Identifying the mechanisms by which diseases spread among populations is important for understanding and forecasting patterns of epidemics and pandemics. Estimating transmission coupling among populations is challenging because transmission events are difficult to observe in practice, and connectivity among populations is often obscured by local disease dynamics. We consider the common situation in which an epidemic is seeded in one population and later spreads to a second population. We present a method for estimating transmission coupling between the two populations, assuming they can be modelled as
susceptible–infected–removed(SIR) systems. We show that the strength of coupling between the two populations can be estimated from the time taken for the disease to invade the second population. Confidence in the estimate is low if only a single invasion event has been observed, but is substantially improved if numerous independent invasion events are observed. Our analysis of this simplest, idealized scenario represents a first step toward developing and verifying methods for estimating epidemic coupling among populations in an ever-more-connected global human population.