Genomic sequencing provides critical information to track the evolution and spread of SARS-CoV-2, optimize molecular tests, treatments and vaccines, and guide public health responses. To investigate the spatiotemporal heterogeneity in the global SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance, we estimated the impact of sequencing intensity and turnaround times (TAT) on variant detection in 167 countries. Most countries submit genomes> 21 days after sample collection, and 77% of low and middle income countries sequenced< 0.5% of their cases. We found that sequencing at least 0.5% of the cases, with a TAT< 21 days, could be a benchmark for SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance efforts. Socioeconomic inequalities substantially impact our ability to quickly detect SARS-CoV-2 variants, and undermine the global pandemic preparedness.