If you're one of the thousands of people in the UK who are in need of help conceiving but are struggling with the cost of IVF, you've probably considered every alternative - even heading overseas.
In the UK one attempt can cost as much as £10k and if you're one of the many that don't qualify for NHS help you may find yourself forced to face the high price of private fertility treatment.
Fertility clinics in Britain have been criticised for charging thousands more than their European counterparts. But it is really cheaper to head abroad?
Can foreign IVF treatment save you money?
IVF policies in countries like France, Belgium and Slovenia have previously been praised by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, while Spanish fertility centres have established a good reputation when it comes to 'IVF tourism'.
In some cases treatment in Spain and elsewhere in Europe can be half the price compared to the UK, meaning even with travel and hotels included it's still cheaper.
Be aware that standards will vary and some clinics will be more concerned about your welfare than others and offer better success rates, which is why it's crucial that you research thoroughly and only consider using a clinic you're 100% happy with.
Do your research on foreign IVF clinics
Many fertility clinics abroad will be of a high standard and lots of people from the UK travel overseas for cheaper IVF treatment. However, you still need to be careful and do as much research as possible.
If you come across a foreign fertility centre you like the look of, find out the consultant's name and look into their background.
When you're researching and contacting IVF clinics it's worth checking:
The safety record, standards and success rates of each
Whether they offer the type of fertility treatment you need
If they'll give you a treatment plan (and costs) upfront
How often you'll need to travel there
If they have English speaking staff or can provide translators
What they do with your medical records
You can also check fertility forums, chat rooms and discussion boards to find out about clinics other people have used and would recommend. It goes without saying that picking an IVF clinic is one of the biggest decisions you'll ever make, so above all make sure you're happy with your choice.
The EU Tissues and Cells Directive came into force between 2006 and 2007 and means that only licensed European centres are permitted to carry out IVC, ICIS and other fertility procedures like this, so be sure to check your clinic has the necessary permission and complies with the rules.
While some IVF centres claim to have better success rates than others, this may only be because they have different ways of measuring success.
Rates can be skewed by the type and age of patients treated and the type of treatment offered, so a higher success rate doesn't always mean it's a better option.
Before you commit to treatment, you should ask how the clinic you plan to use measures success and if you have a condition that's stopping you from conceiving find out whether they have experience helping similar patients get pregnant.
Added costs of IVF treatment abroad
While the fertility treatment itself is likely to be the most expensive part of the process, there are many smaller costs you'll incur before and after that can quickly stack up.
You'll need to ask your chosen clinic for a full break down of the tests and fertility treatment plan they recommend for you before you commit. Without this you have no way of knowing whether having fertility treatment abroad will actually be cheaper than choosing a UK fertility clinic.
Bear in mind that other tests and treatments may become necessary so you should ask about the cost of these too so that you can budget.
You may want to consider getting any tests you need carried out in the UK so that you don't have to travel abroad multiple times, some may even be available on the NHS. Just make sure you get the necessary paperwork completed before you travel overseas for fertility treatment.
You may be able to find a foreign clinic that has an office in the UK so you don't always need to travel overseas.
Although the IVF treatment is the biggest expense you'll face, fertility drugs can cost almost as much and if you go private, whether abroad or in the UK, you'll need to be prepared to pay out for them.
Some foreign IVF clinics might include the cost of the drugs in their treatment package, so be sure to check early on what's included and what's not.
If you need to buy fertility drugs in the UK, you'll need to take your prescription to your GP so they can underwrite it, before taking both prescriptions to a pharmacy.
Not your average holiday
You may get so caught up in the IVF treatment side of things that you forget about the actual travelling, but it's just as important.
Going abroad for fertility treatment will mean you have to arrange and pay for flights, hotels, food and drink, transfers and travel insurance. Factor in drugs, scans, consultations and IVF treatment and (while still potentially cheaper than UK clinics) you're looking at a pretty big overall bill.
If you travel abroad specifically for fertility treatment, it's unlikely standard travel insurance policies will offer the cover you need.
Instead you'll need to choose a specialist travel insurance company that provides cover for overseas fertility treatment. It's likely this will cost more but the cover it provides will be worth it. If you're travelling within Europe for fertility treatment you'll need an EHIC too.
Paying your foreign fertility clinic
You'll have to ask specifically how the clinic wants to be paid - in full upfront or in instalments.
If they offer instalments you'll need to make sure that they don't charge you interest. If they do then using a 0% money transfer credit card to help spread the cost yourself is worth considering.
If they want full cash payment you'll need to make sure that you're certain they are a legitimate business and that you're happy with the treatment plan they've suggested. You'll then have to look around for the best possible foreign exchange rate when you make your money transfer.
It could be easier and cheaper to get a no foreign transaction fee credit card although you'll need to check whether the clinic charges a credit card transaction fee - if they do then you'll need to factor this in when you work out the cheapest way to pay.
You can find out more in our guides Fertility Treatment: How to Cut the Cost, Private Fertility Clinics: How to Cut the Cost of Tests & Treatment and Free Fertility Treatment: How to Play the NHS Lottery.