Ask the Surrogacy Experts

My husband and I live in Singapore, and a local IVF clinic has offered to perform our IVF cycle for a great price. The American clinic we talked to told us an IVF cycle would cost nearly $20,000 dollars. Can I have my IVF in Singapore and then send my embryos to the US for the surrogacy?

Good morning Laura and Anthony.

There are excellent IVF clinics in many countries overseas – and many are much more affordable than a typical US clinic. So it’s tempting to perform your IVF overseas and then bring your embryos to the US for the surrogacy part of the journey. But wait! It’s not that easy.

To answer your question: The short answer is Yes, you can conceive embryos at a foreign clinic and bring them to the US.  However not all countries are possible, and there is some special paperwork and costs involved.

Here are three important things you should know…

1.  Interesting fact… Sperm and eggs donated by parents for their own IVF cycle are considered tissue for transplant by the US government. As such, they are governed by the same regulations as a kidney or liver to be transplanted into a dying patient. It makes no difference that the eggs or sperm are never actually transferred into a human body, or that they ultimately may go into your own body. The oocytes (the technical name for eggs and sperm) will morph into embryos, and those embryos will be transferred into someone’s uterus. So transplant restrictions apply.

By law, all transplant tissues must have a series of FDA serology tests performed on the original donor. These tests must be done at the time of the donation, and also must be performed at a FDA accredited Lab in the US.  Without the tests, no transplant can happen. In the case of embryos and sperm, that means no IVF cycle can happen. Every IVF cycle in the US must start with an FDA test of both the egg and sperm donors, period.

Most established IVF labs are accredited by the FDA – so if you’re embryos were conceived in the US you probably don’t have much to worry about. But if your embryos were conceived overseas, you’re generally out of luck. The FDA doesn’t accredit foreign clinics, so the clinic that did your blood test wasn’t FDA accredited. In short, those blood tests are worthless in the eyes of the FDA.

But there is a workaround… If your IVF clinic is overseas, you can arrange to have blood samples drawn and sent to an FDA accredited US lab for analysis.  The process is a bit complicated, but I’ve done it a few times for clients.  The cost of the testing kit and lab tests is about $1200 per donor (egg and sperm donors both need to be tested).  There’s also an administrative fee of about $2000 by the US clinic to deal with the extra bureaucracy.

2.  Zika fears… I know Zika isn’t in the headlines anymore, but it hasn’t gone away completely. The US health department still has warnings on bringing oocytes into the US from countries where Zika is active.  Basically bringing embryos in from Mexico or South America is impossible.  Northern countries should have no problem.  Some countries in Southeast Asia have Zika but are still deemed possible if the virus is well managed, but you would need to check with the clinic on each country.

3.  Shipping costs… Finally, everyone always underestimates the cost of shipping frozen medical samples internationally. It’s not as simple as jumping on a place with an icebox filled with sperm. Average individuals can’t carry these materials on a plane. Only professional couriers can handle medical samples can do it. Couriers are given special dispensation to carry nitrogen tanks on board a plane in the passenger cabin, and also to bypass x-rays at security.

If you are considering sending your embryos abroad, you should include into the budget the cost of a courier, which will be about $3000 from Europe or Asia to the US.

I hope this is helpful.
— Bill

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