Over the past two decades, dengue virus serotype 3 (DENV-3) has caused unexpected epidemics of dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Latin America. We used a phylogenetic approach to evaluate the roles of virus evolution and transport in the emergence of these outbreaks. Isolates from these geographically distant epidemics are closely related and belong to DENV-3, subtype III, which originated in the Indian subcontinent. The emergence of DHF in Sri Lanka in 1989 correlated with the appearance there of a new DENV-3, subtype III variant. This variant likely spread from the Indian subcontinent into Africa in the 1980s and from Africa into Latin America in the mid-1990s. DENV-3, subtype III isolates from mild and severe disease outbreaks formed genetically distinct groups, which suggests a role for viral genetics in DHF.