BACKGROUND: The movement of people with their constructed identities including ethnicity has always been one of the determinants of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) pandemic. An example of the contributions of travel and ethnicity to experiences of HIV can be seen in the Vietnamese community in Australia. OBJECTIVES: This paper seeks to describe the contributions of ethnicity and travel to the Australian HIV epidemic with particular reference to the evolving epidemic within the Vietnamese Australian community. STUDY DESIGN: We reviewed the available data on the HIV epidemic in Australia with reference to overseas acquisition, ethnicity, the epidemic in the Vietnamese community and the determinants of the current patterns of transmission within this community. RESULTS: Available data suggests that 20-25% of HIV infections notified in Australia are acquired overseas. This proportion is higher in some specific categories such as heterosexually acquired infections. Notification rates are no higher in Vietnamese Australians than in the general Australian population apart from infections associated with injecting drug use (IDU) notified in the state of Victoria. The reasons for this increased rate of notification include increased vulnerability to blood borne virus infection in Australia and the additional, unique risk of frequent travel to Vietnam, a country where IDU carries a high risk of HIV infection. CONCLUSIONS: Australia has succeeded in stabilising the HIV epidemic partly through successful interventions to limit the spread of infection among IDUs. There is now early evidence that HIV transmission may be increasing amongst Vietnamese Australian IDUs. Timely responses that help Vietnamese Australian IDUs reduce their accumulation of risk are likely to be important in determining the level of harm associated with IDU throughout Australia.