Once restricted to northern China and Mongolia, the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) now enjoys a worldwide distribution due to the evolution of commensalism with humans. In contrast to black rats and the house mouse, which have tracked the regional and global development of human agricultural settlements, brown rats do not appear in the European historical record until the 1500s, suggesting their range expansion was a response to relatively recent increases in global trade and modern sea-faring. We inferred the global phylogeography of brown rats using 32k SNPs to reconstruct invasion routes from estimates of population divergence and admixture. Globally, we detected 13 evolutionary clusters within five expansion routes. One cluster arose following a southward expansion into Southeast Asia. Three additional clusters arose from two independent eastward expansions: one expansion from Russia to the Aleutian Archipelago, and a second to western North America. Rapid westward expansion resulted in the colonization of Europe from which subsequent colonization of Africa, the Americas, and Australasia occurred, and multiple evolutionary clusters were detected. An astonishing degree of fine-grained clustering found both between and within our sampling sites underscored the extent to which urban heterogeneity can shape the genetic structure of commensal rodents. Surprisingly, few individuals were recent migrants despite continual global transport, suggesting that recruitment into established populations is limited. Understanding the global population structure of R. norvegicus offers novel perspectives on the forces driving the spread of zoonotic disease, and yields greater capacity to develop targeted rat eradication programs.