While determinants of FDI patterns have received widespread attention, the timing of their surge remains largely unexplained. According to the proximity–concentration trade-off argument, a surge in FDI in times of decaying international transportation costs seemingly represents a paradox. Besides transportation costs, other factors have contextually changed: in particular, the uncertainty that firms bear has increased. Enriching the classical choice problem of a multinational firm with insights from the literature on investment under uncertainty, we illustrate how different types of uncertainty determine the timing and optimal entry mode (i.e. FDI or export) of a multinational enterprise into a new market.