The compartmentation of eukaryotic cells requires all nuclear proteins to be imported from the cytoplasm, whereas, for example, transfer RNAs, messenger RNAs, and ribosomes are made in the nucleus and need to be exported to the cytoplasm. Nuclear import and export proceed through nuclear pore complexes and can occur along a great number of distinct pathways, many of which are mediated by importin beta-related nuclear transport receptors. These receptors shuttle between nucleus and cytoplasm, and they bind transport substrates either directly or via adapter molecules. They all cooperate with the RanGTPase system to regulate the interactions with their cargoes. Another focus of our review is nuclear export of messenger RNA, which apparently largely relies on export mediators distinct from importin beta-related factors. We discuss mechanistic aspects and the energetics of transport receptor function and describe a number of pathways in detail.