Have Eggs, Will Travel. To Freeze Them.
It’s hardly uncommon for Americans to travel to London over the summer, where they watch tennis at Wimbledon, say, or take pictures of Big Ben or dine on champagne and scones at Claridge’s.
But the women whose trips are being planned by a new company called Milvia are going for a different reason: to freeze their eggs.
Every detail of their trip, from their flights to their hormonal medication to their doctor’s appointments, is being arranged by Milvia, whose focus is to make egg freezing more accessible by bringing women to places where the procedure is cheaper.
The company estimates there are millions of women in the United States who want to freeze their eggs. But only a tiny percentage of them have been able to, said Abhi Ghavalkar, a founder and the chief executive of the company.
Egg freezing is a process that takes about two weeks and may allow a woman to extend her fertility. Typically the patient injects herself with hormones to stimulate the ovaries and then undergoes a procedure by a specialist to retrieve the eggs and put them on liquid nitrogen for future use.
Milvia found that in the United States, the entire process — including the medications, the doctor visits and the average number of years of egg storage — costs about $18,000, and most women can’t count on health insurance to cover it. As of 2020, less than 20 percent of U.S. companies with more than 20,000 employees had health insurance plans to cover the procedure, according to Mercer Health News, though that figure rose from 2015 to 2020.
Many countries have clinics that are much cheaper. In the Czech Republic and Spain, for example, you can get one round of egg-freezing done for under $5,400, according to the website of Freeze Health, which provides information on egg freezing around the world.
Milvia is taking its first women to Britain, where prices hover in the $7,000 range, because “we wanted to start in a place where there is no language or cultural barrier,” Mr. Ghavalkar said. “We also want to make sure we’re in a place where all clinics operate at very high standards.” The company hasn’t finalized the price for its trip to Britain but hopes to keep it under $10,000.
Of course, while the patients will be there to freeze their eggs, they will have time to sight-see before the procedure. “You will be on hormones, so if you want to stay in the hotel, we can arrange that,” Mr. Ghavalkar said. “If you want to do sightseeing, we can arrange that as well. We can introduce you to the other women if you want.”
“I have worked as a tour guide in Scotland, so I can show people around,” he added, laughing. “We want this to be a great experience for each person.”
Milvia is formalizing a trend that has already taken hold: More women, in the United States and abroad, are traveling to freeze their eggs. Most are chasing lower prices, and some do it somewhere fabulous that they meant to go anyway.
Just as there are trendy places to go on vacation, there are now even egg freezing “hot spots,” according to Jennifer Lannon, a founder of Freeze Health.
“I would say Mexico and Spain are the two hottest places right now,” based on where people are searching, she said. “Mexico because if you are going somewhere nearby, it’s close and just so much less expensive. Barcelona because it is such a sexy city, there is never a bad reason to go, but also it’s the most advanced country in Europe for research and new developments.”
According to the market research firm Grand View Search, the global fertility tourism market, including people traveling to the United States, is expected to grow at the rate of 30 percent over the next seven years, becoming a $6.2 billion industry by 2030.
Women who freeze their eggs abroad can choose to keep their eggs in that country where storage costs are usually cheaper. In Canada, for example, it can cost under $200 a year to store your eggs. In Spain you can do it for a little over $200. In Los Angeles, by contrast, a year of storage costs about $750. In New York City, it’s more than $1,000, according to Freeze Health.
Many even return to the same clinic to do I.V.F., the process they have to go through if they want to use their eggs, because that is also less expensive in other countries.
There are also a few cheaper options domestically. CNY, for example, a fertility clinic with eight locations in the United States, tries to keep costs about $3,000 (which doesn’t include medicine or pre-procedure monitoring).
Sixty-five percent of CNY’s patients travel more than an hour to get there, the company said. “Probably the most number of travel patients we have are from the greater New York City area,” said William Kiltz, a spokesman for the company. “We’re just more affordable.” The closest location to New York City is Albany.
Women who have traveled to freeze their eggs said it transforms the procedure, which can be arduous, into something that almost resembles a vacation.
Gillian Morris, 36, a software developer, flew from San Juan, P.R., to Madrid in June 2019 to do the procedure. “So many of my friends had big tech companies paying for their egg freezing, but I had my own company, so I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I didn’t think it was accessible to me until someone told me it costs about a fifth as much to do it in Spain.”
After she posted her plans on social media, two friends ended up joining her to freeze their eggs as well. Two of them rented an Airbnb, and in between doctor’s appointments (which happen every few days) and shots (which happen daily but can be done wherever), they acted like tourists, dining at trendy restaurants and visiting museums. Ms. Morris even took short trips to Valencia, a city along the Mediterranean Coast, and London.
She said that the clinic she went to, where the doctors and nurses spoke English, was more relaxing compared with American clinics. “After my procedure I was in a room of my own, which was lovely, and my friend came and sat with me and chatted,” she said. “I was there for three hours, sort of processing until I took a scooter back to the Airbnb and went out for a nice dinner.”
“It was really fun to turn this physical experience into a vacation and an opportunity to celebrate or explore or do something fun,” she said.
Lauren Stevenson, 42, a public relations director who lives in London, traveled to Haugesund, in the fjords of Norway, to freeze her eggs after a friend found the clinic. Not only did this clinic charge one-third of the price as the clinics in London, she said, it was also in a place on her travel bucket list.
“People talk about egg freezing in such a negative way. It’s intrusive, it’s painful,” she said. “I felt like if I was in a beautiful, serene place, it could actually be a different experience.”
She, along with her partner (they ended up freezing embryos), went in November 2020 during peak foliage. “We would drive to the clinic, and even the drive would be so stunning,” she said. She said she found it relaxing to do the procedure in a place so far removed from her busy city life in Britain.
Ms. Swam from Freeze Health said that women should book travel plans, especially flights and accommodation, that are flexible. “You have to go to blood tests and ultrasounds on the first day of your cycle, and they might not tell you it’s not a good cycle to do it because you might not get a lot of eggs,” she said.
And prospective patients should make sure their clinic is licensed, has English-speaking medical professionals and has a shipping partner that can send eggs to a storage facility in the United States.
Ms. Swam also recommends bringing someone with you on your travels. “You won’t feel well, you are going to be emotional, you are going to be pumped with hormones,” she said. “You don’t want to have to navigate a new place on top of this by yourself.”
Ms. Stevenson described her experience as almost like going to a private fertility retreat. “I don’t think you meet many people who say I can’t wait to go back and get my frozen embryos,” she said. “But that’s how I feel.”