Correct protein function depends on delivery to the appropriate cellular or subcellular compartment. Following the initiation of protein synthesis in the cytosol, many bacterial and eukaryotic proteins must be integrated into or transported across a membrane to reach their site of function. Whereas in the post-translational delivery pathway ATP-dependent factors bind to completed polypeptides and chaperone them until membrane translocation is initiated, a GTP-dependent co-translational pathway operates to couple ongoing protein synthesis to membrane transport. These distinct pathways provide different solutions for the maintenance of proteins in a state that is competent for membrane translocation and their delivery for export from the cytosol. © 2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.