Using a multi-stage research design and insights from organizational learning theory, we investigate how experience in R&D collaboration with different types of domestic and foreign partners (customers, suppliers, competitors) influences the formation of new R&D collaborations with foreign partners, and how such collaborations in turn affect firms’ innovative performance. Our framework, which is tested against a sample of 8800 firms over a 9-year period, explains how experience with certain types of domestic partners helps firms establish foreign collaborations, particularly with the same partner types. It further explains why experience in foreign collaborations is more important for the formation of new collaborations abroad in relation to experience with domestic partner types. Moreover, it shows that collaborations with foreign partners are more beneficial than domestic collaborations for a firm’s innovative performance and identifies which types of foreign R&D partnerships are more advantageous for enhancing innovation performance. Finally, it demonstrates that the performance-enhancing advantages of foreign partnerships are not equal for all firms but are dependent on certain dimensions of absorptive capacity. The effect that foreign suppliers have on a firm’s innovative performance is further enhanced if a firm has adopted appropriate organizational practices designed to enhance external collaboration and the internal dissemination of external knowledge. Finally, firms gain more from foreign competitors if they possess high levels of employee skills.