. Plus, I work as a flight attendant, so our travel would be covered.

I found the clinic on Google. We spent 17 days there in March 2021. I had to inject growth-stimulating hormones in my stomach every day, but it felt like a working vacation. At the time, I was working for the airline’s marketing team, and I had my laptop out and did my work by the pool. The setting was so beautiful. I’d walk to the beach every day on my lunch break. Everyone at the clinic spoke English and my doctor really listened and understood me. I was also given his WhatsApp details so I could get in touch with questions whenever necessary, something that never would have happened in the U.S.

We ended up with three embryos, had them tested and frozen, and returned once to pick up medication — which wasn’t strictly necessary — then again a few months later for implantation. We transferred two embryos and neither attached. I was heartbroken. Medically, there was nothing wrong with me. We were so, so sad; it was a really difficult time. Desperate to try to get pregnant, we went back and transferred the last embryo the following month. That didn’t result in a pregnancy, either.

My husband began seeing a urologist, and he suggested having varicocele surgery. Varicose-vein issues can really affect the quantity and quality of sperm, and while we hadn’t wanted to go ahead with the procedure, it felt like our only option. A year later, we went back to the clinic for a third time and stayed for almost three weeks. (This also led to a new side business for us as Airbnb hosts as we were away so much, which has helped to fund a lot of our treatment.) I almost didn’t want to go back. There’s a PTSD effect of going into another round of IVF and failing. I was exhausted and emotional, 35 years old, and very aware of what people say about your eggs being a ticking time bomb.

This time, I decided I wanted to transfer the embryos fresh rather than frozen. It went against the doctor’s advice, but I felt like this was the right choice for me. The medication I was due to take if proceeding with the frozen transfer makes your body think it’s already pregnant and has wild effects on your hormones. A fresh transfer is meant to more closely follow the natural cycle of ovulating and then getting pregnant, without as much medication. As my cycle is usually very regular, I wanted to give it a chance. After taking growth-stimulating hormones, the eggs were removed five days later, and the embryos transplanted back in the womb five days after that. We implanted two embryos.

Taking a pregnancy test ten days later was so scary. I took it alone, and it showed that I was positive; when I told my husband, he dropped to his knees in shock. When I had my bloods done early on in my pregnancy, I sent the results to my doctor in Cancun. He messaged back saying, “Oh my God, it’s twins.” We decided not to find out the sex of the babies until I was on the surgery table for my C-section, and my husband announced to me what we had: two little girls, who we named Stella and Samantha.

I’ve posted a lot about our journey online, and some of my friends — even people from high school who I hadn’t spoken to in years — have got in touch with some actually going to our same clinic. The one thing I tell them all is: Set your expectations. Spending $25,000 on a single round of IVF and meds, as we would have had to do at home, is insane. That’s a down payment on an investment property! But all that money can only give you a chance, not a guarantee. It’s hard to believe that such a huge investment can end in nothing, but that’s the reality for so many women who go through IVF. We have one last embryo frozen in Cancun (the first year was free, and I just paid $600 to store it for another year), and when the time is right, we’ll go back to implant it.

“If one egg didn’t fertilize, I’d have to return to Trinidad to do another round.” —Karina*, 39, administrative-law judge from Pennsylvania

Time spent getting treatment: 25 days
What she was quoted for IVF at home: $20,000 for one round
What she paid to get IVF abroad: $15,500 for one round and flights

After I had my daughter 12 years ago, it was time to focus on my career. But when COVID hit, everything changed. My hearings moved online and for 18 months; instead of long days working as a judge in the courthouse, I worked from home. During that period, my husband and I agreed that the timing was right to try to grow our family. I was 35 when we started trying, which resulted in a miscarriage. I went to the OB/GYN, who helpfully informed me that I was getting very old and that I better hurry up, because there’s basically no hope for you after 40. That made me anxious, so I began looking into IVF at home and decided on IUI, which cost over $5,000. I didn’t become pregnant, and worse still, I was just treated as a number: overcharged via wrong bills I had to waste time getting thrown out, and regularly reminded about the challenges my age apparently created. When I later became pregnant naturally and endured a second miscarriage, I realized I needed a different solution.

I started looking at the cost of going overseas, and what I read about the low-cost options in Portugal quickly made it my first choice. But when I spoke to my mom, she suggested Trinidad, where we have family. I didn’t even know they had IVF clinics there, but I found Trinidad & Tobago IVF & Fertility Centre and arranged an initial consultation within a week. For the first time in 18 months, I felt very calm and relieved. Over the summer, my husband, daughter, and I decided to spend a month there. (I was on leave through work, and he runs his own business and took vacation.) We were able to stay with family, which hugely reduced our costs. Right from our arrival, the clinic outranked both I’d been to in the U.S. It was a totally different experience; I felt like I was being pampered. Everyone from the nurse to the receptionist treats you like a person. They sit and listen to your concerns; they allow you to have your input. They also put me at ease over my age right away and explained that, because I’d had a child before, my likelihood of having successful IVF was much greater.

