This paper develops hypotheses concerning the role of entry mode and experience-based organizational learning as determinants of the R&D intensity of foreign affiliates and tests these hypotheses on a sample of 420 Japanese manufacturing affiliates abroad. Entry mode has a major impact on R&D activities: the R&D intensities of acquired affiliates substantially exceed those in wholly owned greenfield affiliates, while the R&D intensities of minority owned ventures are higher if Japanese parent firms lack strong R&D capabilities at home. For greenfield operations, support is found for an incremental growth pattern of foreign R&D as a function of organizational learning and affiliate capability building. The results are consistent with the view that part of the explanation for Japanese firms' relative lack of involvement in overseas R&D must be sought in their status as 'latecomers' in the establishment of overseas manufacturing networks. At the same time, a number of Japanese firms have actively used foreign acquisitions and joint ventures to gain access to overseas technology and to establish overseas R&D capabilities at a faster pace. Copyright (C) 2002 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.