Where in the world is surrogacy allowed?
Different countries around the world take different approaches to surrogacy. In some, surrogacy is prohibited altogether (including most European countries) which means that professional services facilitating surrogacy (including fertility treatment) are not available and can even be a criminal offence. Elsewhere, surrogacy is permitted within a range of legal frameworks, or in some cases simply takes place informally because there is no law prohibiting it.
Countries where surrogacy is permitted for intended parents from overseas
Surrogacy in the USA – The US is the most popular international surrogacy destination for British and UK-resident intended parents, offering established professionals who can match with a surrogate and manage the process, strong ethical safeguards, excellent clinical standards and legal security. Professionals operate commercially and surrogates and donors are compensated. Laws vary from state to state but in the overwhelming majority the parents are recognised as their child’s legal parents from birth. Find out more about US surrogacy.
Surrogacy in Ukraine – The Ukraine has historically been the second most popular international surrogacy destination for UK parents, although is only available to different-sex married couples who have a medical need for surrogacy. Ukraine law explicitly recognises the intended parents as their child’s legal parents from birth, and there are many commercially-run clinics/agencies which can match with a surrogate and donor (who will each be compensated). There is typically a limited direct relationship between the intended parents and the surrogate and this means that careful due diligence is needed. The war with Russia has caused significant difficulties, and the Foreign Office advises that UK parents should not currently engage in surrogacy arrangements in Ukraine or travel to Ukraine.
Surrogacy in Canada – There are a small number of consultancies in Canada which match intended parents with volunteer surrogates (although with more limited screening than with US agencies). Regulations prohibit the payment to surrogates of compensation beyond defined expenses, so wait times are typically long. The legal framework enables the parties to enter into a legally-recognised surrogacy agreement and for the intended parents to be recognised as their child’s legal parents from birth, and this includes all family types regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Surrogacy in Georgia – Georgia has a similar legal framework to Ukraine (with surrogacy available to different-sex parents, the intended parents recognised as their child’s legal parents from birth, and commercial agencies and surrogate/donor compensation permitted). Like the Ukraine, there is typically a limited relationship between the intended parents and surrogate, and careful due diligence is needed. There are fewer agencies in Georgia than in the Ukraine, and they are currently under considerable pressure given the issues in Ukraine. In June 2023, the Georgian Prime Minister announced plans (due to take effect in January 2024) to prohibit surrogacy in Georgia for foreign intended parents.
Surrogacy in Greece – The law requires surrogates and intended parents to make an application for a court order authorising the surrogacy to proceed before embryo transfer, and then recognises the intended parents as the legal parents from birth. Surrogacy is available to different-sex couples and single mothers only. However, Greece is not an established surrogacy destination, with no established agencies and clinics only providing limited matching services with surrogates and seemingly few surrogates.
Countries where surrogacy is permitted – but only for intended parents connected with that country
Surrogacy in the UK – Surrogacy is permitted in the UK for single parents and couples (regardless of gender or sexual orientation). Agencies must operate on a non-profit basis, advertising is restricted and there is a shortage of surrogates. The surrogate is the legal mother and the intended parents are expected to apply for a parental order after the birth to reassign legal parenthood to them. Since parental orders are only available to parents who have a UK ‘domicile’ the UK is not generally a surrogacy destination for intended parents from overseas. Find out more about surrogacy in the UK.
Other countries in this category include South Africa, Russia and Israel.
Unregulated destinations – countries where surrogacy happens without any clear law
The list of countries in which surrogacy takes place without any surrogacy-specific legal framework is constantly shifting and changing. Typically surrogacy operates without there being explicit laws regulating or supporting it, and relies on other law (such as contract law) and/or complicit birth registration authorities to make it work.
There has been a repeating pattern in which surrogacy grows due to the marketing of service-providers and is then (often very suddenly) prohibited by the country’s government following negative media attention or ethical concerns. Surrogacy services then move to another unregulated destination where the pattern repeats. Parents and surrogates part-way through a surrogacy process when it is shut down can be left uncertain and vulnerable, with pregnant surrogates concerned about being penalised and intended parents facing lost embryos and excruciating hurdles to bring their children home. Pursuing surrogacy in an unregulated destination is therefore not something to embark on without fully evaluating the risk.
The countries in which surrogacy is currently operating in this way include Cyprus, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Ghana. Surrogacy was previously popular, but is now outlawed, in India, Thailand, Nepal and Cambodia.
Ensuring that surrogacy is managed ethically should be at the core of every surrogacy journey. Children born through surrogacy have a right to a positive and honest heritage, and parents should be able to share confidently that their surrogacy journey was a positive collaboration in which their surrogate gave full informed consent and was safe and well supported throughout the process and beyond. The traditional binary classification of ‘altruistic’ and ‘commercial’ surrogacy frameworks often does not provide a meaningful understanding of how ethical a surrogacy framework is.
The nature of the relationship between parents and surrogates also varies considerably between the different surrogacy destinations, as well as of course being very personal to every arrangement. Read more about our 2018 research with Cambridge University into how the choice of destination affects the long term relationships between parents and surrogates.
There is no global surrogacy legislation, and while intended parents may be attracted by entering into a surrogacy arrangement in a country which recognises them as their child’s parents from birth, that status will not necessarily be portable to other countries. For example, intended parents who are British or live in the UK also separately need to resolve legal parenthood under UK law. Find out more from our sibling organisation NGA Law.
It is also acutely important to understand the immigration law requirements which apply after the birth, and what documentation will be needed for the baby to leave the country of birth and return home with their parents. Mismatches between the law internationally in respect of who the legal parents are can often create long delays with securing the necessary passport or other documents to travel, and this is an important consideration before embarking on an international surrogacy arrangement.
Want personalised advice?
Explore our services to find out more about the bespoke advice we can offer.
What is the difference between altruistic and commercial surrogacy?
Research about surrogacy
What is surrogacy?
Still have questions?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. We are here to help however we can.