Programmes that monitor local, national and regional levels of transmitted HIV-1 drug resistance inform treatment guidelines and provide feedback on the success of HIV-1 treatment and prevention programmes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a global programme for genotypic surveillance of HIV-1 drug resistance and has recommended the adoption of a consensus definition of genotypic drug resistance. Such a definition is necessary to accurately compare transmitted drug resistance rates across geographical regions and time periods. HIV-1 diversity and the large number of mutations associated with antiretroviral drug resistance complicate the development of a consensus definition for genotypic drug resistance. This paper reviews the data that must be considered to determine which of the many HIV-1 drug resistance mutations are likely to be both sensitive and specific indicators of transmitted drug resistance. The process used to create a previously published list of drug resistance mutations for HIV-1 surveillance is reviewed and alternative approaches to this process are discussed.