Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) persists as a subclinical, lifelong infection in the normal human host, maintained at least in part by its carriage in the absence of detectable infectious virus--the hallmark of latent infection. Reactivation from latency in immunocompromised individuals, in contrast, often results in serious disease. Latency and reactivation are defining characteristics of the herpesviruses and key to understanding their biology. However, the precise cellular sites in which HCMV is carried and the mechanisms regulating its latency and reactivation during natural infection remain poorly understood. This review will detail our current knowledge of where HCMV is carried in healthy individuals, which viral genes are expressed upon carriage of the virus and what effect this has on cellular gene expression. It will also address the accumulating evidence suggesting that reactivation of HCMV from latency appears to be linked intrinsically to the differentiation status of the myeloid cell, and how the cellular mechanisms that normally control host gene expression play a critical role in the differential regulation of viral gene expression during latency and reactivation.