Treatment began with an initial consultation and bloodwork, followed by medication to start stimulating the growth of my eggs, which I took via shots in my stomach every day for two weeks. Every two or three days, they’d inspect my egg sac and how it was growing. Then they gave me a trigger shot on the 14th day, and two days later, I came back for the egg retrieval. All ten eggs in the sac were retrieved and they fertilized them with my husband’s sperm. The next day, they called to say all of them had turned into embryos. A couple of days on, we were told that a few had failed to grow, but that seven were looking healthy. All I felt then was excitement and optimism, including when we got to the implantation, where we decided on two embryos. At my age, why not go big or go home? If one didn’t fertilize, I’d have to return to Trinidad to do another round. Two seemed like a safer bet.

One attached, and before even taking a test, I knew I was pregnant. When I did take the test ten days later, the best possible news was confirmed. Everything felt so heightened, possibly because of the progesterone I was taking, or because we hadn’t told anyone beyond very close friends and family what we were doing. Seeing how happy it has made my daughter, who always desperately wanted a sister, has been so emotional. My husband also wanted a little girl, and the fact we also got to take a great vacation and have such happy memories makes all the difference. We’ve left five remaining embryos in Trinidad, at a little under $500 per year. We’re not sure if we’ll come back and use them. For now, we’re just excited for the future.

“I hadn’t told anyone except our close family and friends why we really went to Barbados.” —Mia*, 26, critical-care nurse from Florida

Time spent getting treatment: 10 days
What she was quoted for IVF at home: $35,000 for one round
What she paid to get IVF abroad: $16,000 for one round, flights, and lodging

After struggling to conceive for a year, on the way to a urology appointment with my husband, I got a call from a fertility clinic in Barbados. I’d contacted the center after a friend sent a TikTok video my way. The woman in the video spoke of her IVF journey there from a sunny beach, and the process looked relaxed, maybe even joyous, the opposite of what my attempts to get pregnant here had been. That callback came at exactly the right time. I was 25, and never believed I’d have difficulty getting pregnant. After a devastating baby loss, I just wanted to have a child as quickly as possible — without having to take out a second mortgage. I’d been quoted $35,000 for IVF at home, which my salary as a critical-care nurse doesn’t exactly make possible. My insurance wouldn’t cover a dime, either, and watching the potential cost spiral felt suffocating. The prospect of spending less than a third of the estimated cost to have treatment overseas, and getting a two-week vacation with my husband, Justin — the longest trip we’d have taken together in our nine-year relationship — felt like something we badly needed. We didn’t make it to the urologist’s office after that call.

I was so nervous in the run-up to getting to Barbados. I felt better when we got to the center and could meet the staff in person. My first appointment was a scan, which showed that I had 14 follicles and eight eggs. I took follicle-stimulating hormones for two weeks before my egg retrieval; I was so anxious I thought I was accidentally going to squirt the hormone injections on the floor. Eight eggs were retrieved, of which six were mature. I was hoping that my other two would pull through and fertilize, but they didn’t. I did think that being in my 20s would mean I’d have more viable embryos. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.

We were in what looked like paradise, but I badly missed our house, our cat, and our dog. So we decided to fly back early, the day after the embryo transfer. I kept thinking I’d feel chilled out after the next appointment or procedure. But unwinding felt impossible, my anxiety rising with the knowledge that nothing I did could affect the outcome. I’d planned to take a week off work once I got home, but I realized that it was far better to be occupied than sitting around thinking about what may or may not be growing inside me.I was so up and down before taking the pregnancy test. Some days I’d just know I was pregnant, and others I was certain there was nothing there. We got up at 4 a.m. before Justin went to work, and the test was negative. That was a hard day. I had taken the day off knowing that I may need to process some really difficult stuff before being thrust back into a world where everyone talks about babies. That was the right choice.

I hadn’t told anyone except our close family and friends why we really went to Barbados. I’ve never wanted people to feel bad for us, or know the intimate details, until we’re on the other side. We’re crushed that it didn’t work, but I don’t regret trying. We gave ourselves the best possible chance at starting a family, and I think the trip has made our relationship stronger. I wish for a baby so deeply, but I’m conscious of living my life to the fullest in the midst of infertility. We’re about to start treatment at home. I’m nervous, but I feel good about it.

*Names have been changed.

‘All That Money Can Only Give You a Chance, Not a Guarantee’