The effect of free stream coherent structures in the asymptotic suction boundary layer on the initiation of Görtler vortices is considered from both the ‘imperfect’ bifurcation and receptivity viewpoints. Firstly a weakly nonlinear and a full numerical approach are used to describe Görtler vortices in the asymptotic suction boundary layer in the absence of forcing from the free stream. It is found that interactions between different spanwise harmonics occur and lead to multiple secondary bifurcations in the fully nonlinear regime. Furthermore it is shown that centrifugal instabilities of the asymptotic suction boundary layer behave quite differently than their counterparts in either fully developed flows such as Couette flow or growing boundary layers. A significant result is that the most dangerous disturbance is found to bifurcate subcritically from the unperturbed state. Within the weakly nonlinear regime the receptivity of Görtler vortices to the free stream exact coherent structures discovered by Deguchi & Hall (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 752, 2014, pp. 602–625; J. Fluid Mech., vol. 778, 2015, pp. 451–484) is considered. The presence of free stream structures results in a resonant excitation of Görtler vortices in the main boundary layer. This leads to imperfect bifurcations reminiscent of those found by Daniels (Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A, vol. 358, 1977, pp. 173–197) and Hall & Walton (Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A, vol. 358, 1977, pp. 199–221; J. Fluid Mech., vol. 90, 1979, pp. 377–395) in the context of transition to finite amplitude Bénard convection in a bounded region. In order to understand the receptivity problem for the given flow the spatial initial value problem for this interaction is also considered when the free stream structure begins at a fixed position along the wall. Remarkably, it will be shown that free stream structures are incredibly efficient generators of Görtler vortices; indeed the induced vortices are found to be larger than the free stream structure which provokes them! The relationship between the imperfect bifurcation approach and receptivity theory is described.