Twin-arginine translocation (Tat)-mediated protein transport across the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane occurs only after synthesis and folding of the substrate protein that contains a signal peptide with a characteristic twin-arginine motif. This implies that premature contact between the Tat signal peptide and the Tat translocon in the membrane must be prevented. We used site-specific photo-crosslinking to demonstrate that the signal peptide of nascent Tat proteins is in close proximity to the chaperone and peptidyl-prolyl isomerase trigger factor (TF). The contact with TF was strictly dependent on the context of the translating ribosome, started early in biogenesis when the nascent chain left the ribosome near L23, and persisted until the chain reached its full length. Despite this exclusive and prolonged contact, depletion or overexpression of TF had little effect on the kinetics and efficiency of the Tat export process.