Despite the rapid growth of world trade over the past several decades, international trade patterns remain very much affected by high trade costs. In this paper, we emphasize the importance of distance between countries in a proper explanation of the persistent resistance to trade. We find that both formal trade barriers (tariffs, transport costs, etc.) and informal trade barriers (related to cultural and institutional distances) between countries have retained their importance to trade. Not only are these tangible and intangible barriers critical in explaining the volume of trade between countries but they also help to explain the absence of trade between many countries. © 2008 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Political Economy Society. All rights reserved.