Foreshocks are the only currently widely identified precursory seismic behavior, yet their utility and even identifiability are problematic, in part because of extreme variation in behavior. Here, we establish some global trends that help identify the expected frequency of foreshocks as well the type of earthquake most prone to foreshocks. We establish these tendencies using the global earthquake catalog of the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center with a completeness level of magnitude 5 and mainshocks with . Foreshocks are identified using three clustering algorithms to address the challenge of distinguishing foreshocks from background activity. The methods give a range of 15%–43% of large mainshocks having at least one foreshock but a narrower range of 13%–26% having at least one foreshock with magnitude within two units of the mainshock magnitude. These observed global foreshock rates are similar to regional values for a completeness level of magnitude 3 using the same detection conditions. The foreshock sequences have distinctive characteristics with the global composite population b‐values being lower for foreshocks than for aftershocks, an attribute that is also manifested in synthetic catalogs computed by epidemic‐type aftershock sequences, which intrinsically involves only cascading processes. Focal mechanism similarity of foreshocks relative to mainshocks is more pronounced than for aftershocks. Despite these distinguishing characteristics of foreshock sequences, the conditions that promote high foreshock productivity are similar to those that promote high aftershock productivity. For instance, a modestly higher percentage of interplate mainshocks have foreshocks than intraplate mainshocks, and reverse faulting events slightly more commonly have foreshocks than normal or strike‐slip‐faulting mainshocks. The western circum‐Pacific is prone to having slightly more foreshock activity than the eastern circum‐Pacific.